OT72: Commentaschen

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server. Also:

1. For Comment of the Week, I know it’s an unusual choice but I want to highlight leoboiko on how Zeus is actually a Machiavellian genius and my portrayal of him as anti-intellectual was unfair. But also, yodatsracist’s defense of Seeing Like A State and speculations on what it means for social science.

2. The raw data for the SSC survey has been put on some kind of data accessbility site. And pnlng on the subreddit has crunched the numbers about everyone’s favorite blogs to read.

3. Congratulations to all med student SSCers who got residencies in this year’s Match Day. Many challenges lie ahead, but don’t forget that there will be rewarding parts as well, like helping others and being able to fully appreciate the humor on GomerBlog.

4. New sidebar ad for Tezos, an upcoming cryptocurrency which is sort of like Ethereum but also sort of like Nomic (?!) Reading about it makes my head hurt, which based on past experience means everyone involved will become multibillionaires before eventually losing everything in some weird form of crime that we don’t even have a name for yet.

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788 Responses to OT72: Commentaschen

  1. Well... says:

    I did the Codeacademy thing for HTML, CSS, and Javascript a while back, but I’ve retained almost none of what I learned and want to start over as a beginner.

    My biggest beef with Codeacademy came when I had written some Javascript according to their tutorial and my code didn’t work right. I kept checking it and it looked perfect. Nobody–not even web developer coworkers I showed my code to–could tell me what was wrong with it. First I got discouraged, then I lost interest and quit. Never finished their Javascript course.

    Can anyone recommend another, better way to learn those languages for free?

    • arunkhanna00 says:

      I recommend FreeCodeCamp. I like that they use the CodeAcademy style to teach the basic syntax, but they make you actually retain stuff in your brain by the multiple projects you do.

    • spN44p8 says:

      I can’t comment on those languages specifically, but I learned C++ mainly from a book (C++ primer plus, which was like $25, so technically not free) as well as watching lectures from Stanford University on Youtube about algorithms and data structures, and now I have a job doing that.

      For retention, though, there is no substitute for actually coding every day (or at least several times per week). For C++ before I had my job I did a lot of challenges on Hackerrank and LeetCode, which are also good practice for interview type questions, though you mainly tend to use the same parts of the language over and over again, while not using other techniques that are mainly important in large software projects (they are also kind of fun if you like puzzles or things like that). I also had a toy project I worked on involving an open source code that was on github. I set a goal to add a certain functionality (even though I didn’t actually contribute to the project because I didn’t think they would be interested, it was just a learning project for me).

      So my advice would be to read a long and thorough book on the topic (this really helps when you start to see why the language was designed the way it was), to go to Youtube lectures for CS fundamentals if you feel you would benefit from that, and to set some exercises for yourself where you actually apply what you learn at least several hours per week. Maybe build a personal website with some Javascript functionality you think would be cool and would make you feel motivated to complete it.

      • Anthony says:

        For retention, though, there is no substitute for actually coding every day (or at least several times per week).

        Oh God, this. I put together a couple of short scripts to process instrument data at my last job, and making modifications after not touching them for months was painful – I had to spin up on the scripting language all over again each time, so what would have been a 5-minute task became an hour-long task, every time.

    • mvd1959 says:

      I’ve seen Microsoft Virtual Academy mentioned by a number of programmers. (mva.microsoft.com)

    • Nobody–not even web developer coworkers I showed my code to–could tell me what was wrong with it.

      Did you try Stack Overflow?

    • NostalgiaForInfinity says:


      Is a bit better than CodeAcademy; although kind of designed to be used with a mentor, it is generally follow-able. You can always cheat and just read their finished code from the example page if you can’t figure out the correct answer.
      I can’t promise you’ll retain all the knowledge, which kind of requires regular use…

    • Noumenon72 says:

      I remember one time I did one of those classes on XmlHttpRequests, only to find my code not working because tricksters had found a way to make the tutorial URL return a 500 instead of what I was supposed to, or some kind of cross-site scripting thing.

      Anyway, it’s the case with most learning computer stuff that the process of getting to the point where you can start writing “Hello World” is the most daunting part. Every new language I start. You know so little and people make stuff that works on their machines. Keep plugging.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      You might try going through the course a second time. I’m not kidding. I often find re-doing a course on my own time decisively useful. It’s like watching a movie a second time – you pick out details you missed before because you were busy setting up the basic mental model the first time. More things click.

      Also, if you need to try out snippets of JavaScript, use JSFiddle. Get into the habit of testing short bits, if you haven’t already.


    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      I’ll be slightly contrarian and instead recommend you get a programming project. Then you work on that project until it’s done.

      Having practical goals to achieve is a much better way to learn programming than abstract course examples and memorizing syntax and concepts. I think your lack of knowledge retention argues for my point.

      Since no worthwhile project will ever be finished, you can keep doing this until you are an expert programmer.

    • Phil Goetz says:

      I usually learn a new computer language by writing some program I need to write in that language. If you need more motivation, write a game or something fun.

      Learning new languages from a book used to be easier. I recently tried to find a book to learn Python from. I tried about 20 different books, and every single one of them was aimed at a complete beginner who had never done any programming. Those are just a waste of time unless you’re a complete beginner who has never programmed.

  2. bean says:

    It’s time to complete the main cycle of technical articles. Yes, that’s right. For post 12 in my battleship series, it’s time for the big guns. I’m going to describe the main armament of the dreadnought era, then go back and explain how we got there in a later part.
    A dreadnought was armed with between 8 and 14 heavy guns, with caliber running from 12” up to 18.1”. All of these guns were mounted in turrets, each turret being set on an armored tube called a barbette that lead down to the magazines under the armored deck. Shells and powder came up the barbette in hoists.
    There were numerous arrangements of turrets used during the dreadnought era. Dreadnought herself had 10 12” guns in 5 twin turrets. There was a single turret on the focsle, a pair of wing turrets on either side of the ship further aft, and the last two turrets were on the centerline further aft at the same level. This arrangement provided an 8-gun broadside and a 6-gun salvo forward or aft. In theory, this was a major advantage, but fire fore or aft was limited by blast damage to the ship structure, and the wing turret on the unengaged side was wasted. Similar arrangements were used for the next two classes of British dreadnoughts, while the Germans and Japanese began with hexagonal arrangements of six turrets with two pairs of wing turrets. The Americans, on the other hand, placed 4 twin turrets aboard the South Carolina-class, two each fore and aft, with turrets two and three raised to fire over turrets one and four respectively. This arrangement, called superfiring, was avoided by the British due to fear of blast effect on the lower turret. The Americans tried this out in a mock-up, and discovered that this was not a problem.
    An arrangement of wing turrets that attempted to allow them to fire on both broadsides was first used on the Invincible-class battlecruisers. It involved staggering the wing turrets, one forward of the other, so that in theory the turret on the disengaged side could fire across the ship while both turrets could still fire forward or aft. This procedure was not well-liked, as it did extensive blast damage to the ship.
    Superfiring soon gained broad acceptance, although designers kept wanting to put more turrets aboard, and stability considerations meant that only one level of superfiring could be accommodated. Concerns about placing too much of a ship’s firepower close together meant that many dreadnoughts of about 1910 had their fifth and possibly sixth turrets placed in the center of the ship. This robbed the turrets of end-on fire capability, and often required routing steam lines around the magazines, which heated the powder and reduced accuracy. The most extreme example of this was HMS Agincourt, which had 14 guns in 7 twin turrets, all on the centerline, the most heavy guns ever carried aboard a dreadnought.
    The obvious alternative is to place more than two guns in each turret. This significantly complicates the turret machinery, reduces the effective firepower of the gun, and places more of the ship’s firepower in a single place, but saves significant weight and centerline space. The Italian battleship Dante Alighieri was the first to use triple turrets, although they were soon adopted in Austria-Hungary, Russia, and the US. The Japanese, Germans, and British stuck to twin turrets until after the end of WWI, while the French adopted quadruple turrets for the abortive Normandie-class.
    This process proceeded in parallel with the growth in caliber. The first generation of dreadnoughts had 12” guns, with the exception of the German Nassau-class, which mounted high-performance 11” guns instead. The so-called ‘super-dreadnoughts’ mounted superfiring guns and weapons of larger caliber, usually 13.5” or 14”, although the Germans did not adopt a larger gun until the 15” of the Bayern class. The last pre-treaty ships carried 15” or 16” guns, usually only 8 in 4 twin turrets.
    Actually, the term twin turret isn’t strictly accurate in all cases. A notable feature of US mounting design was that the guns were often mounted in separate slides, allowing each gun to elevate individually. This required a bigger turret, but meant that a single lucky hit wouldn’t jam all of a turret’s guns. Guns with separate slides are referred to as two-gun or three-gun turrets, and this feature can be seen in pictures of US battleships with guns elevated individually.
    Treaty battleships, except for the Bismarcks, adopted triple or quadruple turrets. The classic arrangement was three triple turrets, two forward and one aft. The King George V-class was intended to carry three quadruple turrets, but the second turret was changed to a twin to allow greater protection.

    The typical measures of a gun are bore diameter and caliber. Caliber is equal to the length of the barrel divided by the bore diameter. A 16”/50 caliber gun is 66’8” long. A longer gun is heavier, but generally has a higher muzzle velocity. That’s a mixed blessing. Higher muzzle velocity can lead to reduced accuracy and increased barrel wear, and it reduces deck penetration at a given range, as discussed in the post on armor. Another, in many ways more important metric, is shell weight. Typical weights were 850 lb for 12” guns, 1500 lb for 14”, anywhere between 1650 and 1950 lb for 15” and 2100 lb for 16” guns. The US superheavy 16” shell, discussed earlier, was 2700 lb, and rendered the guns as effective as a conventional 18” gun at long range. Superheavy shells were not adopted earlier or more widely for several reasons. First, longer shells are more likely to break during oblique impacts, which means that a superheavy shell must be very strong. Only the US was able to build sufficiently strong shells. Also, longer shells require longer hoists, which limits their adoption after a ship is built. The late construction of US battleships and the late selection of 16” guns for the North Carolina-class allowed the USN to adopt the superheavy shell.

    Most battleship guns carried two types of shells, one armor-piercing and the other with more explosives under a variety of names. The armor-piercing shell carried between 1.5% and 5% of explosives by weight, and had a sacrificial cap to break the face-hardened layer of armor. Over that, went a ballistic cap that improved the shell’s aerodynamics. The fuse was in the shell’s base, and activated after a short delay, designed to get the shell into the vulnerable parts of the target. Only the Japanese departed substantially from the standard shell design. They designed their shells to optimize for underwater damage, after the results of the tests on Tosa, a battleship cancelled while under construction due to the Washington Treaty. The shells were designed with a long delay fuse and a flat nose for a stable underwater trajectory, although it did somewhat reduce their penetration during conventional hits. As it was, they got a single hit of the type they’d planned for, on the USS Boise off Guadalcanal, and flooding put it out before the magazine exploded. Most of the time, the long fuse delay meant that the shell was out the other side of the ship before it detonated. An experimental US fuse was designed to set the delay off at the end of the shell’s decleration, and would have been ideal for the Japanese.
    The other shell was variously known as high-capacity, common, or some variant on one of those two. These usually lacked a cap, and had between 5% and 10% of explosives. Early on, they were intended to damage the lightly-armored upperworks of enemy battleships, but later on were mostly carried to attack shore targets.
    That’s enough for now. History and specifics coming Wednesday.

    • bean says:

      I’m a volunteer tour guide on the USS Iowa in Los Angeles, and I enjoy explaining battleships so much that I’ve been doing it here for quite a while. This is my index of the current posts. Please don’t post a reply to this index comment so I can keep it updated as new ones get published and the new posts are easy to find.
      General History of Battleships, Part 1 and Part 2
      US Battleships in WW2
      Rest-of-world Battleships in WW2
      Battleships after WW2
      The Destroyer that accidentally attacked a President
      Fire Control
      Armor, Part 1 and Part 2
      Armament Part 1

      EDIT: New version of this index at this link

    • bean says:

      I was originally thinking that I wasn’t feeling good enough to put together a full post today (although I am feeling much better than I was, and thanks for the wishes there), and to fill the gap, I put together a bibliography of my recommendations by topic. With one exception, I either own or have read all of these. These skew technical, as you might expect from me.
      “This is interesting, but I’d like a more rigorous general technical background on this stuff”:
      Eclipse of the Big Gun, by D.K. Brown. An overview of the development of the warship, 1904-1945. A very good general introduction to the topic, with a bibliography. Highly recommended and quite cheap. The sequel, Navies in the Nuclear Age, has equally good coverage of technical developments during the Cold War.
      British Battleships:
      An embarrassment of riches here. Three books, all called British Battleships, by Norman Friedman; Alan Raven and John Roberts; and Oscar Parkes. Parkes covers 1860-1950, Raven and Roberts the ships that fought in WW2, and Friedman the Dreadnought era. I haven’t read Raven and Roberts, but it’s been recommended by everyone, and I intend to correct this soon anyway.
      US Battleships:
      The source on the design of US battleships is Norman Friedman’s US Battleships: An Illustrated Design History. It goes from the 1880s to 1992. Should be easy to find in libraries. Friedman also wrote design histories of other US warships. All are recommended.
      General/British Warship Design:
      D.K. Brown’s series on British Warship Design: Before the Ironclad, Warrior to Dreadnought, The Grand Fleet, Nelson to Vanguard, and Rebuilding the Royal Navy. Brown was a British naval architect, and his books are full of examples of what goes into designing a warship.
      Treaty Battleships:
      Robert Dulin and Willaim Garzke’s trilogy of US Battleships; British, Soviet, French and Dutch Battleships; and Axis and Neutral Battleships. They cover everything built after 1930 or so. All are technically-focused, although they do have more operational detail than other books. Should be easier to find than some of my other suggestions.
      The Iowa class:
      Iowa-class Battleships by Robert Sumrall is the best resource on this. Largely technical, but not entirely so. A second option, and much better value if you don’t feel like spending lots of money, is The Iowa Class Battleships by Malcom Muir. It goes into more detail on the historical side, but is light on technical details.
      Naval guns:
      The Big Gun, by Peter Hodge. Lots of details of the guns and mountings 1860 on.
      I’ll leave my list at this for now. I have lots of other books, most of them very specialized. I’d be happy to provide suggestions on other topics as requested, and I’m sure that others will provide their own recommendations.
      My idea file is running a bit low, much to my surprise. Does anyone have any topics they’d like me to expound on? Right now, I have plans to finish off armament and do underwater protection, and maybe expand History of the Battleship Part 1, but not much beyond that.

      • James Miller says:

        For future topics, how about spying? Did nations try to hide their methods of building battleships, and spy on other nations to learn better ways of building battleships. I assume that for reasons of high fixed costs, Britain sold battleships to other countries, but did Britain protect certain technologies and not include them in ships they sold?

        • bean says:

          I was going to say that it wasn’t a good future topic because of how simple the answer was, but I’m not so sure now. Military secrecy has changed a lot.
          Also, you’ve given me the idea to do one on the battleships owned (or ordered) by the lesser powers, which should be of interest.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          FWIW “Someone’s stolen plans from the Admiralty, we’ve got to get them back” was a reasonably common set-up in detective fiction back in the day.

        • Eric Rall says:

          Related to this: there was concern at various points that rival nations were concealing the number or size of battleships they were building. It wasn’t really practical to keep a new battleship entirely secret, since a BB-sized hull in a drydock (generally in or near a major commercial port city for logistical and geographic reasons) with thousands of people working on assembling it tends to draw a bit of attention, but it was conceivable for a country to secretly stockpile long lead-time components and then rush the final assembly to get ships in the water several months faster than their rivals could build ships from scratch in response.

          The most notable incident of this type I’m aware of was the 1909 Naval Scare, when Britain thought Germany was doing exactly this. If I remember correctly, what was actually happening was a German defense contractor building an inventory of heavy guns on their own initiative, to smooth out demand and keep their assembly lines running in anticipation of the next big wave of naval construction. Britain found out about the stockpile, assumed the worst, and responded by accelerating their own building program to match the “secret” battleships they feared Germany was building.

          • bean says:

            That would be the ‘we want eight’ incident. Unfortunately, my books on that are not to hand, but I think it had to do with the overall pace of German building looking faster than they thought, not specifically about heavy guns. I’ll look into it more. British intel was often rather poor about German developments. Another example would be the battlecruiser and caliber panics of WWI.

          • ThaadCastle says:

            Per Bean’s Comment:

            I think what happened (per ‘The War That Ended Peace’) was a German dockyard convinced the German government that it would have to idle/layoff a decently high number of its employees if it didn’t get another order soon. So the Germans moved up the schedule for one or two of their ships, without increasing the total number, so it looked like they were building at a much faster rate than they actually intended to/ended up building at…although how the British would be able to tell the difference (beyond relying on Berlin’s statements) is a fair question.

          • bean says:

            Doing more digging on this, it looks like ThaadCastle is correct. Krupp had expanded its plant over the proceeding five years, and heavy gun mountings are usually the pacing item in battleship construction. A couple of the ships of the 1909 program were laid down early to avoid the shipyards having to lay people off. It wasn’t totally obvious to the British that this was the only reason for the early work, and several pieces of circumstantial evidence lead them to conclude that the Germans were accelerating their plans.

    • Montfort says:

      Treaty battleships, except for the Bismarcks, adopted triple or quadruple turrets. The classic arrangement was three triple turrets, two forward and one aft. The King George V-class was intended to carry three quadruple turrets, but the second turret was changed to a twin to allow greater protection.

      Do you mean “triple,” “quadruple,” and “twin” here in the specific technical way you mentioned earlier (i.e. none of these used separate slides), or in the more general way (i.e. some did, some didn’t)?

      • bean says:

        The more general way. In fact, it looks as if I was wrong above. All of the turrets after about 1910 appear to have used separate cradles/slides, but I was fooled by the inconsistent terminology in my reference books. It looks like the distinction is only important to US turrets, and that most if not all of the Treaty turrets had separate slides. (Well, almost all. See below.)
        Also, saying ‘triple or three-gun’ is really awkward, and I don’t object when someone says ‘triple’ about Iowa’s turrets. As an interesting side note, the quadruple turrets on Richelieu and Jean Bart were basically two separate twin turrets stuck together, and they used two slides. That doesn’t even really have a name.

        • Montfort says:

          Ah, I see, thanks.

          (As for the french turrets, I suppose the naming convention would seem to imply “two-twin” or maybe “double two-gun” but I can see how that might be confusing).

        • bean says:

          I did a bit more digging, and managed to figure out where I went wrong. Apparently, the single slide was an American innovation, and only used on a couple of classes. All other turrets were separate-slide. I looked into this before I wrote the post, but got confused because it just wasn’t mentioned in that book.

    • gbdub says:

      Can you explain how more than two guns “significantly” increases complication (more than going from one gun to two?) and “reduces effective firepower”? Particularly the latter – I’m assuming the answer is something obvious, but I can’t think of it.

      • bean says:

        Basically, increasing the number of guns in a turret increases the gun to space ratio, which makes it harder to cram all the bits in. More bits in a given space means that it takes longer to load, reducing effective firepower. Typically, a twin turret is considered equivalent to 1.75 single guns, a triple to 2.5 and a quad to 3.25. This can be made worse if the turret is particularly cramped. So in terms of overall firepower, 4 twins isn’t that far off from 3 triples, although the triples are lighter.
        The British hated the triples on the Nelsons, although some of that was probably post-Jutland paranoia about flash-tightness meaning there were lots of interlocks to get in the way. One particular problem was that I think those turrets used two hoists, with one hoist feeding two guns.
        (Edited to correct relative gun effectiveness.)

      • John Schilling says:

        In particular, if you have three or more guns in a turret, there’s at least one gun whose crew has to be wedged in between it and another working gun on each side. Two guns, every gun crew has at least one side unconstrained by anything but the turret armor, and the circular barbettes usually push that out far enough to give a reasonable amount of room. Also, turrets fire salvos at the rate of the slowest gun, so three guns means three chances (with extra probability on the center gun) of someone coming up late and slowing down the whole turret.

    • Eltargrim says:

      So you’ve given the downsides to a greater muzzle velocity, but now I’m curious about the benefits. I’m assuming that while the accuracy may be degraded, the time of flight is reduced, so there might be easier to actually land volleys?

      • bean says:

        Higher velocity means better range and better belt penetration. In theory, the reduced time of flight means that you have better accuracy for exactly the reasons you give. But only the Germans stuck with high velocities in the long run. The British went that way on the Nelsons, and really regretted it. The Italians did so in WW2, and produced an incredible 15″ gun that required replacement about twice as often as its contemporaries. We don’t know exactly what they would have done in the long term, but moderate velocity and a heavy shell seems to be best. The British 12″/50 and US 14″/50 both had serious problems relative to their 45-caliber predecessors.

        • Protagoras says:

          Did the Germans find ways to compensate for the problems, or were their guns just problematic?

          • bean says:

            I’m not really sure, to be honest. The Germans usually had at least a small lead in metallurgy, which might give them an advantage in relative performance, and it’s also possible that their reduced peacetime training schedule made higher barrel wear allowable. I wouldn’t totally rule out them just making a wrong call on this, or being driven to it by other factors. Tirpitz needed to keep the size of his ships down for fiscal reasons, which generally meant smaller guns. I think the high-performance guns were at least partially an attempt to compensate for that.
            Per NavWeps, it looks like they just accepted the shorter barrel life. Although in fairness, the British 12″/50 had a life of something like 80 rounds, while the German 30.5 cm/50 was more like 200, with pretty similar velocities and projectile weights. Later naval guns were usually in the 300+ rounds range.

          • ThaadCastle says:

            Silly question – How onerous was it to replace barrels? Did they have to go all the way back to a dry dock and it took weeks/months or was it just pull up to a pier and it could be replaced in three or four days?

            From my relatively uninformed perspective 80 to 300 rounds does not seem like that many.

          • bean says:

            I think I missed a couple of issues. First, the German propellants were a lot cooler-burning than cordite, so a hot gun could have reasonable life. Second, the British guns were wire-wound (they used wire to resist the pressure of firing) while the German guns were made entirely of steel tubes. That gives much greater resistance to droop.
            Also, it looks like the problems in the US 14″/50 guns were teething troubles, and not as serious as I thought.

          • Protagoras says:

            Why did the British use cordite? Every time I’ve ever seen a mention of how cordite compares to other propellants, it’s been about cordite’s problems.

          • bean says:

            That’s a very good question, and one I do not have an answer to. Probably sunk costs in terms of factories and the like, but it could be simple stubbornness.

          • cassander says:

            @Protagoras; bean

            Why did the british use cordite

            I suspect the answer there is annoyingly simple. someone decided to use it before the problems were known, and by the time they were known, they’d already spent a ton of money building up a cordite infrastructure, including the companies that supplied it, people familiar with working with it, money spent on it, etc. By the time problems were realized, switching would have been both expensive and politically difficult, and all the people with a vested interest in avoiding a switch had plenty of “new improved cordite solutions”, and so it was never abandoned.

    • John Schilling says:

      The fuse was in the shell’s base, and activated after a short delay, designed to get the shell into the vulnerable parts of the target.

      Possibly you forgot, “…on every other Sunday, if God smiles on your cause and you sacrificed a goat just to hedge your bets”?

      I haven’t looked into this in great quantitative detail, but I have been struck by the number of action reports in which shells not exploding after penetrating armor is a major or even decisive factor. I’m guessing that, A: designing a fuse that still works after you slam it into foot-thick armor plate at two thousand miles an hour is Really Hard, B: this is one of those things where people tend to skimp on the testing because live-fire testing is expensive to do right, and C: some nations were consistently better at it than others. Do you have any insight into fuse reliability on AP shells, US or otherwise?

      • bean says:

        This is a good point. I don’t have quantitative values to hand, but clearly reliability was not all it could have been. The problem varied quite a bit. There were some shells which were set off whenever they hit something heavy, before they could penetrate (British WWI shells and US WW2 HC shells spring to mind) while other shells often were just duds. I know that BuOrd claimed the fuses were OK after Operation Torch, but that doesn’t seem to hold water.
        Based on incidents I remember, I think that fuse reliability was probably in the region of 75%.
        I can’t remember the source right now, but I think one of the serious problems was that a lot of fuses handled oblique impact poorly. The shell would be rotating, and that would drive the striker out of line with the primer. I’m not sure which fuses this applies to. It could have been British WWI fuses or American WW2 fuses. Or maybe both. I’ll have to do some digging.
        Edit 2:
        The first bit of digging is over. BuOrd claimed that the percentage of duds during the bombardments off North Africa were below the required 10%. I have doubts that this number is honest, as 2 of the 5 hits on Jean Bart were duds, and another one exploded clear (although in that case it was because the plating was too light to start the fuse properly). It looks like the misaligned fuse thing was the British in WWI. Probably.

        Edit 3:
        Found the source. It was apparently common in all early AP fuses, but particularly prominent in early US fuses, which used misalignment as a safety feature. This should not have been a problem in WW2. That said, grazing impacts would not have set off those fuses either.

        • bean says:

          I did more looking into this, and I have to somewhat withdraw my comments on US fuses in Morocco. It appears that the two duds on Jean Bart were both the result of the shells breaking on high-obliquity impacts. It’s hard to blame the fuse when it’s no longer attached to the shell.

        • John Schilling says:

          Do you know if BuOrd ever did the right thing, and actually fired battleship guns with live shells at battleship-strength armor plate at various impact velocities and angles? That’s an expensive test to run, but there’s really no substitute (as the torpedoes branch rather famously and belatedly discovered).

          • bean says:

            Well, it’s BuOrd, who were able to screw up almost anything (although that’s a story for next time). So probably not.

            Serious answer: I don’t know of any such tests, but I also don’t know that they didn’t happen. That’s the sort of thing which gets reported on in Warship International, and a subscription to that is on hold until I get my library built up a bit more. DTIC doesn’t appear to have any reports on the subject. I do think it bears pointing out that the shells used in Torch were early ones, and that later ones were significantly stronger. I know I have some details on British weapons testing, but I’d have to look them up.

          • Protagoras says:

            I’ve read a tiny bit about this, and as I understand it part of the problem is that it is exceedingly hard to make these tests realistic; a piece of steel in some sort of artificial mounting is going to be very different from part of a massive armor plate securely attached to a moving ship, and trying to make them more similar makes the test even more expensive and runs up against the problem that they weren’t entirely sure which differences mattered. Probably test firing at an obsolete ship that was going to be scrapped would be the best, but lots of random factors could influence the tests so you would want to run a lot of tests to get reliable results, and there’s a limited supply of such ships. And even that doesn’t test against the best current armor.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      What’s the deal with “blast damage”? Like, starting with the very basics of what exactly it is physically.

      Also, did high-capacity rounds fall out of favor for their original purpose based on experience? Testing? Theory? How strong a contrarian case can one make that they should have been used a lot more?

      • bean says:

        What’s the deal with “blast damage”? Like, starting with the very basics of what exactly it is physically.

        Blast damage is the damage you get due to the muzzle blast of the gun. Look at this picture of Iowa firing a broadside. Notice the rings on the sea surface. Those are caused by said blast, which can reach significant levels (I don’t have numbers, those are in a book at home) near the muzzle. It was usually considered bad form to fire the forward turrets aft of the beam during practice or bombardment missions because they usually broke the bridge windows. I was told by a former crewman on Iowa that they’d be on the open battle bridge on the O8 level, and the blast would set off camera shutters. (And push cameras into the faces of new sailors who’d been told they needed to be ready to snap a picture of the shells leaving the guns. In fact, the blast took care of that.)
        Firing over decks (most common on ships with wing turrets, but a problem even for non-wing turrets) tended to tear up the decks, too. This was more annoying in peacetime than wartime, for obvious reasons.

        Also, did high-capacity rounds fall out of favor for their original purpose based on experience? Testing? Theory? How strong a contrarian case can one make that they should have been used a lot more?

        Quite a strong one. The big problem was that early AP shells were pretty bad in operation. The British through Jutland considered their Common Capped about equivalent to their AP, which had a nasty habit of going off while piercing armor, in effectiveness. It formed better fragments, and the fumes from the burster were toxic. Improved AP projectiles meant that common was relatively less effective during the interwar years, although this lead to all-AP loads, which turned out to be a problem when the battleships were mostly used for bombardments.

        • bean says:

          Re blast figures, for a British 12″ gun (not sure which one, but probably the 40 caliber one used in 1895), the blast pressure was 30 psi as much as 150 ft in front of the muzzle and 60 or 70 ft at 90 degrees to the muzzle. That’s quite a lot, as houses are badly damaged at 5 psi.

          • John Schilling says:

            At 30 psi, you start seriously injuring and maybe killing exposed people, by blast damage to the lungs and more insidiously by trauma to the brain.

            I am told that the Yamatos couldn’t man many of their light antiaircraft guns if the main battery was to be fired, for this reason (and somewhat of a problem insofar as the main battery was also supposed to be used for antiaircraft purposes, firing God’s own shotgun shells). Or, more humorously, the movie “Under Siege” has Tommy Lee Jones’ not inappropriately overacted response to being caught on deck when the Missouri fires a 16″ gun. Though he does recover unrealistically fast so as to put in an appropriate performance in the obligatory final fatal fistfight.

          • bean says:

            To expand on what John said, this wasn’t limited to the Japanese. Apparently, British capital ships before Hood couldn’t fire superfiring turrets within 30 degrees of the centerline due to blast on the lower turret. (I think the US laid out their sighting ports differently, which solved the problem.) The US in WW2 had serious problems finding places for AA mounts that were free of blast, and ultimately we basically gave up and started restricting main gun arcs to allow us to cram more 40mm mounts on. The Iowas were designed with 4 quad mounts, and ended up with 20. Only maybe 10 could be reasonably said to be free of serious blast interference. The two mounts forward of Turret 1 were obviously the worst, and also tended to get washed out in heavy seas. And the original Iowa reactivation plans included Sea Sparrow, but it was dropped when they couldn’t find somewhere to put the launcher without it getting shredded by gun blast.

  3. Paul Brinkley says:

    On and off for the past few months, I’ve been thinking about who the Democratic Party might run in the next presidential election. I think there’s plenty of time to address this question, but I’ve reason to believe it’s especially tough, and may therefore call for a hardball answer.

    There’s one thing I keep coming back to when considering who would beat Trump, and it isn’t platform-related. I think a lot of the Democratic platform is fine – sticking up for minorities, for women, and for the impoverished; opposing corporate subsidies; etc. But those arguments have already been made, and heard; there’s little new to say here.

    No, the platform won’t be the primary mover. Or rather, it’s moved as much as it can by itself, and needs something more. As much as I hate to say it, in these times, what will move the voters won’t be issues, so much as it is… celebrity. Someone that can light up the national room. I think Trump won not simply because of dissatisfaction with Clinton, as many Republican boosters and even some Democrat fingerwaggers put it, but rather because Trump had a brand that he didn’t earn through a political career. It’s a cynical notion, I agree, but it appears that many voters will check a box simply because the name “Washington” or “Kennedy” appears next to it, and there’s enough such voters that it can make a difference. (There’s a plot device in the old movie The Distinguished Gentleman that hinges on this, so it’s not just me noticing this.)

    Who’s like this on Blue Team? Not Biden. Not Warren. Not Sanders. Not Pelosi. Not Ellison. Not even Booker, or O’Malley. True celebrities, such as Oprah Winfrey or George Clooney, mentioned a few threads ago, won’t work either; political experience is still important to a lot of voters. (We might get away with Oprah in the WH for a term, but I think it’s be four years of nothing getting done, and I suspect Trump may warn even celebrity fans to watch for that.)

    The only one I can think of with both political experience and celebrity earned outside of politics, is… Senator Al Franken. Sure, he only starred in one film, but he had years of experience as a writer and funny man. He’s even carried some of that over onto the Senate floor. And he’s from Minnesota, a solid Midwest state, just crazy enough to elect a libertarian as governor, blue enough to go for the late Paul Wellstone, and maverick enough to be the only state for Mondale. All the Dems have to do is let Franken be Franken.

    What about a running mate? Franken’s most obvious downside compared to Clinton is that he’s another man, and 2016 was supposed to be the year of the first female President. A ticket without a woman is a dealbreaker, I’m betting. But at the same time, you want to be bold. Wasserman-Schulz is out. Pelosi is still out. Warren’s a maybe… but if the Dems want to really Be Hardball about this, I’m thinking the thing to do is reach outside the party.

    Who’s not in the Democratic Party, has some name recognition, is female, and brings in the crowd that wouldn’t be in otherwise? Even more celebrity is tempting, but you don’t want too much. A full ticket requires contrast. In my view, I think the best choice available is none other than the perennial Green Party candidate: Dr. Jill Stein. Her only negative I can recall are some vaccination remarks, and I think those can be either walked back or shuffled down the memory hole. Otherwise, she’s young enough, and reinforces the message that this is an outsider ticket. She might lack political experience, but we just need to clear the Trump bar, IMO.

    Between her outsider cred, and Franken’s probable ability to out-entertain Trump, I think they could have a real shot. A quick search around the internet says I’m not even the only one considering this.

    So there you are. Franken / Stein 2020. Thoughts?

    • chariava says:

      10/10. I would vote for this ticket and probably could convince a dozen other people too.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Aw man, too bad Vlad Dracula is a Romanian citizen so he can’t run against that.

    • BBA says:

      We’ll never have a Jewish president. Just ask Lenny Bruce.

      • aNeopuritan says:

        You have a president whose favorite person in the universe is a Jew right now.

        • Sandy says:

          The President himself is nominally a Christian, and makes a lot of sounds that appeal to religious Christians, and occasionally does some things they like too. Tribal identity counts for something.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          a president whose favorite person in the universe is a Jew

          Okay, but assuming they were of at least modest standards of devoutness, I’m pretty sure that that applies to most of the other presidents as well 😛

    • Sandy says:

      I think Franken runs into the same problems Bernie did — he’s a Jew from a white state up north, so black churches in the South aren’t going to get excited for him. Stein, honestly, she comes off as sort of a kook and not in a way that counters Trump’s own eccentricities. If she’s supposed to be the Veep, I don’t think she’d fare well in a comparison to Pence’s kindly-uncle schtick.

      They’ll try Cory Booker in 2020, hoping to recreate the Obama magic. They might try Kamala Harris, whom I don’t know a lot about, but she says a lot of idiotic things on Twitter so that might be a bad idea.

      • aNeopuritan says:

        I’m not saying that picking a Jew can’t be harmful, but …

        Q: who thinks blacks in the South matter under current electoral rules?
        A: a bunch of idiots *very high up* in the Democratic Party.

        (Even if you want the best (possibly only) for (those) blacks, run someone that can win in states that actually can be won. Nate Silver guessed correctly which relevant, i.e. winnable, states Clinton would fail in if she did fail – and she did – and Clinton ignored those in favor of campaigning in doomed states, possibly because her advisor was thinking Only Black Opinions Matter.)

        • Sandy says:

          who thinks blacks in the South matter under current electoral rules?

          They most certainly matter for the primaries; being the reason Bernie got his ass kicked all over the South, they more or less ended his campaign themselves. And they can be an indicator of black turnout in the general election; if they’re not enthused, the Democrats have no chance of winning the electoral college.

          • aNeopuritan says:

            I knew and agree on the first part. On the second: if the Democrats get a candidate that whites in New England, Mid-Atlantic, Upper Midwest and West Coast regions actually *like* (which could even flip a state outside those regions) and retain even half of the black vote (a fall to which level would be anti-miracle), couldn’t they win on that? After all, this seems basically like the Clinton win that was expected. Lastly, a Northern Jew may be less of a problem to the also-Northern blacks, less likely to be Conservative, whose vote does matter in their states.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I think Franken runs into the same problems Bernie did — he’s a Jew from a white state up north, so black churches in the South aren’t going to get excited for him.

        Also, if you’re going on the theory that you can’t elect a Jew, then Stein is also a bad pick.

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        They might try Kamala Harris, whom I don’t know a lot about, but she says a lot of idiotic things on Twitter so that might be a bad idea.

        Yeah, that pretty much disqualifies someone from being President….

        • Sandy says:

          I mean, if you want to argue “This man is too stupid to be President”, a good way to make that argument is not to put up a woman who’s too stupid to be President either. Her objection to Gorsuch is literally that he tries to adhere to the law and doesn’t pick and choose the people he wants to win in any given case.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Her objection to Gorsuch is literally that he tries to adhere to the law and doesn’t pick and choose the people he wants to win in any given case.

            The fact that she actually sees this as an objectionable quality in a judge makes me deeply suspicious of anyone who’s nomination she would support.

          • nolemonnomelon says:

            which tweets are you talking about? I see:
            1. “Judge Gorsuch’s record shows he puts corporations ahead of the American people.” ;
            2. “Gorsuch imposed religious views on employees and has shown outright hostility toward workers.” ;
            3. “Judge Gorsuch has a history of rulings that directly hurt middle class families, consumers, women, and more. I oppose his nomination.”
            None of these strike me as meaning literally what you are saying she said.

          • suntzuanime says:

            The first two you could argue she was trying to claim he was improperly biased, but the last one does seem to carry a pretty clear implication that rulings should be made on the basis of group membership of the winners vs. the losers, rather than the law.

          • Sandy says:

            @nolemonnomelon: If you go back a little, there’s a tweet where she says “Judge Gorsuch values legalisms over real lives. I won’t support his nomination”, and it links to an online article where she praises Thurgood Marshall’s statement that judges should decide the result and wait for the law to catch up as an example of what she expects in a SCOTUS justice.

            Popehat was a little pissed off by that; as I understand it, he didn’t like Harris back when she was a prosecutor either.

      • Protagoras says:

        As a Democrat, I despise Kamala Harris. If she somehow made it through the Democratic primaries I might have to vote for the Libertarian or something. I suppose if she were the VP nominee and the presidential nominee were more tolerable I’d hold my nose.

    • HeelBearCub says:



      Franken I like, though.

    • James Miller says:

      Cory Booker if he can get a lock on the black vote in the primary, else Hillary Clinton. Clinton could win the primary if she convinces primary voters that she lost only because of Russian interference in the election. As Trump almost certainly would love to run against Clinton again, expect Trump to help Hillary in the primary by, say, making sexist remarks against her.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Clinton is done. No one will want to see a re-run of 2016, where Trump can simply run against Hillary.

        Plus Clinton was already old as a candidate.

    • suntzuanime says:


      I honestly think Stein gets an excessively bad rap because the left has decided to treat Science (or worse, Science journalism) as dogma. She didn’t say you shouldn’t vaccinate your children, she said we should remain vigilant against drug companies which are tempted to place their profits over people’s health, and this applies to vaccines as well. And she’s right about that. Anyway it would be hard for Trump to attack her on vaccines, as he’s also on occasion been slow to swear his undying loyalty to the Scientific orthodoxy on this point.

      • Aapje says:

        Politicians really can’t campaign rationally because people have been conditioned to pattern match. So that statement gets pattern matched to ‘anti-vaccine.’ Many other statements get pattern matches as well and can’t be uttered without being interpreted much differently from their actual meaning. This really has very little to do with left vs right, except that their pattern matching differs a bit (but so does the pattern matching differ among different groups that make up the left and right).

        The worst part is that some journalists seek to trip up politicians like this, which is just a test if the politician is socially adept enough to know when to be inconsistent.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        She was echoing language used by anti-vaxxers.

        Here is the Snopes on that. They rate the claim itself false.

        But her words in response to the question on vaccines essentially say that it is right to question their safety. And she also made a false accusation, that vaccine safety was regulated by the industry, not independent academics.

        She was trying to have it both ways.

        • suntzuanime says:

          It is right to question to question their safety, and I’m rolling my eyes at your “independent academics”. You are exactly the sort of person I was talking about when I said the left places too much faith in Science; Science is just run by scientists, who are fallible people who can be corrupted by incentives like anyone else.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Not in the way Stein meant it.

            Honestly, as much as people around here hate the FDA, you’d think you wouldn’t fall for this claptrap.

      • rlms says:

        The main (very good) reason to be vigilant against Big Pharma is because they use shady practices to claim their exciting new drugs are more effective than they are. This generally doesn’t apply to vaccines, because the evidence is very clear that they are effective in preventing disease. Vigilance against unsafe drugs is much less necessary, because they are very rare.

      • Placid Platypus says:

        I’m more broadly skeptical of Stein’s knowledge and competence. The vaccines thing plays into this a little but much more worrying are her economic positions, which make Sanders look like a wonky technocrat.

        • suntzuanime says:

          But the left has an actually appropriate level of skepticism for economic orthodoxy. You will often hear them say “economics isn’t a real Science [and therefore its conclusions shouldn’t be treated as inarguable truth]”.

    • Eva Candle says:

      Many midwest folks are joining the ranks of ardent Franken supporters (definitely this cohort includes me). “He’s good enough, he’s smart enough and doggone it, people like him!” 🙂

      Is Franken already positioning himself for a strong Democratic Primary run? Yah, sure, you betcha!

    • Anon. says:

      The primaries are going to boil down to Chelsea vs The Zucc.

      • The Nybbler says:

        While the Republicans, after Trump retires for unspecified spray-tan-related reasons, run Washington. Denzel Washington.

    • herbert herberson says:

      Franken should have been HRC’s VP, and he’d make a fine candidate. I don’t see what Stein adds to the ticket, though. Warren, or, if you’re feeling gutsy, Tulsi Gabbard, provide the positives she does and then some, without any of the downsides.

      Jury’s still out on full-blown celebrities, though. If Trump is at all successful, they’ll be on the table.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        It would be hilarious to watch Trump, with 4 years of experience as president, bashing the Democrat candidate for being “just some dumb celebrity with no experience in government.”

    • Civilis says:

      As someone on the right, I wouldn’t have a problem with Sen. Franken as the democratic candidate. If Trump’s presidency is horrible, he’d probably be a better president than Sen. Warren. If Trump’s presidency isn’t horrible, I think Franken’s easily beatable. He has no major accomplishments, and he barely won election in his home state. I don’t think his political schtick appeals to anyone that isn’t already on the blue tribe left, and has no real appeal to minority voters.

      Jill Stein does nothing as a VP candidate. The only people that pay attention to the VP are the political insiders, and the only thing an insider VP really does is allow you to work better with your party’s establishment. An outsider VP does nothing for you except signal to the outsiders, and since they have no real power, most outsiders realize you’re just signaling. Both Obama and Trump picked insiders to buttress their candidacy, and one could argue that G. W. Bush, Clinton and Reagan also worked the same way in picking political insider VPs. On the other hand, the VP can lose you votes if they provide soundbites that can be used against you… see Sarah Palin (the last real outsider VP candidate).

      My opinion is that the Democratic candidate that would be the most electable (and, if Trump’s presidency isn’t a total disaster, the one I’d least like to see) is going to be someone that can run as a political outsider from the Democratic Washington DC establishment. This would most likely be a Democratic governor, preferably a woman or minority and somewhat young. Gov. McAwful… I mean, Terry McAuliffe of Virginia would work, as a decently charismatic and effective governor of a purple state, but he’s too tied to the establishment as former DNC chair. Perhaps Gov. Hickenlooper of Colorado?

      Theoretically, an ‘independent’ US Senator that caucuses with the Democrats would work, but that only allows Sen. Sanders (too old) and Sen. King (likely too old as well). If you’re going to go with a celebrity, you need one with definite Democratic leanings but no major far left public political advocacy; young and woman or minority or Hollywood presidential-like charisma is a plus.

    • meh says:

      1. I don’t think celebrity won the general. Clinton was just not a very good candidate. She was first lady, senator, and sec of state… so people knew her name. Where celebrity helped Trump was the primaries, where the field was large, and plurality voting used. He had all the ‘celebrity’ voters, where the other 15 candidates split up the rest. This might not have been as effective on the democrat side, since the field was much smaller.

      2. Distinguished Gentleman plot device was that he had the identical name (Jeff Johnson) to the congressman that had just died. People thought they were voting for the same guy, not that he just had a ‘political’ sounding name. (though I would assume that effect does exist)

      3. I’m not sure why Jill Stein is a good idea. You don’t need to win California by an extra percentage point, you need to win the rust belt. “Her only negative I can recall…”, as a VP candidate her negatives will be dug up and highlighted much more. As the Green party candidate they were reported once, and then nobody cared.

      • rlms says:

        Trivium loosely related to 2:
        There was an independent parliamentary candidate in the UK who ran as Literal Democrat, in a seat where the Liberal Democrats were popular. He managed to take enough votes from them that the Conservatives won.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          We’ve also had the Conservatory Party, the Labor (note spelling) Party, and possibly some others too. Then I think they changed the rules to stop parties having confusingly-similar names.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          The Literal Democrat guy (who was a candidate for the European Parliament), a man named Richard Huggett, then tried to stand for Parliament in Winchester in 1997 under the pseudonym of “Gerald Maclone”- Winchester was a Tory/Lib Dem marginal, the Tory incumbent was Gerry Malone.

          When he was prevented from doing this, he proceeded to stand as “Liberal Democrat Top Choice for Parliament”! The Lib Dems won by a majority of two votes– that election was declared void due to an unrelated technicality, the Lib Dems won the resulting by-election by quite a lot more.

          The rules were changed to stop this sort of thing in 1998.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      That Trump won because celebrity is a false assumption. He won because he looked at opinion polls and said he would do the popular things that people believe are in their best interests. Illegal immigration is not in the interests of most voters (or at least they don’t believe it is), and so support for deportations and a wall is high. Trump said he would deport illegals and build a wall. Muslim immigration is not in the interests of most voters. Trump said he would ban muslims from coming to the US (later softened).

      The typical establishment campaign is “the things you want or that are in your interest are immoral so vote for me to do something contrary to your wants and interests but I’ll tell you you’re a good person for it.” The thing that’s “moral” is coincidentally often profitable for the establishment.

      So if your platform is “I’m going to tear down Trump’s wall and flood the country with illegals and Muslims” you’re not going to win, no matter how famous your candidate is. You would need a candidate who says he’s going to do what the people say they want. In which case you’d just be Trump.

      • rlms says:

        Would you consider “I’m going to tear down Trump’s wall and flood the country with illegals and Muslims” to have been Clinton’s position? If so, how do you square the fact that she almost won with the idea that it’s impossible for someone with that position to win?

      • herbert herberson says:

        Trump’s celebrity status didn’t benefit him from “people wanting to vote for a celebrity” (at least primarily). Some of it was the name brand recognition mentioned in the OP, but the biggest part, IMO, was that the dude had spent roughly a hundredfold of the amount of time in front of cameras as the other candidates. He had zero experience in politics or governing, but he had more more experience in the skills related to modern campaigning than pretty much anyone else who has ever sought a major office.

        (also what rlms said)

        • the dude had spent roughly a hundredfold of the amount of time in front of cameras as the other candidates. He had zero experience in politics or governing, but he had more more experience in the skills related to modern campaigning than pretty much anyone else who has ever sought a major office.


      • christhenottopher says:

        This and the original comment in this thread (God how did I miss that joke?!) fall into a trap that I see happening a lot in discussions, namely overselling Trump’s win. The basics are this, Trump was the most unpopular major party candidate in US history since polling started, but this was somewhat counterbalanced by Clinton being the second most unpopular candidate. High degrees of partisanship meant that large numbers on both sides of the political spectrum would vote for their side’s candidate no matter what. Trump did have some enthusiastic supporters, but the Republican percentage of the popular vote fell from 2012 to 2016 so I’m not convinced that his personality was helpful relative to a generic candidate. Clinton certainly didn’t inspire much in the way of active enthusiasm, but most damaging she lost the rust belt, barely. ~50,000 votes in Michigan and Pennsylvania flipping and Clinton in sworn in as president. In an election with 130 million plus votes that’s a few hundredths of a percent. Even only including Michigan and Pennsylvania that’s a few tenths of a percent of the vote. When you’re talking margins that close the difference between victory and defeat are effectively random chance.

        Given Trump’s very high unfavorability ratings before the election (and after), his message clearly wasn’t that effective. Any even slightly more popular democrat could flip a few tenths of a percent in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Furthermore, House and Senate candidates didn’t start becoming all Trump-like to win, another sign that Trump seems to have won more in spite of himself than because of himself.

        With close margins like that and Trump not becoming more popular through governance so far, the Democrats can probably be fairly confident putting up a fairly normal candidate who just is less unpopular than Clinton was. The real key is the House where Republican advantages seem to be more durable and less based on random chance from a tight election.

    • MrApophenia says:

      One thing I wonder about being a potential obstacle for Al Franken is that back when he was still a political comedian rather than a politician, he wrote Why Not Me?, a book about his fictional third party run against Bush and Gore in 2000, and presents himself as a comically horrible candidate for President. This made for a fairly amusing read, and I know most people can separate comedy from reality, but it hews just close enough to real politics that I feel like a bunch of damaging quotes could possibly be taken out of context and just flung around nonstop if he were to try to run on a national stage.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I appreciated your joke, Paul.

      • herbert herberson says:

        lol how’d i miss that

      • Leonard says:


      • hlynkacg says:

        Me Just now:

        Joke? What Joke? *Facepalm*

        Well played mate, well played.

      • Paul Brinkley says:


        …Y’know, I thought for sure the last line would give it away.

        And if that didn’t, the use of “hardball” twice in the post would.

        And if that didn’t, the fact that it was the last unhidden OT before AFD would.

        Oh well. I guess I’ll strap on my helmet and report to Deiseach for my victory launch.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        There were so many replies taking him seriously that I started to seriously doubt if it *was* just intended as an elaborate joke.

    • Deiseach says:

      So there you are. Franken / Stein 2020. Thoughts?

      You should be taken out and shot (out of a cannon) for that?

    • Sivaas says:

      The campaign slogan writes itself. Stitch Together the Party!

    • Brad says:


      A) It’s too soon.
      B) I don’t see why the Democratic Party would need to look outside of its tens of millions strong registered membership rolls for a Vice Presidential candidate.
      C) Wasn’t one of the complaints frequently heard prior to the election that Democrats are too smug? Smugness doesn’t generally bother me, but Franken certainly strikes me as smug.

      • Nyx says:

        “Democrats are too smug” has to be one of the worst criticisms I’ve ever heard, given the actual winner of the election, who did you know won over 300 votes in the electoral college? I do, because he mentions it every fifteen minutes.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Nah, smug doesn’t fit Trump. You could make a case for arrogant or narcissistic, but smug requires exaggerated pride and a sense of superiority, and Trump doesn’t really show that.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            What definition of smug are you using?

            I think “having or showing an excessive pride in oneself or one’s achievements” fits Trump about as perfectly as possible.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Trump strikes me as too insecure to be smug; that’s why the expressions of pride are so exaggerated.

          • Spookykou says:

            I can kind of see the distinction you are trying to make, in that I would generally say that smug people are also confident in their smugness, and sometimes Trump seems really insecure in his posturing.

            A professor might be smug, but someone whose dad owns a dealership is boastful. Those two words, according to the google search I just did, are basically the same thing, but they hold slightly different tones to me.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I think the difference is that smugness implies a sort of condescending de haut en bas attitude, which plain arrogance doesn’t.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            i don’t have any sort of intellectual theory to submit but I really just don’t think smug applies to Trump and I’ve never seen anyone else use the word on him

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I don’t know, I think there are times when he is quite smug. It’s not his default setting or anything, and it’s very tough to be smug when you are having the disastrous news cycles that seem to happen to happen for him most days, but there are definitely times when he gets that kind of Cheshire Cat grin.

            As an example, my first reaction to this photo was that he had a smug expression on his face.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            As an example, my first reaction to this photo was that he had a smug expression on his face.

            Yeah that looks pretty smug, and I don’t think anyone here would claim that Trump is *never* smug, just that he’s not smug as often as some other public figures.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You know what, re-reading what suntzu wrote, I’m not sure he which point he was trying to make. Trump is totally smug, or that he isn’t.

            That’s the problem with being sarcastic 50% of the time.

            I think that whenever Trump wins, he is extraordinarily smug for a little while, then he goes back to being bellicose and aggrieved. But he always mixes in some smugness into just about every long discourse.

          • herbert herberson says:

            Is there anything more intensely subjective than smugness? When I listen to Limbaugh or watch the likes of Tomi Lahren, the smugness is out of control, but they’re very popular with the exact sort of people who seem apt to complain about smug liberals. Could definitely say the same about Trump himself, as well as a couple of frogs popular from memes (both Pepe and Lipton-Kermit).

            Not to imply that everything is backwards, I’m sure that someone on the right would see plenty of smug in both the center left and the far left. Just seems like a pointless discussion.

          • Creutzer says:

            Trump doesn’t have this holier-than-thou attitude that many people see in Democrats and object to. He’s just arrogant and full of himself, but he bases it on mundane, morally irrelevant characteristics (his business success). Some people might go so far as to reserve the word “smugness” for the moralistic kind, hence the characterisation of Trump as not smug.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I think it’s more about the sense of inherent superiority, which could be based on morality, but also could be about your expensive education, your high-class upbringing, your high IQ, &c.

            Basically you feel like you’re just better than the common man in some way, and when you interact with your lessers you don’t take them seriously, you feel like you’ve won the argument before it’s begun, and so you smile condescendingly instead of addressing them directly. That’s the core of what it means to be smug, I think.

          • herbert herberson says:

            Depends on what you consider holy.

          • herbert herberson says:

            I think it’s more about the sense of inherent superiority, which could be based on morality, but also could be about your expensive education, your high-class upbringing, your high IQ, &c.

            Do you have any idea of how common it is for right-wingers to assume youth, inexperience, joblessness, or a general lack of connection with tHe ReAl wOrLd on the part of leftist opponents they know nothing about? Because, speaking from personal experience (as someone who has a job, owns a home, and is in his 30s to boot) it’s pretty damn common, haha

          • suntzuanime says:

            I’ve never argued that no right-winger is smug, and indeed that does not accord with my personal experience as a smug right-winger.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I think it’s more about the sense of inherent superiority, which could be based on morality, but also could be about your expensive education, your high-class upbringing, your high IQ, &c.

            Well, by those lights, then “I alone can fix it” is one of the more smug statements possible, yes?

          • Randy M says:

            Well, by those lights, then “I alone can fix it” is one of the more smug statements possible, yes?

            Sure. Is that something Trump said? I don’t doubt it, but then again, when one is running to be the sole occupant of the head of government, it is understandable a candidate would want to convey it, even if “the indispensable man” sentiments are poisonous to a republic. FWIW, “I alone can fix it” does seem like a strong theme of the 2008 Obama campaign as well.

            edit: Actually, thinking about the way the words are used, I think “arrogant” is before the fact, “smug” is after the fact. ie, “I’m the only one who can fix this” is arrogant, while “I was the only one who was able to fix that” is smug.

            edit 2: Or maybe the difference that arrogance is inward focused, and smug is outward focused? “I’m incredible” versus “You’re pitiful”

          • suntzuanime says:

            No, that’s pretty clearly boastfulness, which is a totally different thing.

            It’s like how when Pepsi claims to be the greatest soft drink around you can’t sue them for fraud.

          • suntzuanime says:

            You miss the point of, well, human interaction in general, if you’re looking at the literal words a person is saying and evaluating their semantic content to try to diagnose smugness. Smugness takes place at the pragmatic level, like so much of the rest of human behavior.

            This is a problem the left has had over and over with Trump. They keep trying to play “gotcha” with quotes and not understanding the pragmatic context of his messages.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I mean, I perceive Trump as incredibly smug, as well as a whole bunch of other things.

            Like when he tells these monstrously implausible lies and kind of winks at everybody like “haha, I can tell lies and it will make the left nuts ain’t I great don’t you love it”.

            That’s not playing gotcha, or “missing the point of human interaction”.

            When he demeans his enemies as “losers”, and states that he is a “winner” (and implies that everyone in his in-group are winners by virtue of being in his in-group), what is the point of that human interaction?

            I submit that is just as much portraying a smug superiority as any other loser/winner smugness.

            This assertion that somehow liberals aren’t real people, who understand human interaction or real Americans or any other assertion how liberals are fake grew old a long time ago.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Randy M:
            Trump used variations of “I’m the only one” (who can get x, y or z done) all the time on the campaign trail.

            He specifically said “I alone can fix it” during his speech to the RNC.

        • Deiseach says:

          I also know Hillary should have been president because she won the popular vote by a staggering three-million plus votes, the largest margin in electoral history! That gets repeated every fifteen minutes too.

          Trump is vain, boastful and thin-skinned. Democratic smuggery was all “of course we’re going to win because demographics are on our side, and we’re on the right side of history”. Then history bit back.

          • Nornagest says:

            You know what’s more annoying than seeing the same claim over and over again? Seeing the same fight about it over and over again.

          • Spookykou says:

            …we’re on the right side of history”. Then history bit back.

            I assume that anyone using ‘the right side of history’ to refer to something contemporary, is implying that they will be vindicated in the long term. When the histories are written about ‘this’, the readers will see us as the good/right/correct ones. People who are on the ‘right side of history’ can lose any given fight, they just need their morals/opinions to become consensus morals/opinions at some future date. So I am not sure we can really say if history bit back or not.

          • Chalid says:

            Hillary should have been president because she won the popular vote by a staggering three-million plus votes, the largest margin in electoral history! That gets repeated every fifteen minutes too.

            I’m skeptical that the the “largest margin in electoral history” claim is ever actually made by anyone.

      • BBA says:

        Last year Kevin Drum reached the conclusion that Democrats and Republicans are about equally smug, but Democrats are much more condescending.

  4. cvxxcvcxbxvcbx says:

    Does anyone have any experience with or knowledge regarding Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation? Specifically I’m considering it to treat my depression. Tried some SSRIs and other stuff that are working okay, but people are suggesting I try this as well. A friend of my parent’s swears by it.

    • Well... says:

      The research I’ve read on it suggested it makes you feel good while you’re experiencing it but could actually cause/worsen your depression once you stop.

      In general my understanding was it’s still a very immature technology and there’s not much out there beyond high-grade prototypes yet.

      • cvxxcvcxbxvcbx says:

        Thank you. Source please.

        • Well... says:

          I thought I had it bookmarked but apparently I don’t. The article I’m thinking of would have been from 2014 or 2015. Anyway given that I lost the bookmark (sorry!!) your Google Scholar search is now basically as good as mine.

    • James Miller says:

      I’ve use neurofield which I think is the same thing. I felt some effect, but not that large. I’ve also done neurofeedback, which you should also look into.

    • Password says:

      I tried it a few years ago for perhaps a month or two, two or three times a week, and found it ineffective. That said, my depression has been extremely resistant to any sort of treatment (almost a dozen antidepressants, lots of therapy, TMS, ECT, and some experimental treatments with Ketamine injections) so you may have better results.

      Each treatment had between 50-100 cycles with each cycle having two phases, where the second phase was a rest period lasting 10-15 seconds where nothing happened.

      The first phase consisted of a couple dozen magnetic pulses over the course of a few seconds. Each pulse generated a momentary sensation of pain as if a small hammer had hit my head, though without the shock or other ill effects such a blow would have. Unlike most kinds of pain, the pain from the pulses stopped immediately after the last pulse of the cycle.

      The pain was irritating but endurable, and I acclimated to it somewhat after the first few sessions. I didn’t get any headaches or other side effects, but it also didn’t have any effect on my mood (either during or after the treatments).

      It was clear to me after a handful of sessions that it wasn’t helping, but this was the last resort before I tried more extreme measures with ECT so I gave it a full shot.

    • platanenallee says:

      I have just completed 5 weeks of TMS (five days a week, followed by “cognitive training”, basically n-back math exercises). I feel better than before, though I think my new meds (Bupropion) account for most of the improvement. Plus getting some salient somatic problems fixed, plus 5 weeks of people being really nice to me, so I can’t estimate how much of my recovery, if any, is attributable to TMS.

      I’ve looked through lots of articles on TMS, and while some of them (particularly those with a small number of subjects and dubious methodology) yield what looks like promising results, large randomised double-blind placebo-controlled multicentre trials show that TMS is no different from placebo after 3 weeks [1], somewhat better than placebo (17% recovery on TMS vs 8% on sham stimulation) after 6 weeks [2].

      The professor who talked me into trying it says that, in his experience, TMS does work, but only/mostly on young people, the younger the better. I am in my early 30s, and he said I was young enough for it to work.


      [1] Antidepressant effects of augmentative transcranial magnetic stimulation

      [2] Efficacy and safety of transcranial magnetic stimulation in the acute treatment of major depression. A multisite randomized controlled trial.

  5. Tamar says:

    Forgot to post this but will take the thread title as a cue that it isn’t too late: I’m a religiously observant (Modern Orthodox) Jew, and had been discussing with a similarly observant friend of mine whether Scott realizes that he has a decent number of religiously observant Jewish readers of this blog, as I have at least a few friends who are and do. At my Purim feast that week, this friend (who isn’t a regular reader but has read and at one point followed Unsong), drunk, says, “By the way, regarding your question about Slate Star Kodesh …”

    • aNeopuritan says:

      There’s at least one language in which x’s usual sound is that of English “sh”. Though Portuguese speakers familiar with “codex” recognize the word as foreign and would pronounce “ks” anyway …

      • Creutzer says:

        Basque, too. But it’s rather less funny when a person produces that pronunciation by just following the pronunciation rules of their language, rather than by being jewish and drunk.

        • cmurdock says:

          You didn’t ask, but if anyone’s curious: The Basque spelling was a carry-over from Spanish, which used to write /sh/ as “x” prior to the 16th century. That convention was later adopted for the orthographies of Mayan and other indigenous American languages, so you get names like “Xbalanque” (pronounced /shbalanke/). Meanwhile, in Spanish, that sound merged with /zh/ (spelled “j”), changed to a velar fricative, and later had its spelling updated so that all instances of “x” and “j” were regularized into “j”. Except in certain names, like “Mexico”, which had a /sh/ sound in Nahuatl, has a velar fricative in Spanish, and a spelling-pronunciation of /ks/ in English.

      • Ninmesara says:

        I’m a Portuguese sepaker from Portugal, and I’m not very acquainted with Brazilian Portuguese, or the Portuguese spoken in African countries, so this might apply only to Portuguese from Portugal.

        It might be correct to say that x’s “usual sound” in Portuguese is “sh”, but it can be pronounced in many different ways, even in native Portuguese words. It is pronounced as:

        – “sh” in some words, such as “taxa” (tax), “guaxinim” (raccoon), “enxugar” (to dry), “xadrês” (chess) or “caixa” (box), “puxar” (to pull), “feixe” (bundle), “peixe” (fish), “xenofobia” (xenophobia – ok, this one comes from Greek)

        – “z”, as in “exame” (exam), “executar” (to execute), “exacto” (exact)

        – “ks”, as in “tóxico” (toxic, although some people pronounce it as “sh” in this word), “fixo” (fixed), “taxi” (taxi or cab)

        – “ish”, as in “texto” (text), “êxtase” (bliss), “têxtil” (textile)

        – “iz” as in “êxito” (success), “êxodo” (exodus)

        – “ss” as in “trouxe” (he brought)

        – “gz” as in “hexadecimal” (same as English), although some people might pronounce it in different ways.

        The word codex exists in Portuguese, just like other Latin words which are used alongside “native” Portuguese words. Because Portuguese comes from Latin, the distinction can be a little blurry sometimes. Most words taken from Latin the “x” is pronounced as “ks”. Examples are “codex”, “rex” (as in T-rex) or “Dux”, an obscure academic term for the the highest ranking member of the “praxe” (read as “sh”, although the Latin equivalent of the word – “praxis” – is read as “ks”). When using technical terms/sayings in Latin, as in lawyers do often, it’s usually pronounced “ks”. e.g. “dura lex, sed lex”, whch means, the law is hard but it’s the law.

        In English words, such as “pixel”, we follow the English pronunciation. In the title of the blog, a Portuguese reader would probably read it in English, because it is followed by two English words (“slate” and “star”).

        So, in any case, I agree with aNeopuritan regarding the fact that Portuguese speakers would pronounce “codex” as “ks”.

    • Emily says:

      You might have some insight into this. Scott’s mentioned recently on tumblr that he’s looking for a spouse, female, ideally Jewish, interested in starting a family soon. Do you know anyone who might be interested, or of any resources you could recommend? It seems like Scott would be extremely eligible if he were willing to be observant: he’s looking to settle down and have kids, he’s a doctor, and he’s (I would guess) open to someone roughly his age, which is on the later end as far as when people typically get married in this community.
      (Scott, I apologize if this is overstepping a boundary. Or if you want this discussed somewhat more privately, I can make a google group or closed subreddit or something.)

  6. Well... says:

    The four Neal Stephenson novels I’ve read, in the order in which I liked them (1 = liked the most):

    1. Seveneves
    2. Anathem
    3. Zodiac
    4. Reamde

    …And I liked Reamde quite a lot by the way.

    Based on this list, can anyone recommend other science fiction books you think I’d enjoy and would likely be able to find at my local public library?

    • Trevor Adcock says:

      I would recommend Stephenson’s other novels, Snow Crash and Diamond Age, which are my favorite of his.

      Also Vernor Vinge’s novels are great A Fire Upon the Deep is a classic. For a more near future story I’d recommend Rainbow’s End by him as well. Both are very relevant to the content of this blog.

      Alastair Reynold’s Terminal World is a pretty good Sci-fi story as well. Similar to a Fire upon the deep, but set on a dying earth.

      • Placid Platypus says:

        The lack of an apostrophe in Rainbows End is… not exactly a plot point but definitely deliberate.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          There’s even a chapter called “The Missing Apostrophe”!

          I guess, given my username and everything, I should second the recommendation of A Fire Upon the Deep.

    • reasoned argumentation says:

      Hey! Someone else whose favorite Stephenson novels are Seveneves and Anathem.

      Snowcrash and the Diamond Age are both great but not on that level.

      Blindsight and its sequel Echopraxia are both very good.

      • quaelegit says:

        Seconding (thirding?) Snowcrash, Diamond Age, and Blindsight! Also have you guys seen this slightly Cryptonomicon-related short story? https://vanemden.com/books/neals/jipi.html

        Perhap’s Greg Egan’s stuff? I’ve only read his anthology Axiomatic but I really liked it, and found its stories though-provoking in a similar way to Stephenson and Watts.

        Personally, my other favorite scifi writer (besides Stephenson) is Connie Willis. Very different style from Stephenson, but she also goes really into the history of the time period and has a great sense of humor. Look into To Say Nothing of the Dog (Victorian England, comedy) or Doomsday Book (Black death England, tragedy).

        Finally, related to Anathem, definitely check out Canticle for Leibowitz, which did it first. VERY different from Stephenson, but I still think the plot of “monks preserve the knowledge of western civ post-apocalypse” is really cool, plus it presents an interesting view on Catholocism (Canticle’s monks are Catholic).

      • roystgnr says:

        Snowcrash and Diamond Age aren’t as good as Anathem IMHO as well, but they both have a similar style to Zodiac with a better execution.

        I’d also strongly recommend Cryptonomicon to any Stephenson fans who enjoyed Anathem, even though the former seems to be shelved in Science Fiction more out of force-of-habit than out of careful classification.

    • herbert herberson says:

      Embassytown by China Mieville
      Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

      and, if you end up liking those, all the other things those two authors have written

    • MartMart says:

      I liked Snowcrash, and really liked Seveneves, but having recently finished Anathem, still find myself wondering what it was that I just read. Maybe I’m just not smart enough, but having the whole ending be about multiple possible worlds seemed forced, and frankly, stupid.

      • Spookykou says:

        Anathem is easily my least favorite of his, I still enjoyed it, but it just had way too much fluff, the monks are the only part I find compelling and I think you could do something interesting with that idea in a short story, of course most science fiction would probably be better as a short story so meh.

      • quaelegit says:

        @both — I got a LOT more out of Anathem on the second read.

        @Spookykou — if you liked the monks, check out A Canticle for Liebowitz, which did the same thing 50 years earlier with the Catholic church 😀

      • Well... says:

        I think in general Stephenson’s endings (of the books I’ve read so far anyway) are weak. Feel-good, contrived, etc. Awkwardly so! But I don’t mind because that’s not at all what I’m reading him for.

    • Izaak says:

      Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie.

      Startide Rising by David Brin.

    • Nornagest says:

      I’ve read everything of Stephenson’s except for Seveneves. My favorite of his books is Cryptonomicon, but he jumps between genres so much that which is “best” is going to depend heavily on individual taste. If you liked Anathem, though, The Diamond Age is probably his most thematically similar book not on your list.

      For non-Stephenson SF writers, Vernor Vinge might be worth a go. Charles Stross is also worth looking at, but his early work is considerably more Stephensonian than his more recent — try Accelerando (a portrait of the Singularity through the eyes of a dysfunctional family and their robot cat), Saturn’s Children (hard-SF robot drama, basically a late-period Heinlein pastiche), or Singularity Sky (Czarist Russia meets a sufficiently advanced Burning Man, hilarity ensues). Glasshouse has some interesting concepts too, but its ideas about gender and body image come off kinda clunky and intersect poorly with current politics.

    • rlms says:

      Izaak’s mention of Ancillary Justice reminded me of another book that messes with gender pronouns: Too Like The Lightning by Ada Palmer. I strongly recommend it to SSC readers in general, but I don’t think it is particularly similar to the Stephenson books you list (I’ve only read Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash though).

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      So I really like Reamde, and I also really like William Gibson’s Bigend trilogy (Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, and Zero History).

      They’re both “science fiction” in the sense that actually they really aren’t science fiction. And, in my view, well-crafted. This view makes me a mild outlier, I think.

    • Cheese says:

      Go Hannu Rajaniemi, specifically the Jean Le Flambeur series. Short stories are very good too (and I usually hate Sci Fi shorts).

      Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon series as well.

      Those two are probably quite close to Stephenson in terms of writing style and idea depth.

      Alastair Reynolds is similar but more variable. His House of Suns, Revenger and Pushing Ice are the most similar to Stephenson out of anything i’d say. The Revelation Space series is a bit darker and more detailed but also not as consistently well written.

      Iain M Banks Culture series is a classic and you should get through all of them. Not specifically similar to Stephenson but still a must. Ditto James SA Coreys’ The Expanse. That is more pop sci fi (but then Stephenson is a lot less hard than many others) but absolutely worthwhile. As usual, the books > the TV show and it’s not close. I’m not even sure if i’m going to keep watching it.

      I liked Cixin Liu’s 3 Body Problem series and Peter Watts’ Firefall (his 2 best books in one). However they are much darker. More on the Reynolds side but even more so. I tend to like more feelgood stuff in the end, that’s one of the reasons Stephenson appeals to me among others.

      I did not like Ann Leckie (really overly simple and narrow focused) and hated David Brin (the man can’t write seriously). I was ‘meh’ on John Scalzi’s stuff (borders on pulp Sci Fi without quite going there). Others may like but I feel they’re a very long way removed from ‘Stephenson-like Sci Fi’. Kim Stanley Robinson is probably also in that basket, he is an absolute slog compared to a lot of others mentioned, so it depends on your patience.

      For a fun detour into fantasy with lots of phalluses try Jacqueline Carey’s stuff. But only read the first two 3-book series. The last one is a clear money grab after she’d run out of (admittedly quite good initially) ideas.

    • Marie says:

      Finally read some Stephenson last year and quite enjoyed him (Seveneves, Anathem, Diamond Age).

      Fourthing/fifthing Blindsight (definitely more pessimistic in tone than Stephenson, but I’m another person here who enjoys both authors. I also really liked Watts’s first Rifters novel, but the Rifters trilogy is more YMMV than Blindsight).

      Canticle for Leibowitz! (fourthing/fifthing this older “monks save the world” novel, as well)

      Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer (hits some of the same alien-value-system worldbuilding notes that I enjoyed in Stephenson, plus it’s just plain awesome on multiple levels).

      Ted Chiang. Writes novellas/short stories rather than novels, but I am scratching my head trying to think of anything by him that wasn’t at least one or two steps above average in thoughtfulness. “Story of Your Life,” “Tower of Babylon,” “Seventy-Two Letters,” and “The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling” are representative of his different styles and some of my favorites. “Exhalation” is also one that folks tend to like a lot.

      I am pretty indiscriminate in my liking of SF, so also enjoyed Leckie, 3 Body Problem, and Quantum Thief, all mentioned above, but these all feel a bit more foreign in tone or execution from the three Stephenson novels I’ve read, and reader reactions among my acquaintances have tend to be more YMMV, so am recommending with that caveat.

  7. The Nybbler says:

    This is kind of a downer, but what happens to the unmatched after Match Day? Is it like “Oh, well, I’ve just wasted the last 4-years of my life, maybe I’ll drive a bus?”

    • chariava says:

      Most students at U.S. medical schools don’t have much to worry about. Historically, about 94 percent of U.S. medical graduates match successfully on the first try. An additional 3 percent find a residency during the scramble. A few more students stumble into positions between Match Day and graduation.

      By the time they get their diplomas, about 3 percent of U.S. medical graduates are still looking for a residency position. “Some of them had challenges during medical school with basic science or their clinical years,” says Geoffrey Young, senior director of student affairs and programs at the Association of American Medical Colleges. “But others applied to specialties—orthopedics, neurosurgery, etc.—they were not competitive for against advice they were given. These are students who have always been successful, and they think it can’t happen to them.”

      Although failure to match is chastening, U.S. graduates have an excellent chance at finding a program the next year. In the meantime, many of them get a master’s degree, or they teach or work in a laboratory to strengthen their applications. If they decide not to pursue a residency, it’s almost always by choice. Despite the pressure of Match Day, life is pretty forgiving to U.S. medical school graduates.


      So pretty much all students can find a spot somewhere. The few that can’t can usually find a spot the year after.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      In my case I spent a year freaking out, resume-building, and being a bum. Then I tried again the next year with better luck.

      It’s usually hard to not-match several years in a row if you studied in the US and apply to enough “safety schools”. If you studied abroad things are a lot less certain, but you can get “transitional years” and “research fellowships” and other things where you resume-build for a year and try again. If you keep trying for a few years and nothing works, I guess you don’t go into medicine.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        I guess this would be a good time to ask a very naive question: what stops such people from attempting to form their own practice? Assume they have the capital and patients are willing to accept the risk. (Or reject those assumptions, although I’d appreciate some elaboration if you have it.)

        • Eric Rall says:

          It’s illegal. With just medical school and no additional certifications, you’re not allowed to practice medicine at all except under the supervision of a licensed doctor, usually as a Resident at a hospital, but sometimes as an assistant to a private practice doctor (I get the impression that these are mostly residents who are working a second job, usually at a basic walk-in clinic).

          It used to be legal to practice primary care medicine as “General Practitioner” one you’ve successfully completed the first, unspecialized year of your residency. But it looks like this got phased out once Family Medicine became a board-certified specialty in the 1970s.

          Even if it weren’t for this, many jurisdictions in the US have Certificate of Need laws regulating the establishment of new medical practices. Under these laws, before setting up a new practice, you first must obtain certification from your state’s regulatory agency that your practice is necessary to provide capacity to meet under-served demand, as opposed to merely poaching patients from existing practices that would then be below capacity.

          • Nornagest says:

            ou first must obtain certification from your state’s regulatory agency that your practice is necessary to provide capacity to meet under-served demand…

            It’s like they want to keep medical care expensive.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            …yeah. I feel like I’m being asked to prove there is air.

        • Deiseach says:

          what stops such people from attempting to form their own practice?

          Apart from the law? Much the same that would probably discourage patients from going to a dentist who says “Actually I’ve never practiced on a real person before, but I’ve read up on all the theory and how hard can it be?”

          The whole point of sticking them into hospitals is cheap labour gradually unleashing them onto the public under the supervision of experienced and qualified medical practitioners who can tell them (for instance) “Congratulations, you asked everything but the pertinent question when taking that history”. And after they try and fail to take your blood pressure four times*, they learn to stand back and let a nurse do it 🙂

          *Any resemblance to genuine experience as an outpatient cannot be confirmed or denied

  8. keranih says:

    So one of the things implied in Scott’s last post about the signal of truth/rationality is that this truth engine will be operating in a sea of irrationality/untruth. Which seems to be pretty much accurate.

    Chris Arnade has talked about the difficulty in declining to react to the latest outrage. And I have heard people talk about how glad that they weren’t always and forever judged by the most stupid/mean thing they had ever done. So it isn’t easy.

    Any suggestions/techniques that people have found for tuning into the rational/truth signal, esp that one being broadcast by the side you don’t agree with?

    • Corey says:

      Not reacting to the latest outrage is conceptually easy: just get outrage fatigue, so you can’t get outraged by anything.

      Don’t know how to make it happen though. It happened to me without trying.

      • gbdub says:

        Yeah I’m on the outrage fatigue bandwagon as well. The trouble is it doesn’t “tune you into the truth signal”, it just encourages you to tune out of everything.

    • nhnifong says:

      It’s hard to do controlled experiments that involve people’s lives, so politics is an impoverished field where nobody knows what will really happen when a policy is made. Nobody should be outraged at an engineer from hundreds of years ago who fails to build a GPS system, he didn’t have the scientific foundations to do that. If someone comes along saying they know how to make the world better with this one wierd trick, you say SHOW ME THE DATA.

  9. Ivy says:

    What are the mechanisms that prevent a military coup in the US and other liberal democracies?

    Context: I’m in the middle of Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The history so far is mostly an unending sequence of the legions being unhappy with pay / work conditions, assassinating the emperor, and electing a new emperor who gives them more money in order to stay in power. This happens on average every 5-10 years for the better part of two centuries.

    And it seems obvious, in retrospect, that this exactly what would happen in a militaristic republic – if your professional army is powerful enough to physically overwhelm your civilian institutions, it will naturally tend to accumulate all wealth and power to itself. If you were designing a republican constitution having read Gibbon, this would be the #1 failure mode you’d try to avoid.

    But the US is a militaristic republic whose professional army seems easily able to win a civil war against all other US institutions. So why aren’t military coups more of a problem? Is there something about the US constitutional design or current political reality that makes them unlikely?

    • Sandy says:

      But the US is a militaristic republic whose professional army seems easily able to win a civil war against all other US institutions. So why aren’t military coups more of a problem? Is there something about the US constitutional design or current political reality that makes them unlikely?

      It goes against the national mythos. “Fighting for your freedom” and so on. Hard to reconcile a military coup with that, the military knows it, and so it’s not something they’re interested in.

      • Ivy says:

        I guess I see people as more incentives-driven than mythos-driven – seems like you can always come up with a plausible story that explains your military coup as defending freedom or promoting justice or what have you.

        But if it is the national mythos, how do you think it’s perpetuated? History classes in school that glorify the American Revolution? Singing the pledge of allegiance at football games? Would you predict a military coup if these continue to decline in use?

        • Trevor Adcock says:

          I mean if it was just about incentives then why didn’t Washington just take over the country with the continental army after the British were defeated. The US has a long history of civilian control of the military. At some point in time most western countries like the US and Britain figured out how to keep the professional armies in line. There were some hiccups like the New Model Army of the English Civil War.

          • Ivy says:

            At some point in time most western countries like the US and Britain figured out how to keep the professional armies in line

            Exactly! And my question is – what is it that they figured out, what is the mechanism for ensuring civilian control of the military? I haven’t seen it spelled out explicitly (unlike the checks-and-balances recipe for avoiding excesses of democracy), and am hoping someone here has – it seems incredibly important to understand that mechanism and keep it working.

          • James Miller says:

            why didn’t Washington just take over the country with the continental army after the British were defeated.

            He was old, had no biological children, and wanted to be remembered as a great man in the vain of Cincinnatus.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @James Miller, with Washington, you also need to keep in mind that he really wanted America to have a stable republican government. That was a terminal value for him.

          • Brad says:

            Why didn’t Washington just take over the country with the continental army after the British were defeated.

            He did, sort of. His unhappiness with the Articles of Confederation system, specifically as it related to the parochial interests of the military, was a big driver behind scrapping it and starting over. Depending on which historian you read his efforts to that end seem to have involved more than just high minded appeals about the ideal form of enlightenment government.

        • hlynkacg says:

          how do you think it’s perpetuated?

          It’s perpetuated through the conscious effort of those who perpetuate it. There is no black or white here, no blue tribe or red, there is only light meat and dark meat, and make no mistake children, we are all just meat for the machine. You left your old identities behind because you craved something more, something better. Know this, just by being here you are a cut above and I want to see pride oozing out of every pore of your body. You represent the spirit of those who have gone before and you will pass that legacy, bright and untarnished, to those that will come after. I will not tolerate anything less that your absolute best, and I expect you to tolerate anything less than the absolute best from myself or your peers.

        • 1soru1 says:

          I guess I see people as more incentives-driven than mythos-driven

          Incentives vary.

          In functioning western-model democracies, people who are driven by a desire for wealth and power mostly don’t become generals. There are a hell of a lot easier ways to get them than a General’s salary, and maybe selling your memoirs and a bit of post-retirement punditry/consultancy. This also means the peer group evaluating you isn’t people like that, and they will be distrustful of anyone who thinks that way. Ref.

          According to the statements of assets and liabilities (SALs) they submitted to the CA, the poorest of the generals is worth P1 million while the wealthiest is worth P13.4 million.

          Which is comparable with dentists, except if it took a 30 year career to become a dentist, there was incredible competition, and you might get shot at.

          Of course, there is a failure mode here. In Rome, Crassus of the legendary wealth was a general. There, and in those modern countries where the rich list can be sorted by military rank, this obviously doesn’t apply.

    • JDG1980 says:

      But the US is a militaristic republic whose professional army seems easily able to win a civil war against all other US institutions. So why aren’t military coups more of a problem?


      Most U.S. soldiers really believe in the Constitution and the Republic. It’s not just boilerplate. More than that, civilians believe in them too – and American civilians have about 300 million privately-owned firearms, more than enough to make a contested military takeover the kind of counterinsurgency nightmare we currently only experience when occupying some Third World hellhole.

      In ancient Rome, Augustus tried to pretend that nothing had really changed and that the Republic still stood (his position of princeps was cobbled together out of various Republican offices), but a bit further down the road it was obvious that the Republic was gone and that the “Principate” was really just a veiled military dictatorship. The most successful emperors were those who were successful generals in their own right (Trajan, for instance). Even so, the son of a good emperor could usually count on the military and the Senate supporting him, unless he went off and did something crazy. At least that was true until about 235 AD, when Maximinius Thrax, a semi-literate provincial commander, seized the purple. At that point it became clear that the number of plausible contenders to the throne was much larger than had previously been assumed, and all bets were off. There were literally dozens of emperors and pretenders over the next couple of decades until Diocletian managed to consolidate power in 284 AD. Diocletian, though personally an unpretentious man (he took to farming cabbages in his retirement), set up all kinds of pomp and ceremony around the emperor to give a sort of divine aura and try to discourage further coups. He also gave imperial status to three of his most trusted colleagues in hope this could help stave off revolt. This “tetrarchy” didn’t work that well, but it did stop the endless barracks revolts, and Diocletian’s successor Constantine established Christianity as the new legitimizing ideology of the empire. Since Constantine’s imperial city stood for a millennium, he must have done something right.

      • aNeopuritan says:

        “Most U.S. soldiers really believe in the Constitution and the Republic. It’s not just boilerplate.”

        Even if true, distinctly not enough. There’s been no shortage of military coups “to defend” “the Constitution”. In the USA, a number that’s probably never been all that small, and seems to be right now growing in both fervor and numbers, believe it’s written in the Constitution that it’s a Christian country – as long as they ardently believe that, it’s perfectly plausible that they could want to topple the existing state to “do things constitutionally”.

        You do supply the substantially more reassuring fact that a counterinsurgency could be a vastly more difficult problem than any the US military tried to solve up to now (and it already failed in Vietnam, and it would be even less willing to commit genocide in its own land). Though: the people who know how to fight already vote Republican. So consider instead: the military elite doesn’t want to reduce its own outgroup to wretched conditions because it’s they who acquire the wealth on which the military depends.

        • nimim.k.m. says:

          Even if true, distinctly not enough. There’s been no shortage of military coups “to defend” “the Constitution”. In the USA, a number that’s probably never been all that small, and seems to be right now growing in both fervor and numbers, believe it’s written in the Constitution that it’s a Christian country – as long as they ardently believe that, it’s perfectly plausible that they could want to topple the existing state to “do things constitutionally”.

          “Not a small number” here isn’t particularly concrete amount. And a successful coup (or even an attempted coup) requires much more than some people with vague opinions about true meaning of constitution. The likeminded officers need to get organized, in secret, and they wouldn’t do that without a reason, and they (either correctly or incorrectly) need to be certain they can do the coup successfully because otherwise they wouldn’t try it.

          And anyway, lots of “nice things” in any organized society run on sheer tradition of decency and public perception of the tradition’s unbreakability.

          For example, in most Western countries police officers and minor bureaucrats don’t, in general, take bribes as a part of ordinary way of doing their jobs because it’s not done and it would not be honorable and it would not be right, not because they fear they would be caught. Most places I shop in don’t have much of security to talk about, and that works because most of the people most of time don’t steal or attempt armed robberies. Most police organizations in any given city could not answer a properly coordinated effort (or even uncoordinated mass riot) that challenges their claim at monopoly of violence, and they would have to call for military for help. See, for example, long history of riots and revolutions. Yet still small police corps can effectively police most of the cities most of the time, because populace, in general, accepts their authority as legitimate.

          Society runs on trust in an illusion of norms, and that’s why public demonstrations of how easily one can break them for ones benefit are so poisonous. Western democracies are self-perpetuating miracles of people agreeing to play along with make-believe rules.

          For same reason, military coups are rare in modern Western societies, despite soldiers seemingly being perfectly capable of overthrowing the civil government with all of their arms and weapons. Without a powerful motivator that breaks the tradition of not doing that, it’s just something people would not do.

      • Protagoras says:

        Yes, it’s kind of the other way around from the way Ivy asks the question. The period of constant military coups came after many generations of steady decline of trust in the established institutions and normalization of civil war as a strategy. Healthier institutions don’t guarantee that there won’t be civil war, but they do mean that civil war will require some exceptional trigger, rather than being the normal course of things.

      • cassander says:

        Adrian Goldsworthy puts forth an interesting theory. HIs argument is that the princeps, rightly, saw the senate as their main rivals. they couldn’t destroy it, but if there was ever going to be a challenge to their rule, that’s where it would come from. So they systematically worked to hollow out the senate, to divorce it from actual power in general and the military in particular, in order to cement their own authority. And it worked, spectacularly well. The trouble is that when the senate staffed large numbers of senior posts, upstarts like Thrax would never have a chance to take over, they just wouldn’t have been accepted. but the hollowed out senate had no ability to resist their like, and so the hollowing out of the senate opened the road to solder generals and the general crisis of authority in the 3rd century.

        I find it a compelling explanation of why the principate fell apart the way that it did.

    • eqdw says:

      I am not an American, so maybe I’m way off the mark, but isn’t this the specific point of the second amendment?

      • random832 says:

        Of all the things that could have originally been intended by the second amendment, this seems the least likely, if only because there was no standing army (or police force) at the time. Any “tyranny” to be opposed by ‘second amendment people’ they might have imagined would have to come from the elected government rather than the military as an institution of itself.

        • JulieK says:

          How would the elected government tyrannize them, without soldiers?

        • I interpret the Second Amendment as a way of achieving two objectives:

          1. Have a large militia to make a large standing army unnecessary.

          2. Have a large militia so that, if a small standing army tries to take over, their superior military competence will be outweighed by the superior numbers of the militia.

          Cromwell had demonstrated what a well run professional army could do, both in winning wars and in taking power.

      • Nornagest says:

        The framers of the American Constitution were suspicious of standing armies, and originally imagined a situation were national defense would be provided by militias — both organized and not — bearing privately owned arms; though a standing army dates back to about the time of the Constitution and certainly the Bill of Rights, it remained relatively small until the time of the American Civil War.

        The amendment has become highly politicized, and anything you hear on it in the mainstream press is likely to be rounded off to “it’s about state militias” or “it’s because the British tried to disarm the colonists” or occasionally even “it’s about the right to rebellion”. All of these are correct to some extent but misleading on their own. It’s probably most accurate to describe it as guaranteeing an individual right in service of collective purposes.

    • reasoned argumentation says:

      But the US is a militaristic republic whose professional army seems easily able to win a civil war against all other US institutions.

      But it’s not a military republic. Do senators leave the senate for officer commissions? What percentage of congress are veterans (18% for the House, 16% for the Senate)? Did they gain prominence through their service? What famous generals are there?

    • James Miller says:

      More than that, the military never even uses the distant threat of a coup in negotiations for what it wants. Q coup could happen in the United States if there is a close election, both sides claim victory, and one side asks the military for help to make it the winner. Then the military could politically wake up and use its power in political negotiations.

      • Protagoras says:

        Even hinting at the possibility of a coup makes a coup more salient in a way that either makes it more likely in the future, or means that steps will be taken to reduce the risk. If military norms are such that the military doesn’t want a coup, then the norms also mean the military doesn’t want to make coups more likely, and certainly the military (like any organization) wants to desperately avoid anything that would lead to more oversight and meddling.

    • skef says:

      I don’t buy the “soldiers love the constitution” angle, not because they don’t but because it’s easy enough to love something while ignoring parts of it, especially “when necessary”. Internally, you stage a coup because of your patriotism, not despite it.

      Instead, I’ve always suspected that the primary mechanism from the 20th century on is the split into separate branches with somewhat overlapping responsibilities that deeply hate each other. On its own the Army might excuse itself a coup under the right circumstances, but then the Navy would call it what it is. (“Isn’t just like those assholes to do that?”) Even if the Army is in an overall better position, it would still be a huge mess, and not at all business-as-usual the way Army-driven coups in other countries sometimes are.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Most countries have formally divided millitaries, probably for this very reason. Do the branches of the American military hate each other more than branches of the Chilean military?

        • skef says:

          It’s more that I think the Chilean Navy is in a worse position to do anything in the event of an Army take-over.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Is that what happened in Chile, the navy went along because it was powerless?

            Are coups usually driven by the army? Don’t they usually consult the other branches ahead of time?

          • skef says:

            With respect to 1973? No, the effort seems to have been coordinated among the branches.

            With putting this particular incident into question we’re into deep sociology. It seems clear from how things went that there was a decision in advance. But from the outside perspective that event started with a failed coup from within the Army and also put down by the Army. Then there was some messy politics, and only then the coordinated successful coup. So it seems like it was less of a “clean” coup for military reasons as a takeover of a possibly failing state (that may have been failing due to outside influences). I took the original question to be more about the former. (“President X does things we don’t feel are in the interest of the country” versus “President X has lost the ability to govern.”)

      • hlynkacg says:

        I think you’re both overestimating the hate, and underestimating the power Joint task force commanders have. I think the better answer is a combination institutional inertia and good old fashioned Enlightenment/Christian doctrine regarding violence aka don’t fight unless you have too, if you do have to, fight to win. For the most part the military does not want to be in charge.

      • Randy M says:

        I’m not military, but I really thought the correct description for relations between branches of the armed forces would be rivalry. Sure, it might make coordination or conspiracy more difficult, but I’d expect more in common between Army and Navy members, say, than two other random Americans. Am I mistaken?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      When you say that you believe that the US has established civilian control of the military, what is you estimate of the rate of military coups in the US? Sure, we can safely say that it is less than 1 per decade. But is it 1 per 1000 years? How can you tell until a coup happens? France had a military coup in 1958. In the 60s, it had several attempted coups. Are France and America very different on this axis, or did they just have different luck?

      • Ivy says:

        Great point. I guess a possible answer to my question is “there’s no good evidence to think we’ve solved this problem, and base rates suggest it’s probably just a matter of time”.

        I personally don’t see any strong mechanisms that prevent military coups, but I don’t usually see it discussed as a serious risk, and I figured I might be missing some well-understood reason for that.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        France is very different. Going back centuries, it has a long tradition of revolutionary governments upending everything based on the idealistic fashion of the day, and that revolutionary mode of thought is celebrated in French history and culture. America’s form of government, by contrast, is old, getting up towards a quarter of a millennium now, and the staid oldness of that form of government is celebrated in American history and culture, even by people who despise whoever the current leadership happens to be.

        The only real risk I can see is if some cultural force grew up that insisted that Constitutional principles were bad and the nation’s form of government fundamentally malign, maybe because many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves or the land was taken from the Indians or they were all white and heterosexual or whatever; if that kind of thinking became common, then a lot of the counterpressure against a coup might melt away, because if the nation’s government was formed by evil slaveowners then there’s no reason to be all that attached to its traditions and mechanisms if you have the opportunity to seize power by force instead.

        The idea is scarily plausible, now that I come to write it down — we’re sure lucky that no such cultural force exists in America today, huh?

        • aNeopuritan says:

          Consider something else: people who despise what the Constitution actually is and love what they think it is. “Murica is Christian” being the prominent example, but “the Constitution protected private property [of blacks]” may also feature.

          (I don’t disagree that the group you mention hates what the Constitution actually is, but I doubt their ability to carry out a c… *anything*, other than maybe as a sockpuppet to someone else.)

        • valiance says:

          America’s form of government, by contrast, is old, getting up towards a quarter of a millennium now

          I think this is a fact Americans don’t realize or appreciate enough.

          The US has a reasonable claim to being the oldest Democracy in the world:

          And is–counting by date of last subordination by a foreign power– one of the 10 oldest nations in the world: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_by_date_of_formation

          American history–qua USG–is less than 250 years long; an eye-blink compared to Old World history. But the continuity of that system of government–a democratic system characterized by peaceful transitions of power for over 2 centuries–is quite remarkable; nearly unique. A true bit of American Exceptionalism in an era in which we are inclined to think that term has lost all meaning.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Not that I really disagree, but, for argumentation purposes, do we get to discount the Civil War?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @HBC: Yes. The North continued to exist under the 1788 Constitution, in continuity from the Washington Administration, and soon reabsorbed the breakaway republic in the South.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            But there is distinct discontinuity of governance when we examine it from the standpoint of a Confederate state.

            Again, I’m not saying it’s wrong, just that there is a “spirit of the law” that seems not to be quite wholly satisfied.

          • Jaskologist says:

            There was continuity, but that particular transition was certainly not peaceful.

        • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

          The idea is scarily plausible, now that I come to write it down — we’re sure lucky that no such cultural force exists in America today, huh?

          This seems like low-effort sniping. While I agree that team SJ poses a considerable threat to free speech, a military coup is far from their modus and there’s only a tenuous link between “emphasizes the bad things that the Founders did” and “starts un-American armed revolts”. I think that attributing hypothetical bad things that $ENEMY might do if they were only able to adds more vitriol than discussion.

          • random832 says:

            there’s only a tenuous link between “emphasizes the bad things that the Founders did” and “starts un-American armed revolts”.

            Probably a stronger link though for people who say things like (Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle, 2010):

            I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around?

            I mean all else being equal I think “Everything I don’t like is tyranny and therefore something the Founders would approve of an armed revolt against” is probably a little more corrosive than anything that’s not framed that way.

      • Evan Þ says:

        what is you estimate of the rate of military coups in the US?

        Less than one per 240 years.

        I can think of perhaps two attempted military coups: the Newburgh Conspiracy, and the quiet agreement between high-ranking officers to refuse any unusual orders from Nixon in the weeks just before his resignation. Though, even there, the second could just as well be described as a preemptive countercoup.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Less than one per 240 years.

          Ah, the straw frequentist.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          Fwiw, I was following the news in that decade, and this resonates. Nixon resigned when enough senior Republicans quietly got together and Goldwater went to Nixon and said they had agreed to impeach him if he didn’t.

          “Quietly” means in smoke-filled rooms. The powerful men from all sides laid their cards on the table and came to an agreement. Nobody wanted an open public conflict (least of all the military, I’m sure).

          This may just move the question to a different level: why doesn’t this sort of negotiation work so well in other Western countries? (I have some cynical notions….)

          • The Nybbler says:

            This may just move the question to a different level: why doesn’t this sort of negotiation work so well in other Western countries? (I have some cynical notions….)

            Doesn’t it? I was under the impression this is the way no-confidence votes usually work in a parliamentary system, with the actual vote being a formality (with the occasional surprise when someone betrays, granted)

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @The Nibbler

            Thanks for pointing out a flaw in my statement “why doesn’t this sort of negotiation work so well in other Western countries?”

            Mea culpa: my insufficient redundancy. Perhaps I should have said something like: “why do some other Western countries not prevent violent or semi-violent or admitted coups, by this sort of negotiation?”

            I agree with your impression of Parllmentary systems, but I didn’t want either to specify, or to over-generalize.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        France had a military coup in 1958. In the 60s, it had several attempted coups. Are France and America very different on this axis, or did they just have different luck?

        A coup, especially a successful one, tends to make future coups more likely. If the American government was successfully overthrown tomorrow, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more attempted coups over the next few decades.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        You don’t have to look at the “long history” of coups. Consider the immediate, recent history before the 1958 coup:

        France in 1958: it was not a 15 years since the country was occupied a foreign military and part of it was ruled by puppet government of the occupying force that more or less believably could claim to be the legitimate successor of the pre-war government. Then the Allies landed, replaced the Germans and Vichy with military might, and suddenly the government was a general who claimed Vichy wasn’t the legitimate government (I don’t recall what was the legal pretext Free French had, I think it mostly was based on “Nazis are bad”). And the 1958 coup involved the same general becoming a president.

        And the Second Republic — which came to be in 1870, after the fall of Napoleon III’s empire that was created with a coup in the first place — also had been politically unstable for all of its history. This was still in a living memory, history of nonstandard change of government almost once per generation.

        I think it’s reasonable that coups and other such instability are far more likely in such circumstances.

        • Eric Rall says:

          The legal pretext was that the Vichy government was illegitimate, leaving the provisional government was the most legitimate available successor to the Third Republic, based mostly on de Gaulle’s status as the senior member of the pre-Vichy cabinet who had neither voluntarily resigned nor been part of the Vichy government.

          Vichy had been established in a two-stage process: first, France’s PM and several senior cabinet member resigned after they failed to convince the rest of the cabinet to approve withdrawing to Britain or North Africa and continuing the war; and France’s President (a ceremonial position) appointed Petain (the leader of the pro-surrender faction) as the new PM. Then Petain got the Third Republic’s legislature (the Chamber of Deputies) to enact a law (the French Constitutional Law of 1940) that abolished the legislature and gave full emergency power to Petain.

          There were several arguments for this being illegitimate: that the President didn’t follow the correct constitutional conventions when choosing the Petain as the new PM when Reynaud resigned, the Chamber of Deputies didn’t have the authority to abolish itself, the Chamber of Deputies had been coerced into approving the law, Petain arrogated too much authority unto himself under the law (i.e. it gave him the power to propose a constitution that needed to be approved by popular referendum, not the power to unilaterally decree a new constitution), or just that Petain was a traitor whose actions as PM (and later President of Vichy France) were illegitimate.

          The last argument, combined with de Gaulle’s armies and those of his Anglo-American allies being all over France, was probably the decisive one. And yes, the last argument can reasonably be oversimplified as “Nazis are bad”.

      • John Schilling says:

        France had a military coup in 1958. In the 60s, it had several attempted coups. Are France and America very different on this axis, or did they just have different luck?

        France had a period in which the official government was a bunch of, well, cheese-eating surrender monkeys in league with Actual Nazis, and the opposition that All True Patriotic Frenchmen Supported All Along had out of necessity coalesced around the personal charisma and informal leadership of Charles de Gaulle. Whenever something like that happens, in any nation, you are stuck for at least a generation with a military that knows it is acceptable to pick the patriotic, charismatic general that they are going to follow instead of the official civilian government, and can be tempted to do it again.

        France’s history of postwar military coups ends in 1961 when Charles de Gaulle himself directly (via radio and television) ordered every serving member of the armed forces to knock it off with the coup attempts already, whether aimed at putting him on the throne or some less beloved general. The United States has a similar precedent with George Washington’s double resignation, and as long as we don’t get an interruption in the continuity of our legitimate government we should be pretty safe.

        And since I’m expounding on my nerdy knowledge of all things nuclear this OT, I’ll link to the story whose climax involves France’s one and only atom bomb being secretly driven through Algeria in the trunk of a Citroen 2CV to keep it out of the hands of the 1961 coup plotters. Alas, it is too late for Stanley Kubrick and Peter Sellers to film this.

    • christhenottopher says:

      Norms and beliefs are the basis, other incentives work because of those norms. So as other commentors pointed out, in the US (and in most modern developed democracies) soldiers sincerely believe in civilian control of the military. They may get annoyed at some of the things civilians make them do or prevent them from doing, but that is tempered by a strong support for the governmental form they live in. So the first hurdle to starting a coup would be the resistance of not only fellow officers, but likely even one’s own soldiers who would rat you out for illegal orders (and treason of course). In order to start a coup, first you need your men to have lost their belief in the government, and anyone who has kept their’s support for the civilian government could get word out if they find out too soon. Beyond that, coups are conspiracies meaning only small groups can really successfully plan them without word getting out. So even if you’ve got a small group of officers on board and you can get yourselves in position to strike at top civilian leadership at once, the belief in democracy is strong enough that the rest of the military would quite possibly just kick you out even if you had somehow managed to kill every plausible civilian leader to rally behind (which is a very tall order in democracies with hundreds of legislators and executive branch secretaries who could theoretically care-taker things until new elections are held, even more so in federal democracies where state governments could act as emergency care-takers), they might just put you up against the wall anyways. You need the rest of the military to at least accept your take over because your chances of both having their active support and keeping the coup quite enough to not get arrested by loyal cops or loyal soldiers first is very low.

      Others mentioned how in the US there are tons of individuals with guns that could form a powerful insurgency. While true, an even stronger potential threat are the state governments that literally run their own armies in the form of the National Guard. Now the National Guard is NOT as well equipped or skilled as the regular army, but combined it has about as many men as the regular US Army. That’s a pretty decent core for a resistance force and some of those units do have combat experience due to their deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq (though I imagine the majority of the men who got deployed are now out of the service). And state governments have A LOT of incentive to not want the military in charge since state office is very often a springboard to national office. If the federal government is gone so is that career path (not to mention their own legitimacy comes under question). Furthermore, even if you convince the national guard to side with the coup in defiance of their state governments, you have in the US’s case, 51 (counting Puerto Rico, I’m not counting the Virgin Islands/Guam/American Samoa due to being too small and distant) governments that could act as focal points for resisting your rule. These governments also control things like the vast majority of law enforcement, schools, infrastructure management, and numerous other things you’ll want to control the populace.

      OK so to recap, in order to coup in any democracy, you need to change the norms of the military to be at least neutral in the event of your coup. You need to prevent your coup from getting out before your ready or else loyal forces/police will arrest you. And you need a plan to prevent civilian resistance such as protests from blocking your plans. All of this is very difficult in a decently functioning state, and even more so in a democracy where everyone (including the military) feels like they have some stake in the government. In a federal system you then have the problem of dealing with sub-national governments that can be independent forms of legitimacy. In a country like the US where these sub-national governments actually control military forces, you need to neutralize those troops as well. Then in a country with lots of private firearms like the US, Canada, or Switzerland (yes the US’ guns-to-people ratio is way higher than most countries, but even enough guns to arm say 20% of the populace is a lot to deal with, even more so since in Canada or Switzerland the primary weapons are long guns that are more useful in insurgencies), you need a plan on how to deal with the potential insurgency.

      Even dictatorships tend to only fall to coups in a crisis, but the level of crisis needed in a low-legitimacy dictatorship for a coup isn’t that high to get the revolt rolling. Democracies which spread power out more make coups harder both by increasing buy-in by most people and by creating numerous potential rallying points for resistance. Democracies with armed populaces that believe in a democratic system are all but impossible for the military to independently overthrow, and generally don’t even have a military that wants to try.

      Now a civilian coup is potentially another matter. Say one portion of the civilian government is way less popular than another and the more popular portion has military support? Then you’ve got a potential for an air of legitimacy where members of the military and much of the public can convince themselves it wasn’t really a coup. This can still seriously threaten anti-violence norms and lead to lots of long term stability issues, but that could by-pass many if not all of the above problems.

      • Ivy says:

        Thanks for that excellent analysis! You’ve convinced me that mounting a classic military coup – where a general becomes military dictator – is currently extremely difficult in well-armed federal democracies like the US, Switzerland, or Canada.

        Now a civilian coup is potentially another matter. Say one portion of the civilian government is way less popular than another and the more popular portion has military support? Then you’ve got a potential for an air of legitimacy where members of the military and much of the public can convince themselves it wasn’t really a coup.

        Interesting. As other commenters have pointed out, this seems the more likely scenario – rather than overthrowing republican institutions directly, the military could start putting their weight on the scale in more subtle ways.

        Arguably this is what happened in the late Roman republic (though it’s confusing because their politicians were also generals), but as far as I can tell this hasn’t happened in the US at all.

        • christhenottopher says:

          You’re exactly right in pointing out the lack of distinction between military and civilian leadership in the Roman Republic. This creates a very different dynamic where effectively the military is already in charge. In important ways, the Roman Republic was a formalized military junta, with all the potential instability that implies. The early Republic mostly avoided coup and civil war problems because the foot soldiers were all landowners with a lot of buy-in to the exiting system and it’s rules. Effectively they had the “believe in the system” thing most developed modern democracies have because the only people in the army were a) temporary soldiers and b) actually did have a voice. That’s why many Roman historians point to the Marian reforms that brought in tons of landless and effectively voiceless soldiers for much longer time frames under arms (effectively making them professional soldiers) as a key point in the decline of the Republic.

          The lack of separation between civilian and military leadership meant that political disputes could very easily become military disputes since both sides had armies. Furthermore, these soldiers had much less connection to civilian life than modern soldiers. 2-4 year enlistment terms are common in modern countries meaning for the majority of people serving only 1 term (which is most soldiers), being in the military is very temporary. This helps create more incentives to have non-military aspirations which reduces the incentive to want to support greater military power. After all, you’re going to have to live as a civilian under this new military regime you made. Meanwhile, post-Marian reform Roman soldiers had 16 year terms of enlistment (later 20) and shorter life expectancy (even for those who made it to adulthood, think dying in your 50’s if you made it to adulthood). The majority of your career would be in the military and the land grant at the end of your term was basically you’re civilian life once out. So effectively your entire livelihood from start to finish was due to the army. Why not support it having more power when doing so means you can get better pay or a better retirement package? And since if your general wins he controls the civilian side of the government automatically he has a lot of power to get you that better pay or retirement. Finally, the Roman voting system was kind of a hot mess, but the essential part was that wealthy Romans had WAY more voting power than the landless masses. So getting anything from purely civilian means of government influence was out of the question for these later Roman troops.

          So the keys for why western countries, even relatively militarized ones like the US with perhaps inordinate deference to the military, is that a) short enlistment terms means most soldiers have incentive to care about a separate civilian life/economy and b) the separation between military and civilian leadership means that civilians don’t really have access to military forces in their civilian political disputes. In the US, the President may be Commander-in-Chief, but military budgets are set by Congress and theoretically Congress is in control of where the military attacks (in practice this has been somewhat given over to the President in the US).

          So why no civilian coups in the US? Well partly because the US hasn’t been dysfunctional enough for one. Debates happen and dumb political games are common, but we haven’t had anything as bad as the Great Depression in many decades (and the US was far less militarized at that time), and American living standards remain very high. People in the US express a lot of distrust and distaste with the government, but there’s still a lot of support for probably most specific government spending and actions which creates status-quo bias. Finally, there’s a lot of risk relative to the reward for a civilian coup. Such an action if successful would create a precedent for a coup being used against you and if an election throws you out of office there’s plenty of lucrative opportunities for private sector works for ex-politicians in lobbying or consulting. Basically, political defeat is not that personally serious in modern democracies which reduces desperation to stay in power. Even politicians thrown out in disgrace can have perfectly comfortable retirements (for instance Richard Nixon).

      • random832 says:

        Democracies with armed populaces that believe in a democratic system are all but impossible for the military to independently overthrow, and generally don’t even have a military that wants to try.

        Do you think that the use of rhetoric about armed resistance by “second amendment people” against programs that were set up democratically erodes the “that believe in a democratic system” part of this?

        How much of the “armed populace that believe in a democratic system” do you figure would have opposed a coup against Hillary Clinton?

        • 1soru1 says:

          An armed (section of) the populace is a standard feature of modern non-democracies, e.g. the Basij of Iran. You need someone to kill protesters when the military and police won’t.

    • aNeopuritan says:

      There’s something that helps Switzerland on that front: make everyone “military”, and thus nobody the military’s outgroup.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      America and the UK both had a horror of the idea of military dictatorship going back to the Protectorate, and both tried to guard against it by reducing the size of the army and keeping it firmly under civil control. In Britain, geography meant that they could get away with having a very small army and concentrating most of their resources into the navy, which could defend fine against foreign invasion and for obvious reasons would find it difficult to launch a coup. Meanwhile the army was kept under control by means of the Annual Army Acts, which only authorised its continued existence for a twelve-month period; hence, if Parliament thought that the army really was plotting a coup, they could in extremis just refuse to renew the Army Act and the British army would cease to exist. America basically copied this, except that for geographical reasons the Royal Navy analogue was the militia, which was supposed to do most of the fighting whilst being too integrated into the civilian population to want to launch a coup. For most of American history the USA’s main enemies were small Amerindian tribes, so they could get away with a tiny army (16,000 on the eve of the US Civil War, for example) which didn’t have nearly enough resources to launch a successful coup. This changed after WW2 when America ended its isolationist policies, but by then the principles of civilian government had been firmly enough entrenched over the previous three centuries for the army not to want to overthrow the government, even if they might be able to.

    • Civilis says:

      I think most of what I want to say has been said elsewhere in this thread much better than I could phrase it.

      The one thing I want to add is that, for the US, the first group to subvert the normal succession of the presidency (such as through a coup) automatically loses any legitimacy. Once that taboo has been broken, any further attempts can be framed as a reaction to the first attempt, and thus gain legitimacy. An illegitimate succession has no hope of succeeding, so no one’s willing to go first and automatically lose.

      The danger is something which might be seen as an interruption of succession which isn’t would open the gates for a coup to have legitimacy. For example, suppose a major earthquake happened just before election day, enough to totally destroy any chance of a vote happening in one or more major cities right before a heavily contested election. The president in office would almost certainly have to delay the vote and presidential succession, and those that oppose the president currently in power having an extended term in office might be able to frame the president’s delay as effectively a coup, especially if there is an undue delay in getting the election rescheduled. (There’s also the 5% lizardman quotient that would blame the earthquake on the president or HAARP or the Gnomes of Zurich or something). The problem is magnified if the disruption to the succession process is due to human agency, such as a series of terrorist attacks at the polls on election day, the assassination of a president-elect between election day and inauguration, etc.

    • ChetC3 says:

      Even for Rome, it took centuries to go from the first successful military coup to the situation you’re talking about here (over 300 years between Sulla’s march on Rome and Maximinus Thrax, longer than the US has existed as an independent state). The Republic was itself centuries old by Sulla’s time. Your question appears to assume a military will launch a coup unless efforts are made to prevent it, and I suspect the answer is that it’s almost always the other way around – it isn’t naturally in the military’s interests to attempt a coup, and only in extraordinary circumstances do they feel desperate enough to try anyway.

      • christhenottopher says:

        To be fair, with Rome it took centuries before a coup because they didn’t have a professional army for centuries. Almost immediately after the Marian reforms professionalized the army, civil wars and coups started happening. The Roman system was poorly designed to handle having a permanent military class drawn from the lower rungs of society.

        • Randy M says:

          Do you think Rome would have had enough soldiers to repel the tribes in Gaul & Germany without Marius’ inclusion of landless soldiers into the legions?

          • Protagoras says:

            Sure, if they’d carried out some other reforms instead. Perhaps those the Gracchi fought and died unsuccessfully trying to bring about.

          • christhenottopher says:

            The big problem for the late Republic’s armies was less numbers and more getting people to stick around in a region for more than 1 campaigning season. The Marian reforms fixed that and some level of professional army was needed to accomplish this. Rome could likely have kept on raising enough men from landholders for the defense of Italy and nearby Mediterranean islands, but making an empire was another matter. Rome could either have had the Republic as they knew it then or a professional army. Having both was untenable. The Empire only partially fixed that problem as dynasty changes were a pain in the ass long before it came to a real head in the 3rd century AD.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            “Getting people to stick around” wasn’t a problem; the problem was what to do with them when they came back. Theoretically the legions were a citizen militia whose members had the means to support themselves (even after the Marian reforms, which is one of the reasons the Senate were so cagey about setting up a proper system for compensating veterans), but in practice family farms had an unfortunate tendency to go bust while the paterfamilias was spending ten years on garrison duty in Spain, meaning that a lot of soldiers came back home to find their family bankrupt and their land taken over by someone else. So they drifted into Rome hoping to find employment, but since there wasn’t enough work to go around they usually just became part of the underemployed urban mob, feeling angry and resentful and willing to back any demagogue who offered to put them back on their feet.

        • ChetC3 says:

          By the time of the Marian reforms, large scale political violence had been a feature of Roman politics for a generation. The post-Marian Roman military didn’t get involved until the Roman civilian government threatened it directly (a Populares controlled Senate attempt strip an Optimas general of command of an army of his veterans, which, in the larger context, his veterans were justified in interpreting as an attack on their own interests).

        • cassander says:

          The roman military system in the late republic wasn’t poorly designed, it’s trouble wad that the senate was constantly stiffing them on pay, so they turned to their loyalty the generals who would ensure them pay and land.

          • christhenottopher says:

            I didn’t mean the Roman military was poorly designed by itself, it obviously worked very well as a fighting force and generally didn’t need to be as big a percentage of the population in the late Republic and Empire as their neighbors had. But the overall Roman political system suffered greatly by its inability to reign in that army is pretty bad. Sure it’s partially the Senate’s fault (though the stiffing on retirement was the bigger issue than direct pay since it grew increasingly difficult to find decent land to distribute), but it’s also in large part how the Roman system overly mixed military and political office and kept most soldiers and their civilian friends and families politically disenfranchised.

          • cassander says:

            My point was that the design of the army had little to do with the inability of the senate to reign it in. that problem was almost purely internal to the senate and, as you say, stiffing it on land at the end of campaigns. And given how much land the romans conquered, even before caesar, there should have been plenty of land to go around.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            And given how much land the romans conquered, even before caesar, there should have been plenty of land to go around.

            Part of the issue there was that people were worried about spreading Rome’s population over too wide an area; they thought it was better to keep their manpower concentrated in Italy to protect the heart of the Empire than to scatter it in little penny-packets over half the known world. Which, ceteris paribus, it might have been, but in the end the shortage of land in Italy grew so acute that they ended up having to settle people in the colonies anyway.

          • christhenottopher says:

            My point was that the design of the army had little to do with the inability of the senate to reign it in.

            That’s not exactly right. Remember that the guys running these armies were senators. The army system was designed so that by screwing over the soldiers of a rival senator, you were also screwing over an important part of that rival’s political base. Part of the Senate’s not properly giving compensation was because the military was a part of the political system much more deeply than in most modern nations.

            Of course also as noted by another commentor, land grants were best if they could be given in Italy. This is also partially because Romans knew how to farm Italian-like soil in Italian-like climates best. Not to mention many of the newly conquered lands were not particularly secure (Hispania is a great example, very similar climate to Italy but Iberians would fight and raid quite a bit even under occupation for a long time). Roman colonies could be useful for helping secure this territory, but settling down people who had just spent the last decade and half fighting for you in areas they quite possibly will have to fight for in “retirement” is not as popular a move as settling in well pacified Italy.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Even for Rome, it took centuries to go from the first successful military coup to the situation you’re talking about here (over 300 years between Sulla’s march on Rome and Maximinus Thrax, longer than the US has existed as an independent state).

        Eh, not really. In terms of civil wars, the decades following Sulla’s march on Rome were very similar to the crisis of the third century: in just over fifty years you had Marius’ march on Rome (86 BC), Sulla’s second march on Rome (83 BC), Lepidus’ rebellion (77 BC), the Catilinarian conspiracy (63-62 BC), Caesar’s Civil War (49-45 BC), the post-Caesarean civil war (44-43 BC), the War of the Liberators (44-42 BC), Sextus Pompey’s revolt (44-36 BC), the Perusine War (41-40 BC), and the civil war between Octavian and Antony (32-31 BC).

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Probably would have been more if Augustus hadn’t lived so long, too.

        • ChetC3 says:

          I wasn’t claiming the late Republic was stable, just that its instability didn’t take the form of having a successful military coup every few years like in the third century. And when the military did take part in the civil strife, it was at the command of its generals, not because of a mutiny over pay or a conspiracy among junior officers. In the late Republic it was Senator against Senator, with elements of the military sometimes dragged in to support one or more of the sides.

          PS. Thanks for mentioning Lepidus’ rebellion, I’d managed to overlook it til now, and it seems like a major gap in my knowledge.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Sulla’s two marches on Rome, Marius’ march, and the resolution of the post-Caesarean civil war could plausibly be described as successful coups, I think, and Lepidus’ rebellion was an unsuccessful coup. That’s quite a high frequency, even leaving aside other kinds of civil war.

            And when the military did take part in the civil strife, it was at the command of its generals, not because of a mutiny over pay or a conspiracy among junior officers. In the late Republic it was Senator against Senator, with elements of the military sometimes dragged in to support one or more of the sides.

            We don’t really have enough information on most of the late imperial coups to say whether or not they were genuinely driven by the common soldiers or junior officers, or whether their commanders were just exploiting grievances to get themselves declared Emperor. In some cases it seems that the new Emperors were genuinely reluctant to take power, but the cases where we have actual evidence of this are relatively sparse.

            PS. Thanks for mentioning Lepidus’ rebellion, I’d managed to overlook it til now, and it seems like a major gap in my knowledge.

            It’s often forgotten, possibly because our sources for these decades are very fragmentary and so we don’t know many of the details.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I’d wager any given US military officer has more expected QALYs ahead of them in their current position than in a post-coup scenario, unless they have a Marlo Stanfield attitude towards wearing the crown.

      • John Schilling says:

        What’s the Quality Adjustment for years spent ruling with an iron fist and living like a god, again?

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          No joke, that’s the question here.
          But it’d be like a king, not like a god, the difference being that kings have to work to maintain their power. I’d put the adjustment below one for most people, though generals are probably better suited to being constantly strategic than average folks. It’s still hard to picture getting a critical mass of leaders together for whom it’s high enough.

    • sourcreamus says:

      In the US successful military commanders do not have to stage a coup to grab power. They just have to run for office. The most famous general of each war generally gets to be president if they want to. The Revolutionary War made Washington president, the War of 1812 made Jackson president, the Mexican War -Taylor, the Civil War-Grant, Spanish American War-Roosevelt, WW2-Eisenhower. Pershing could have been president if he wanted it, and so could have Powell. The only general who wanted to be president and could not was ironically America’s greatest military mind, Winfield Scott.

    • Nyx says:

      “But the US is a militaristic republic whose professional army seems easily able to win a civil war against all other US institutions.”

      Because the Founding Fathers knew about it. They didn’t need Gibbon, they could look at the English Civil War (in which a bunch of radical soldiers established a military dictatorship in the aftermath of a war between Parliament and the King) and say well, better not have a standing army. And indeed, the United States didn’t have a standing army for the first few decades of it’s existence, instead being defended by the infamous “well-regulated militia”. Then the war of 1812 happened, and the United States thought that maybe having a professional army was quite good. Also the rule of “the President controls the army and Congress controls the money” seems to help.

    • Salem says:

      In addition to the excellent replies made already:

      It’s worth distinguishing between the two broad ways coups can work mechanically. Let’s call them the Arab coup, and the pronunciamento. The Arab coup involves a small group of officers, normally led by a colonel. In a sudden action, they seize control of the central levers of government authority, and declare themselves the government. Everyone else goes along with them, because the civil service, the police, rest of the army, etc, are used to taking orders from any arbitrary set of rulers. In other words, no-one expects a legitimate government. It should be pretty obvious why the US is immune from this kind of coup – there is enough sense of, and desire for, legitimacy that it wouldn’t work. If a dashing young colonel, no matter how charismatic, seized control of Washington D.C. one Wednesday morning and declared himself President, the rest of the country would say “No you aren’t,” and its institutions (including the rest of the army) would crush him with overwhelming force.

      That is easily the most common kind of coup, so we’ve already gone most of the way to explaining why the US doesn’t have coups. If the US became a dictatorship, or similar, this could change, but it’s unlikely. No coup like that has happened in any Anglosphere country since 1660.

      The other kind of coup is when the army high command, or at least a significant fraction of it, decides to take over. This is a lot harder to pull off, because a 5-star general has no direct connection to the troops being asked to seize Congress, and it requires a much broader conspiracy. As a result coups like this are much rarer. The US doesn’t have coups like this because it has civilian control over the military, not just as a norm or ideology, but as a fact. This could change – I can imagine something like the Honduran or Chilean coup d’etats happening in the US.

      • Evan Þ says:

        I can imagine something like the Honduran or Chilean coup d’etats happening in the US.

        You mean the Honduran “coup” in which the Supreme Court observed that the President was blatantly violating the Constitution and deputized the army to have him arrested?

        (Really. The Honduran Constitution imposes a one-term limit on the President, forbids that point from being amended, and says that anyone proposing or suggesting removal of that term limit automatically loses his office and becomes incapable of holding office in the future. President Zelaya did just that, so he got no more than what was coming to him.)

        I can’t imagine anything like that happening here… but that’s not because of our President or generals, but because our Supreme Court lacks the requisite ties to the military (IIRC the Honduran army has an alternate line of command going right up to the Supreme Court) and also lacks the backbone to create them on the spot.

        • Salem says:

          You mean the Honduran “coup” in which the Supreme Court observed that the President was blatantly violating the Constitution and deputized the army to have him arrested?

          Yes, exactly. The Chilean coup happened in much the same way. Most pronunciamento-style coups have a degree of legitimacy. But only a degree – Zelaya was definitely breaking the law, and the Supreme Court were right to have him arrested. But when the army deposed and exiled him, was that lawful?

          The US is a long way from it yet, but I can easily imagine that at some future point there is an intractable stand-off between President and Congress, with the Supreme Court on one side or another. I don’t just mean deadlock or government “shutdown,” but something more critical – perhaps the majority party in Congress insists it has validly impeached the President, while he insists it hasn’t. At this point, the army steps in to settle the dispute, and permanently inserts itself into politics.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        The US doesn’t have coups like this because it has civilian control over the military, not just as a norm or ideology, but as a fact.

        How can you measure this control? How could someone in 1957 see that France did not have this control?

    • Garrett says:

      There are two things that matter: legitimacy, and being able to use force effectively.

      Legitimacy, as others have mentioned, is basically where the population at-large buys into the collective insanity that is civilization. People buy into the person with the crown/sword/title as the person who’s decisions or actions are to be followed/obeyed. In the event of some catastrophe like a nuclear strike on the Capitol, the military might be able to organize quickly and be viewed as legitimate, but that will quickly vanish if elections are not held in a timely fashion.

      Using force effectively means having the person “in-charge” be able to make what they want to have happen, happen. Assuming, for a moment, that there was a coup attempt where the head of the military walked in and killed the head of government (Prime Minister, President, whatever), you run into a number of problems:

      1) In democratic countries, the military doesn’t have an independent source of funding. In China, I think, a number of major industries are controlled by different branches of the military as a way to have a steady supply of cash coming in. In other countries the military has cornered a market (eg. water) for the same reason. Without that supply of cash the money the military needs to operate would need to be acquired some other way. That’s hard without the whole government supporting you.

      2) Generally, the military doesn’t have any experience operating in the civilian sphere. Sure, the military will occasionally be called out to help in a disaster, shovel snow or quell a riot. But they have limited experience in eg. toll-both operations. So a lot of the required skills are missing, and the idea of the military taking over is seen as out-of-place by the civilian population.

      3) Strong rule-of-law tradition. The Strong Man can possibly direct cronies to commit direct violence. But trying to get the civil service to promulgate changes in law is difficult. There are vast quantities of supervisors, inspectors, lawyers for the government, lawyers for interest groups, independent councils, etc., that the whole system could be brought to a halt under work-to-rule really quickly.

      4) Diffuse power. Related to #3. In the US power is separated between 3 branches of government, plus between the States and the Feds. Anything more than one or two of those rejecting your claim to power and everything grinds to a halt.

      5) Democratic militaries have a high tail-to-tooth ratio. They rely heavily on sophisticated equipment, all of which falls apart and requires replacement or specialized servicing. It’s very easy for the civilian population to take “unannounced vacation” and not be available to service or manufacture the gear. After the Edward Snowden revelations the NSA has had difficulty hiring technical experts. And this is in a case where no direct actual harm has occurred. Some strong-man taking over the government will result in substantial reluctance to help such industries. The military’s going to be spending a lot of time herding workers into making the correct type of tires needed for their vehicles. And not “accidentally” sabotaging them.

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        Now I want to see a story about a “successful” coup in the U.S. which ends up accomplishing nothing because of a quiet work-to-rule / sick-out strike. Now we see the awesome power of the passive-aggressive!

  10. mrbodoia says:

    In the last open thread, I posted a link to a political orientation quiz I drafted for Tripartisan, my ongoing attempt to build a reddit-like political forum which is resistant to echo chamber effects. I posted the quiz in the hopes of getting some constructive feedback from other commenters (which I did!). But I also promised to report the results in the next open thread, so that everyone could see where SSCers stand on various political issues.

    As of earlier this evening, a total of 40 people had taken the quiz. That’s a fairly small sample size, so I don’t want to read too much into the results. But I think there are still some interesting questions we can answer.

    One thing we might ask is, on which issues are SSCers most divided? We can get a rough sense of this by looking at which quiz questions had the largest standard deviation in response values. (Note that responses for each question were given on a 5-point Likert scale, where 1 means “no” and 5 means “yes”). According to this metric, the questions on which SSCers were most divided were:
    Should it be easier for women to obtain abortions?
    Are our country’s borders too open?
    Do we spend too much of our budget on welfare and entitlements?

    I tried using the standard deviation of responses to identify the questions on which SSCers were most in agreement. The three questions with the lowest standard deviation in responses were:
    Should national security take precedence over individual privacy? (SSC says no/neutral)
    Is most of the racial inequality we see today due to discrimination? (SSC says no/neutral)
    Are police departments currently facing too much scrutiny? (SSC says no/neutral)

    However, a quick eye test suggests that standard deviation might not be the best metric in this case. It ends up ranking questions where a large percentage of respondents gave more neutral answers (2, 3, or 4) over questions where respondents were mostly in agreement on one extreme (1 or 5). By the eye test, I would say the questions on which SSCers were most in agreement were:
    Should recreational marijuana remain illegal? (SSC says no)
    Should the government do more to help students pay for college? (SSC says no)

    Another thing we might ask is, do SSCers tend to agree more on certain categories of political issues? The quiz was divided into three sections of six questions each: social policy, foreign policy, and economic policy. Taking the average of the standard deviations of responses to questions in each category, we get 1.236 for social policy, 1.154 for foreign policy, and 1.266 for economic policy. I have no idea if those differences are significant, but my guess would be no. Also, averaging standard deviations of Likert-scaled responses is probably a questionable approach to begin with.

    If you’d like to see histograms for each question (like in Scott’s 2017 SSC survey post), the full results can be found here. Also, as noted in the last thread, I’d love to hear any suggestions or criticisms people have about the quiz. For those who didn’t see the original post, my goal is to use the quiz as a way of grouping people into three broad categories: generally left-leaning, generally right-leaning, and neither left- nor right-leaning.

    • aNeopuritan says:

      politicaltest.net/en is one I actually like. I didn’t check your quiz because I think your comments have been not only US-myopic (though that too) but myopic even considering only the US. Check their categories, consider what categories (from there or elsewhere) actually exist in substantial amounts; if you end up using a category that does exist but that people in the region in question currently *don’t* label, you’ll be even closer to finding something actually useful.

      • Well... says:

        Taking the “normal version” now. Horribly slow, crappy interface, confusing or vaguely worded questions even after mentally adjusting for bad translation to English.

        …OK it’s been 30 minutes, 95% of that time was me waiting for their spinning wheel. I’m going to quit the test even though I’m 73% of the way through, so I won’t know how accurate it is. The site is nearly unusable.

        • aNeopuritan says:

          … I took the test sometime ago. Now having checked, I can tell you A) I agree with your assessment of the present state (I wouldn’t have finished back then if it was this slow, and the interface was better in other ways too), and B) even the link to a graphic that my saved result has is now broken, so even the result graphics have been moved.

          To give examples of what *was* good (might still be, if people endure going through it …), my summary was

          “You are a patriotic and authoritarian Socialist. 4 percent of the test participators are in the same category and 40 percent are more extremist than you.”

          [An example of “positions held by substantial numbers of people without getting named often” – this is *not* code for Stalinism, as I was *barely* off-center towards authoritarianism and nationalism, but hugely communistic.]

          and that was composed of axes I could find *reading the source code of my saved result*:

          ecological – anthropocentric
          pacifist – militaristic
          communistic – capitalistic
          anarchistic – authoritarian
          visionary – reactionary
          secular – fundamentalist
          cosmopolitan – nationalistic.

          I’ll e-mail them about WTF. In one sense congratulations, in other apologies for your half-hour.

      • mrbodoia says:

        I agree that the quiz, in it’s current state, is very US-centric. I’m planning on making it more applicable to people from other countries but for the first draft it was easier to focus on the politics that I’m most familiar with (American politics).

        What do you think was myopic about it even considering only the US? I tried to include questions for all of the topics that frequently get media coverage here. If you think there are other hot-button issues that should have been included on the quiz, please let me know and I’ll include them.

        Or is your concern that the very idea of grouping people into only three groups (left, right, and other) is a myopic way of looking at American politics?

      • Deiseach says:

        That is a dreadful site. I slogged through it only to get in the end “You are a Social Democrat” which I could probably have told them off the bat if they’d asked me “With which of these European Parliament political groups do you loosely associate?” (though generally I’d lean more Christian Democrat, at least up till they started going loopy and associating with the likes of Forza Italia).

  11. John Schilling says:

    Last OT, I started talking about my nerdy hobby of Korea-watching, specifically analysis of North Korean strategic weapons. There were requests for more, and I like talking about this, so let’s continue. The last discussion was about the explodey nuclear parts; this time we’ll deal with the missiles that carry them. That’s my particular area of expertise, so this one will be a bit longer. And, yes, North Korea not only has nuclear warheads, they have missiles to carry them. Lots of them, and they mostly work.

    North Korea’s history with ballistic missiles goes back to 1980, when they allegedly bought a few second-hand Scud missiles from Egypt and reverse-engineered them in the spirit of rugged juche individualism. I say “allegedly” because reverse-engineering is a much harder feat than most people understand. There’s speculation that the North Koreans had help. Whether by their own reverse engineering or covert foreign assistance, North Korea moved quickly to not only produce Scud mssiles for their own use, but to establish themselves as an exporter. North Korea sold Iran roughly a hundred Scuds in 1985, for use in their war with Iraq, and they seem to have worked 80-90% of the time under combat conditions.

    You all remember the Scud missile from Operation Desert Storm, right? 1950s technology liquid-fueled rockets, with a range of 300-600 kilometers depending on version and warhead size. Accuracy is indifferent, particularly at longer ranges, but good enough for weapons of mass destruction. They are typically fired from Transporter-Erector-Launcher (“TEL”) vehicles which nominally have high cross-country mobility.

    Locally-produced Scud missiles gave North Korea the ability to reach targets across roughly half of South Korea. But, while they worked well enough for many purposes, they had one critical limitation even then: North Korea’s enemies were not limited to the northern half of South Korea, and could be counted on to put their most critical logistics and command centers safely out of Scud reach. In 1991, North Korea introduced the “No dong” missile to address that deficiency.

    OK, I’ll wait for the snickering to die down. Finished yet? Nodong is our name for the missile. The North Korean name is either “Hwasong-8” or “Hwasong-9”. We think. The missile was first observed in reconnaissance photos of a site near the village of No Dong, so we called it the Nodong missile. That’s actually a well-established naming convention, and we’re going to keep doing it until they tell us what the official name is and probably for a generation or so after. For the most part, I’m going to use our names for North Korean missiles here.

    And one more digression while I’m at it. Most of North Korea’s missiles are at least loosely based on old Soviet technology. We know there were Russian rocket scientists moonlighting in Pyongyang during the Yeltsin administration, not as a matter of Russian policy but because the Yeltsin administration wasn’t very good at meeting payroll. We think a fair bit of cold-war surplus hardware, maybe including some obsolete missiles that were supposed to be scrapped, made its way east as well. That level of collaboration probably began and ended with Yeltsin, but North Korea has always been looking for whatever bits of technology or expertise it can find on the black market. The only actual governments known to have collaborated with Pyongyang in this area are Iran and Pakistan.

    The Nodong looks like a Scud with all of the dimensions increased by about 40%; the astute engineer will realize there has to be more to it than just multiplying dimensions on a set of blueprints, and we can argue about how much Russian help they had in developing the thing. The first Nodong test occurred in 1991, during the Gorbachev era, and the Soviet Union never fielded a missile like the Nodong in any event. So, probably not a matter of Russian engineers selling them the design, but maybe they helped debug the thing after the 1991 test exploded on the pad.

    In 1993, the Nodong started working properly. This is a recurring theme in North Korean rocketry – nothing works the first time, explosions on the launch pad being particularly common, but they take their time working the problems and eventually get it right. The Nodong, in its final form, delivers nuclear-sized payloads to 1500 kilometers. That’s enough to cover all of Korea and most of Japan.

    Later in the decade, North Korea developed something called the Scud-ER, which for a long time we thought was just their version of extended-range Scuds as similarly developed by Russia and Iraq. Stretch the propellant tanks, cut the payload in half, hope the guidance system can handle it as the range goes up to 700 kilometers. Last year, North Korea finally showed us what their Scud-ER is, and it isn’t quite what we expected. A complete redesign of the airframe to wrest the last bit of performance out of the heritage Scud engine, with the ability to deliver nuclear warheads out to at least 1000 km.

    These three are the workhorse missiles of the North Korean strategic rocket forces today. North Korea has about thirty operational Scud-sized TELS and ten larger ones for the Nodong. The number of missiles is harder to pin down, but based on known production capacity is probably between five hundred and one thousand, no more than two hundred of them Nodongs. Obviously, most of these are not going to be nuclear.

    There’s also something we call the Musudan, which is basically an 1960s-vintage Soviet submarine-launched ballistic missile modified for land basing and increased range. This is definitely a result of collaboration with Yeltsin-era Russians. The Musudan is about a decade ahead of the Scud/Nodong family in its underlying technology, and should be able to deliver a nuclear warhead about 3500 km.

    In practice, it mostly just blows up its own launch site. The North Koreans appear to have deployed it back in 2004, but never tested it until last year. Same mistake as with their nuclear warheads, deployed without testing and then an embarrassing failure when they did get around to testing a decade later. But unlike the nukes, or most of their missiles, Pyongyang didn’t feel they could take the time to do a proper job of fixing the problem. Instead of coming back a few years later with a reliable system, they rushed through a total of eight tests and at least one design change, with only a single successful flight to show for it. Unclear whether they are going to continue with this line of development.

    All of these are liquid-fuel missiles. Nominally mobile, but if you take a fully-fueled Scud off-roading you probably won’t have a working missile at the end of it and you very likely will have killed your crew with toxic propellant leaks. Normal procedure is to stick to roads or flat open terrain, and even then to carry the fuel in separate tankers. Takes about fifteen minutes to load and fire under ideal conditions, maybe an hour for an average crew in combat. What was sufficient against allied Scud-hunting in 1991, may not be sufficient today.

    To ensure survivability going forward, North Korea has been working on more robust solid-propellant missiles. That path begins in 1996, when Syria sells Pyongyang some ex-Soviet OTR-21 “Tockha” (aka SS-21 “Scarab) short-ranged ballistic missiles which the North Koreans promptly reverse-engineer (yeah, yeah, see above). These are high-end tactical systems, intended to support battlefield commanders by striking key targets just behind the front lines. The original Soviet model had a range of 70 kilometers with high accuracy; North Korea’s KN-02 “Toksa” has had the range extended progressively to as much as 220 kilometers.

    The OTR-21 and probably the KN-02 is built for precision strikes with conventional warheads, though North Korea can probably shoehorn a nuclear warhead into the thing. More importantly, it gave them the experience to build something like the Pukguksong-2, demonstrated earlier this year. And for once, that’s their name – they have finally mastered the technology of the timely press release. The Pukguksong-2 is a Nodong-class missile with a roughly 1250 kilometer range, but carried on a new tracked TEL with high cross-country mobility capable of independent operations and very short launch times. This system is not yet operational, but will likely replace the Scud-ER and Nodong and provide a very survivable, responsive strike capability in the region.

    “Pukguksong-2”, obviously, implies a “Pukguksong-1”. But we saw that one in satellite imagery ahead of the press release, so we call it the KN-11. And it’s kind of scary. The KN-11 is a submarine-launched ballistic missile in the same class as the US Polaris A1 SLBM from the early 1960s. North Korea spent several years trying to develop a liquid-fueled submarine-launched missile, but liquid-fuel missiles and submarines really don’t go together and North Korea’s version kept exploding on launch. The solid-propellant KN-11 works just fine, having demonstrated submerged launch capability with the same 1250 km effective range as its land-based sibling.

    And yes, there’s a ballistic-missile submarine to go with it, but the “Gorae” is an experimental testbed. Circumstantial evidence suggests that North Korea began construction of what will be their first operational ballistic-missile submarine late last year. North Korea used to build oceangoing submarines on a two-year cycle, but this is a new design so it may take a bit longer. And while the missile is comparable to the early US Polaris, the submarine won’t be. We are expecting a 2000-3000 ton diesel-electric boat with 3-5 missile tubes and limited operational range.

    But these are all regional weapons, and no more than 0.3% of you live within range of them. The question everyone wants to know is, when are they going to get an ICBM that can hit all the targets on their Map of Doom? My over/under on that is currently some time in 2021.

    The KN-08 and KN-14 road-mobile ICBMs currently exist only as mockups and ground test hardware, though they have been showing us some of the ground tests to make sure we know they are serious. These are liquid-fueled missiles, so even though they can be carried by a superheavy TEL, don’t expect them to do more than shuffle between prepared sites accompanied by a convoy of support vehicles. I expect that North Korea really want a more reliable solid propellant ICBM and the KN-08/14 are meant to be only an interim system. They’ve got six of the superheavy TELs, and might build as many as a couple dozen ICBMs to launch from them.

    The KN-08 is a three-stage monstrosity kitbashed together out of Musudan engines, riveted aluminum structure, and repurposed commercial electronics for guidance and control. It should have a range of better than 12,000 km and so cover most of CONUS, but is unlikely to deliver better than 30-40% reliability. The KN-14 is a closely-related two-stage system with a more advanced structural design; shorter range (9,000-10,000 km, US west coast) but potentially 60-70% reliability.

    Those are projected reliability figures after several years of testing; as with just about everything else North Korea builds we expect the first one to explode on the pad. That could happen as early as this year. If they panic and decide that Pudgy Leader needs to see a successful test ASAP, as they did with the Musudan, they can burn through a lot of expensive hardware in a hurry. If they take their time and do it right, as they’ve done with everything else, it will likely enter operational service sometime after 2020.

    The bottom line is they have maybe 500-1000 perfectly good short- to medium-range missiles right now. These are old but reliable Scud/Nodong types capable of reaching targets across South Korea and Japan. In the past few years, they have dramatically increased the pace and the transparency of their missile programs, showing us what we have to look forward to. A new class of highly responsive and mobile land-based theatre ballistic missile, a nascent submarine-launched missile force, and soon enough a limited mobile ICBM capability. And won’t that be fun?

    If any of you are wondering how we can know this much about the strategic weapons of one of the most secretive and isolated nations on Earth, that will be the subject of my next installment. Because that part, unlike the doing-anything-about-it part, actually is kind of fun.

    • bean says:

      Thanks again for doing this. What do you think the odds are that any of those TELs will get off second shots? Given what I know of their AD network, I don’t think it’s very good, but I’m far from an expert on these things.

      • John Schilling says:

        Particularly with the new solid-fuel missiles, their odds are looking pretty good. Unlike the Iraqis, who just drove their TELs around in the desert, North Korea can keep theirs hidden underground until they are ready to shoot, and then go back into hiding as soon as they are finished. One of their recent salvo-firing exercises was conducted on a stretch of highway just outside a tunnel, so I expect part of what they were training for was the ability to go into and out of hiding in a hurry.

        We can try to collapse the tunnel exit and trap the TEL, at least, but there’s about twenty thousand known exits from North Korea’s hardened underground sites, and I don’t think we have a good map of how they might be connected. Also, they’ve got no shortage of people who can be commanded to get to work with picks and shovels at need, so we’d need to be willing to follow up our precision strikes against military targets with cluster-bombing work gangs.

    • JDG1980 says:

      Two questions about North Korea:

      (1) Could we potentially assassinate Kim Jong-un by bombing one of those public launch events (or whatever) that he seems to regularly attend? Or do we not have enough intelligence, or adequate logistics, to do so? What would happen if we did that – does the military brass take over, and how do they react?

      (2) If we decided that North Korea was too great of a threat and had to be ended once and for all, then spent a few months or years building up and did a surprise preemptive strike – all out, combined nuclear/conventional hits depending on what would work best to neutralize their capabilities, no fucks given for NK civilian casualties – would they be able to do anything in retaliation? In other words, is our issue that we really can’t effectively do anything, or that we’re too soft-hearted to do what we must?

      • random832 says:

        On what basis “must” we, other than soft-heartedness in the first place? Why is being willing to give “no fucks” for civilian casualties more of an acceptable cost than being willing to let them continue living under the current regime?

        I mean, to be fair, your premise “if we decided that North Korea was too great a threat” is kind of premised on them being a serious threat.. but that’s a vaguely defined counterfactual so it’s hard to know what that would necessarily mean for our capability to deal with them.

        • JDG1980 says:

          North Korea could potentially crater the world economy at any time by attacking South Korea or Japan (think about how many vital U.S. consumer and industrial products come from those countries). In another few years, they may be able to directly murder American civilians en masse. This is a fundamentally different issue from dealing with Soviet/Russian or Chinese ICBMs, because those countries are run by serious people who understand concepts like deterrence, while North Korea is run by the nearest real-life equivalent to Anthony from It’s a Good Life: a petulant child that no one has ever dared to chastise.

          I don’t know enough about the military situation to know whether a preemptive strike is feasible at this point, which is why I asked the question. Maybe it’s too late and we should have done this 5-10 years ago. What I do know is that this situation should be taken far more seriously than it has been, and that the “humanitarian” framework of the past couple of decades (in which we can only intervene if we pretend that it’s for the intervenees’ own good) is a serious hurdle to doing so. We fought WWII with everything we had and with complete disregard for civilian casualties, and won. We fought every subsequent war under the “humanitarian” framework and lost almost all of them. This is not acceptable with an existential threat.

      • John Schilling says:

        We generally find out which events Kim attends about an hour after they post the Youtube video (yes, the North Korean propaganda ministry uses Youtube). There’s no reason for him to post his schedule in advance; if he needs a crowd of admirers for the cameras, one will be arranged on the spot and nobody will be giving “but I’m busy with something important, you should have told me yesterday!” as an excuse for not attending.

        We don’t know whether Kim is practicing Saddam-level paranoia, sleeping in a different building and/or in a bunker four hundred feet underground every night, but South Korea has been all but explicitly threatening to put a cruise missile through his nominal bedroom window if tensions get too high, so I’d bet on paranoia.

        And there isn’t presently a publicly-designated successor to Kim Jong-Un, so while there are probably secret arrangements among the top brass, any actual transition of power is going to be very unpredictable. I like unpredictability, it keeps life interesting, but if it involves a hot war with nuclear weapons on at least two sides that might be a bit too interesting.

        • Civilis says:

          Given the train explosion in2004 at Ryongchŏn reportedly occurred several hours after Kim Jong-Il passed by on his way back from China, you’ve got to assume that there’s at least some level of paranoia built into his son’s travel plans.

    • Montfort says:

      Nice series, I’m enjoying reading along.

      Do you have any recommendations for an English-speaking civilian wanting to understand the current state of NK in terms of politics and everyday life?

      • John Schilling says:

        38 North, a website run by the US-Korea institute at Johns Hopkins, is my usual starting point. It’s where you’ll find most of my writing on North Korean missiles, and people at least as knowledgeable as me writing on the politics, economics, human rights, etc issues.

    • tmk says:

      Interesting thanks! The International Space Station has an unofficial, but well known, purpose: to keep Russian rocket engineers employed and away from North Korea, Iran, etc. It seems to have worked reasonably well. NK does not seem to have access to the really big Russian rocket technology. Instead they managed to get the smaller rockets from the regular Russian army, and are trying to make them bigger.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Is the missile-defense capacity of potential targets going to be a future post? My cursory arms-race understanding was that MIRVs were what tipped the balance against defense, and you haven’t said anything about MIRVs. But feel free to save the answer for another day, if that’s the plan.

      • John Schilling says:

        There are some aspects of that that I’ll save for later. For now, I’ll note that we’ve gotten to be pretty good at stopping standard Scud missiles under combat conditions, provided they come one at a time. North Korea has been explicitly testing salvo launches, and time-on-target launches from multiple sites. Whether a THAAD or Patriot battery can stop a dozen simultaneous Scud launches from three widely-separated sites, is a big unknown. And the Nodong, even when fired at short range, has a terminal velocity twice that of a Scud.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Nice post. One part threw me:

      The Nodong, in its final form, delivers nuclear-sized payloads to 1500 kilometers. That’s enough to cover all of Korea and most of Japan. […] Later in the decade, North Korea developed something called the Scud-ER, […] with the ability to deliver nuclear warheads out to at least 1000 km.

      Why develop the Scud-ER if the Nodong already went further? Guidance issues? Cheaper? (I guess this makes sense in hindsight, but when I first read the text, Nodong and Scud got too conflated in my mind, and I thought at first that you’d mistyped and the Nodong range was actually 500km.)

      • Nornagest says:

        The Nodong is a substantially larger missile. That probably points to higher cost; it could also mean basing and transportation issues.

        • John Schilling says:

          Correct. The Scud-ER uses the standard Scud engine, which is probably half the cost of the larger Nodong engine. It also uses the standard Scud TEL, which in addition to cost issues provides greater operational flexibility.

    • Humbert McHumbert says:

      Do you agree with Jeffrey Lewis’s analysis that the US and NK are both pursuing plans that destabilize the situation by giving them incentives for a first strike?

      • John Schilling says:

        I’m not so sure about the United States; we’re certainly not ruling out first strike, but we’re not specifically planning for it. Mostly that’s because we don’t ever rule out first strike on general principles, and we don’t have any good plans for first, second, or third strike w/re North Korea – we’re going to make it up as we go along. Fortunately, we have a broad range of capabilities to allow operational flexibility, and at least for the moment we have the strategic depth to give them the first move and still prevail.

        South Korea is definitely moving in the direction of first strike, and decapitation strike specifically. I can understand why, and they don’t have any good options either, but it is destabilizing.

        • Humbert McHumbert says:

          What do you think the US’s response might be in the case of a SK first strike on NK? Would SK be inclined to let us in on the decision-making process about that, or let us know very far in advance?

          • John Schilling says:

            The US military forces in South Korea have very close ties with their ROK counterparts, so any deliberate military operation would almost certainly be known to us and would be stopped if we strongly objected. The South Korean government is another matter; I don’t think anyone has a good handle on the new administration, and apparently nobody understood the last one as well as they thought the did. If some crisis has Hwang Kyo-Ahn calling up the JCS and ordering “Implement War Plan Omega with the Full Decapitation Option(*) in five minutes”, that’s probably going to happen and it’s going to be almost as much of a surprise to us as it is to Kim Jong-Un.

            What happens next is up to Pyongynang, and our options are going to be subject to circumstances and constraints not of our making.

            * We can take it for granted that this war plan exists, that the ROK military staff has at least informally briefed their US colleagues about it, and that they understand we will be rather peeved if they execute it without telling us. But orders are orders.

  12. Wrong Species says:

    The reporting about the civilians dying in Mosul is really bugging me. It is talked about like the US is recklessly hitting targets with no regard for civilians, and some are hinting that the military is doing it on purpose because of Trump. But the details suggest otherwise.

    First off, 200 people were supposedly killed but they have only confirmed 61.

    Second, the building that the civilians were in wasn’t directly by coalition air strikes.

    The Iraqi military said in a statement Sunday that the home it examined had been reduced to rubble, but there was no sign of it being hit from the air. The team found a vehicle bomb and detonator in the debris. Those findings, along with witness accounts, led the team to believe that ISIS fighters had blown up the home.

    Third, this is the only report of civilian causalities in Mosul.

    And also, they are now in the old part of Mosul, which has more narrow, winding roads and will be more difficult to get accurate shots.

    Most people only really cares about Iraq and Syria when they have some narrative to push and the last one(the poor innocent moderate rebels being slaughtered by the big bad Syrian army) wasn’t exactly accurate either. At this point, it doesn’t really matter what facts get reported. The seed of an idea has already been planted.

    • John Schilling says:

      Two hundred dead civilians in Mosul is maybe one percent of the total if we’re very lucky; this is all about someone trying to exploit the perception that it is somehow an intolerable evil of any of those civilians were killed by our pure, unblemished American hands.

      Which isn’t going to do much for them. Red Tribe America generally understands that if the Bad Guys own a city and we want to take it away from them, that’s going to cost tens of thousands of innocent lives (preferably not American lives) and doesn’t much care whose bullets do the killing. Blue Tribe America is only OK with American bullets being used to kill Certified Bad Guys, ever. Right now, both tribes are aligned with causing the downfall of ISIS, and that means making at least a token appearance at the Battle of Mosul. This sort of propaganda won’t change that. It will drive yet another wedge between the tribes, but at this point who is going to notice?

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      I guess I don’t see the problem with this article? The headline is qualified with “Iraqi official says.” So maybe this is too much stenography, not enough reporting, but to some extent I think CNN sees that as part of their mission (coming from TV, where a lot of what they do is interviews or live coverage of press conferences).

      Incidentally I was under the impression that the battle of Mosul was over and all was quiet, so at least for me the article mostly made my beliefs less wrong.

      EDIT: incidentally, the only mention of Trump in the article is stenography of a White House statement. There is nothing wrong with that, but from your description of media coverage I was expecting something else.

      • Wrong Species says:

        It’s not this article I have a problem with. It’s just the headlines and speculations from other articles I have read.

  13. Odovacer says:

    Allegedly Trump presented Merkel with a $300 billion bill for NATO. Regardless of the veracity of the claim, it’s true that in 2006 all NATO members pledged to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense, but only five countries do so (US, Poland, Greece, UK and Estonia). My questions are:

    1) Is this a problem and why or why not?

    2) What’s your general opinion of NATO?

    • skef says:

      The alliance had established the 2 percent guideline at its Riga summit in 2006, yet did not include the goal in the official summit declaration endorsed by all member states. Before the Riga summit a NATO spokesman even explained, “Let me be clear, this is not a hard commitment that [member states] will do it. But it is a commitment to work towards it.” [link]

      Source goes on to state that the 2014 Wales summit was a bit more of a thing, if still non-binding.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      1) NATO countries not spending at their target for defense is more of a political problem than anything else. They do need to maintain sufficient competent military force, and the 2% target simply makes for a concrete goal thereby ensuring “sufficient”. You don’t set your goal right at sufficient, for obvious reasons.

      2) NATO is a good treaty. Playing footsie with Russia right now is destabilizing, for many reasons, although I think the odds of Russia trying to push tanks into, say, Poland are very, very low. But break-up NATO? The odds rise.

    • tmk says:

      In international politics it’s quite common to agree on one thing and then not really do it. For example the US is not paying it’s full UN membership fee, but nobody an do much about it.

    • bean says:

      It’s a problem, in that them not spending 2% sends the wrong message to a wide variety of people, some of them US taxpayers, others their potential enemies.
      (As an aside, the 2% of the UK includes a lot of stuff like service pensions that probably shouldn’t count. They need to increase theirs as well.)

      Overall, NATO is one of the best-functioning of international organizations, and I’d hate to see it fall apart because some members aren’t willing to fund it properly.

    • beleester says:

      1. Not a problem – even if you see it as an essential commitment (and there are arguments that it’s not, that the real thing that most NATO members “pay” to the US is the ability for us to base our forces in strategic locations), the pledge was to hit 2% by 2024. It’s too early to start yelling at people over it.

      2. Pretty good. I’m a fan of deterrence, even if it does lead to a lot of saber-rattling and brinkmanship, it’s better than an actual war.

    • cassander says:

      1) Yes, it’s a problem. IT makes it more difficult for NATO to be a credible alliance when it’s known full well that most NATO militaries can’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag.

      2) The problem of shirking NATO members has been with us for almost as long as NATO. Back in the cold war days, it was hard to get the Spanish to get too excited about defending Germany. Today, it’s hard to get the Germans excited about defending Poland. Such is the nature of international coalitions.

    • Brad says:

      2) What’s your general opinion of NATO?

      NATO did its job, it won the Cold War. It should have been dismantled in the late 90s, or at the very least not expanded.

    • dndnrsn says:

      1. NATO countries should do their best to reach the 2% target. It sends a signal to allies and foes that it’s being taken seriously, it keeps there from being resentment in the US for having to foot the bill for other people’s defence (let’s not pretend a whole bunch of countries aren’t saving on their military by letting Uncle Sam do the heavy lifting), and it means that the US reducing spending or NATO involvement or whatever is less of a problem.

      Not that there is a direct link between spending and performance – Canada spends 1% of GDP on the military; Germany spends 1.2% – by all accounts I’ve seen the Canadian Forces performed better in Afghanistan than the Bundeswehr.

      2. NATO is, on the whole, a good organization. It seems to work adequately, it was necessary when first brought about, and having coordination between the major Western powers is important.

    • John Schilling says:

      NATO needs a clearly-defined mission, and it needs a commitment from all of its members to perform that mission. Without those two things, there’s no point – the US and UK don’t need anyone else’s permission to e.g. send a hundred thousand men to fight and kill and die to defend Poland from Russian aggression if we want, just Poland’s, and twenty other nations sending token contingents so they can say “We’re helping!” isn’t actually all that helpful.

      The 2% GDP target is a mediocre proxy for commitment, but it is at least something. Setting and then not meeting the 2% target, is a very strong signal for lack of commitment. Nations which won’t even come up with the promised money, when only money is required, cannot be trusted to pay in blood.

      But even with the commitment, what’s the mission? Defending Europe from Russian aggression by putting a powerful army in the path of that aggression was NATO’s core mission once upon a time, and it seems disturbingly topical now. But is that something that NATO’s members are really up for? Is Spain going to send men to die for Latvia, if Putin pulls that trigger? We need to be absolutely clear on that, and we’re not.

      We also need to be clear on whether NATO is about sending an army to protect doe-eyed waifs from Evil Murderous Dictators in regions with only vague and tenuous connections to the NA, and if so, who gets to decide. A treaty in which e.g. France and Belgium get to decide who the US and UK go to war with, is not in our interests.

      If true (and even Mother Jones has doubts), sending Merkel a $300E9 invoice for services rendered is an absurdly crass way of addressing these problems. But the problems are real, and if they aren’t resolved then we need to start thinking about either American Isolationism or a more explicitly asymmetric Pax Americana.

      • Alex says:

        We also need to be clear on whether NATO is about sending an army to protect doe-eyed waifs from Evil Murderous Dictators in regions with only vague and tenuous connections to the NA, and if so, who gets to decide. A treaty in which e.g. France and Belgium get to decide who the US and UK go to war with, is not in our interests.

        With the possible exception of Libya and the Kosovo the predominant narrative in my country is that the US explicitly wanted to go to war with the Evil Murderous Dictator de jour. Is this not true?

        • John Schilling says:

          Libya and Kosovo are the only two cases where NATO went to war with an evil murderous dictator(*), so, yeah. When the United States wants to wage war against a dictator, murderously evil or otherwise, we just do it – and we invite our most trusted allies, some of whom happen to be NATO members, but it’s done outside of the NATO framework. When NATO goes to war against evil murderous dictators, that’s basically a way of dragging the United States into a European fight that Europe can’t win. So, yeah, absurdly crass but I can see the appeal of sending a bill.

          * NATO’s other military operations were against non-state terrorists and pirates, which is generally less controversial.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Wasn’t NATO involved in the war in Afghanistan too?

          • Iain says:

            NATO was involved in Afghanistan. Indeed, it remains the only time that a NATO member has ever invoked the mutual defense aspect of the treaty. It’s one of the reasons I find Trumps’ comments about NATO to be particularly tacky; the single largest NATO action this millennium involved a bunch of America’s allies coming to her aid.

          • John Schilling says:

            Wasn’t NATO involved in the war in Afghanistan too?

            That would be the war against non-state terrorists, yes. Osama bin Laden was many things, most of them bad, but “evil dictator” isn’t really one of them. We could maybe fit Mullah Omar into that template, but nobody really tried and I don’t think any of the NATO member nations ever recognized the Taliban regime as Afghanistan’s legitimate (if evil) government.

            the single largest NATO action this millennium involved a bunch of America’s allies coming to her aid.

            And that would be, for the most part, the “twenty other nations sending token contingents so they can say ‘We’re helping!’ isn’t actually all that helpful”, part. If NATO membership means pretending not to laugh when the German Army says it is “coming to our aid”, and then sending our real army to fight in stupid European wars, yeah, $300 billion.

          • Alex says:

            Would it have been an option for Germany to not even pretend re Afghanistan? Wouldn’t that have led to diplomatic consequences?

          • Iain says:

            And that would be, for the most part, the “twenty other nations sending token contingents so they can say ‘We’re helping!’ isn’t actually all that helpful”, part. If NATO membership means pretending not to laugh when the German Army says it is “coming to our aid”, and then sending our real army to fight in stupid European wars, yeah, $300 billion.

            Hint: I’m Canadian.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      I’m going to focus this on 1). as far as 2) goes, my opinion is somewhere between Brad and John’s. I would be strongly for it if 1) was addressed, but there is not currently any good faith effort being made by anyone to address it, or to compel our partners to address it.

      Why do I claim that there is no effort? Well:

      To start with, just looking at the differences in spending dramatically understates the difference in operational forces. And even looking at THAT in several countries’ cases understates the even bigger gaps in operational readiness and real world capabilities. And those capabilities are being REDUCED, not increased.

      To use one example, a while back I went through the UK’s Order of Battle and compared it to the US’ with an eye towards seeing just what it would take if the UK decided one day that they wanted to field a US-style military with roughly the same strength relative to the difference in Population and GDP (that’s about 18% the size of ours, troop to troop, tank to tank, fighter to fighter, etc). You know what I found? Being conservative, and completely ignoring the issue of spares/logistical tail/etc, AND treating all operating British equipment as functionally equivalent to first line US equipment? The Brits would have to increase EVERY type of unit by a factor of 2-4x to reach anything like parity. For example, they’d need to buy another 600 or so Challengers.

      I’d have to go back and redo my work if you want it in detail, but give me a few days and I’ll happily show my work on that. And that’s the UK. That’s one of our more serious partners who ARE trying to hold up their end. To their credit, of our European partners they have a somewhat more realistic doctrinal plans and they’ve claimed that the current cuts have allowed them to trade quantity for quality (though right now it’s debatable how much of that is true and how much is posturing and spin around the various cuts). But even there, they have explicitly rejected the need to train or ready themselves to ever face a peer or near-peer threat again, or to engage in large scale combined operations except as a short term tithe of forces attached to a larger (French or US) force. In short as RAND puts it:

      “It will no longer have an army that can deploy or sustain a force anywhere near the size of the British contingents in the Persia Gulf War and the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

      That is, a deployment where they literally were able to muster a TITHE of support will be completely beyond their capability.

      Unfortunately for the assumption that the UK can partner closely with France as the larger force for any future large-scale or long-duration European-centric operations (read the paper above), France froze their military budget and slashed their strength as well. With Germany, it’s the same story, and that accounts for the three largest European militaries.

      To sum up, even using the most optimistic projections of readiness and taking at face value all the claims of cuts allowing for increased quality of training and modernization of remaining equipment (which is dubious), European nations cannot individually OR even collectively field a fighting force capable of engaging and defeating a peer or near-peer adversary in a conventional war even on their home turf, and they have no plans to be able to sustain operations for the forces they have except in terms of penny-packet STASO or short-duration, low-intensity contingency operations.

      That is BEST case. But is that case believable?is this talk of trading quantity for quality real? Are they making sure that the forces they DO have are maintained, equipped, and well-trained? Let’s see:

      France? Nope. In fact they’re having to do a last minute volte-face on those planned budget cuts just to keep their military operating at its current (overstressed, undertrained, unsustainable) levels…and they’re finding themselves without the ability to even fund their military to the aforementioned frozen level, so things are actually worse than that!

      Germany? Even worse. When people talk about a “Hollow military” in terms of “First World” nations, this is the sort of thing they’re talking about.

      The UK? Even there, not really.

      To be fair, other partners are somewhat more serious about readiness, but the ones who are aren’t large enough to make up the shortfall and even they aren’t serious enough to contemplate stepping up as something around equal partnership.

      “But Lysenko, you’re citing older studies and white papers! Everyone’s increasing spending in 2016!”

      Yeah, they’re increasing spending by either nominal amounts (1, 2, 3% increases) or temporarily pausing the planned cuts, NOT addressing the ways in which the real world operational capabilities of their forces have been gutted. To use a metaphor, it’s not just a question of the US having a sports car and other nations having a sedan. It’s that the sedan has a rusted out frame, an engine that’s only firing on half its cylinders, blown shocks, bald tires wobbling and out of alignment, and leaky everything. The spending increases amount to getting that car a new set of tires and going “There, fixed it!”…because at this point none of them have the political will to spend the very large amount of money it will take to actually fix the issue. After all, everyone knows that European security and most of their interests (with the exception of France, which is why they have the most deployable capability) are going to be guaranteed and paid for in both blood and treasure by the Americans.

      I don’t want to deep six NATO. I think it’s a far more functional international security organization than the UN. But if the cost of keeping NATO is the US continuing to carry the entire rest of the organization on its back in terms of spending and capabilities (which in turn means carrying the load when it comes to an actual real-world test), then the price is too high.

      I think we need to apply very real, very serious pressure to attempt to convince our partners to BE full-fledged partners. Or else we need to go ahead and pack up our european bases, bring EUCOM home, and let people know that any further security agreements will be conducted solely on a bilateral basis.

      And if not? Then hell, let’s give OUR liberals what they want, start cutting OUR defense spending by 30%, 40%, more.

      • tmk says:

        How is the potential enemy, Russia, doing. It seems they have similar problems, with Russia’s lone old aircraft carrier constantly breaking down and getting towed home. The Russian economy is also rather poor, but I guess their military costs are generally lower.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Forgive my ignorance, but why is France, specifically, out of the various European NATO countries, less able to count on US military backing?

        • Creutzer says:

          I think that’s a reference to the fact that France likes to meddle in Africa and the Middle East for reasons of its own, while the rest of Europe don’t.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          France withdrew from full NATO for about 40 years. (They rejoined in 2009.)

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:


        NATO is a mutual defense treaty. That means that if the US (via our security obligations with Korea) gets into it with the DPRK, or things go south with China over Taiwan because Trump is a bellicose fool, the US SHOULD by the terms of membership be able to invoke Chapter 5 and expect military assistance there as well. Likewise if France were to suffer a 9/11 scale attack, they could invoke chapter 5 in the context of an OEF-style response against ISIS-controlled territory and reasonably expect not just US, but the rest of NATO to offer support given that the US did that -for- OEF and set a precedent. It would be mistake to consider NATO to be the “No Russia Club”.

        That said, Russia’s military IS significantly weaker in reality than it is on paper. However, their core land forces are significantly LESS hollowed out than the major European powers, and they have been putting rather more effort into addressing the issue with respect to their land forces, though their major complex systems (like aircraft carriers) lag behind. Add in that they started out rather larger to begin with, and even a partially decrepit Russian military is a threat that should not be blown off.

        @Winter Shaker

        France isn’t less able to count on US military backing than the UK relative to NATO-specific issues.

        France, like the US, is more likely to have overseas interests requiring military action for which they cannot count on NATO support in general. Again, I’ll use the metaphor of late 20th century US military actions in the Caribbean and Central America. Unlike, say, Germany or Poland, France still has/had aspirations of acting as a geopolitical mover and shaker with regard to former colonies and the like. The last few years have shown them that their dual desires to continue reaping a peace dividend AND being able to project military power to former colonies in Africa and generally be a major power are mutually exclusive, but so far they haven’t made a hard commitment to one path or the other but are still trying to chart a middle course.

        • Brad says:

          The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

          Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security ..

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:


          Sorry for the pause before replying, I can read SSC at work on breaks, but I can’t post.

          I’m familiar with the text, so to clarify: are you saying you find the idea of a futures wherein China, North Korea, or for that matter any other aggressor launches an attack that causes casualties on US Soil laughably unlikely? Leaving aside continued development of potential adversaries’ conventional forces with or without degradation of our own, John Schilling has made some points in this very thread about long-distance strike capabilities of North Korea within the next decade. Then you have the possibility of cyber-attacks that can cause real-world damage and death. To that you can add state-sponsored terrorism and other asymmetric attacks, all possible ways for someone to attack the US on US soil without having to sink the Pacific Fleet and launch an amphibious invasion of San Francisco, or defeat our Air Force and fill the skies over Calumet, CO with a Mass-Tac drop.

          The Pacific and Atlantic oceans give a lot of strategic options and we have an outstanding Navy, but they are not a magical forcefield. In short, I think you need to elaborate and clarify your position a bit more. As I said above, I actually agree with you that NATO as a check to Russian (and more specifically Soviet) aggression is defunct, but you now seem to be implying that the US in fact shouldn’t be part of ANY defense treaties because we are not and never will be under threat of attack. Am I misinterpreting you?

          For my part, I want allies. Allies who can do more than field a tithe of forces dependent upon us for logistical support and then say “I’m Helping!!”. In part because I think that the ideal level of military spending and force size is below what the US currently maintains but still well ABOVE what the European powers maintain, and a real, functional, meaningful series of alliances makes that possible.

          • Brad says:

            Sorry, I guess I misunderstood you. When you said:

            That means that if the US (via our security obligations with Korea) gets into it with the DPRK, or things go south with China over Taiwan because Trump is a bellicose fool, the US SHOULD by the terms of membership be able to invoke Chapter 5 and expect military assistance there as well.

            I thought you meant we could invoke art 5 to assist us in a situation that was purely in the Asian theater (and even perhaps where we had the first strike.)

            I was making the point that the treaty wouldn’t cover that. But since that apparently wasn’t what you mean, it wasn’t a good point.

            In any event, to your later point, I wouldn’t say we should never do defense treaties but inasmuch as our own defense is at issue I’m skeptical that most of our NATO allies could ever be especially useful. Canada, UK, France, Germany, maybe Italy and/or Spain but what is Lativa going to do for us if China attacks the US mainland even if they spent 5% of GDP on their military?

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Interestingly enough, AFAIK there is no explicit requirement that the NATO member not have started the fight, as long as there is an attack that takes place against it on European or North American soil. I mean, it’s pretty obvious that in reality most NATO members would simply refuse to honor their treaty obligations in that instance, but it would be a violation of the letter of the treaty, if not necessarily its spirit.

            As for the allies you listed, see my comment above and especially that RAND paper. Canada I know less about in detail. My impression is that they have less hollowing-out issues than France and Germany and even the UK, but that’s because they maintain such a -token- military.

            So I agree that they’re not much help, but I would prefer the solution be finding a way to convince them to shoulder more of their own security burden, and more share of joint missions.

          • Brad says:

            But even if we would want Canada, the UK, Germany, and France to be military allies in case we were attacked that still doesn’t answer the question of why NATO, and especially why expanded NATO.

  14. Wrong Species says:

    Which political entity is more of a state: Palestine or Taiwan? Palestine is recognized by 136 UN members(out of 193) and is officially recognized by the UN as an observer. However, it is under the control of Israel. Taiwan can be said to be autonomous but it’s only recognized by a mere 33 countries and is forced in international events such as the Olympics to be placed under the name of “Chinese Taipei”. So what’s more important for statehood, recognition or control?

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      Depends on if you’re actually interested in governing or not.

    • tmk says:

      Well, Taiwan in de facto independent, but not de jure. Palestine is (in some ways) a de jure independent state but not in practice. Which is more “real” depends on specifics, and how important the two aspects will be in the future.

      It could be interesting to compare to US laws on immigration and marijuana. In both cases the federal laws are far stricter than the de facto implementation. It gives conservatives an argument of “we just want to enforce the existing laws”, but changing the de facto situation is harder than you might think.

    • Jiro says:

      The Gaza Strip is certainly acting like an independent country, even if “Palestine” isn’t.

    • Izaak says:

      This is a purely semantic question; all this question depends on is the definition of statehood, and not about any actual facts in the real world.

  15. Password says:

    Scott: I just registered this account locally (as opposed to on WordPress) and had some trouble doing so. The security code presented to me had 5 characters in it, but the field in which I had to enter the code had a maximum length of 4. Fortunately I know how to edit the html to fix that and was obviously able to register, but unless I’m the only person encountering this issue you may be losing some other potential posters.

    • Montfort says:

      That’s pretty unfortunate, but would make a great registration requirement for some more selective and technical forum.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Okay, after looking into it for a while I’ve found the problem…

      …there’s an editable field in the WordPress control panel determining how many characters you’re allowed to enter to solve the five-character CAPTCHA, and for some reason, even though I swear I didn’t touch it, it seems to have switched itself from 5 to 4 some indeterminate amount of time ago.

      What even are computers? Seriously, how do you programmers deal with them every day without going insane?

      • Aapje says:

        At least computers do exactly what you tell them to, you can read the source code and make very targeted fixes, etc, etc.

        I would counter your statement with:

        What even are humans? Seriously, how do you psychiatrists deal with them every day without going insane?

      • hlynkacg says:

        As an embedded systems engineer I find that sacrificing a goat on the full moon before a quarterly code review will keep your code clean and free of bugs. Smaller sacrifices or supplications to Finagle and his Prophet prior to calibration tests are also recommended as a way to encourage compliance from individual machine spirits. You can typically find ritual instructions in chapter 36 of your organization’s coding standards and best practices guide. 😉

        • The Nybbler says:

          Indeed, one reason prototype hardware often doesn’t have the sharp edges removed is to promote the necessary blood sacrifices on the part of the engineers.

        • sov says:

          As a fellow embedded, just blame it all on electrical noise.

      • roystgnr says:

        Proper revision control of source code allows us to take even the most maddening and infuriating bugs, reduce them to the precise instructions which spawned them, and find out which programmer was responsible for writing those instructions, at which point the computer is quickly recognized to be the logical element of the system and not the blameworthy part of the problem.

        Fortunately, “which programmer was responsible” turns out to be “ourselves” so many times that, when exceptions to that fact occur, we’re already inclined to treat such irresponsibility with mercy rather than with the cleansing vengeance which might otherwise naturally follow hours of frustrating bug-hunting.

    • Deiseach says:

      The security code presented to me had 5 characters in it, but the field in which I had to enter the code had a maximum length of 4.

      There are four lights! 🙂

  16. barcodeIlIl says:

    So, I guess we’re not getting a new health care bill.

    Question: what should an actual good health care bill look like? Obamacare has some issues; not having it is worse. A lot of people like the “public option” like in Britain, but I hear their health care system is having some problems too.

    (I don’t actually have any great ideas here, but I’m going to throw out some half-baked ideas, in the hope that someone will post a really good idea to show me how wrong I am.)

    Here’s what I’m thinking. The problem with the health care system is that neither the doctor nor the patient cares very much about the cost. The insurance provider cares a lot about the cost, but they can’t do much about it. I’d like to find a health care system that fixes that problem but still provides everyone with basic health care.

    …It’s tempting to just abolish health insurance companies. All the money that we would have spent on health insurance: just give it to the people we would have insured (“basic health care income”?), and let them negotiate their own deals. Pass a law that health care providers have to tell you the price ahead of time. Let people bargain hunt.

    I think this would sort of work for non-urgent care. For emergency services it would fail horribly. But the worst problem is that we’re using “health insurance” for three different things in the US:
    (1) your basic medical care is paid for, like if you get sick and need antibiotics you can see a doctor and get that prescribed
    (2) disasters don’t wipe you out financially, like if you get hit by a car and don’t have tens of thousands of dollars in savings the hospital will still treat you and you won’t go bankrupt
    (3) people who have expensive chronic illnesses can get treatment — this is a lousy bargain for the insurance companies, but through various means people could get insured anyway, and Obamacare actually made it a law that you can’t charge more for preexisting conditions

    I think these problems are solved by different things. For (1) the solution is to not cover that with health insurance — just give people a basic income (or let their employers pay them more money, or whatever) and let them bargain hunt. For (2) the solution is “health insurance” that is like fire insurance, in that you pay a small amount and many people will never get a payout from it. Case (3) is a redistribution-of-wealth problem, and I think we actually have to get the government to do that, with all the inefficiencies that brings.

    This is the point where I start being sad because I don’t have enough data. How much of our health care spending falls into each of the three categories above? Are these three categories actually a fair description of what’s happening?

    • It occurred to me while commenting on the previous post that there may be an important link between two health insurance issues that isn’t being discussed. One is the ban on interstate insurance sales. The other is the problem of pre-existing conditions.

      Pre-existing conditions should only be a problem if you have them when you first come on the insurance market. That’s possible, but I don’t think it is what most people are worried about. Their problem is what happens if something goes wrong and you then have to negotiate a new insurance contract.

      Why would that happen? The point of insurance, after all, is that you make the bet before the dice are rolled. You should be able to buy a policy when you are twenty that guarantees its terms for the rest of your life, priced to allow for the risk that you might turn out to need a lot of medical care.

      But you can’t do that in an insurance market that is entirely intrastate unless you are willing to spend your entire life in one state.

      Another factor with similar effects is the link between employment and insurance, which is at least partly due to the fact that employer provided insurance is bought with pre-tax dollars, privately purchased with after-tax dollars. If your insurance is through your employer, shifting jobs means getting a new policy, which is a problem if in the meanwhile you have developed an expensive medical problem. That could be solved with portable policies, analogous to my TIAA-CREF pension policy, but that runs into the interstate problem.

      Can someone who knows more than I do about these issues tell me if this argument is correct or if I’m missing something?

      • Aapje says:

        You should be able to buy a policy when you are twenty that guarantees its terms for the rest of your life, priced to allow for the risk that you might turn out to need a lot of medical care.

        What happens if the insurer goes bankrupt?

        What happens if you make the wrong choice at 20 and figure that out a decade later?

        What happens if they come up with new medicinal advances during the life of the insured person? Does the insured person get that care? Does the cost of the policy then go up to cover this? When the insured person is locked into a policy and can’t change, can’t the insurer then simply increase the costs a lot as there is no market mechanism that makes the insurers compete with other insurers for existing policy holders?

        Can insurers then drop medical care that they no longer consider effective enough to compensate or that has been replaced by better care options? If not and if you keep adding medicinal advances, you guarantee cost disease. If so, your lifetime policy guarantees nothing and the insurers can just drop a lot of care from their locked in customers and thus make huge profits.

        PS. When you are arguing against capitalism, you might have gone so far into extreme libertarianism that you horseshoed into communism 🙂

        • John Schilling says:

          What happens if the insurer goes bankrupt?

          Reinsurance is totally a thing, and can be used to insure against a primary insurer going bankrupt. And if you are going to have the government meddling in your health care industry, having them act as the ultimate guarantor for health insurance just as they do for pensions is probably one of the better things for them to do.

          At this point it would take more than just an interstate market to provide guaranteed health insurance continuity and portability, but for the reasons Dr. Friedman cites it is a necessary step towards that ultimate goal.

          What happens if you make the wrong choice at 20 and figure that out a decade later?

          Lots of people wind up royally screwed in lots of ways for the bad choices they made at 20; sometimes that can’t reasonably be fixed.

          And sometimes they can, but you need to think about who exactly should be tasked with fixing them. Insurance companies may not be the right tool for this job, any more than EHarmony and OKCupid can be expected to solve the problems of everyone who screwed up their love life in their 20s.

        • What happens if they come up with new medicinal advances during the life of the insured person? Does the insured person get that care? Does the cost of the policy then go up to cover this?

          Legitimate questions. I think you want the contract structured in a way that lets the company raise or lower prices on everyone but not on specific people. Otherwise an increase in the cost of what they are providing could push many of them into bankruptcy.

          Their ability to raise prices is limited by the need to sell new policies and the ability of policyholders who are in good health to switch companies. The last thing an insurance company wants is to have all the healthy customers leave.

      • skef says:

        Accept that policies will be life-time for people with discovered pre-existing conditions, and assume the insurance companies will stay healthy over the period.

        What sort of contract are you thinking would be signed before the discovery?

        If it’s “these are the specific services that will be provided, and the cost basis”, no insurance plans work like that now, and making one work like that in changing circumstances seems at least very difficult.

        If it’s “you’ll treat me the same as the other people on my plan who don’t have the condition”, companies can respond with plans that inflate in price and reduce services over time. Healthy people just switch plans, the pool bleeds those patients, and those who are left will pay higher and higher rates.

      • Brad says:


        Pre-existing conditions should only be a problem if you have them when you first come on the insurance market. That’s possible, but I don’t think it is what most people are worried about. Their problem is what happens if something goes wrong and you then have to negotiate a new insurance contract.

        Why would that happen? The point of insurance, after all, is that you make the bet before the dice are rolled. You should be able to buy a policy when you are twenty that guarantees its terms for the rest of your life, priced to allow for the risk that you might turn out to need a lot of medical care.

        I think you are allowing a misleading to name to, well, mislead you. Health insurance in the U.S. isn’t really insurance and probably couldn’t be replaced by insurance.

        It’s possible that a healthcare system could could involve some sort of actual insurance + X, Y, & Z but the X, Y, & Z parts are so much more difficult and fraught that it isn’t worth worrying about the details of the insurance part until you at least have those other parts sketched out.

      • BBA says:

        Regulations aren’t the main barrier to interstate insurance sales. It’s entirely possible for an insurer based in state X to get a license to sell policies in state Y. This is necessary for all forms of insurance, it’s just much more common for property and life insurers to get multi-state licenses than health insurers.

        The main issue is provider networks. Much of the value of a health insurer is in the discounted rates they negotiate with hospitals and medical practices, so to expand to a new state you need to have enough bargaining power to get competitive rates from local providers. And for it to be profitable, you need to do enough business in the new state to cover the overhead costs of the expansion.

        Note that this applies intrastate too. The insurance company in the linked example is owned by a Pittsburgh-area hospital chain. Despite being licensed statewide they don’t have much presence in Philadelphia, and expanding into neighboring areas of West Virginia and Ohio is likely to be less of a challenge for them.

        (And of course United Health has subsidiaries in states other than Minnesota, likewise Cigna outside Connecticut, etc. And there’s the nationwide Blue Cross/Blue Shield franchise system under which Anthem and HCSC and various smaller companies share a common brand and network but each has its own territory.)

    • A lot of people like the “public option” like in Britain, but I hear their health care system is having some problems too.

      All healthcare systems and non-systems are facing the problems of demographics and other rising costs. Universal systems manifest the problem more acutely because they can;t take up the slack by just leaving some percentage of the population uncovered.

    • “Public option like in Britain” is not really accurate. In the US discussion, “public option” generally refers to the government providing health insurance, so hospitals etc remain privately run but they send bills to the government. In the UK almost all hospitals are actually operated by the government. The situation with primary care is a bit more complicated, but it is not too far wrong to think of that as being provided directly by the government as well. As far as I understand it, the German system is more like idea of “mostly private health insurance with a public option” that some people have proposed in the US.

      • rlms says:

        I think most developed countries have private hospitals where the government funds a high proportion of treatment. The UK and Canada are exceptions in having publicly run hospitals, the US is the exception in other ways.

        • Tandagore says:

          Austria for example has mostly public-run hospitals too, but even in Germany about a third of all hospitals are run by the government (mostly by states and not on the federal level though).

          • rlms says:

            Yes, I should’ve probably said “mostly national-government-run hospitals”. My impression is that most developed countries have their hospitals divided between locally-government-run, private for-profit, and private non-profit (in widely varying proportions).

    • The Nybbler says:

      Everyone wants a unicorn, and the problem is that unicorns don’t exist. We can’t have a health care law that covers everyone for every treatment with the highest level of safety/regulatory scrutiny for all treatments BUT with all experimental treatments available to everyone who might benefit from them (especially if they’re a young child with large eyes). Oh, and nobody has to pay full cost for this except “the rich”, which is a nebulous concept which doesn’t include the speaker.

      Somethings gotta give, which means someone’s going to die, which means there’s no good health care bill.

      • Murphy says:

        The way the UK handles it is that the NHS covers everyone, whether you have a billion in the bank or a a pocket full of moths. Neither will get a bill in the post no matter what treatment they need.

        Everyone is covered for any treatment which shows an acceptable QALY cost, typically the cutoff is around £30,000 per QALY which isn’t too unreasonable.

        You absolutely can get into experimental trials under the NHS.

        Taxpayers pay but they pay slightly less than american taxpayers did pre-obamacare per citizen already for medicare/medicaid only where americans, for that price got… not very much. For the same price british citizens got universal cover.

        (My theory is that the 2 parties in the US work so hard at sabotaging everything and injecting poison pills into anything the other tries to do that everything ends up costing far far more than it should.)

        It’s definitely not perfect but it’s a hell of a lot better than the existing american system.

        The utter spiteful madness of the american medical system has played a part in deciding yes/no on whether to take a job with an american company.

        But there’s no point trying to mirror it. The americans would fuck it with the other party constantly doing stupid things like injecting requirements that every hospital have 200 years of pension costs in liquid assets at all times or something equally stupid purely to fuck it up and destroy it.

        • Brad says:

          Everyone is covered for any treatment which shows an acceptable QALY cost, typically the cutoff is around £30,000 per QALY which isn’t too unreasonable.

          Is that number set legislatively, or what? It seems to imply potentially unlimited total spending.

          In theory, you’d want to set total spending and then do some kind of reverse auction simulation exercise every year to get a threshold to hit that target.

          • 1soru1 says:

            Roughly, the QALY figures are used to decide what treatment capabilities to have, and then those are operated from a fixed budget. Policy wonks are always saying ‘close this, build that and that, overall it will be a worthwhile improvement’, and occasionally that even happens.

            No-one secretly builds a cancer ward without budget authorization, so the main way to go over-budget is to pay overtime, which is inherently limited. Going a few percentage points over budget happens a lot, but more than that is a career-limiting move for the management team


            Problems come when the overall budget isn’t enough to meet the QALY goals. The ultimate failure mode is waiting lists for facilities become long enough that the budget is only maintained by people dying before receiving treatment.

            Obviously, for something like an epidemic, there presumably would be an emergency budget change to acquire needed treatment facilities immediately.

          • Murphy says:

            Spending only becomes unlimited if people become immortal.

            The 30K number is not set in legislation as far as I’m aware, it is the number that NICE use when assessing treatments to decide to make them part of standard practice and it mainly applies to things like drug procurement. If you’re selling drugs that barely work at all then the NHS won’t shell out for them unless you price them at a point that’s reasonably cost effective.

            They don’t convene a council for each patient and decide if their treatment costs more than 30K per QALY but some treatments may be recommended for pediatric patients that might not be recommended for geriatric patients.

        • gbdub says:

          Taxpayers pay but they pay slightly less than american taxpayers did pre-obamacare per citizen already for medicare/medicaid only where americans, for that price got… not very much. For the same price british citizens got universal cover.

          Medicare and Medicaid together cover a number of people roughly equal to twice the total population of the U.K., at a roughly similar level of care to the NHS. And enrollees to these programs are (obviously) skewed toward the old, the poor, and the disabled – not exactly cheap populations to cover for any system.

          Meanwhile a majority of the nonelderly get covered by employer-provided plans that are by and large pretty good. A supermajority of Americans were happy with their health care pre-Obamacare (and that’s probably still true, personally mine has gotten more expensive but the actual quality of care is still good).

          Really, America has excellent medical care, just with an inefficient hodge-podge of ways to pay for it.

          So one thing I have to give the NHS credit for is doing a bang-up job of demonizing the American health care system. Really, if you’re turning down jobs over it, I’d encourage you to give it a more objective look before making life decisions based on what seems to me, as a person inside the system, to be a quite unrealistically negative assessment of it.

          On the other hand my (probably also un-nuanced) view of the NHS is that it’s like the sterotypical stingy HMO in the US system – slow, inflexible, bureaucratic. Particularly for anything not immediately life threatening.

          For example, I tore my ACL a few years ago. Within a span of 3 weeks, I decided I should see someone about it, got a consult from a surgeon (of my choosing, with no need for a referral or even a visit with a GP), got an MRI (again at a location of my choice), had my surgery, and enrolled in physical therapy. And I could have done it quicker if I wanted to. All for a very affordable deductible.

          In the NHS, my understanding is that this treatment would have involved several extra steps and approvals, with much less choice and much longer wait times. If I got approved at all – my surgeon did say that a no surgery, PT only option was possible if I was willing to avoid certain high impact recreational activities.

          Now I recognize that I’m well off by American standards, but not THAT well off that my experience is atypical. My point is just that, for a very big chunk of Americans, the medical care we get is at least as good and in some valuable ways better than the NHS. At a higher price perhaps, but offset by other cost of living considerations if you’re really comparing living in one place to the other. On the other hand an NHS type system would be definitely better if you don’t have steady employment but aren’t quite poor enough for Medicaid. And your drugs are cheaper.

          • rlms says:

            Anecdotal evidence about different healthcare systems isn’t really useful. As far as I can see, the relevant statistics are how much different treatments cost in different countries (comparing health directly is confounded by differences in lifestyle). I’m pretty sure that the US does a lot worse than other developed countries by that measure. The NHS is a bit irrelevant, since most European/developed East Asian countries don’t have national healthcare like the UK and Canada (but still manage to be a lot more efficient than the US).

          • Murphy says:

            “twice the total population of the U.K”

            It looks like you misread my post.

            I didn’t say US citizens pay as much total. I said per citizen. As in take how much the US spent on medicare and medicaid and divide by the total population of the USA. Take how much the UK spent on the NHS and divide by the total population of the UK.

            The number for the US was still **bigger** despite dividing by a number 5 times bigger. Fun side note: the NHS also has some of the duties covered by other US departments that do things like fund research. So that’s erring far on the side of favoring the US and the US still comes off badly.

            Changes in the exchange rate mess with the comparison a bit but it was only a little while pre-obamacare that I ran the numbers.

            The US should have an easier time of it what with economies of scale but apparently they can’t manage that.

            I have no illusion about the numbers. If I act the fool and decide I don’t need health insurance then sure, it looks like I could earn more in the US. If I actually try to get cover half as good as what I’m already getting? I’m way better off over here.

            Add in the worry that even if I pay every premium the insurance company will refuse to pay out over some bullshit reason like having a health kick and losing some weight before starting the insurance or having a cold or something? Get this: I never have to worry about that.ever. I never have to have that sense of “what if” crawling dread. That has significant utility to me. My life is fundamentally better as a result.

            I never have to worry that I could end up tied up in court because an ambulance company and my insurance company are having a fight.

            If I lose my job I don’t have to worry if my kid needs insulin shots.

            hell, I’m vastly more free because my employer doesn’t have that kind of hold on me. They don’t have my life and the lives of my loved ones in their hands.

            The american system sounds fantastic if you’ve fallen hard for the planning fallacy.


            If you’re sure that bad things almost certainly won’t happen and if they do they’ll only happen one at a time and you’re sure you’ll cope.

            Get this: If my SO gets cancer and my employer drops me because suddenly I can’t be on call 24/7 or am tired and distracted due to having a near-death loved one and needing to care for the kids, the really amazing stupendous thing that is apparently hard to imagine for americans: my SO can still get cancer meds because her care isn’t tied intimately to my employer (for no sane reason whatsoever).

            The american system is a terrifying joke and people living under it declaring it ok is like that friend who keeps turning up with black eyes saying their boyfriend “isn’t so bad” and “loves me really” and “can be really sweet sometimes”.

            The NHS tends to perform best when the situation is most urgent and the care needed is most critical. It’s almost like a system designed as such.

            And get this super amazing bonus: I can get (by american standards) super super cheap health insurance on top of that if I feel like it so I can go to a private hospital and get private care for things like torn ligaments and do everything you mention. From a quick google such insurance would apparently cost me less than 1/10th what private health insurance would in the US because I’m still covered for anything super-serious(the most expensive things) by the NHS.

            I already pay less as a taxpayer and if I want the fringe benefits of the american system I can get those for a fraction of the price as well.

            Litterally every benefit of the american system for a fraction of the cost.

          • gbdub says:

            Well I was responding directly to someone praising the NHS – I don’t disagree that it’s atypical otherwise.

            “How much does it cost” might be an important measure, but it’s confounded by a lot (average income certainly) so a straight dollar to dollar comparison is poor.

            @Murphy – well, you’ve literally compared me to a battered woman for saying my health care doesn’t suck, so I don’t think it’s worthwhile to engage you further.

          • Brad says:


            I didn’t say US citizens pay as much total. I said per citizen. As in take how much the US spent on medicare and medicaid and divide by the total population of the USA. Take how much the UK spent on the NHS and divide by the total population of the UK.

            This is really rather remarkable. We could have universal healthcare using only money that we already pay in taxes. All the people that currently pay taxes but don’t receive any government healthcare would necessarily come out ahead.

          • Murphy says:


            I really doubt you could. One party would propose something like it, probably with more pork for their friends, then the other would keep injecting exceptions and requirements into the bill designed to make it unpopular or impossible to run effectively in order to kill or neuter it.

            The UK only managed to create the NHS during the post war years because the country was riding an ideological wave of people pulling together and making things work.

            If you tried it in the US it would probably be a disaster. It’s not impossible but it is impossible for America as it is today.

          • Murphy says:


            I see a fairly constant stream of horror stories from americans. The “advantages” quoted always seem spectacularly superficial.

            Can you think of a better analogy? perhaps something less emotive.

            perhaps someone born in a pit who can’t even imagine what it might be like to not be in a pit?

            someone who’s so used to an unpleasant boss who threatens them with being fired every day and they literally don’t know what it’s like to live without that stress in a more normal job?

            Just saying “it sucks” doesn’t get across the concept of a constant stressor/danger/worry that simply doesn’t have to be part of your life.

          • Marie says:

            I never have to have that sense of “what if” crawling dread. That has significant utility to me. My life is fundamentally better as a result.

            In the old open thread, I was asked to explain in more detail why I’d said the ACA was a net benefit to me, and in answering I realized that this is one of the main reasons I consider myself better off as a result of it. It’s a harder thing to quantify than net $$ saved, but the peace of mind I gained from having significantly decreased the bets I was having to make about my health is HUGE.

          • dodrian says:

            The US should have an easier time of it what with economies of scale

            I’m not disputing most of the post, but one thing a lot of Brits don’t properly understand is just how rural so much of the US is.

            In the past I’ve tried searching for attempts to quantify this, but other than the obvious[ly flawed] have come up with nothing.

            I’d be willing to bet that if you found the most rural hamlet on the UK mainland (say, in travel time to nearest city of >X residents), a significant percentage of the US would still be more rural (2% at least? That’s 6.5 million people). I’m wondering if someone on SSC clever enough with the Google maps API could come up with some numbers…

            These data over 50% of the population are within 5km of an emergency hospital admission over 70% of the population are within 10km of emergency care. In contrast, 70% of the US is within 30 minutes travel time (40km?) of an emergency clinic (not necessarily a hospital), and you need to allow 60 minutes to get to near 100% coverage.

            So, the US might have an easier time than the UK providing NHS-style public hospital coverage in, say, New England, but it would be considerably more expensive and difficult to get even remotely near the same level of care in the Midwest.

            Of course, these issues are no easier under the US’ current private system (and I’m not saying all this as an argument for the status quo), but when people point to Europe, or the NHS in particular, as shining examples of how cheap healthcare can be when publicly funded I feel that’s an unfair comparison.

          • Brad says:

            We could choose to provide worse care for people in the middle of nowhere rather than choosing to spend a lot more money to get the last 2% (or whatever). Given the voting patterns of people that live in the middle of nowhere I don’t thing they’d have much ground to complain.

          • The Nybbler says:


            “Benefits for my supporters, no benefits for my opponents, paid for by taxes on everyone” is a somewhat ignoble if popular proposition.

          • Brad says:

            @The Nybbler
            What percent of federal taxes are paid by those 30% that live more than 30 minutes from an emergency clinic?

            Just so we all have an idea of what you mean when you say “paid for by taxes on everyone”.

          • rlms says:

            I don’t think Canada is significantly more urban than the US, and they have a national health service.

          • dodrian says:

            You’re right, Canada is probably a better parallel. Again, here’s where it would be nice to have a good measure of ‘ruralness’ to properly compare health coverage in US vs CA. A quick glance at this study seems to indicate (albeit 20 years earlier than the UK & US ones) that over 70% of the population is under 10km from a hospital, and 95% under 25km, though the methodology looks much worse than the UK and US ones. If I’m interpreting the data right, a bigger percentage of people in the US live in rural areas, but there are areas in Canada that are more rural than anywhere in the US.

            Inevitably that’s the solution, and of course it’s also the case in the UK. But my argument is that in doing that you’ll mess up the UK has cheaper healthcare per capita than the US comparison even further, because a greater proportion of the US population would fall under the ‘poor coverage in rural areas’ banner than the UK.

            To rephrase things, a common argument in favor of public health care in the US is to compare US health costs per capita with those other countries that do have public care programs. US costs _are_ considerably higher per capita. If the US were to introduce a socialized medicine program, it may ultimately lower costs, but I doubt it would be to the level seen in other countries (without a significant drop in the standard of care) because the US is much more rural (% of population > x miles from a city) than most other comparable nations.

          • Eltargrim says:

            @rlms: while there might be some differences based on categorization and definitions, Canada has a rural population percentage that is roughly the same as the United States.

            We also have a significant issue with delivering medical care to rural populations. This is compounded by the fact that many of our rural populations are indigenous, and hence a federal responsibility, whereas health care is provincial.

            Part of this is addressed by sometimes mandating medical professionals serve in rural areas in exchange for their education (my second cousin spent years in Iqaluit as a dentist under this program). Other options are shipping rural patients to urban centres, which is expensive and has mixed results.

            All this being said, we certainly haven’t solved the issue of providing health care to a rural population, but we’re actively working on the issue, and I don’t think it’s necessarily intractable.

          • Garrett says:

            I see a fairly constant stream of horror stories from americans. The “advantages” quoted always seem spectacularly superficial.

            I grew up in a more rural part of Canada. I now volunteer as in EMT while working as a programmer in a more urban part of the US. There are notable differences.

            The town I grew up in had to have a fundraiser to get an MRI machine because the Province didn’t think we should be allocated one. Once it arrived there were large number of hoops put in place in advance of being able to use it. When my father got a spinal injury, it took nearly 6 months to get an MRI because it wasn’t emergent. We was also required to get an x-ray and CT scan first, despite the doctors involved stating that those wouldn’t help.

            At a smaller town across the border there were 6 MRI machines available. No waiting.

            Part of the problem with single-payer healthcare is that it discounts the value of a person’s time effectively to 0. My dad worked as a middle manager for a local mill. On occasion (usually just before a major sporting event) a worker would claim that they were sick and needed to go home early. The best way to prevent this from happening was to insist that the employee go to the ER by ambulance (all costs paid for by the company) to be evaluated before going home. This was because a low-priority patient could expect to spend 10+ hours waiting to be seen, meaning it would take far longer than working until the end of the shift. Getting to see a doctor with something like strep throat at the local clinic (not ER) would routinely involve me waiting for multiple hours.

            A non-typical example – note that the target ER waiting time was 8 hours. More recent data has resulted in the numbers getting down to 3-4 hours.

            Where I am now, if I have friends or relatives visiting from Canada I’ll simply drop by a random ER, walk in, and show them the waiting room. Rarely is there more than a few patients waiting.

            Growing up, getting in to see a GP for an annual poke-and-prod would require scheduling ~3 months in advance. My PCP down here has never had me wait more than 2 weeks to get in, with additional options for urgent conditions.

            It gets even worse when it comes to specialists. Our local newspaper would occasionally provide a list of all of the specialists we were underserved by, according to the Province’s own guidelines. It was rather impressive.

            Canada: all the free healthcare you are willing to wait for.

          • Tandagore says:

            Requiring workers to go (by ambulance!) to the ER for made-up or at least not very serious ailments seems to worsen the problem a lot. What is the system of family practitioners like in Canada? Because here you would go to a family practitioner in such a case to get a doctor’s note, but it is unlikely and discouraged to go to a hospital if it isn’t something serious or you get transfered.
            Although it seems that our (more or less single payer) system works better than that of Canada, since waiting times at a GP are a lot shorter, especially in rural communities. Probably a mix of a denser population and a somewhat high number of GPs, altough that is declining already.

          • Murphy says:


            about 81% of Americans live in urban areas, in the UK it’s about 87%.

            you switch between km’s and travel time smoothly but one thing americans rarely get when planning travel over here: short distances can take a long time to traverse. A 10 km trip can take far more than half an hour.

            Speaking realistically it wouldn’t be at all surprising if US healthcare cost a bit more than in the UK. But it seems to be almost an order of magnitude more expensive.

            One fun thing about the NHS is how much they publish so for example you can look up NHS costings and somehow, even on simple things like pints of blood, american hospitals seem to manage to spend dramatically more. Again, not just a bit more but double or triple. Something is completely broken about your markets/system.

            @The Nybbler

            If you choose to live in the middle of nowhere and reap the benefits like low costs to rent/buy and generally lower costs of living why would you expect to also have a personal dimensional rift to give you perfectly convenient access to the countries best cardiac unit?

            People make the same tradeoff in the UK too.

            If you choose to live on Fair Isle in the UK you make do with the medical center. For serious issues you’d need to go to the mainland to a bigger hospital.


            That doesn’t tend to really mirror my experiences with the NHS, when I needed a scan I more-less walked to the other side of the hospital, showed them the referral and had it done about 15 minutes later.

            But as mentioned above, if you don’t like the public system in the UK you have the option of getting all the private-healthcare advantages with private health insurance which somehow costs about 1/10th the price of the same thing in the US.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            My impression is that a lot of the cost is tied up in phase 3 clinical trials, which drive up treatment costs for Americans while Europeans approve such treatments on the basis of those strong and expensive American safety rules.

            Another part of the cost is tied up in the comparative sizes of the nations. Countries in the EU have on the order of 10-30 million people. The US has on the order 300 million people. If the network effect goes up with the square of the number of network nodes as is widely claimed, one would expect care costs in the US to be over 100 times as high.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            My impression is that a lot of the cost is tied up in phase 3 clinical trials …while Europeans approve such treatments on the basis of those strong and expensive American safety rules.

            I don’t believe this to be generally correct, at least in the case of pharmaceuticals. Large drug companies run their trials in tandem, running both the European and American phases at the same time.

            Perhaps medical devices are different?

          • PedroS says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            “If the network effect goes up with the square of the number of network nodes as is widely claimed, one would expect care costs in the US to be over 100 times as high.”

            I had heard about the value of a network increasing with the number of nodes, and of the implications thereof on gains from scaling. Why do the costs also increase in that way? And if that is so, why do networks grow past the point where the efficiency gains are eaten up by the costs?

          • Brad says:

            That the value of a telephone network goes with the square of the number of connected users is pretty easy to explain, because each telephone user can call each other user. Why would health care costs go with the square of the number of people in the country? I can’t think of any plausible mechanism for that.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Health care typically requires matching a patient up with the right treatment, which often means the right specialist. Health care in the large means matching N patients with M caregivers with varying specialties. Whenever patient #N+1 comes in, they have to be sorted into one of the treatment buckets that already exist, or perhaps be placed in a new bucket, along with any patients 1-N that we didn’t sort quite perfectly before. Along with that, we’re matching those N patients with the K drugs or treatment methods available.

            This smacks of a strongly multiplicative problem, which likewise strengthens my suspicion that other countries get away with it largely because of their smaller population.

          • Aapje says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            There is a lot of standardization there, though. When you have a broken bone, you don’t have to go to the other side of the country to find the one specialist who who is best at that and who tailors a treatment unique to you. You go to the nearest hospital, who does the standard thing (X-ray) and then another standard thing (like apply plaster).

            I don’t see how that necessarily becomes less efficient when scaled up.

            There is an interesting theory I’ve read that the 80/20 rule also applies to medicine, in that 80% of patients are easily treatable and only cost 20% of the overall spending, but 20% have really complex needs and are really expensive to treat. The theory was that the 80% group can be served with a system where specialists work on their own island, but the 20% needs multiple specialists working together. The proposal was to fund these two types of medicine differently, to keep the 20% from getting bad treatment by a system set up for the 80%.

            BTW, this would also explain why a laissez-faire market system works so badly, because the rich then spend tons of money on bad value-for-money treatment (see Steve Jobs), while the poor don’t benefit from very cost-effective treatment.

          • rlms says:

            @Paul Brinkley
            But why would you be matching patients with doctors nationwide? The vast majority of the time people will go to nearby hospitals. And the number of drugs available shouldn’t scale with population.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Sorry for the late reply – like Trofim, I can’t comment during work hours.

            @Aapje: I get the impression there isn’t that much standardization. I wish there were. I believe that in most cases, a broken limb could be treated the same way, using no more than a couple hundred dollars in training, meaning the procedure ought to cost even less. But it doesn’t, according to the experience an acquaintance had a few years back. Between the special cases the doctor has to know about, training for the anesthesiologist, blood work, malpractice insurance, and other things I can’t remember anymore, it ended up costing thousands.

            Every doctor having to know every special case strikes me as another N-squared factor.

            I’ve also heard that a small fraction of patients require the lion’s share of costs, and that it was typically due to multiple ailments all interacting with each other. But the US system seems to be forced to react to that by forcing every doctor to be caught up on every combination of ailments, which is sort of like reacting to the possibility of a car crash by forcing everyone to have $25k saved up. It’s like anti-insurance.

            Maybe I’m missing some detail here that a professional caregiver could shed light on (Scott, perhaps?), but that’s the spiel I seem to get from people in the business.

            A free market would actually suit this fine – even better than the current system. Patients would shop more assiduously for the price they can afford per care they want, meaning that their preference curves would be actually visible, rather than utterly obscured by a combination of insurance companies paying for non-insurancey things and regulations that obscure the signals that patient preference would otherwise reveal.

            @rlms: that’s just it. To me, that locality limitation is what keeps the price from being truly N-squared, and instead breaking down along various lines.

            Another cost I keep noticing involves drug research. Every drug has to be tested against huge numbers of patients before being approved for market. It might be more cost effective to target drugs at much smaller groups, or to let patients decide if they want to assume the risk of a certain drug in return for it costing much less. As far as I know, this doesn’t happen. (Maybe it does, and isn’t widely reported.)

          • Aapje says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            Yeah, I agree that doctors tend to have habits that cause divergent outcomes and costs. For example, some operate on their hernia patients and some don’t (with no difference in outcomes).

            But most patients seem to trust their nearest doctor, it seems to me.

          • rlms says:

            @Paul Brinkley
            But then surely the N^2 effect only applies if Americans can potentially be matched with more doctors than exist in e.g. a single European country. I don’t see why that would be true for common illnesses (for rare, difficult to treat illnesses a European’s pool of potential doctors also broadens, possibly to include Americans).

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Sorry – I thought I’d replied to this, and then didn’t check back until after the weekend.

            Doctors who want to address a rare illness have to find as many patients with that illness as they can. Patients with a rare illness (or who suspect they do) have to find the doctor that treats that illness. This sort of problem likewise suggests “N^2” to me.

            The fact that most people are probably satisfied with a doctor in their locality is one of the reasons why the costs aren’t actually N^2. The search for the perfect doctor / patient pair breaks down, because the enormous effort of assessing every doctor is large enough that most people give up.

            A regulatory system that promises to furnish this would likely not be able to provide “good enough” in the US. Too many Americans would be able to beat it – they had special enough needs, or sufficient energy, to beat the program’s pick, and would proceed to complain about it. (Most Americans don’t know where the perfect doctor is, but they do know their Congressperson’s mailing address.)

            I suspect, though I cannot prove, that smaller countries avoid a critical amount of this problem because the search space for any given doctor or patient is an order of magnitude smaller, and because they are much more monocultural, meaning there is much less variance between doctors / patients, and so any given individual is likely to assume they’re close enough to par that they self-satisfy.

          • Aapje says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            Rare illnesses are rare, though.

            They aren’t a good example to base your entire model on.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I agree that basing a model on rare ailments is a bad idea. Dunno if you knew that I did.

            But I see that as one of the contributing factors to US health care being so costly. There’s a layer of regulatory burden that’s trying to catch every rare ailment it can, and failing in some places and succeeding in others, but only because some cadre of busy bureaucratic beavers is trying to do that N-squared analysis because by jove, we’ve gotta do it, costs be damned.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        Europe has unicorns. Or so we are told.

        (Remember when they used to come here looking for cities of gold? Pepperidge Farm remembers.)

    • Corey says:

      The rightmost health-wonk-preferred policy (a bit to the left of ACA, and to the right of Medicaid-for-all) is all-payer rate setting.

      It’s a combination of insurer networks and public utility regulation. In an insurer network, the insurer and providers negotiate mutually-acceptable charges for their library of procedures. (That’s why you never ever go out-of-network in the US if you can help it; there’s no downward force on prices without such a thing, and you can’t know the prices before the work is done). APRS is where a consortium of providers and one of insurers set mutually-acceptable rates that apply to everyone. So everyone’s in-network for everything in such a state or nation.

      Maryland has this for hospitals, it works well, and nobody gets stuck with a bill at charge-master rates (the ones you see on EOBs before the insurer network discount kicks in).

      The libertarian-minded will bitch and moan about interference in the market, largely without asking the question “*what* market?”. The American public will never allow a free-ish market to develop in healthcare. Price controls (from APRS through single-payer to direct provision) are it.

      For drugs, when we don’t grant monopolies (like generics) the market works reasonably well – the buyers are largely insurance companies (again) and pharmacy chains, who can negotiate deals, rather than individuals. It also helps that generics are tightly regulated, so we don’t have to worry about substandard ones or really even comparison-shopping on anything but price.

      So the solution for drugs is to make them all “generic” – fund the R&D directly via the government and get rid of patent protection. This saves a bit of money even if you only consider the US government’s drug expenditures and they funded worldwide R&D at current levels. Overall it would save a lot of money.

    • cassander says:

      depends how ambitious you’re being. In the short term, a bill that repealed the ACA exchanges and associated legislation but kept the medicaid expansion would preserve the vast majority of the coverage expansion, repeal most of the cost, and get rid of the parts everyone hates.

      more ambitiously, the McCain plan from ’08 was a pretty good model. abolish the group market and tax subsidies for group insurance, use the money to create a refundable tax credit for purchasing individual care designed to incentivise cheap policies that insure against catastrophic losses, but not much else.

    • Randy M says:

      The insurance provider cares a lot about the cost, but they can’t do much about it.

      How do you mean this? They may not be able to reduce the cost hospitals pay their doctors or equipment suppliers, but they definitely, though bargaining, reduce the cost paid by (and on behalf of) their clients. If you don’t realize this, try looking at the bill without insurance.

      (Of course, if you don’t have insurance, they probably don’t expect your bill to actually be paid, but they’ll certainly try to convince you to do so.)

    • MartMart says:

      A single payer that kicks in once annual expenses exceed a very high mark, say 25% of annual income. Some preferential treatment of HSA to encourage their use, tax employer provided coverage as regular income. Add some sort of death panel of experts who get to decide which ultra expensive treatments are denied under the emergency single payer. Add in some kind of subsidy for the poor.
      I completely agree that there is a porblem with the costs being divorced from their use, thus not allowing for a functioning market that would distribute resources. However, a functioning market needs rational participants. Not 100% rational, but somewhat rational at least. By the time one is really sick, they are not a rational participant anymore. No one is going to shop around for their life saving cancer treatment, and there is going to be a substantial portion that is not going to have the mental capacity to make decisions. So, lets take care of the really and truly sick with single payer. Fund it via a tax, so compliance isn’t much of an issue. Regular insurance has little to fear from death spirals (since the really and truly sick are moved to SP), and if regular insurance does collapse, people can bare the brunt (25% of your income is harsh, and difficult, but should be manageable)
      Since we wont have to worry about people dying due to lack of coverage, we can drastically reduce subsidies and increase the price signal on the non deadly end, where routine care is taking place. There a market should work to better allocate resources, and encourage innovation.

    • herbert herberson says:

      The two things I would do is make it gradual and use our existing institutions. Ergo, my bill would be two sentences long:

      “At the beginning of the next fiscal year, and at the beginning of every fiscal year thereafter, the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall promulgate and implement regulations providing for the Medicare age of eligibility to be lowered by one year from the previous year’s eligibility age. Furthermore, at the beginning of the next fiscal year, and at the beginning of every fiscal year thereafter, Secretary of Health and Human Services shall promulgate and implement regulations providing for the income and asset limits relating to Medicaid to be increased by 10% from the previous year’s figures, in addition to adjustments relating to the rate of inflation.”

      • cassander says:

        Where do you come up with the literally trillions of dollars required to pay for that?

        • herbert herberson says:

          Same places they’re coming from now, just absent the various middlemen.

          Which obviously very vague and unsatisfying, but I feel a lot better about handwaving with a plan that, by its nature, would give us lots of time to figure it out (especially if you either dropped the Medicaid part or tweaked it so that you didn’t add most of the country to its rolls during the 2-4 years around where the increase passes median incomes)

          • cassander says:

            Same places they’re coming from now, just absent the various middlemen.

            That money exists, but it’s not going to the government. You’re talking about putting pretty much the entire US medical industry on Uncle Sam’s books. That’s going to require trillions in new taxes in just 5-10 year. That’s not a gradual approach, it’s religious. You’re setting up a massive financial armageddon then praying for a solution to materialize.

    • Spookykou says:

      What bothers me about Health Care reform is the Republican obsession with ‘choice’. Health Insurance is very hard(for me) to figure out. It seems like an incredibly opaque system now, I only got three choices from my employer and I am still not sure I actually picked the ‘right’ plan for me. I can’t even imaging trying to pick a good plan if I got any more ‘choice’.

      It seems to me that insurance companies are in a weird place where their profit maximizing strategy is to offer you the worst product they possibly can(maybe this is true of all businesses? are the just better insulated from negative press? am I just wrong about this?). Ideally ‘markets’ should resolve this issue as people move away from bad insurers, who intentionally obfuscate the workings of their plans, drop coverage for photogenic children with pre-existing conditions, generally dick people around, but in practice the market seemed to be moving too slowly on this one, and the ACA was a response to some of that(well they didn’t deal with the obfuscating).

      • cassander says:

        in a system with actual, meaningful choices, you wouldn’t actually have to work that hard to get something decent, just like you can grab any of the million toothpastes on display and be pretty much assured it will clean your teeth, and for the same reason. relatively small numbers of people who do pay attention can drive market actors to reform their behavior if they’re decidedly worse.

      • Nornagest says:

        It seems to me that insurance companies are in a weird place where their profit maximizing strategy is to offer you the worst product they possibly can(maybe this is true of all businesses? are the just better insulated from negative press? am I just wrong about this?).

        For most businesses, offering you the worst product they possibly can is a losing strategy because you’ll just go to a competitor instead. But there are various special cases that can make this argument weaker; the worse your information is about your options, the more external constraints are placed on the service, and the closer the service provider is to having monopoly power, the more business incentives point away from customer satisfaction. There’s also the question of who the actual customer is that they’re trying to satisfy; it isn’t always you, even if you’re the ultimate consumer.

        Healthcare is probably the most regulated domain in the world, so there’s plenty of external constraints for insurance companies there. You have weak and incomplete information about insurance. And there are relatively few players in the market, with very high barriers to entry. So that’s three strikes. You also aren’t the primary customer for most health insurance companies; employers are, and they want to cut their costs while still looking good to prospective employees. They also don’t want a lot of administrative overhead, so that points in the direction of one-size-fits-all solutions and away from plans that might fit your individual needs at a lower cost.

        • and the closer the service provider is to having monopoly power, the more business incentives point away from customer satisfaction.

          I don’t think that is correct in the general case. As long as the monopoly is free to charge what it wants and the customer free to buy or not buy there is an incentive to aim at customer satisfaction, since a satisfied customer will be willing to pay a higher price.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            One can be extremely dissatisfied with a service that provides something which is perceived to be essential, and still buy it.

            I think this is a case where economists would start talking about “revealed satisfaction” (because people don’t generally die without, say, cable).

            But one could also talk about “revealed esssentiality” and reliable access to certain experiences, like watching one’s favorite sports teams, might be deemed to be this.

            Regardless, these kinds of definitions of, say, satisfaction will be very different for economists than everyone else.

          • @HeelBearCub:

            I assume a monopoly is always charging the price that maximizes their profit. So if you really want something they are charging you a thousand dollars for it. The reason they don’t charge more than that is that if they did you wouldn’t buy it.

            They now improve it in a way that makes it worth $200 more to you and only costs them $100 more and raise the price by $200.

            As long as the improvement is worth more to you than it costs them, that increases their profit.

            I think the problem is in your use of “essential.” Does that mean that the profit maximizing price is equal to your income minus the cost of subsistence? I don’t think that describes anything I buy, not even the internet service that lets me comment here.

            Does that make the argument clearer? You seem to be treating customer satisfaction as a binary category, and including the case where the value of the service is $100 more if it is good enough to satisfy the customer, but it costs the provider $200 more to make it that good. Neither a monopoly nor a firm in a competitive market will make it that good–or should.

            Would it be clearer if I said that it pays the monopoly to make any improvement that is worth more to the customer than it costs them? That’s a mild oversimplification because of some complications I am ignoring, but close enough.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:

            I believe it is you are treating satisfied as a binary, not I.

            Because your measure of satisfied is a binary test, that being “has the customer exercised their right not to receive the service”.

            Whereas, I am (very, very, very roughly) viewing “dissatisfied/satisfied” as a spectrum, where I would need to be at the far end of before I would cancel my service, but I would still be dissatisfied with it, because I am left of the center.

            And what is really going on is that there are some elements of the package I am satisfied with and some I am not, and overall I am not satisfied, but I would be even more dissatisfied if I cancelled the service altogether.

            But as soon as I can get Google Fiber or AT&T Fiber I will likely cancel my cable service altogether.

          • Protagoras says:

            @DavidFriedman, your own math indicates that the customer will not benefit from the improvement in the service; the monopoly will charge enough that anything the customer gains from the improvement will be fully offset by the increased cost.

          • skef says:

            I assume a monopoly is always charging the price that maximizes their profit.

            This assumption only seems safe in a framework without regulation. In a framework with regulation the monopoly will charge either the price that maximizes their profit or the highest price that makes an anti-trust response unlikely, whichever is lower.

          • @Protagoras:

            Correct. I was assuming a monopoly that did a perfect job of pricing–as I mentioned, I was leaving out some complications.

            In practice, the monopoly is probably selling its product at the same price to all customers, since it can’t tell which customers value it more, although there are a variety of tactics for price discrimination to solve that problem. If so, the marginal customer is getting the product for just what it is worth to him, the customers who value it more are getting it for less than it is worth to them, hence a net benefit. The hypothetical improvement might increase or decrease their total benefit (consumer surplus), depending on the details.

            The comment I responded to had

            the closer the service provider is to having monopoly power, the more business incentives point away from customer satisfaction.

            My point was that that was not in general correct. The marginal customer, whether of a monopoly or a firm in a competitive industry, is getting no net benefit–that’s why he is the marginal customer. But both the monopoly and the competitive firm want to improve the quality of their product, as judged by consumer value for it, so long as the improvement is worth more than it costs.

            One of the other factors in the comment was “the more external constraints are placed on the service,” and that is correct. If the price the firm can charge is fixed by some form of regulation at below the profit maximizing price, the firm probably has no incentive to make any improvement that cost it anything, since it can’t charge for them.

      • gbdub says:

        Choice isn’t just on the “which plan do I pick” end, it’s on the “which doctor do I get to see, what treatment do I get, how many hoops do I need to jump through for specialist non-emergency care, etc”. I do think that’s important and something Americans enjoy an advantage in relative to NHS type systems.

        And your employer may only offer 3 plans, but your employer gets to choose which plan to offer to (ideally) best balance the needs of their employee pool against the total cost, and that’s not trivial from the Republican perspective.

      • John Schilling says:

        What bothers me about Health Care reform is the Republican obsession with ‘choice’. Health Insurance is very hard(for me) to figure out. It seems like an incredibly opaque system now, I only got three choices from my employer and I am still not sure I actually picked the ‘right’ plan for me.

        The relevant choice for most Americans is not which insurance policy or provider to sign up with, but which doctor or hospital to go to. Most(?) Americans who are not single young men have an ongoing relationship with a primary physician that they want to maintain even if the bureaucracy decides some other doctor would be more convenient, and most Americans believe that if they develop some serious chronic ailment like cancer they ought to be able to chose the doctor or hospital they feel is best suited to their case.

        Traditionally, American health insurance policies allowed for this; you picked whatever doctor you want (within fairly broad limits), sent the insurance company the bill and they paid it. That’s less true than it used to be, but if your employer is offering three different insurance plans, one of them is probably a PPO with a large provider network that comes reasonably close.

        • HeelBearCub says:


          My company was bought. By a $5B valuated, $1B in revenues, west-coast tech company.

          I have a choice of 1 insurance plan. All of our families providers are out-of-network. I should go see an oral surgeon and there is precisely one in network and he works one day a week. I will probably have to pay out of pocket for this.

          • Corey says:

            Narrow networks are often used as a club to beat down overall utilization. As in your example, you can wait in line for this one guy, or go elsewhere and accept unlimited financial liability, so people tend to take the third option of giving up.

            I may have told this story before, but my (non-Scott) psychiatrist was in this situation – she was willing to accept a network’s reimbursement rates, conditions etc., but they didn’t take her, presumably to keep it narrow for these reasons.

        • Spookykou says:

          I can see how I could be blind to this side of the choice question. I have no primary care physician that I have seen more than once, I tend to go to the doctor once a year(with a few exceptions) and just ask for the most convenient time slot without a thought to the name of the doctor I will be seeing.

      • herbert herberson says:

        I agree entirely. I don’t want choices, I want simplicity.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I’ve given my opinions on what would probably improve the situation, though perhaps not here, or not all in one place. The bottlenecks are political (naturally), and arguably also public consensus. I struggle to think of any logistical obstacles otherwise, though to be fair, these are relatively broad, unspecified opinions.

      1. Reduce regulatory barriers to interstate insurance competition (see David Friedman’s comment above).

      2. Remove regulatory barriers to opening new clinics and hospitals (see Eric Rall’s reply to my comment further above).

      3. Reduce regulatory barriers, if any, to what caregiver can conduct what procedure. (I have this nagging suspicion that a majority of visits involve the RN looking at the patient, knowing what to do within 30 seconds, then waiting 30 minutes for someone with an advanced degree to come in for another minute and then confirm the RN’s finding.)

      4. Reduce the requirements for accrediting new doctors. (Didn’t Scott say Irish doctors had similar performance for fewer course credits a while back?)

      5. Reduce the requirements for approving new drugs – particularly phase 3 clinical trials.

      6. Equalize the tax rates between salary and non-salary benefits paid by employers.

      I’m sure I sound like a broken record with the “reduce barriers” stuff, but I honestly feel the USG could save money by playing care and insurance providers off each other through competition, just like for damn near anything else in the market. Patients won’t angst over whether they’re getting one of the top 1000 anesthesiologists in the country if they’re paying only $100 to set a broken limb. And if employer tax rates are equal for all benefits, employers will no longer have incentive to manage their own insurance plan (unless the work is hazardous), which means employees can get their own plan and take it with them if they change jobs.

    • christhenottopher says:

      One thing that is beginning to irk me a bit with healthcare debates in the US is that it’s all about coverage without ever acknowledging that coverage is primarily a process measure rather than an outcome measure. Ignoring the Hansonian “health care is not about health care” point, what we should really be concerned with is a policy’s impact on QALYs (and if you’re worried about unequal outcomes leading to high divergence between things like average QALYs rising because the rich do awesome and everyone else gets screwed, focus on QALY levels for the poor). Since Quality Adjusted Life Years can theoretically adjust for basically any condition you can even account for how much it sucks to live in bankruptcy and poverty with them. Right now we’re spending over 8% of GDP on government healthcare spending in the US, and have we actually tried seeing if it’s better to spend that money on healthcare directly or to just give it to poor/disabled/chronically ill people directly? I only know of one policy experiment on this in Oregon (if you all know more I’m hungry for more data) where the control group got nothing and the experimental group got free health insurance. The gist of the results were that healthcare usage went up among those receiving coverage (shocker!), financial stability went up (again, shocking that when you give people a subsidy their finances improve), self-reported health and satisfaction with their health went up (this is not something to dismiss, it’s important especially in mental health), but many measured health outcomes failed to improve (things like blood pressure or cholesterol levels). So my question is, how would these results compare with something like a basic income, and what QALY gains are we really getting here?

      I know that scrapping all government payments to health care and replacing with a targeted basic income to the groups previously getting the health subsidies is politically infeasible in the shot-, medium-, and probably pretty long-terms. The idea that health benefits are a great benefit to have is heavily ingrained. But a lot of what makes a huge difference in health is lifestyle things that healthcare systems only have limited capacity to impact. Improving diet, doing moderate regular exercise, and not smoking are huge QALY improvers that a twice a year check up isn’t going to impact much. And there’s plenty of waste in the rest of the disease fighting health care system (at least waste in terms of QALY improvement). I fully admit it’s possible that health care spending beats passing out checks to those in need, but I see a lot of talk about how to expand coverage without even checking that expanding coverage is the best way to help.

      Thus I reach out to this community! Does anyone know of any data on how much healthcare coverage tends to improve QALYs? Has any short of comparison been made with Give Directly type no-stings-attached checks to people? What research is out there on whether or not all our subsidies are actually helping people relative to other forms of support we could be doing?

    • Urstoff says:

      1. Price transparency
      2. Change compensation structure for doctors (patients can pay per service, but doctors should be salaried)
      3. Subsidized HSA’s for the poor or chronically unwell
      4. Some deregulation of doctor licensing, what services NPs and PAs can provide, etc.

  17. Levantine says:

    I think this commentary on the current Washington needs more exposure:

    Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steve Pieczenik (a psychiatrist) on the
    > creepy Neil Gorsuch, a torture-promoter,
    > neocons finding a home in the DJT administration:

    • Deiseach says:

      creepy Neil Gorsuch, a torture-promoter

      I can’t read your link because I get this message: “Your public IP address is blacklisted in stopforumspam.com” so alas, I am denied the benefit of Mr Pieczenik’s professional opinion.

      Though if I follow the Youtube link to the edited interview, I get this impartial and balanced production:

      DR. STEVE PIECZENIK Discusses the SLIMEY NEOCONS: TRUMP NEEDS POSITIVE SUPPORT: John Bolton: Neil Gorsuch: TROTSKYITES & JEWS: Avowed Communists: HISTORY is IMPORTANT: “We the People” ARE SCREWED if NEOCONS CONTROL TRUMP: TRUMP PLEASE LISTEN! Produced by INFOWARS, Dr. Steve Pieczenik & Dr. Colette Dowell of CIRCULAR TIMES: Documenting History: News, Educational, Informative: ALL CLIPS FAIR USE: Thank you for watching. Have a Nice Day ! Colette Dowell

      Yes. Well.

      That being said – what the what? I’ve only been aware on the religion side of disfavour about Gorsuch because there are rumours swirling around about him being “conservative” which is taken to be code for “probably would overturn Roe vs Wade if he could”.

      There doesn’t seem to be any basis for that other than some decisions he made; on the religion side, he’s attending an Episcopalian church (he was raised Catholic, but it’s unclear if he still considers himself a Catholic, has converted, or is ‘attending my wife’s church’) which is not a conservative denomination and his particular parish is the averagely liberal Episcopalian parish (woman rector, pro-LGBT rights, etc.) There are other more conservative churches in the area that he could attend if he wanted theological conservatism; that he seems to be happy to attend and be involved with this parish indicates that he’s not against whatever the preaching is there.

      He’s not an Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Born-Again, Southern Baptist, or traditional Catholic, is what I’m saying. So this kind of talk is very weird. Are we sure they’re not mixing him up with Vice-President Pence, who also has been accused of being pro-torture?

      EDITED: Having found a slightly saner site, this appears to be what the problem is: when he worked for/under the Associate Attorney General during the Bush administration in 2005.

  18. James says:

    Do we ever talk about our favourite commenters? It seems like it would be a nice comment thread to have (though maybe it has happened/happens and I’ve just missed it). And it seems like a shame for our good commenters not to know how much they’re appreciated. (Yes, there are arguments again having an upvote/downvote system, but I feel like the fact that it lets people know when they’re appreciated is an upside that we’re missing.)

    I’d like to nominate suntzuanime as my favourite. Acerbic but always funny and on point.

    I know there are some others I like, too, but their usernames escape me right now.

    • PedroS says:

      My favourite commenters are Aapje, David Friedman, Douglas Knight, John Schilling, Iain and Deiseach

    • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

      Talking about individual commenters introduces a new incentive (and maybe disincentive to some) into commenting. Some might feel the desire to increase quantity (possibly lowering quality), others, quality. Net result? I don’t know. Maybe a stroll down the reddit popularity lane…

    • Jordan D. says:

      I like that Scott Alexander dude’s comments. He seems to know what’s up.

      Anyway, I’m going for David Friedman, Douglas Knight, Brad and Deiseach.

    • Douglas Knight says:


    • Scott Alexander says:

      I finally figured out how to get a list of most frequent commenters, so if anyone else was wondering:

      David Friedman (6026)
      Deiseach (5528)
      onyomi (4997)
      BearHeelCub (4785)
      John Schilling (4680)
      Scott Alexander (4664)
      Nancy Lebovitz (3390)
      suntzuanime (3017)
      dndnrsn (2705)
      Douglas Knight (2632)
      HlynkaCG (2503)
      Vox Imperatoris (2430)
      Randy M (2293)
      houseboatonstyx (2282)
      The Nybbler (2216)
      Jaskologist (2193)
      Mary (1939)
      Aapje (1882)
      kerani (1860)

      • Deiseach says:

        Oh thank God, I’m only in third place 🙂

        I was feeling bad enough about popping up leaving comments like scattershot all over the place, had I placed higher I’d definitely be slinking off shame-faced to take the lesson of “silence, exile and cunning”!

      • rlms says:

        Who are all these people with actual names? It looks like I only started commenting in mid-2015, and I don’t remember lurking for that long beforehand, but if they stopped before I started then they must have been *incredibly* prolific to beat current commenters who started before me.

        • Jiro says:

          Scott messed up and listed actual names, not IDs.

          He really ought to redact the whole thing as fast as possible.

          • rlms says:

            But where did he get actual names? Are they linked with WordPress accounts or something?

          • Scott Alexander says:

            I have no idea how the comment-counter-program got everyone’s actual names, but I’ve removed every actual name that I didn’t recognize as obviously the name they use here.

            I’ve also deleted a few comments below that mention the real names, sorry about that.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            Now I want to know who this mysterious individual is.

        • Deiseach says:

          the comment-counter-program got everyone’s actual names

          Nah, don’t worry. If you got any name associated with me other than “Deiseach”, it’s not my real world on-my-birth-cert name. I only have one (1) email account where I use my real name and that is only for Official Business. Everything else online is under a nom de plume.

      • John Schilling says:

        I feel slightly embarrassed to have out-posted the host of the blog, but if “commenter” is meant literally and does not include the actual posts with which Scott headlines the non-open threads, he edges me out and honor is restored.

      • Jaskologist says:

        A little disturbing that I cracked the top 20, even if this is for the blog’s lifetime. Must learn to resist the siren call of someone being wrong on the internet.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          I’ve grown to accept if someone is wrong on the internet. It’s when someone is wrong on SSC that I grow nervous!

    • Skivverus says:

      Deiseach and keranih remain favorites (possibly for crush-related reasons, which have not abated); additionally, HeelBearCub, Iain, Aapje, John Schilling, FacelessCraven, dndnrsn, hlynkacg, aaaand I’m going to truncate the list here for now because I’m pretty sure the regulars know who they are already.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      In no particular order:

      Larry Kestenbaum
      John Schilling

    • psmith says:

      Larry Kestenbaum.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Risking the downside of naming favorites, I think it’s fair to issue more praise for those who choose to effort-post about some relatively esoteric domain of expertise. From memory: John Schilling on North Korea; bean on battleships; Larry Kestenbaum on election processes; Controls Freak on SIGINT and law; keranih on the SadPuppy saga; Aapje on Dutch housing. (I imagine David Friedman must have delivered a treatise or two on economics, but I don’t recall anything long form. Well, he tends to just link to stuff he’s already written, which I suppose is quintessentially economical…)

      There are, of course, a great many more commenters here I enjoy for shorter form posts, valuable insights, good faith participation, and entertaining writing.

    • Spookykou says:

      Philosophisticat, CatCube, Le Maistre Chat, I have a type.

    • carvenvisage says:

      I come here almost as much for Onyomi’s comments as for the blog. Spookykou is amazingly patient and polite. Deiseach is always hilarious. suntzuanime is sometimes ultra-hilarious. David friedman is great all round.

      • onyomi says:

        Makes me feel better about unintentionally becoming one of the most prolific commenters. 🙂

        I think I still think of myself as a Johnny-come-lately who occasionally logs in to throw in his two cents, but it’s time to face up to the fact that I am… a regular. In my defense, I spend more time on SSC by far than any other non-work-related website, and don’t talk about politics, philosophy, etc. hardly anywhere else, online, or IRL. I am very much one of those who finds this place unusual in being a place to receive polite, intelligent, non-echo-chamber feedback on controversial ideas.

        As for myself, I like many of the commenters, but I’ll just give some props to Jaskologist, whom I think of as the poster I’d like to be if I were funnier and more succinct.

        • Wrong Species says:

          It’s really hard to speak freely outside this place. You never know the difference between something that is possibly controversial and something that will make you a pariah for defending.

        • Jaskologist says:

          I appreciate the compliment, but you’re thinking of suntzuanime.

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      Among the commenters I disagree with, I like lvllin (sp?) (especially after a recent display of principle over party), HBC (kind of a perennial favorite), and half of brad.

      Among the commenters who I sometimes disagree with, I like Douglas Knight and Deiseach (for very different reasons), as well as Larry Kestenbaum.

      Among the commenters who agree with me, they’re all 100% correct, so of course I like them.

      And Rookie of the Year goes to…. Spookykou, for really embodying the spirit of SSC.

      • Picking up on the “agree with/disagree with” point. Someone should combine the comments on who people like with data on who is where on the political spectrum, and see to what extent people are liking those who agree with them, to what extent not.

    • cthor says:

      Protagoras, Philosophisticat, CatCube

    • Mark says:

      As a true connoisseur of the ssc comment, I’m going to have to go with Robert Liguori.

      He is always on point.

      There’s a dude from Cambridge who posts really good comments too – Paul? Ian?

      CitizenEarth had a really nice thing he was doing about political/economic checks and balances.

      And I quite liked the (in)dividualist – he really committed to his theme.

      And about once every six months, I ask about German idealism and someone always answers – so that person. Maybe Urstoff ?

      (Something, something, league of non-aligned commenters.)

      • Robert Liguori says:

        Uh. Wow. Thanks. Gosh.

        Seriously. I did not imagine that my commentary here was that memorable.

        Jeez. Now I guess I have to comment more.

        But, to keep things on point, I’ll bring up HeelBearCub specifically as a commentor I appreciate, because while I often disagree with his points, he makes them unfailingly politely and unfailingly cogently.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Well, perhaps not unfailingly. I fail in a very human manner, I’m pretty sure.

          But I greatly appreciate the sentiment.

    • IrishDude says:

      David Friedman
      Glen Raphael
      John Schilling

    • HeelBearCub says:

      In no particular order and surely missing some of higher cardinality:
      FacelessCraven – We disagree on so much and yet can easily reach agreement on matters where we do
      onyomi – I find his preferred system completely unworkable, but the conversations about it are interesting and in search of truth. Also easy to come to agreement with.
      Iain – a very welcome addition “in my corner”, but welcome in every sense of the word.
      Larry Kestenbaum – for being a true role model for “correct” SSC commenting when I first showed up, and ever since.

      HOF nominee – Vox I. for knowing his stuff thoroughly and dispensing it eruditely. Would like to see in the annual SSC “old timers” game.

      Special shoutout – James? ??? (Sorry, failing on the name) for being willing to spend exhaustive time debunking various AGW denial and minimization arguments

      Honorable mention – anyone who first came into the comment section “hot” and has worked to rid themselves of all the inflammatory commenting habits learned elsewheres. All of you are appreciated, even the ones who haven’t done it yet.

      • dndnrsn says:

        FYI, she goes by Voxette now, and is on tumblr.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Bummer, I misgendered her. The default is pernicious.

          Not sure if I am willing to venture out onto tumblr. I don’t even look at Scott’s. That comment interface makes me twitch.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Oh, Tumblr’s interface is dreadful for text exchanges of any length. I find it to be mostly a mixture of “this is amusing/cute” (it is the best delivery mechanism for images of small animals) and “I wish this person had a proper blog” for the most part.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Oh, and btw, your probably belong on that list as well. I consistently find your contributions interesting and cogent.

          • BBA says:

            Vox stopped commenting here before transitioning.

    • hlynkacg says:

      I am somewhat disturbed and humbled to find myself on some people’s list of favorite posters. I don’t know whether I should commend or castigate them for their taste.

      As for myself; HeelBearCub, Larry Kestenbaum, and dndnrsn get the “worthy opponent” award for people who I often disagree with vehemently but still genuinely enjoy their posts, Deiseach and Controls Freak get the “Damnit I wish I’d thought of that” award for being better at arguing my positions than I often am, while Spookykou and hoghoghog get the promising new-comers award.

      Honarable mentions go to llvln, the orginal mister x, Iain, and aapje.

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        It’s “hoghoghoghoghog”. Please try harder in the future not to misnumber other commenters.

  19. Anonymous Colin says:

    Any recommendations for learning resources on GIS? Ideally platform-agnostic ones. I have a CS/stats related grad degree and want to build applications with geographic data.

    • Fifth says:

      r/GIS is a good start, they have a fairly active community. I mostly use ArcGIS on Windows because of my job, but they’ve got some links on their sidebar to resources.

  20. Vojtas says:

    Speaking of match day, just matched at Henry Ford in Detroit. I have a wife and a newborn, no connections in the city. Any advice on where I should live?

    • stevenj says:

      When my brother and his wife matched to Henry Ford a few years ago, they got a place in Ferndale.
      20 minute commute, nice neighborhood, cheap houses.

    • S_J says:

      I’m a resident of the Detroit Metro area…

      Are you placed at the Henry Ford Hospital on West Grand Boulevard, downtown?

      Or one of the other locations in the Henry Ford Health System? (I think the network has hospitals in West Bloomfield, Mount Clemens, Clinton Township, Ferndale, Wyandotte…)

      Though, come to think of it, housing in Ferndale would be good for most of those, except possibly for the Wyandotte hospital.

      Does the hospital give any references for finding housing?

      • Vojtas says:

        Yeah the one on Grand Boulrvard. The hospital did have some reference material for housing, I’m just asking around before we go apartment hunting and I know there are at least a couple people doing Detroit-area residencies on this site. Thank you both for the replies.

  21. MereComments says:

    I’m pretty impressed with the diversity of favorite blogs other than SSC. If you were to try to map these out to a traditional political matrix there would be no discernible pattern. Granted, statistics and economics, two highly represented groups, are not necessarily political to begin with. But SSC readers really do seem to be coming from multiple different directions.

  22. Jordan D. says:

    So, there’s still a lot of ongoing hubub in Washington over the impending confirmation of Judge Gorsuch. Despite my antipathy for the process by which Senate Republicans knocked out Judge Garland, it’s pretty hard to raise a lot of anger for Gorsuch. He’s just not an outrageous judge.

    So a lot of the legal discussion now has been about a subject that’s been contentious for a long time- Chevron deference. For those unaware, Chevron deference is a legal principle, established by the Supreme Court in Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. National Resources Defense Council, Inc.. This principle says that:

    1) Where a statute is ambiguous, and;
    2) The statute tasks an administrative agency with action;
    3) Then courts should accept the agency’s interpretation of the statute;
    4) If that interpretation is reasonable.

    Chevron deference also generally applies to regulations that are ambiguous.

    The basic idea of Chevron deference was that an agency is a subject matter expert and would probably know better how a law they are administering should be read when ambiguity arose. The opposition, generally, is that this is a delegation of judicial power to the executive and gives administrative agencies too much power to decide what laws are.

    Gorsuch is against Chevron, where Scalia was generally in favor of it. I’m curious to see who here is for or against Chevron, and why.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Against. It represents an abdication of judicial review, leaving the power of the administrative agencies unchecked. The bar for “unreasonable” seems to be quite high in practice.

    • CatCube says:

      The problem with deferring to regulations that are ambiguous is that it can create an incentive to write ambiguous regulations and hold interpretation over the heads of the regulated.

      I think that interpretation should always hew close to the written text of statutes, with ambiguity held against the Government. If Congress doesn’t like the interpretation, well, they need to fix the text. Relying on executive agencies and courts to “fix” ambiguity is one of the reasons that our current legal system is an incomprehensible morass that you need a lawyer to navigate for the simplest of tasks–since knowing what something means requires deep knowledge of every court case that’s touched it.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Your first paragraph is about regulation, rather than law. You could support Chevron and oppose Auer. It would be easier for courts to to convince agencies to rewrite rules than to convince congress to rewrite laws.

        Your second paragraph seems to be a complaint about courts, rather than agencies. Chevron directly addresses this problem: it is easier to look up what the centralized agency said than to study the decentralized courts. Rolling back Chevron won’t stop courts from setting precedent, unless you advocate court completely throwing out ambiguous laws.

        Added: Using regulation to resolve ambiguity allows it to be resolved ahead of time, while courts generally only get involved late, increasing risk. But it may be difficult for the court to force the agency to use regulation for the purpose of clarity.

    • Brad says:

      Chevron deference also generally applies to regulations that are ambiguous.

      Does this part have some other name (which is slipping my mind right now?)

      In any event, I think the two situations are quite divergent. The case for deference in interpreting their own regulations is much stronger than for interpreting legislation.

      For the interpreting legislation part, I disagree with Chevron. Although, I concede that such interpretations can sometimes be a useful part of the statutory interpretation puzzle, especially if they embody a contemporaneous understanding or some kind of specialty knowledge, I don’t think that deference as a rule is warranted. It seems an abdication of responsibility.

      I guess I should note for context that, for someone on my general side of the aisle, I am unusually sympathetic to a broad and robust non-delegation doctrine.

      • Jordan D. says:

        Yeah, it’s Auer deference in that case. I tend to lump those together, even though the argument for Auer deference is stronger.

        Actually I sort of like Auer deference less than general Chevron cases. Where Congress writes an unclear provision, the agency is just trying to implement things as best they can. Trying to get a legislature to make even the tiniest changes to law is a real nasty time, I’ve discovered. But where the agency writes an unclear provision, I’d rather see the courts tell them to go back and re-write it than bless whatever they come up with later.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      This issue is considered to align with the left-right axis, right? Why?

      • suntzuanime says:

        Because the bureaucracy is more reliably left-wing than the judiciary, I think?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Yeah, I could see that, or other reasons, so I guess I should have asked a different question. Has there always been such polarization? I feel like it has suddenly appeared, without any explanation. If the reason were what you say, wouldn’t I hear people mention that? I wonder if it actually a consequence of Gorsuch and most people, both left and right, are assuming that if he opposes it, it must be left-wing, even though he is relevant because he disagrees with Scalia.

          • Jordan D. says:

            I think this article gives a reasonable guess at how it started. Chevron was not much-remarked-upon when it came out, but got big under Reagan’s Justice Department when the Democrats got control of Congress. The thesis, then, is whenever the Congress and Presidency are in split parties, the party who controls the Presidency would embrace Chevron as a way to give them power to re-interpret the other party’s legislation. Since we just came from a split presidency under Obama, we should expect liberals to like Chevron right now.

            I’m not actually sure if this is true, since I don’t know much about the legal landscape under Bill Clinton and GWB. I’d also expect the libertarian law professors, who are the most prominent conservative legal scholars, to oppose Chevron more than the liberal professors.

    • Nornagest says:

      What does being against Chevron look like operationally?

      • Jordan D. says:

        Rolling back Chevron would mean that a court would decide, de novo, what the correct interpretation of an ambiguous statute looks like. To get a little more concrete, let’s take the fairly culture-war-agnostic case of Astrue v. Capato

        The Social Security Act provides that a person is entitled to survivor benefits on the death of someone who has paid sufficiently into the SS system if they are a child of that person and dependent at the time of that person’s death. The Act directs the Commissioner to interpret ‘child’ as per the intestate succession laws of the state.

        Now, it’s well-settled that a child who is conceived before the death of the father and born after that death is the ‘child’ of the father. But, for the purposes of the Act, is a child conceived via IVF after the father’s death a “child” of the father?

        The Social Security Administration said no because Florida’s intestacy law had no provision for it. The Third Circuit, on appeal, reversed, finding that the undisputed biological children of a widow and father are his children. The Supreme Court said no, because the Social Security Administration was entitled to Chevron deference.

        If there were no Chevron deference, would the case have changed at all? Maybe not. The case author, Justice Ginsburg, clearly believed that the SSA’s reading of the law was better than the Third Circuit’s. But you would probably have more courts holding contrary to agency decisions, because people disagree about ambiguity in the law all the time.

      • Eric Rall says:

        The Department of Administrative Affairs adopts an official policy of interpreting a statute as meaning X. You would much rather it was interpreted as meaning Y (perhaps because you own a business that becomes much less profitable if it says Y instead of X), so you sue for an injunction to change the official interpretation.

        A judge who supports the Chevron doctrine will rule in your favor only if he’s convinced that X is clearly wrong and Y is clearly right. A judge who opposes Chevron will rule in your favor merely if he believes Y is a better interpretation than X.

        This seems to come up a lot in tariff laws, where the Treasury agency administering the tariffs disagrees with importers over what category (and thus what tariff rate) a particular thing falls into. For example, Snuggies are taxed at 8.5% if they’re classified as “blankets”, but they’re taxed at 14.9% if they’re classified as “pullover apparel”.

        With Chevron, the Treasury wins unless its classification is unambiguously wrong. Without Chevron, the court would decide based on the statute which classification was a better fit, regardless of what the Treasury thinks it should be. Administrative agencies still lose under Chevron (for example, a court recently ruled against the Treasury on the classification of Snuggies), but they’d lose more often without Chevron. More cases would probably wind up in court under any given interpretation regime, but the agencies would be incentivized to stick closer to the most plausible interpretations of the statutes.

    • BBA says:

      This is controversial? I thought the Republicans were all in agreement that the courts should always defer to Chevron’s interpretation of a statute. (Read that sentence again.)

  23. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    On Tumblr, Scotty did some self-confessed wild speculation on foreign policy, to the effect that we should ally with Iran and Assad. I also don’t grok foreign policy, so anyone care to explain why this is a bad idea?

    (And as a bonus, evaluate Scott’s generally rosy view of Iran?)

    • bean says:

      The other side can always choose to not play along. We’ve spent the past 8 years trying to make nice with Iran, and they don’t seem interested. (Obama’s Middle East plans sounded a lot like Scott’s do.) They’ve spent decades demonizing us, and I don’t see that changing soon.
      The Middle East is a mess. Always has been and always will be. If there was only one person left there, he’d develop some form of psych condition that would have him fighting himself.

      • The Middle East is a mess. Always has been and always will be.

        I found this article interesting. It claims that ASEAN has brought peace to South East Asia; and that this should be regarded, a priori, as having been a harder problem than bringing peace to the Middle East.

        • christhenottopher says:

          I think there’s some merit to the point about SE Asia being a good counter-example to “areas with lots of violence over long periods of time can’t become peaceful,” but the article is a bit light on details as to how ASEAN accomplished this feat. I realize that’s just an excerpt from a larger book trying to make that argument, but they could have at least included a few bullet points for successes.

        • bean says:

          I’m not really buying it. Yes, there have been several wars in Southeast Asia, but there’s not the massive historical tensions that you see in the Middle East. And what did ASEAN have to do with it, anyway?

          • rlms says:

            Has the Middle East had much more historical tension than, say, Western Europe? This is a non-rhetorical question, I don’t know enough about the history of either to be that confident it hasn’t. But the history of Europe before 1945 seems to be mostly alternating tension and war.

          • 1soru1 says:

            what did ASEAN have to do with it, anyway

            In short, Singapore:Malaysia::Kuwait:Iraq

            ASEAN allowed sharing of wealth and prestige between small prosperous states and larger poorer ones. So the large ones were less tempted to invade and loot the smaller ones. No-one found it worthwhile to fund insurgencies in their neighbors ahead of developing their own economy.

            In theory, the Arab Union could have done the same across most of the Middle East. But the Arab Union always excluded Israel, and so there was always at least one player with an incentive to press the ‘defect’ button.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Real shocker that a body named after its favored ethnicity did not bring stability to a multi-ethnic region. The ones that actually worked (EU, ASEAN) had the good sense to name themselves after the region as a whole.

          • Sandy says:

            ASEAN largely ignores authoritarianism in the region in favor of stability and the maintenance of good relations. They’re not exactly working overtime to push notions like “democracy” or “rights” in Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and the Philippines. And most of the worst problems in the region were resolved before ASEAN was formed or before the respective members joined the association (Singapore’s split from Malaysia and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, for example).

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        I think it’s a stretch to say we’ve spent 8 years making nice with Iran. Obama could not credibly promise peaceful policy in the future when you’ve got people like McCain running around. Just like the years of them demonizing us means we can’t trust their assurances, they can’t trust ours either.

        • bean says:

          That’s rather my point. Whatever forces foiled President Obama’s plan for a grand US-Iranian alliance to bring peace to the Middle East would also foil President Alexander’s.

          • herbert herberson says:

            Still worth emphasizing. Read Twitter today and you’d think the entire left save a few scattered Commies was in lockstep hatred of Russia and her allies, when, in actuality, the Obama wing of the Democratic party (opposed by the now-inexplicably-pre-eminent Clinton wing) was in favor of at least some detente.

    • aNeopuritan says:

      (((He))) is only wrong in one thing: the Al Saud and the Israelis love each other (see: Syrian Army vs. Islamic State under the Golan Heights, Israel watching – obviously they bomb the Syrian Army), so it’s not going to be Mossad that finishes the Sauds when it happens (all families will end someday, though I do hope the Sauds end before the sun explodes). Still, (((Scott))) is largely right, unlike most (((others))) (at least most of the vocal ones – though check out Max Blumenthal’s work, it’s good and it’s been costing him his friends). Hezbollah needs to stay armed (via Syria) to defend Lebanon from (((invasion))). Economic integration/growth and a measure of safety should be the things to normalize Iran – right now there are atheists saying the theocracy is what currently works to defend the country. Your other Sunni ally Pakistan loves killing Shiites too, ideally Shiite girls going to English and informatics classes. Iran has the best relationship with its own Kurds among the countries with chunks of Kurdistan (Turkey has a loving relationship with the Kurds *of Iraq*, but is at war with its own).


      • herbert herberson says:

        Unironic parenthetic echoes. Very nice.

        For the record, America doesn’t support Israel because of (((reasons))), it’s because it recognizes the shared culture and interests of a fellow imperialist settler state. You should stop spoiling the barrel of your otherwise correct view on the region with poisonous bigotries.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          “imperialist settler state”? Is that being ironic, too? There are so many layers going on right now that I can’t tell.

          • herbert herberson says:

            Nope, I’m being 100% serious. When Israeli apologists defend the occupation by saying “well is it really that different from what America did to its natives,” I’m one of the guys who say “not at all, and in both cases it is an ugly, bloody stain on not only our histories, but our cultures through the present day.”

            And as an opponent of Israeli’s occupation, I love to tear down the theory that we Americans support it because of AIPAC and Hollywood and whatever. Not only is fighting antisemitism (much-needed) good optics for me and mine, and not only is it worth opposing for the same reason other bigotries are worth opposing, but it’s also ignorant as hell and serves to whitewash the US (which has far more to answer for). From the perspective of the monsters who run our foreign policy, the money and political capital spent on Israel’s behalf isn’t charity or a concession. It’s worth every single literal-and-metaphorical-penny.

          • @Herbert Herberson:

            The history of Israel vis a vis Palestinians is not all that similar to the U.S. vis a vis Amerinds. In the Israeli case, large numbers of Jews immigrated peacefully to Israel and bought land there. Conflicts between them, the Muslim inhabitants and the British rulers arose, violent on both sides. A civil war developed into an invasion by adjacent Arab states in support of the Palestinians, the Israelis eventually won the war. Arabs who did not choose to leave during the fighting remained in Israel and continued to own whatever land they had owned before.

            Not very much like what happened to the Amerinds.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          I don’t even know if it is unironic – it’s certainly the first time I can think of having seen it here on SSC. But if genuine, I confess to finding it baffling that people do it, because it’s so annoying that it’s got basically zero chance of persuading anyone who doesn’t already agree with you.

          Antisemites gonna antisem, I suppose, but if you think someone’s Jewishness is relevant to the argument you’re trying to make against their position, then for goodness’ sake explain in words why it is relevant.

          • xXxanonxXx says:

            When dealing with head-in-the-sand types I find the echoes somewhat amusing. It’s a way of trolling people who deny facts that are possible challenges to their worldview (you really should be able to mount a rebuke of anti-semitism that consists of more than just getting angry at someone for pointing out the disproportionate number of Jews in various spheres of power). But I agree. Since the entire ethos of SSC is to do the exact opposite sticking one’s head in the sand, it is surprising and annoying to see the practice here.

          • hlynkacg says:

            To reiterate what Winter Shaker said above. The onus is on you to explain why it matters in the first place.

          • xXxanonxXx says:

            Having asked unironic users of the parenthetic echoes to explain the relevance of someone being Jewish, I can promise you they’re happy to answer.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Yeah, given that this blog is woke on HBD and specifically argues that racial disproportionality is not necessarily indicative of racism, there doesn’t seem much point in using the parentheses. Other than as whatever the opposite of a shibboleth is, the one that gets you killed.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            A sibboleth?

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        Thank you for your valuable public service: until now, I had no idea Scott was a LISP programmer!

    • Wrong Species says:

      Say what you will about Assad but he’s certainly better than ISIS and probably better than the “moderate” democratic Islamists.

      Saudi Arabia has one advantage over Iran and it’s really important: they don’t have a nuclear program. If we could trust that Iran was completely done with nukes I would agree that we could be friends but until then…

      My foreign policy would basically be stop nuclear proliferation and stop terrorists. Those are the most important issues right now.

      • herbert herberson says:

        To the extent that Iran is seeking nukes, though, it is an (at least moderately) rational reaction to the incessant threats from the West. In 2002, the U.S. dubbed three nations that had nothing to do with 9/11 as part of an “Axis of Evil.” Five years later, one of those nations was a nuclear state and another was in ruins. Can you really blame the third one for learning the obvious lesson?

        • Wrong Species says:

          Ok but at least two of those countries were run by tyrannical maniacs. And Iran didn’t exactly have its hands clean.

          • John Schilling says:

            Yes. The lesson is, if you are a tyrannical maniac, you must acquire nuclear weapons or die. If you are not a tyrannical maniac but your hands are dirty enough that you might be mistaken for one, you must acquire nuclear weapons or die. If you imagine it is possible to shed your tyrannical past and your nuclear weapons, you will die.

            We used to be more flexible in dealing with tyrannical maniacs. We may look back at those as the Good Old Days.

          • herbert herberson says:

            BTW, anyone who doesn’t know the details contained in Schilling’s first link needs to learn them. Ever wonder why Assad has hung onto his power so relentlessly? I mean, there’s undoubtably lots of reasons (such as the high possibility of an anti-Alawite genocide), but the particular fate of that particular Arab Spring scalp has gotta be on the list.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I did not know that Putin acted in Syria because of Libya. Reminds me of how that was supposedly the good war, a shining example of “leading from behind”. Makes me even more skeptical of regime change. Even ones that are relatively cheap can have political fallout.

          • suntzuanime says:

            You gotta kinda feel bad for Gaddafi, playing the frog to our scorpion. It’s a shameful thing.

          • cassander says:


            I shed no tears for Gadaffi. Given his much improved behavior from 2003-11, doing him in like that was a poor geo-political move, but the man was a socialist dictator and terrorist. His behavior from 1970-2003 earned what he eventually got.

          • John Schilling says:

            [Gaddafi’s] behavior from 1970-2003 earned what he eventually got.

            True, but it also earned the Syrian people what they are currently getting, and the North Korean people what they are perhaps going to get. Payback’s a bitch, yes, but an indiscriminately promiscuous one.

          • cassander says:

            @John Schilling

            I agree completely, but I reserve my concern for the Libyan and Syrian people, not Qaddafi himself.

          • PedroS says:

            “[Gaddafi’s] behavior from 1970-2003 earned what he eventually got.”

            The problem is that, by attacking him even after his getting rid of his top secret WMD program, a very strong message regarding the unreliability of the West was cast to anyone who might think of “repenting and joining the fold” of the international community.
            I understand that there were NO good options at the time, and diplomatically it would be a no-win situation: the West had to decide on whether to close its eyes to atrocities made by “their (newly-aquired) son-of-a-bitch” or to intervene. Maybe we should go back to the Westphalian concept of “total non-intervention on the affairs of sovereign states”, but it is very hard to really accept that status quo after the Holocaust, Rwanda, etc. Any state/coallition of states who is powerful enough to stop such atrocities can only do that with military interventions which cause huge amounts of suffering and will always be deemed either imperialist warmongering or as useless when viewed with 20/20 hindsight from timelines where the full brunt of the original atrocities was checked.

          • herbert herberson says:

            The verified atrocities boil down to “used land mines and shot <100 unarmed protesters, possibly in self-defense."

            Which isn't to say nothing more happened. "Verified" does a lot of work in that sentence, the fog of war was particularly thick in Libya. Nor is it "okay" to shoot dozens of protesters. But it was definitely no Rwanda. Even if you believe in R2P, applying it to 2011 Libya was a stretch.

          • PedroS says:

            @herbert herberson

            You are right… Fog of war will make it hard to distinguish genuine atrocities from hyped accounts, and I have indeed read some analysis (in Vox, I guess) arguing that the information “known” at the time was compromised since it came from the same rebel groups which wanted Western help for their own ends. I honestly thank God I am not in a position to make such decisions because of the difficulty of even knowing what is really going on.

    • I would love to see a detailed analysis by knowlegable people of the options for a foreign policy in which we do not pretend to like the Saudis, including the ramifications for other foreign relationships once the dust has settled. I wonder whether the UK Foreign Office or the US State Department have ever done this as a contingency plan; if so, I presume that they would keep it secret. But perhaps some think tank or some university team has done such an analysis and published it. Has anyone here heard of such a thing?

      • cassander says:

        Let’s say we stop making nice to the Saudis, how do they respond? They’re already pretty paranoid, having fewer friends is likely to make them even more paranoid. They’ll start casting about for friends, and land in bed with people that we don’t like, pretty much by definition. Whatever restraints we’ve imposed on them will vanish. They might very well exercise their option to acquire nuclear weapons, and if there’s one thing that’s bound to make the middle east a more comfortable place it’s nukes!

        • John Schilling says:

          Saudi Arabia already has a force of modern ballistic missiles, of a sort that isn’t really all that useful without nuclear warheads. The claimed role is to allow them to conduct at least a token retaliation to ballistic missile attacks against Saudi Arabia. The reasonably suspected role is to enable Saudi Arabia to roll out a nuclear deterrent as quickly as possible if they feel the need, with only the warheads to be procured from Pakistan.

      • James Miller says:

        If the U.S. stops protecting the Saudi royal family, the monarchy would probably ask the Russians for military assistance.

      • massivefocusedinaction says:

        This trend which allows the US to trade interests in high yield foreign businesses for low yield treasuries, is a key result of the petrodollar system, for which Saudi Arabia is the lynchpin (though the large holdings are by large oil importers).

        Terminating our friendship with them means the US would need to devote more capital to holding government debt (while modest now, that’s likely to change as Social Security begins redeem its own treasury debt over the next 17 years).

        In short, Saudi Arabia keeps its position because their the financial enforcer of the agreement that lets the US run a global empire, while pretending not to be running a global empire.

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        I’m not sure this is the relevant question: Scott’s example included gratuitously insulting the Saudis, and we don’t even do that with North Korea. The concrete things we might do are (1) stop selling them arms and (2) stop helping them bomb Yemen. We get money by doing the first, and the second is justified by anti-Iran hysteria. So our concrete actions towards Iran seem not to be about influencing the Saudis anyway.

        • cassander says:

          We told them to start bombing Yemen. I don’t mean we ordered them to, but it was absolutely something we encouraged.

          • herbert herberson says:

            What makes you say that? I had figured it was more genuinely homegrown on the part of the Saudis, about them not wanting a hostile neighbor or anything to inspire their own Shia minority. We certainly benefit from have operations in the area insofar as it makes it easier to carry out the raids against the Yemeni Al Qaeda, but do we have a non-Saudi-supporting reason to be against the Houthis?

          • cassander says:

            I’m not saying the Saudis were opposed, just that it wasn’t something they needed to sell us on. The Obama administration didn’t care about the Houthis, they wanted to be able to say they were doing something, and they didn’t want to actually get involved themselves, so they did what they did a lot of other places, encouraged others to go at it themselves then provided a lot of operational support.

          • herbert herberson says:

            Oh, okay, I’m smelling a tomayto/tomahto thing here.

    • Protagoras says:

      Sounds good to me. I think bean misrepresents the situation between the U.S. and Iran in recent years; we haven’t been trying that hard, and have given Iran all sorts of reasons to be cautious and suspicious. If the U.S. were more realistic in its expectations of what it could get from Iran (paying more attention to domestic political realities in Iran, for example), cooperation with Iran could have gotten a lot further. But that is perhaps incompatible with domestic political realities in the U.S.

    • rlms says:

      It’s interesting to Scott’s foreign policy views independently evolve to coincide with those of a segment of the British left (Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was a presenter for Iranian state TV for a bit) I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t agree with on much else. That’s not to say he’s totally wrong.

  24. Le Maistre Chat says:

    So in the last open thread, I was accused of trolling for saying that there are institutional disincentives for Blue people to espouse heresy.
    So what about a case like Rachel Dolezal, who at this point may be homeless after claiming to be “transracial”? Rather than heresy, one could justly frame the issue as a selfish woman gaming institutions for personal gain, but OTOH, isn’t it both orthodox leftism that A) transsexual is a real thing and B) race is more of a social construct than sex/gender?

    • 1soru1 says:

      Pretty sure the orthodoxy is race is that more of a social construct than sex, but not more than gender.

      In any case, ‘tax payable’ is more of a social construct than either, but millionaires don’t get to claim to be ‘trans-poor’.

    • cassander says:

      A and B are both true, but it is not an uncommon argument to say that setting up a system that rewards people for identifying as a certain race will encourage people to identify as members of those races. This argument is usually dismissed as utterly absurd. but if people can just identify as black, or whatever, the whole system will come crashing down. Rachel Dolezal has gotten the treatment to encourage the others.

    • James Miller says:

      Allowing anyone “born white” to declare themselves black and get treated as black would destroy affirmative action, and the left cares a great deal about preserving affirmative action. As a Republican who dislikes affirmative action I think that Republicans should support “racial identity freedom” in which everyone has the right to pick their race.

      • Brad says:

        the left cares a great deal about preserving affirmative action

        Are you sure “the left” cares a great deal about it and not, say, “the upside down”?

        Do you perhaps have survey data on political self identification, ideological positions, and saliency?

        • rlms says:

          As a proud upsidedownist, I dispute this characterisation of my position.

        • James Miller says:

          Elite colleges are huge supporters of affirmative action and are controlled by the left. I don’t understanding what you mean by “the upside down”?

          • Brad says:

            If all men are mortal and all men support affirmative action does it follow that all mortals support affirmative action?

          • James Miller says:


            I’m still confused by what you mean and don’t see how your last comment relates to “the upside down”. Just to be safe, if you do respond to this comment please do so under the assumption that I’m not very bright.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            This seems a bit no-true-Scotsman-y. It is indisputable that affirmative action is very popular on the left; yes, there are leftists who don’t like it, but no political position has 100% support.

            There are right-wingers who don’t like tax cuts or guns, too, but it’s a good bet that the average right-winger you come across is in favor of cutting taxes and opposes gun control.

          • Brad says:

            @James Miller
            Okay, I’ll stop hiding the ball. Relying on nothing more than your own authority to deliver broad pronouncements about what “the left” believes is worse than useless.

            If it is common knowledge than no one needs you to state it and if it isn’t common knowledge than you should provide some evidence.

          • Brad says:

            Upon re-reading the original post in this thread, and further reflection, my objection should have been aimed at Le Maistre Chat rather than you, James Miller. You were just responding to his prompt.

            My apologies.

          • quanta413 says:

            Okay, I’ll stop hiding the ball. Relying on nothing more than your own authority to deliver broad pronouncements about what “the left” believes is worse than useless.

            If it is common knowledge than no one needs you to state it and if it isn’t common knowledge than you should provide some evidence.

            If you’re going to bother disputing facts like group support for a policy, could you kindly actually dispute it?

            http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/04/22/public-strongly-backs-affirmative-action-programs-on-campus/ (78% of Democrats polled here supported affirmative action on campuses to increase the number of minorities)

            http://www.gallup.com/poll/163655/reject-considering-race-college-admissions.aspx (the title is deceptive, it really just shows that Americans often hold schizophrenic beliefs, 53% of Democrats say to college admissions should only be on merits not race, but 80% of Democrats support affirmative action in general)

            And you can find more links if you like. Roughly, it appears that as a group republicans slightly disfavor to moderately disfavor affirmative action. For Democrats, it depends exactly how you word it, but they are largely in favor of “affirmative action” but split more evenly on “racial preferences”.

            Of course, you’re free to argue that Democrats are not the American left or something. Would you prefer surveys of green party voters?

            EDIT: nvm, brad responded in meanwhile apologizing.

    • Protagoras says:

      I don’t know that Dolezal even claims to have racial dysphoria. It certainly doesn’t seem to be a common thing, and as a result there isn’t much research regarding it. I don’t see any inconsistency in being reluctant to rush into claiming it definitely exists and should be treated exactly the same as gender dysphoria, even if there seem to possibly be a couple of superficial similarities.

      • gbdub says:

        Based on articles and interviews surrounding her upcoming book, I would say she does claim racial dysphoria or something very much like it.

        • Protagoras says:

          Perhaps. Doesn’t affect the rest of what I say. Gender dysphoria seems to be different from, for example, BDD or BIID, and different responses to it seem to be appropriate. It seems entirely likely that racial dysphoria would again be different, and so unreasonable to draw conclusions about how we should respond to it without understanding the phenomenon better.

    • Bugmaster says:

      The difference between a person claiming to be transgender, and a person claiming to be transracial, is that the latter dilutes a well-established victimhood category which is based (mostly) on appearance.

      Given that black people are oppressed, they deserve additional social support; and there are many organizations and social norms that have been built up over the years to provide this support. But how can you tell who is black enough to qualify ? Generally, you do so by judging an applicant’s appearance. If you allow anyone to identify as black regardless of appearance, then blackness loses its power, and policies such as affirmative action stop working.

      Transgender people, on the other hand, mostly look like everyone else. Modern transgenderism is based on self-identification (in the past, it used to be based on a gender dysphoria diagnosis, but this opinion appears to have fallen out of favor). Thus, restricting people from self-identifying as transgender would be a self-defeating proposition. This situation may change when the proportion of transgender people grows to be sufficiently large; but for now, there are so few of them that any policy which will allow their numbers to grow is seen as beneficial.

      • Jiro says:

        People on the left would argue that just like black people are oppressed, women are oppressed too.

      • Nornagest says:

        the latter dilutes a well-established victimhood category which is based (mostly) on appearance.

        You could say the same for gender issues, and there’s a fairly large category of people (TERFs) who do. They aren’t winning, though.

        I think the bigger issue with “transracial” identity is the lack of a body of research behind it. Most political bodies on the left are of course quite happy to ignore research that doesn’t suit their needs, but it’s pretty rare to see a concept like this being given much time in those circles if there aren’t at least a few social science papers floating around for it; making identity categories up out of whole cloth and demanding they be taken seriously is Tumblr’s thing, not the mainstream left’s.

        • The Nybbler says:

          it’s pretty rare to see a concept being taken seriously in Democratic circles if there aren’t at least a few social science papers floating around behind it; making identity categories up out of whole cloth and demanding they be taken seriously is Tumblr’s thing, not the mainstream left’s.

          *sigh*, so much credentialism.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          Tumblr is getting its way, though. Facebook did go ahead and add their fifty-six gender categories, and newspapers are revising their style guides.

          This feels like how we’re always told that most college students don’t support political correctness and “roll their eyes” at the crazies who no-platform speakers and so forth. Maybe they do, but all that eye-rolling doesn’t stop the crazies from getting their demands met.

          • Nornagest says:

            Facebook’s target audience, not to put too fine a point on it, is emotionally fragile millennials. (As a millennial myself, I mean this descriptively, not pejoratively.) Making gender a drop-down field costs them a couple days of developer time and gets good press where they want it. And every newspaper in the world right now is desperate to keep looking relevant while it’s getting its lunch eaten by online media.

            It’s far less clear if the same tactics will keep working when they come up against people who aren’t incentivized to cater to their carriers’ every whim.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Nornagest, how do you square the facts of Facebook and Twitter’s eagerness to do/ban things for emotionally fragile millenials and their reluctance to help ban/combat ISIS and other Islamic terrorists?

          • suntzuanime says:

            Adding gender categories is only a tiny inconvenience to those who do not need them, it doesn’t have any major downsides, it’s a cheap sop. Twitter already has a huge problem with randomly banning innocent people, trying to step up their censorship would just make things worse. And that’s something that really costs them, it’s hard to get invested in a platform if you don’t know if your investment will be wiped out by a capricious ban at any moment.

          • Nornagest says:

            “Doing more” here seems to consist of decrypting user data on demand. That’s far more technically involved than changing the gender options (anytime you do anything with your crypto architecture, you risk compromising the system, so you need to do architecture reviews and lots of testing; depending on the details of that architecture, too, server-side interception might not even be possible without redesigning the whole thing), and has far more far-reaching implications as well. I don’t blame them for stonewalling.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Nornagest, how do you square the facts of Facebook and Twitter’s eagerness to do/ban things for emotionally fragile millenials and their reluctance to help ban/combat ISIS and other Islamic terrorists?

            Emotionally-fragile millennials are part of Mark Zuckerberg’s in-group, so if he can see some low-effort way to (as he sees it) help them, he’ll do that. ISIS and Islamic militants are his far-group, so he doesn’t really care about them one way or the other.

            (Cf. the university students’ unions which pass all sorts of motions against homophobia, hate-crimes, etc., but can’t bring themselves to condemn ISIS.)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: “‘Doing more’ here seems to consist of decrypting user data on demand. That’s far more technically involved…”

            No, I think there’s more to it than that and find your explanation unsatisfying. The technical side and slippery slope are part of it, but there’s also the part where ISIS can successfully recruit through members’s Facebook pages while the people Facebook employees talked about banning (during election season) were Trump supporters.
            I think Mr. X gets that with “out-group”/”far-group”.

            A corollary of this is that while Zuckerberg’s tribe* has one outgroup, Red Westerners, we Red-blooded Americans have two. You can see the same thing in India, where Red Indians complain about “Muslims and Marxists”.

            *Not meant to sound anti-Semitic! I clearly mean leftists.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            It’s far less clear if the same tactics will keep working when they come up against people who aren’t incentivized to cater to their carriers’ every whim.

            Like who? Who’s going to stand up to them at this point? Besides, Facebook has literally 1.86 billion monthly active users. I don’t think it’s useful to just wave it away as a meaningless toy for fragile millennials so it doesn’t matter what silly things they do.

            I also have to echo LMC’s comment. Decrypting terrorist communications would be nice, I guess, but maybe FB/Twitter/et cetera could start by not letting terrorists recruit and spread propaganda on their networks, and we can work up to it from there?

          • rlms says:

            What makes you think Facebook aren’t banning terrorists and censoring their content? Presumably they are doing something, if they are accidentally banning people called Isis. Twitter had banned 360,000 extremist accounts as of August 2016.

            Decrypting communication between terrorists and stopping propaganda are two separate issues. Twitter and Facebook are clearly putting a significant amount of effort into the latter. Disregarding general free speech arguments, perhaps they should be putting in more, or are putting disproportionate amounts of effort into banning other people. But it’s difficult to say what is the case without detailed statistics.

            Decrypting communication is a very different situation. It would be nice for the government to have an oracle that lets them decrypt the messages of those who actually are terrorists, but that isn’t possible. The actual choice is between security for everyone and security for no-one.

          • Controls Freak says:


            The actual choice is between security for everyone and security for no-one.

            There is no such thing as perfect security, and security is not a binary. Lots of people use Facebook, Gmail, etc. right now, even though their communications on these products are accessible to those companies. Everyone determines what is “good enough” security for their particular application.

            If you’re really bound and determined to increase your security, you’re not going to run anything through any service like Facebook/Google without encrypting first, whether it’s with PGP or Mujahedeen Secrets. Higher levels of security are less and less convenient to the individual, which is why the vast majority of consumers will use a convenient product that has “good enough” security, even though it might be accessible to law enforcement under certain conditions.

            Finally, the digital ecosystem is filled to the brim with NOBUS methods and layers of trust which are subject to exactly the same criticism. Do you trust Apple to protect the digital signature they use to sign updates? Do you trust Intel to protect the digital signature necessary for their Active Management Technology? Do you trust every employee at the foundry to not slip an undetectable charge pump into your processor? Do you trust the certificate authorities who tell your browser which servers to trust? Do you trust the small group of people (no different from a ‘company’) to protect the one key that secures the entire internet? How come this is the one super special time when it is absolutely unacceptable for you to trust anyone else? Why is this one thing inevitably doomed, while all those others have some magic aura protecting them from the same inevitability?

            It would be nice for the government to have an oracle that lets them decrypt the messages of those who actually are terrorists, but that isn’t possible.

            It would be nice for the government to have an oracle that lets them search the houses of those who are actually terrorists, but that isn’t possible. Nevertheless, we still let judges issue search warrants for houses, and we have since approximately ever.

          • rlms says:

            @Controls Freak
            I don’t see why the first part of your comment is relevant. Some people sometimes choose to use insecure services, but they have the choice to use secure ones. You can’t take that choice away from terrorists without taking it away from everyone else.

            The analogy with search warrants isn’t accurate, for various reasons: getting a search warrant is costly and battering down the door of an innocent person is even costlier; there is no grey area of non-contraband things that the government would nevertheless like to abuse search warrants to find; and if someone uses a warrant to search your house you’re going to know about it. A better analogy is the government having keys to all homes (and the ability to invisibly sneak around inside them).

          • Controls Freak says:

            Some people sometimes choose to use insecure services, but they have the choice to use secure ones.

            Again, security is not a binary, so this sentence doesn’t even make sense.

            A better analogy is the government having keys to all homes (and the ability to invisibly sneak around inside them).

            But literally no one has proposed such a thing. I really important feature of all serious proposals is that it would be a process which necessarily runs through courts and companies. No government agency would have any key to anything. The example concept starts from the point that Apple is good at doing security. They already protect NOBUS methods. The gov’t would require Apple to protect this type of NOBUs method and be responsive to lawful government warrants. As you point out, getting that search warrant is costly, and convincing Apple’s legal department that the search warrant is t’s-crossed-and-i’s-dotted unassailable can be costlier.

            there is no grey area of non-contraband things that the government would nevertheless like to abuse search warrants to find

            This again hits all search warrants.

            if someone uses a warrant to search your house you’re going to know about it

            Search warrants already come with a receipt requirement. Even Title III wiretap requirements (which come with obvious reasons why the target can’t be informed at the time of the search) come with post-execution notification requirements. Do you have some reason to believe that we’ll just suddenly abandon our long-standing policy of requiring notification?

          • rlms says:

            Security (in terms of cryptography) isn’t a binary in the sense that plaintext < rot13 < PGP, but practically speaking it is. Encryption is winning the arms race against cryptanalysis, so it's feasible to encrypt something in a way that can't be broken. So there is a binary of "can be read by powerful adversary" vs "can't be read", and there is very little reason to choose the former unless you don't care about someone reading your messages. It's not like the 1600s, where differing levels of difficulty and time requirements meant there were real tradeoffs between the unbreakable Vigenère cipher, a breakable substitution cipher, and plaintext. But if you'd prefer, imagine I said "drastically less secure" rather than "insecure".

            I think what Amber Rudd (UK home secretary) is proposing is unclear. It seems likely that she doesn't know anything about any technical details, and is just telling WhatsApp to find a way of giving her terrorists' messages, with no regard to how practical that is. She's certainly not proposing any NOBUS methods, it would have to be NOBUK! This reveals one of the problems with NOBUS: if you have a backdoor that the UK can access, the US (and China, Russia etc.) can too. And in practice, often much smaller organisations of ordinary criminals can.

            "This again hits all search warrants."
            To clarify what I mean: a government can abuse costless surveillance to spy on people doing things they don't like but that aren't illegal (e.g. organise antigovernment protests) or things that are illegal but that they couldn't get a warrant for. In comparison, if they get a warrant to search your house, they either find some evidence of illegal activity or they don't.

            "Do you have some reason to believe that we’ll just suddenly abandon our long-standing policy of requiring notification?"
            There is evidence that the NSA occasionally ignores this policy.

          • Controls Freak says:

            She’s certainly not proposing any NOBUS methods, it would have to be NOBUK! This reveals one of the problems with NOBUS: if you have a backdoor that the UK can access, the US (and China, Russia etc.) can too. And in practice, often much smaller organisations of ordinary criminals can.

            This may be different from what the only serious US proposal was.

            It seems likely that she doesn’t know anything about any technical details, and is just telling WhatsApp to find a way of giving her terrorists’ messages, with no regard to how practical that is.

            Nevermind. This is the standard accusation leveled at the Burr-Feinstein draft, too. Anyway, just to bring multiple points together, let’s add:

            if you’d prefer, imagine I said “drastically less secure” rather than “insecure”.

            …and then read this. It’s a practical concept. It’s a NOBUS held by the company. No government agency has access to it. It certainly does not qualify as “drastically less secure”. If we propose that any NOBUS method held by any company is automatically accessible to all countries and all criminals, then we’re back to my paragraph above about digital signatures, AMT, charge pumps, certificates, and the entire internet.

            a government can abuse costless surveillance to spy on people doing things they don’t like but that aren’t illegal (e.g. organise antigovernment protests) or things that are illegal but that they couldn’t get a warrant for. In comparison, if they get a warrant to search your house, they either find some evidence of illegal activity or they don’t.

            Distinguish this from the current ability of the government to acquire a Title III wiretap warrant.

            “Do you have some reason to believe that we’ll just suddenly abandon our long-standing policy of requiring notification?”
            There is evidence that the NSA occasionally ignores this policy.

            That’s because most people fail to distinguish between two vastly different things: law enforcement and intelligence/counterintelligence. In particular, they freak out about things that are limited to FCI and imagine that we’re going to suddenly use them for LE. There is good reason to require notification for LE. There is good reason to not require notification for FCI. Unlike LE investigations, FCI investigations rarely end up with indictments and prosecutions. Instead, you determine that Boris (it’s always Boris) is running espionage operations on the US embassy in Cairo from his station at the Russian embassy there. You try to mitigate the damage or exploit your knowledge of this operation in some other fashion. You certainly try to tap all of his communications. Ten years later, Boris is still an agent of the FSB, but now he’s back in Moscow. Do you seriously want to require NSA to send him a letter, “Dear Boris, ten years ago, we spied on your communications while you were running espionage in Cairo. Sorry ’bout that. Sincerely, The Good Spies”?! It’s utterly ridiculous.

            That being said, there is one ‘tweener’ domain – international terrorism. Following 9/11, Congress basically slapped international terrorists into the same category of foreign spies for the purposes of FISA. There are some arguments for this… and some arguments against it. I personally think it’s worth pulling this category out and reworking more careful language for it. Nevertheless, those two domains are specifically called out by FISA, and it’s a massive error to think that the rules we apply to these foreign operations are at all likely to be imported into domestic law enforcement.

          • The Nybbler says:

            That’s because most people fail to distinguish between two vastly different things: law enforcement and intelligence/counterintelligence. In particular, they freak out about things that are limited to FCI and imagine that we’re going to suddenly use them for LE.

            Because “we” do. 9/11 and USA PATRIOT destroyed this distinction; they weakened it de jure and eliminated it de facto, with “parallel construction”. Now the foreign intelligence agency tips off law enforcement, law enforcement comes up with a plausible way it _could_ have gotten the information, and provides that to the court. The wall between intelligence/counterintelligence and law enforcement has been knocked down; the DEA was a client to XKeystore.

          • In particular, they freak out about things that are limited to FCI and imagine that we’re going to suddenly use them for LE.


          • Controls Freak says:

            9/11 and USA PATRIOT destroyed this distinction

            It actually didn’t. Sure, they did a lot to encourage more information sharing across the wall, but there are still lots of really important distinctions between the two domains. Namely, in one of them, we have strong notification requirements for search warrants. In the other, we don’t.

            “parallel construction”

            …is a boogeyman that has been illegal for decades.

            the DEA was a client to XKeystore.

            First, most people don’t have a very good idea of what XKEYSCORE is. Money quote: “XKEYSCORE is not a thing that DOES collecting.” Second, DEA has a Special Operations Division tasked with narcoterrorism. That division likely has the international terrorism hook into products of FISA. This is a good point to note that some larger organizations have subcomponents which are part of the intelligence community, but that doesn’t mean that every part of the larger organization has access to intelligence products for just any old reason. My favorite example of this is that Treasury has an Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

          • Controls Freak says:

            @David Friedman

            We were talking about what the law actually says, and what future law is likely to say… not whether someone thinks one particular portion of the government has broken the law at some time. Even if one particular portion of the government has broken the law by performing parallel construction for law enforcement, that has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not future search warrants that compel decryption through a company will come with a notification requirement. It’s apples and kumquats.

            EDIT: For both of you, I should note that various portions of FISA still allow for sharing of information and use in prosecutions if there is an indication of a threat of death or serious bodily harm. The various details are complicated, and I encourage you to spend more time reading the actual law (and comprehensive reviews from groups like PCLOB) rather than breathless reporting and anonymous sources.

          • The Nybbler says:

            First, most people don’t have a very good idea of what XKEYSCORE is. Money quote: “XKEYSCORE is not a thing that DOES collecting.”

            XKEYSCORE provides access to data already collected. Which means the DEA has access to intelligence data. Which means the wall between law enforcement and intelligence/counterintelligence is gone.

            Parallel construction (perhaps better termed “perpetrating a fraud on the court”) may be illegal but the DEA was caught teaching agents to do it in 2012, and I see no indication they’ve stopped. Certainly no indication they’ve been prosecuted for it.

            At this point, the only reasonable conclusion is that any technique or method developed for intelligence/counterintelligence purposes can and will be used for law enforcement purposes.

          • Controls Freak says:

            XKEYSCORE provides access to data already collected. Which means the DEA has access to intelligence data.

            You’re better than this. I know you are. I’ve seen you comment here a lot. As I pointed out explicitly, a component of DEA has access to intelligence data. That component is the one with the international narcoterrorism mission. That does not mean that the wall between law enforcement and intelligence/counterintelligence is gone.

            If you have any suggestions for how we can better enforce the law and prevent anyone in DEA from performing parallel construction, I’m all ears. However, the one thing I won’t even entertain is simply banning intelligence activities.

            At this point, the only reasonable conclusion is that any technique or method developed for intelligence/counterintelligence purposes can and will be used for law enforcement purposes.

            …and it sounds like the conclusion you’re really trying to draw is that the only thing we can do is ban intelligence activities. That’s not an acceptable solution.

          • The Nybbler says:

            and it sounds like the conclusion you’re really trying to draw is that the only thing we can do is ban intelligence activities. That’s not an acceptable solution.

            Either the wall between intelligence and law enforcement has to be rebuilt, or intelligence activities have to be evaluated as if they will be used for law enforcement purposes as well. Because they will. If the intelligence activities are so essential, then the wall needs rebuilding. Even if that means more tractor-trailer loads of heroin coming into the country and not being stopped at a “random” checkpoint.

            Pretending the wall is there when it’s not (or rather, has holes in it that you could send an army through) only fools some people until the next Snowden-style leak.

          • Controls Freak says:

            So, we both agree that the wall is not quite as Trumpean (if we can use that as an adjective to mean “total”) as before 9/11. Still, that has approximately nothing to do with whether search warrants will come with a notification requirement. If you can agree to that (and that a hypothetical encryption law requiring decryption for normal law enforcement purposes is almost certainly to come with a notification requirement), then we can begin a discussion of what exactly the wall/fence/impenetrable-hyperplane-of-separation should look like.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Controls Freak

            Search warrants are pro-forma under the current scheme.

            A law requiring decryption as a result of a warrant is a problem only if it (by analogy with CALEA) requires making that decryption possible; that is, it forbids communications which cannot be decrypted by the provider. Because in practice, anything which can be decrypted by the provider may be decrypted also by the NSA (and WILL be so decrypted if the NSA has anything to say about it), which is likely to pass anything juicy onto law enforcement, which will concoct a reason to get a search warrant, completely vitiating the whole warrant requirement.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Search warrants are pro-forma under the current scheme.

            My bad. I was under the impression that search warrants issued by an ostensibly independent judiciary were a meaningful check on government investigative powers (and is the core of the Fourth Amendment). I suppose I could be hallucinating various cases where this resulted in suppression of evidence.

            A law requiring decryption as a result of a warrant is a problem only if it (by analogy with CALEA) requires making that decryption possible; that is, it forbids communications which cannot be decrypted by the provider.

            Good news! No one thinks this is possible. For example, under Burr-Feinstein, you could still download PGP and encrypt your communication before sending it through a channel. It targets widely-used and easy-to-use systems. In the real world, people value convenience a lot, which is why they’ll use Gmail, Facebook, and Apple products… even if those products are potentially subject to warrants.

            in practice, anything which can be decrypted by the provider may be decrypted also by the NSA

            Facts definitely not in evidence, because we could substitute anything in place of “the provider”. In practice, this entire line of argument is rather pointless, because it’s only held back by how infinitely powerful we imagine NSA is (and there’s no limitation on your imagination). We’re cut off at the pass before we even get to your concern about the wall.

            Anyway, let’s use that analogy to CALEA. Do you think that it has completely vitiated the whole Title III wiretap warrant requirement?

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          There are plenty of social science papers floating around behind “race has less basis in biology than gender”, surely, if not the specificity of “racial dysphoria”?
          Perhaps more to the point, things are taken seriously in Democratic circles if they have hard science papers floating behind them (eg, transsexual brain scans), not just sociology/humanities woo?

          • Nornagest says:

            Sure, that’s a trope, but “non-biological” doesn’t mean “arbitrary”. National borders are a social construct but I’ll still get shot if I cross the wrong one in the wrong place.

    • BBA says:

      Compare Johnny Otis, a son of Greek immigrants who passed as black for his long, storied career as an R&B musician and producer. Of course, he had actual talent, which makes up for a lot.

  25. Le Maistre Chat says:

    At least in the Anglosphere, the Francophone counterrevolutionary philosopher Joseph de Maistre is most remembered* for the line “Every country has the government it deserves.” Agree or disagree? If some countries have governments they don’t deserve, how does one recognize that?

    *In second place would be “accused of founding fascism by Isaiah Berlin”, an accusation that there’s something of a movement in the Anglophone academy to discredit, to the academy’s credit.

    • Wrong Species says:

      No one deserves Kim Jong Un.

    • cassander says:

      this is certainly true of democratic countries.

    • suntzuanime says:

      There’s a sense in which it’s trivially true, in which nations have the responsibility to ensure good outcomes for themselves and there’s no one they can cry to if they fail. (Or, more accurately, the crying should be considered as part of the ongoing attempt to ensure good outcomes.) There’s a sense in which if the British come from overseas and install a viceroy over you, you’re supposed to get gud and overthrow him and replace him with a Cincinnatus.

      There’s also the less literal sense, something like “the civic virtue of the nation is strongly correlated with the quality of its government”. I think this is mostly true, barring cases of outside interference. Which I guess means it’s mostly false.

      The problem with the statement is, desert isn’t real. So you can’t recognize a country that deserves a better government, because the only meaningful arbiter, Gnon, clearly thinks they don’t. At best you can identify countries where foreign meddling has led to particularly bad outcomes. I wonder if there are some countries that have better governments than they deserve? Foreign meddling isn’t uniformly negative, right? Britain was trying to civilize the savages, the US has been spreading democracy, have these ever made anything better?

    • blacktrance says:

      That’s too strong, but the quality of a government does seem to be correlated with the virtue of a country’s citizens.

    • Anonymous says:

      Taken literally, it’s rather obviously false.

      OTOH, there is a tendency of the governments of countries to be recruited from its citizens, and therefore the citizenry tends to determine the quality of government it has. Dr Gregory Clark makes a compelling case that throughout all known history, regardless of the government type or prevailing ideology, the talented will strongly tend to end up among the elites, even if lowborn.

    • onyomi says:

      I would disagree to the same extent I would disagree with the statement “a city has the violent crime rate it deserves.”

      On the one hand, the crime rate of a city is nothing but the cumulative result of actions of people in that city. As a group, they will have a city no more nor less safe than their own actions make it.

      But I don’t think I believe in collective guilt (or credit). The peaceful people of a city deserve to live among other peaceful people; the violent people deserve to live among other violent people. In the case of any city inhabited by both peaceful and violent people, the peaceful people are getting worse than they deserve while the violent people are getting better than they deserve. But I don’t think it makes sense to say that “injustice in one direction+injustice in the opposite direction=justice.”

      Another good reason for ancap: a well-informed car buyer is more likely to get the car he deserves than an informed voter in a democracy (to say nothing of a well-informed resident of an authoritarian regime) is to get the government he deserves.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        That objection only makes sense if you view a city or country as reducible to the individual citizens, a very individualistic assumption with which de Maistre would presumably disagree.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Indeed. De Maistre viewed ethnic groups as irreducible to their individuals. “I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, etc… one can even be a Persian. But, as for Man, I declare that I have never met him in my life.”

          As he also supported multi-ethnic kingdoms as an legitimate alternative to nation-states, this does however complicate the possibility of collective guilt or merit in “each country.”

    • Jaskologist says:

      The people set an upper limit for how well-regulated (in the old sense of “being in proper working order”) the government is. The leaders set a different upper limit.

      The lowest upper limit wins.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think the word “deserve” is misplaced. William Muny probably has the right of it.

      But I think the statement points at something that is deeply meaningful. Civil life grows out of the citizenry and feeds back into civil life. Government grows from the people and contributes to the growth of the people.

      It is well nigh impossible to impose good government from on high. The system has to work as a whole, and requires the cooperation of the vast majority.

      Thus, incrementalism is the only true solution.

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      Every country has the government it deserves.

      So a country that has an unhealthy obsession with wealth, celebrity, and television deserves a leader who’s a rich TV celebrity?

      That sounds unduly harsh.

  26. Brad says:

    I’m continuing to get the “Cheatin’ uh?” on every post I report since about a week ago. Did something change?

  27. Wrong Species says:

    Elon Musk’s Neuralink wants to boost the brain to keep up with AI

    Is a version of this tech that actually works well feasible in the next 10-15 years?

    Is there any reason for concern compared to the other intelligence amplifiers((AI, genetic engineering, mind uploads)? It seems like the best option to prevent killer AI and technological unemployment and probably would be easier to deal with politically than designer babies.

    • Well... says:

      Neuralink isn’t going to be focused on upgrading ordinary human brainpower at first, however, according to the WSJ report. Instead, it’ll explore how brain interfaces might alleviate the symptoms of dangerous and chronic medical conditions.

      Hm. I don’t like transhumanist bio-tinkering, but I do like technology that is designed to make sick people whole again when other methods haven’t worked well. How might we keep the latter from smuggling in a landing strip for the former?

      • gbdub says:

        Why should we want to? What’s the justification for limiting our capabilities to “what an average late 20th century person can do”?

        We already vastly augment our raw human capabilities with technology. Nueralink would basically just improve the interface.

        • Well... says:

          The difference between “human” and “cyborg” is in most ways scalar, not categorical. I get that: I wear prosthetics on my face to help me see, I interface with a little gizmo to help me communicate long distances, I get into a wheeled machine that becomes like an extension of my body so I can move around quicker, etc. Even the language I speak is a kind of open-source technology. In fact, you could argue the non-cyborg end of that scale probably extends past humans to some primordial ancestor who lacked tool use or sophisticated language.

          But I did say “most ways”. There are milestones along that scale on the way from human to cyborg, and the world that fits my values contains technology on one side of certain milestones. Beyond those milestones the world is sure to change in unpredictable ways–some negative and some positive–and things I value are sure to be lost. (I’m using a general “I” here; lots of people are uncomfortable with technological transhumanism for roughly the same reason. Bad guys in movies are so often part machine because it is a Schelling point with which to convey to the audience the bad guys’ soullessness.)

          Neural nets that allow you to interface with computers, potentially without any sensory awareness of even initiating the interaction, strike me as one such milestone.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            But if the effect is scalar EDIT: and reversible then people can choose what they want, and can dial it forward or back incrementally. That’s what makes mind-machine interface such a relieving thought.

            Compare to a world where you need to be a product of genetic engineering to compete, or you need to be a computer to compete, or you need to be an upload running at 200x speed to compete.

          • Well... says:

            But who says it’s reversible? Maybe it’s somewhat reversible within milestones, but I don’t see much evidence it’s easily reversible across them. Not without a major catastrophic event or something.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            If the neural lace is just an interface to a computer, attached to a normally-grown brain, you can unplug the computer. The maybe-irreversible version is if you put it on a child and let their brain develop around the lace, maybe learning neural pathways that only make sense if there is also a machine pathway. I don’t know enough neurology to say if this is plausible.

            In any case there is a business case for making a reversible version – don’t want to freak out your customers.

          • Well... says:

            Oh, I meant the irreversability of the technology’s impact on society.

          • Fahundo says:

            Bad guys in movies are so often part machine because it is a Schelling point with which to convey to the audience the bad guys’ soullessness.

            Counterpoint: Robocop

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Or Terminator 2.

          • Nornagest says:

            Luke Skywalker post Empire Strikes Back. Tony Stark. Ash Williams. Imperator Furiosa. Captain Picard has an artificial heart, though it rarely comes up.

            I would hardly know where to begin if we pulled in anime, although Fullmetal Alchemist is one of the more famous ones.

          • John Schilling says:

            Captain Picard has an artificial heart, though it rarely comes up.

            And Picard barely takes third place for obvious cybernetic enhancement on the Enterprise-D bridge crew.

            Also: Steve Austin (Colonel, not Stone Cold) and Jamie Sommers

          • The Nybbler says:

            Luke isn’t a counterexample; the point of his artificial hand is “You’re starting to take after your father, boy!”

          • Randy M says:

            Is Data a cyborg? Is that skin alive like the Terminator? I thought he was squarely in the distinct android category.

            (Obviously Geordi is another one, although an annoying pedant would argue whether he is bridge crew–not me, though.)

          • suntzuanime says:

            Luke isn’t a counterexample; the point of his artificial hand is “You’re starting to take after your father, boy!”

            Ditto Fullmetal Alchemist; his mechanical limbs are a symbol of his inerasable sin.

          • Spookykou says:

            I don’t think Data has any organic components, the terminator is technically a cyborg, in that the skin is organic material, but I don’t think the terminator fits the spirit of the definition as it is being used in this thread, to refer to something ‘losing it’s soul’ I would think you would need to have more significant organic parts(brain, or maybe a heart if we are being romantic).

            Geordi is a helmsman in season 1 for the pedantic few.

            More recently, almost all the bad guys in Logan have cybernetic prosthesis, but I think that is more of a call out to future ex military. I think some video games or something set in the near future give all the military people cybernetic prosthesis, but I don’t play shooters so I am not sure which one.

          • John Schilling says:

            The claim was,

            Bad guys in movies are so often part machine because it is a Schelling point with which to convey to the audience the bad guys’ soullessness.

            100% machine Good Guys With Souls are not inappropriate as counterexamples, they are the strongest possible counterexamples.

          • Spookykou says:

            Bad guys in movies are so often part machine because it is a Schelling point with which to convey to the audience the bad guys’ soullessness.

            John, you are correct.

            I got hung up on the ‘part machine’ bit and assumed it was talking about the process of becoming mechanized causing soullessness, rather than it just being the state of mechanized things to be soulless.

            I would add to the list of charismatic robot characters two of my favorite, Johnny five, and WALL-E