Open Thread 74.5

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. As the off-weekend thread, this is culture-war-free, so please try try to avoid overly controversial topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

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391 Responses to Open Thread 74.5

  1. Anonymous says:

    First? What the flip!

    Edit for actual content:
    Someone the other day mentioned a hypothetical situation where a bunch of Chinese from all over China settled Australia, and became a merged identity in the colonies, just as Americans are a merger of many European nations.

    Something sorta like this happened after WWII in the Recovered Territories. When the winning powers decided to move Poland 300 km west, they threw out all the Germans, and settled in Polonoid Slavs thrown out from Kresy. Fast-forward fifty years, and the place has only one identity: Polish. The inhabitants speak the literary language (as opposed to a dialect), and don’t have any particular local culture (yet). No local folk dances, no regional costumes, nothing.

    • Zodiac says:

      Dang it, late by a few seconds.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      I’m not sure why you would expect a situation where new towns are settled by a displaced population contiguous with its parent nation state to be in any way comparable to colonies that had the better part of a century and an ocean of separation to diverge from -their- parent nation state, and then followed that up with decades more of divergence even before immigration became significant.

  2. PedroS says:

    What are the largest classes of USN vessels that crossed the Panama or Suez canals in the last 30 years?

    EDIT: and in the last 80 years? I know Iowas crossed it but what about CV or CVE?

    • keranih says:

      Not a Navy expert, but the largest destroyer in the inventory made the news in the Panama Canal around Thanksgiving.

    • bean says:

      The first USN vessels that were not able to go through the Panama canal were the Midway-class. They and the Montanas were designed around the then-proposed third locks. Those weren’t completed until very recently. None of the carriers since the Midways has been capable of going through Panama, but, AFAIK, everything else in the fleet can.
      (Actually, some of the battleships rebuilt after Pearl Harbor were bulged and didn’t fit through the locks either. They were in service before Midway.)
      Suez may be one of the beam limits on the CVNs (Suezmax is 254 ft, CVN-77 is 252 ft max and I haven’t read the relevant Friedman recently), but they’re capable of transit there, and Atlantic CVNs go through regularly on their way to the Persian Gulf. It did limit draft (see today’s battleship column) in the early days after it was built, but that hasn’t been the case with warships for a century or so.
      Strictly speaking, the largest USN vessel to transit in the last 30 years is the same as that of the last 80, namely the Iowa-class. The last one through was Iowa in 2001 when under tow from the east coast, but if we insist on the ships being active during the transit, then Missouri was apparently the last, in December of 1986. (I’m not 100% sure of this, though. Most of my books are mid-to-late 80s.) Technically, that’s outside of your 30-year window, which means you’re looking at an LHA or LHD as your winner.

    • Deiseach says:

      You have possibly seen this already, but Russian ex-hydrographic survey vessel turned signals intelligence collection vessel versus livestock carrier in the Black Sea – result: Romanian sheep are victors 🙂

      The Romanian memes are up and running (a bit like the sheep, I suppose).

    • cassander says:

      Bean is right, but the new panama canal is big enough that it can transit supercarriers. I consider it a profound national failing that the first ship through the new locks was not the USS Ford. I consider it an even more profound failing that the Zumwalt fucking broke down while transiting. C’mon, navy. It’s like you’re trying to shame yourself!

      • bean says:

        Ford’s flight deck looks to be too wide to fit, by about 90 feet. The angled deck pretty much killed any chance that carriers will be able to fit in that kind of lock, because of how much it pushed up apparent beam. (In a normal drydock, you can fit the flight deck over the edge, but that’s not really an option in a lock.)
        Also, we don’t own the canal any more. (That was probably a mistake, but one made a long time ago.) And I’ve heard that nuclear ships sometimes have trouble with cooling. For instance, the Russian nuclear icebreakers can’t reach the Antarctica because the tropical seas are too hot for them. And some nuclear ships have trouble with locks/drydocks.

        • cassander says:

          Proceedings used to say it was probably possible, but that was a while ago and might have been working with different (or a range of) plans, and I’ve just been lazily quoting the same source for years. I can’t seem to find a reputable definitive answer that’s relatively recent.

          And I know we don’t own the canal anymore, I just liked the symbolism.

          • bean says:

            One of the more important things to remember about Proceedings is that there’s no IQ test required to publish there. There are some gems, yes, but also some absolute howlers.
            Also, that article appears to be calling for us to make sure that the canal can fit the CVNs, not stating that the CVNs do/will fit.
            (It doesn’t raise my confidence that he gets the dimensions of old Panamax wrong, either.)

      • Deiseach says:

        Okay, I clicked on the link and what the heck is that thing? I’ve heard of “flying bricks” but that’s the first time I’ve seen a floating brick.

        (All those angles make me think of Pyramid Head out of Silent Hill and I don’t think that’s a good thing).

        • bean says:

          Zumwalt was the USN’s attempt to build a land-attack ship that would be stealthy and generally futuristic. They sort of succeeded, in that it’s occasionally stealthy and very futuristic, in the Star Trek sense. But it doesn’t actually work. Basically, take all of the usual criticisms of the Pentagon’s procurement process. Zumwalt is what happens when they’re all true.

          • Deiseach says:

            Zumwalt is what happens when they’re all true.

            It looks like the unfortunate lovechild of a secret affair between star-crossed lovers who were a submarine and an aircraft carrier 🙂

          • bean says:

            I may steal that description. Personally, I think the Zumwalt looks stupid. The best-looking ship of all time comes from the era when RCS wasn’t even a thing, and you fought with guns, like men.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            The middle little guns are surprisingly cute in that picture. “We’re helping!”

            (on further inspection, they don’t appear to actually be firing at the same time, but the first impression remains)

  3. keranih says:

    Sooo…graduation season is coming up. Nieces, nephews, direct descendants, and various other youthful moochers aspiring adults will be in need (so I am told) of graduation presents. I have always favored books, and Useful Books Of Useful Things specifically.

    What sort of “tools to live your life with” books do the readers of SCC recommend?

    • Betty Cook says:

      How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff.

      • maybe_slytherin says:

        Obligatory: the author worked for cigarette companies, and testified before congress on their behalf — doing exactly as he said in the book.

        Link; only the first section is directly relevant. Also, it helps to know that HtLwS was published in 1954.

    • Incurian says:

      Time Enough for Love, by Robert A Heinlein.

    • cthor says:

      Books are nice gifts for signalling your status as a person-who-reads-books, but unless you’ve got reason to believe otherwise they won’t read it (and hence won’t get any benefit from it).

      The most useful gifts are cheap things that someone would benefit from but they don’t know it.

      Without knowing the people in question, the things that best fits that description are socks, underwear, and towels. If they have poor hygiene, gifting them a relevant product is a way of telling them that without actually saying it. If they’ve never styled their hair, you could gift some pomade/gel. If they’re actually someone who reads books and your budget allows it, a Kindle could be a better gift, since a lot of people don’t realise how good they are (assume reading on a phone is just like reading on an ereader, or that an ereader couldn’t possibly be as good as a real book). If they’re often late, you could buy them an alarm clock (a lot of people use their phone as an alarm, which sucks for two reasons: they’re not loud and obnoxious enough to wake you up, and it habit forms them to get on their phone as soon as they wake up or have an appointment, making them late anyway). A moderately fancy diary is also a nice gift if you think they would use it. Journaling your thoughts is a simple thing not many people do that can be very helpful for self-reflection, and a fancy book to do it in might encourage them to try it.

      If they have a particular hobby that you’re aware of, be wary of giving related gifts. They know more about the hobby than you and probably have anything cheap and useful relevant to it. And they’ll already have enough of these gifts from the rest of the family. Obvious exception if you’re also into said hobby.

      But really, you can’t go wrong with socks, underwear, and towels.

      (Okay: If you’re a guy and they’re a girl, maybe don’t buy them underwear.)

      • Mark says:

        Socks and pants aren’t necessarily immediately useful if you already have sufficient. Storage costs.

        You’d probably be safer buying them a bottle of water.

        • Aapje says:

          Both you guys probably need to focus more on what people actually enjoy receiving, rather than maximizing utility (although: bottled water has very low utility if you live in a place with good tap water).

          • cthor says:

            I’m not really seeing the distinction. People like useful things.

            Do you mean something more like chocolate? That’s still utility optimising. Hell, the EV on chocolate probably beats everything, because almost everyone likes chocolate and since it’s perishable it can’t be redundant.

            I don’t think most people care to be gifted books.

          • Aapje says:

            Gift giving is hard.

            I think that the optimal gift is usually something that the person would have bought if they had been aware of it and/or if they were less puritan*.

            Guilty pleasures like chocolate tend to be the latter category and thus appreciated because you allow the person to enjoy the guilty pleasure while absolving them of the guilt of buying something that their puritanism makes them avoid.

            Books can be the former category, but it is already seems very hard for most people to predict what books they’ll like, let alone predict it for others.

            I would be very wary about giving a gift that can be seen as a lesson and/or a burden. You need to be pretty sure that the other person will like that.

            * Assuming that the person you are gifting to is fairly well off. If gifting to a fairly poor person (or a person who really hates shopping), practical gifts are great.

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            I don’t think most people care to be gifted books.

            I think this is maybe bit harsh way to say, but I agree with the sentiment you said above in earlier message.

            A book is a good present if [a] you know the person you are giving the book reads books, [b] you know them well enough to make a good guess what book would make a good present, and [c] you know they don’t already have a copy.

            Usually this precludes everybody but family members and very close friends. Or alternatively if you have no idea about [b] but still insist on a book, only select books that are genuinely useful but are also very generic and not impose any kind of ideology (unless you want to be known as a tactless propagandist for some philosophy or viewpoint [1]).

            Cookbooks and recipes would be my go-to example, except nowadays everyone has their opinions what kind of food one should eat and what is absolutely no-no, so maybe not.

            [1] This, by the way, also precludes giving any sort of “tactful hints” with presents. In my opinion it is anything but tactful and maybe the worst possible way to communicate anything like that. The message you’ll send is: “In my opinion, you smell / have an ugly hairstyle / [something], but I can’t be bothered to actually say it to your face, so instead I’m giving this oh-so-tactful present that screams my message to you and also to everyone who happens to be present when you open it, and the best thing is, you see, because we are performing this little ritual in a polite company, we smile and you say ‘thank you’ and I can feel smug and superior.”

          • Deiseach says:

            If they’re graduating and presumably moving out into their own first place to live (unless they’re going back home for a while) then functional useful items like clothing or household equipment are what they need.

            Pretty likely they won’t, for example, have their own cookware or enough cutlery and delph to eat off, and things like that are necessities that need to be purchased but, for someone only starting a first job and on a limited budget, will either eat into what money they have or be ignored because they can’t afford it right away. Getting that as gifts helps. And being young adults just setting out, they are not going to realise they need x, y and z for the household until they’re faced with the lack of “hey, I don’t have a frying pan/set of screwdrivers/plates to eat off even though I have the top-notch sound system to play my music”.

            nimim.k.m. is also right about cookbooks – you may have some idea already if they’re a vegan/vegetarian/only eat organic but even if you don’t, you needn’t go full-on “the carnivore’s guide to raw meat”, something basic and simple for every-day dishes (cooking for yourself or a small group is hard if you haven’t regularly done it and have no idea about “so I have these vegetables and that piece of meat, what the heck can I do with them?”).

            Unless of course we’re talking people (a) walking straight into high-paying jobs or (b) their families already have lots of spare furniture etc they can give them to furnish and equip themselves 🙂

          • Mark says:

            Yeah, buy them a cool cup. Or a spoon with good balance.

            Even if they don’t really appreciate how cool it is, they’ll still be able to use it, but if they do like it, it might be a really great present.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m not sure how much you’re willing to spend, but maybe an excellent kitchen knife.

            Thoughts about good kitchen knives?

          • Matt M says:


            I would add a d) You have sufficient credibility with them that they will take your recommendations rather seriously.

            As someone who is known for reading a lot, I am frequently gifted books. In most cases, it simply gets added to the pile of “things I’ll read someday” which grows faster than my ability to read things.

            The only time I really like being given a book is if I know the person giving it, respect them a lot, have some similar interests, and they personally vouch something like “I have read this myself and I think you will like it because of x, y, z.” Otherwise it really doesn’t do much for me.

          • Deiseach says:

            Even if they don’t really appreciate how cool it is, they’ll still be able to use it, but if they do like it, it might be a really great present.

            I am telling you, you do not appreciate Boring Auntie/Uncle’s boring old functional, practical gifts until you’re changing a plug using a butter knife because you don’t have a flat-head screwdriver conveniently to hand (and never considered you’d have to know the difference between a flat-head and a Phillips screwdriver until you started adulting) 🙂

          • Winter Shaker says:

            …never considered you’d have to know the difference between a flat-head and a Phillips screwdriver until you started adulting

            Nope. It’s when you need to worry about the difference between Phillips and Pozidriv that you know adulthood has really hit you 😛

          • Tibor says:

            I’d actually like a good set of screwdrivers and other household tools. I only have a set which cost me something like 4 Euros in Real and the screwdrivers might as well be made of lead given how squishy they are….

            but anyway, as long as the recipient is about equally wealthy as you, my definition for what to buy is something like “buy the next thing to the marginal thing the receiver would buy”. If it is something he genuinely finds useful, well, he will find it anyway with his own money. But if it is something he’d almost want to buy but does not consider worth spending his own money, that’s a nice gift.

            Alternatively, something they might have a use for and you made yourself or something they would have bought themselves but don’t know about it.

            I tend to give books to people when I want to read them irrespective of whether it is their birthday or not. Milan Kundera has what is basically an essay in one of his books where he says (more or less, it’s been some time since I read it) that giving a present is usually more about you than about the person you are giving it to. People usually give things they themselves like – music, books,…and try to make those they give the presents like those things as well. I think a good present is one which is not like that (unless what you like probably already corresponds with what the person you are giving it to likes).

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz:

            I’m not sure how much you’re willing to spend, but maybe an excellent kitchen knife.

            Thoughts about good kitchen knives?

            Check with the receiver- some people have superstitions about giving/receiving knives as gifts.

            If they don’t, I have a very nice Wusthof set.

          • LHN says:

            The Wusthoff set we got for our wedding came with a penny, to be used in a straw transaction in case of such superstitions.

      • Urstoff says:

        Amazon Gift Cards. Always Amazon Gift Cards. Unless you really know the person well enough to give them a thoughtful gift. And then still get them an Amazon Gift Card.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        For gifts, I give weapons exclusively*.

        *For underage people or the squeamish, lego and art supplies.

      • But really, you can’t go wrong with socks, underwear, and towels.

        If someone is setting up a new household, an even better gift is a fire extinguisher.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          Good one, and often overlooked. To that let me add a -good- first aid kit.

        • brenner says:

          (Almost) No one wants to receive a gift they hope to never use.

        • Zodiac says:

          I’d recommend a toolbox instead. I’m with Deiseach on this. It sucks trying to do even the simplest repairs without the right assortment of screwdrivers etc.

      • DrBeat says:

        I always want people to ask me what to get as a gift, and then get me exactly the thing I asked for.

        Getting a gift I don’t want is like being given the gift of more guilt and obligation. I have an endless amount of guilt and obligation from every single human interaction I have. I’d prefer not to get more.

        • Aapje says:

          Or money, which is the best gift for a (hypothetical) rational person.

          • DrBeat says:

            But I already feel guilty about spending money. Asking for a thing I want but would feel guilty spending money for is a way to allow them to feel better about getting a gift and allows me to get the thing with less guilt.

          • Anonymous says:

            Why would you feel guilty about spending money? I mean, it’s your money, right? That’s what it’s for.

          • DrBeat says:

            I get buyer’s remorse over everything.

            With a gift, it also generates the utility of allowing the gifter to feel an emotional reward for Being A Person Who Gives Wanted Gifts.

          • Anonymous says:

            Might want to get some counseling for that.

    • JulieK says:

      I like Joy of Cooking and Home Comforts.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why

      It’s interesting enough that it’s likely to get read, and while the advice isn’t too likely to be useful, it might be extremely important when it matters.

    • I had no idea graduation presents were a thing. I never got any when *I* graduated 🙁

  4. Deiseach says:

    A Nation Once Again!

    Well, not really; I honestly don’t think the re-unification of Ireland is anywhere on the cards and mainly this is the EU taking the UK to the cleaners in the divorce to prove that they are serious that There Will Be Consequences, but it would be some kind of irony if the referendum to Leave, in order to keep Great Britain British and give them back control of their destiny, ended with the break-up of the United Kingdom: an independent Scotland, a re-unified Ireland, and I can’t see Wales keeping quiet if that happens.

    • rlms says:

      If Brexit brings an independent Cornwall, it will all have been worth it.

    • Anonymous says:

      The nation is not the territory, it’s the people. So long as there are English living in large numbers in Northern Ireland, there’s little to no chance of it becoming part of anything else, provided the minimal amount of will to keep the place on behalf of the British government.

      • BBA says:

        I thought Northern Ireland Protestants were mostly of Scottish descent? Which will matter a lot more if Scotland gets independence.

        • Anonymous says:

          Both (looks roughly evenly split if you go by Anglican and Presbyterian as proxies for descent), but currently, very few of them identify as anything but “British”.

          Good point, though.

        • Brad says:

          I believe many are descended from the (SSC) famous border reivers.

      • Deiseach says:

        So long as there are English living in large numbers in Northern Ireland

        Census 2016 figures for Republic of Ireland: total UK-born residents – 124,629

        Trickier to find out the figures for Northern Ireland, but:

        Census 2011 figures for Northern Ireland: those identifying as “English, Scottish or Welsh” – 29,187

        So there are more people (taken to be English/British) living in the South than there are people (taken to be English/from “the mainland”) in the North.

        This is part of the whole tangled mess, and the “We’re British not Irish” has very, very, very little to do with “Because we’re Anglo-Irish“. Those are an entirely different stratum of people, by the way.

        It does have an immense deal to do with colonialism, but I’m not going to run through the Eight Hundred Years on here 🙂

      • Nyx says:

        Practical concerns tend to trump ideological ones. If Brexit means the return of a closed border with Ireland, everyone will hate it, and reunification will be much more likely.

        (The opposite is true for Scotland; now that Brexit is inevitable and the EU no longer guarantees an open border between England and Scotland, it has made independence less likely.)

    • The Nybbler says:

      expected to discuss a text stating that if Ireland unified, the north would automatically become part of the EU

      Isn’t that obvious? If Ireland unified, it would be under the current Dublin government, which is part of the EU, so the northern part would also be part of the EU. How could the resulting country be part-in and part-out of the EU?

      The hard part would be the actual reunification, which I imagine would involve referenda, terrorism, military action, and the like. I’d say no one wants a repeat of the Troubles, but there are probably people who do.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Lots of countries are part in and part out of the EU. For example, Greenland left the EU without leaving Denmark. France has many overseas territories, all represented in the French legislature, but only some part of the EU. And they are constantly changing their status.

      • Deiseach says:

        How could the resulting country be part-in and part-out of the EU?

        Hey, we used to be part of the Commonwealth (and indeed a Crown Dominion, like Canada) even after independence, and some nostalgically sigh for the Good Old Days when the peasants knew their place and the West Brits were patted on the head by their masters 🙂

        Even if the North voted for re-unification, it would have to be ratified by the British Government (off the top of my head, the biggest symbolic change would be the change in the Queen’s titles renouncing the rule of Northern Ireland; even after 1948 when the South was declared a Republic, her official title – like that of her father before her – was still “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith” and it wasn’t until 1953 this was changed to “Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith”).

        It would also have a major political effect as the UK would no longer be the United Kingdom (since that is in full “the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”, from having been “the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”) and so the UK would cease to exist as a political entity, with the consequent knock-on effects to all the agreements, etc. it had signed up to as “the United Kingdom”, even the Olympic teams.

        Great Britain would, of course, still exist (England, Scotland, Wales and the minor islands).

        • The Nybbler says:

          It would also have a major political effect as the UK would no longer be the United Kingdom

          You’re joking, right? Because I expect the country would just call itself “The United Kingdom of Great Britain”, mumble a bit about the joining of the Scottish and English crowns (regardless of how much historical sense that makes) and carry on with the old name.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          It would also have a major political effect as the UK would no longer be the United Kingdom (since that is in full “the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”, from having been “the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”) and so the UK would cease to exist as a political entity, with the consequent knock-on effects to all the agreements, etc. it had signed up to as “the United Kingdom”, even the Olympic teams.

          No, the usual procedure is that the main successor state inherits the previous state’s treaties, positions on international organisations, etc. It happened when Southern Ireland split off, it happened when the USSR dissolved, and there’s no reason it wouldn’t happen here.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Yep. See also how the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland succeeded as a matter of course to all international obligations of the Kingdom of Great Britain. It seems to me the USSR could’ve been more complicated if anyone had wanted to push it, since the government ceased to exist and all the republics went independent, but they all agreed that the Russian Federation would be the legal successor state.

            (A question that was briefly aired two years ago, though: If Article 50 hadn’t been invoked yet, and Scotland went independent, would it be possible for the Kingdom of England and Northern Ireland to be the UK’s successor state for all purposes except EU membership, and to have that go to the Kingdom of Scotland?)

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      Gee, I wonder why the British voted to leave.

    • Tibor says:

      I’d be quite surprised to see a unified Ireland.

      Are the Welsh seriously interested in independence on England though? I know they have this party with a complicated Welsh name which is sort of about that they don’t seem to be nearly as dedicated as the Scots.

      In any case, Spain would likely make becoming an EU member very difficult for these new states, since the government in Madrid would want to discourage Catalonian separatists from splitting off. If Northern Ireland became a part of Ireland though, that would be different. What is the prevalent Irish opinion on that anyway? Would the Irish want to add Northern Ireland to their country (assuming that the Northern Irish would want that)?

      • 1soru1 says:

        > Are the Welsh seriously interested in independence on England though?

        Few particularly want independence; some polls say as low as 6%. But also no-one wants to be part of a country officially called ‘England and Wales’ which 99.9% of the time has the Wales part left out. The English cricket team is technically the English and Welsh cricket team, and does in fact sometimes play home games in Cardiff.

        But no-one is going to shout ‘Go England & Wales’.

        So in the event of a breakup of the UK, a likely future is to end up like Montenegro, independent more by default than due to any great desire to be so.

      • Deiseach says:

        Would the Irish want to add Northern Ireland to their country (assuming that the Northern Irish would want that)?

        Complicated. The general notion is that nowadays it’s “probably not”, given that we’ve left behind all those old-fashioned ideas of a 32-county united Irish republic and that basically the North is a poisonous sectarian mess that we don’t want to, and don’t have the capability to, deal with. That it’s artificially propped up as a statelet and the English can keep paying for the privilege of running it because our economy can’t handle it.

        On the other hand, there are plainly enough cross-border business and economic opportunities that both our own government and businesses on the northern side want to keep an open/soft border; it’s certainly not out of political devotion to the memory of the Rising that Enda Kenny is working for this EU agreement.

        So I suppose the answer would be “it depends” 🙂

        Some kind of agreement whereby for EU purposes (that means money), Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are considered one entity, the same way an all-Ireland rugby team is recognised by the governing body(ies) of Rugby Union*, but otherwise the North continues to be a devolved government paid for by the Brits (as it is at the moment) would, I imagine, be considered the optimum solution.

        *This resulted in an attempt to find a song that the team could stand for in place of a national anthem, as playing Amhrán na bhFiann was considered not the thing when having guys north of the border on the team, and God Save The Queen – though some southern Unionists and sympathetic to the old days types might be perfectly happy to stand up for that anthem – wasn’t considered a good choice either. That’s how we ended up with Ireland’s Call, something I personally consider chock-full of earnest sentiment but not really a “let us wade in the blood of our foes!” anthem that you can get behind, like the Marseillaise or Scotland’s Flower of Scotland or even the Welsh Land of My Fathers (it’s the tune it’s sung to that is the trouble, too much of an easy-listening ballad style) 🙂

        • Tibor says:

          Marseillaise is horrible! I mean the tune is catchy but the lyrics are really, well, true to their origin. I don’t think the song is fit to be an anthem of a country, it is too revolutionary and too bloody and aggressive. Both the Scottish and the Welsh (at least the literal English translation, I cannot read that Celtic gibberish 😛 ) anthems seem to be a lot more decent than the French one. They are more about “our country is really beautiful” than “we will kill everyone who opposes us”. And the melody of the Welsh one is kind of nice and calm, it reminds me of the Czech anthem a little (not in the melody but in the vibe it gives).

          • I don’t think the song is fit to be an anthem of a country, it is too revolutionary and too bloody and aggressive.


            And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
            That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
            A home and a Country should leave us no more?
            Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
            No refuge could save the hireling and slave
            From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
            And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
            O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Wait a minute, Deiseach, you guys ditched Amhrán na bhFiann ? That seems a -waste-.

            To be fair, Larry, I suspect plenty of people feel that we’re entirely too bloody and aggressive (and too bloody agressive) as well.

            But it’s not as if we stand alone there:

            Behold, imperial shadows, Michael, Stephen, Corvinus
            At the Romanian nation, your mighty progeny
            With arms like steel and hearts of fire impetuous
            “Life in liberty, or death”, that’s what we all decree.

            Priests, raise the cross, as this army is Christian
            Give it liberty and it’s sanctified scope
            We’d rather die in glorious battle
            Than live again enslaved on our ancestral land.


            We are soldiers in the name of righteousness have revolted
            And for our independence to war have risen.
            Had we not spoken up none would have listened
            So we have taken the drum of gunpowder as our rhythm
            And the sound of machine guns as our melody,
            and we have resolved that Algeria shall live –
            So bear witness, bear witness, bear witness!


            Mercenary swords,
            they’re feeble reeds.
            The Austrian eagle
            Has already lost its plumes.
            The blood of Italy
            and the Polish blood
            It drank, along with the Cossack,
            But it burned its heart.

            Let us join in a cohort,
            We are ready to die.
            We are ready to die,
            Italy has called.
            Let us join in a cohort,
            We are ready to die.
            We are ready to die,
            Italy has called! Yes!

            I can keep going pretty much all day here, but I think I’ll just end with Pratchett:

            “It was very patriotic. That is, it talked about killing Foreigners.”

            From the same book we have a character noting that any nation whose national anthem starts with “Awake!” is going to be trouble.

          • Nornagest says:

            @Larry — No one knows the second verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, though, let alone the third.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Lord, grant that Marshal Wade
            May by thy mighty aid
            Victory bring.
            May he sedition hush
            And like a torrent rush
            Rebellious Scots to crush;
            God save the King!

            I hear my country calling away across the sea;
            Across the wastes of waters she calls and calls to me.
            Her sword is girt at her hip, her helmet’s on her head,
            And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.
            I hear the sound of battle, the thunder of her guns:
            I haste to thee, my mother, a son amongst thy sons.

          • Tibor says:

            Wow, a lot more anthems are aggressive than I thought. So the Czech one (in an English translation which keeps the meter but is also close to literal) goes like

            Where is my home, where is my home,
            Streams are rushing through the meadows,
            Midst the rocks sigh fragrant pine groves,
            Orchards decked in spring’s array,
            Scenes of Paradise portray.
            And this land of wondrous beauty,
            Is the Czech land, home of mine,
            Is the Czech land, home of mine!

            No killing of foreigners there 🙂 Btw there are also official German and Hungarian versions that were used before WW2, the German goes like this:

            Wo ist mein Heim, mein Vaterland,
            Wo durch Wiesen Bäche brausen,
            Wo auf Felsen Wälder sausen,
            Wo ein Eden uns entzückt,
            Wenn der Lenz die Fluren schmückt:
            Dieses Land, so schön vor allen,
            Böhmen ist mein Heimatland.
            Böhmen ist mein Heimatland.

          • Aapje says:

            The Dutch anthem is the oldest song that is a national anthem (the song is from 1572, although it’s only the anthem since 1932). It is so long (15 stanzas) that we generally only sing the first stanza, sometimes followed by the sixth (although the core of the song is actually in the eighth stanza):

            William of Nassau, scion
            Of a Dutch and ancient line,
            I dedicate undying
            Faith to this land of mine.
            A prince am I undaunted,
            Of Orange, ever free,
            To the king of Spain I’ve granted
            A lifelong loyalty.

            A shield and my reliance,
            O God, Thou ever wert.
            I’ll trust unto Thy guidance.
            O leave me not ungirt.
            That I may stay a pious
            Servant of Thine for aye
            And drive the plagues that try us
            And tyranny away.

            All the lyrics in melodic English and more readable English.

            The song describes how William of Orange was loyal to the Spanish ruler, but he was tyrannical, so William was forced to flee and fight for an independent nation from abroad, as David was forced to flee from King Saul and fight for an independent Kingdom of Israel.

            Basically, the song is one big apologia from the perspective of the freedom fighter: you forced me to fight back and found my own nation.

            The weird part about only singing the first stanza is that we basically declare our dedication to Spain, without the part where we denounce them for being tyrants. This has been known to confuse Dutch people who read the lyrics of the first stanza.

          • Aapje says:

            A bit of history:

            The Dutch regained independence after the fall of Napoleon and this resulted in the establishment of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (it was a republic before), with the House of Orange as monarch. The current Dutch anthem was the song of the supporters of the House of Orange, but upon establishing the Kingdom they wanted to be inclusive, so they picked a more neutral song: ‘Those in whom Dutch blood‘ (lyrics on Wikipedia).

            That song actually has two versions. The initial version has a pretty racist first line. It was replaced in the second version from 1898. Both versions revolve around glorifying the fatherland, God and the monarchy, but are not revolutionary, bloody or aggressive.

          • Anonymous says:

            The Polish national anthem is basically an assertion that the country is not the nation, and the nation exists even without the country, so long as the people live, and that the people will try to recreate the country if it doesn’t exist. It has been iteratively purged of specifying exactly who we are going to give a fat lip to, as the Napoleonic alliances shifted.

            Poland has not yet perished,
            So long as we still live.
            What the alien force has taken from us,
            We shall retrieve with a sabre.

            March, march, Dąbrowski,
            From the Italian land to Poland.
            Under your command
            We shall rejoin the nation.

            We’ll cross the Vistula and the Warta,
            We shall be Polish.
            Bonaparte has given us the example
            Of how we should prevail.

            March, march…

            Like Czarniecki to Poznań
            After the Swedish occupation,
            To save our homeland,
            We shall return across the sea.

            March, march…

            A father, in tears,
            Says to his Basia
            Listen, our boys are said
            To be beating the tarabans.
            March, march…

          • Tibor says:

            @Aapje: Yes, I was wondering the same (with the fealty to the Spanish crown 🙂 ). I’d better watch out for the Spanish armada if I were you, their fleet would be devastating for your underwater country!

            It reminds me a little of the old Habsburg anthem which had I think about 8 versions (in different languages of the empire) and is also very long. The last verse changed with each monarch and now there is one where the last verse calls to Otto von Habsburg (theoretically the current presumptive heir to the Austrian, Hungarian and Bohemian thrones) to return to rule once again. It is also not particularly aggressive, mostly it hammers down the idea that the Emperor is great and that he protects the land and it starts with asking God to protect him, much like the British anthem. At one point it literally says that the destiny of Austria is united with that of the Habsburg throne. It has IMO one of the best anthem melodies, which is probably why Germans stole it for their Deutschlandlied 🙂

            @Anonymous: That makes a lot of sense, given the Polish history 🙂

            It is funny how you can the history of the country manifests itself in many anthems.

          • Brad says:

            Hatikva (Israel) doesn’t have any blood and guts in it:

            As long as within our hearts
            The Jewish soul sings,
            As long as forward to the East
            To Zion, looks the eye –
            Our hope is not yet lost,
            It is two thousand years old,
            To be a free people in our land
            The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

            One interesting thing about it is that it is pretty explicitly Ashkenazi. Israel isn’t to the east of, for instance, Baghdad.

          • PedroS says:

            Heroes of the sea, Noble people
            Brave and immortal nation
            Raise, today, again
            Portugal’s splendor
            From the mists of memory
            one feels the voice, oh fatherland,
            of your renowned grandfathers
            who shall guide us to victory.

            To arms! To arms!
            Over land and over sea
            To arms! To arms!
            let us fight for the fatherland!
            Let us march against the cannons!
            Let us march against the cannons!

            The last line of the chorus in the original version of the lyrics, written in 1890 after a British ultimatum, read “Let us march against the Britons”. That line was changed to the current tactically nonsensical/suicidal version sometime in the 20th century

          • Tibor says:

            @PedroS: Marching against the cannons really doesn’t seem to be very wise 🙂

          • AlphaGamma says:


            Wait a minute, Deiseach, you guys ditched Amhrán na bhFiann ? That seems a -waste-

            Amhrán na bhFiann is still the national anthem of the Republic of Ireland, and is sung for sports teams representing the Republic of Ireland (such as the soccer team and IIRC the Olympic team).

            Ireland’s Call is only used for teams that officially represent the whole island- it was written for the rugby team, though has later been adopted by others.

            I can keep going pretty much all day here, but I think I’ll just end with Pratchett:

            “It was very patriotic. That is, it talked about killing Foreigners.”

            We own all your helmets,
            We own all your shoes,
            We own all your generals,
            Touch us and you’ll lose!
            Morporkia, Morporkia, Morporkia owns the day,
            We can rule you wholesale, touch us and you’ll pay!

    • Rusty says:

      We had a referendum on independence for Scotland and they decided against though it was fairly close. I may be wrong but I am pretty sure that if the vote had gone the other way the rest of the UK would have worked with them constructively to sort out how best to go forward. And we have been united for more than 300 years. Genuinely bewildered by the tone of the rest of the EU in the current negotiations.

      • Deiseach says:

        Genuinely bewildered by the tone of the rest of the EU in the current negotiations.

        Eh, it’s a bad breakup and the divorce lawyers are lying in wait rubbing their hands. The EU is being “Okay, I want all my CDs back in their original cases, and you’d better not have scratched my grandma’s vase when you put it in storage in the attic! Oh, and you’re paying for the moving van!” while the UK is “Babe, can’t we still be friends?” 🙂

  5. bean says:

    One thing I’ve been meaning to do for a long time now is go back and write about the early years of the battleship in greater detail. History of the Battleship, Part 1 was written very quickly, and I don’t think I did justice to the topic. So, here we go again.
    The history of the capital ship between 1860 and 1890 is very confusing, particularly due to the lack of consistent nomenclature. The history of the battleship as we know it begins with the launch of the French ironclad Glorie in 1859, the first seagoing ironclad. She was wooden-hulled due to industrial limitations in France, and ultimately was a fairly conventional design. The British responded with HMS Warrior, ordered in 1859 and launched in 1860. She was truly revolutionary, iron-hulled, nearly twice Glorie’s size, and the fastest warship in the world at the time of her completion. Her armament of 40 guns was disposed much like the armament of a sailing frigate, laid out on a single gun-deck. This type was known as the ‘broadside ironclad’ and was the mainstay of the ironclad until the development of the central battery with HMS Bellerophon in 1865. She had a broadside of 5 9”/250 pounder guns, as opposed to the 13 68-pounders and 4 110-pounders of Warrior, with the battery taking only a third of her length. The armor was concentrated around this battery, with the ends protected by a protective deck close to the waterline. The biggest problem with the central battery was the lack of end-on fire, which was partially solved by providing alternate firing ports in the ends of the battery, through which the fore or aft gun could fire close to the ship’s centerline. These were not popular with crews or captains, as they tended to damage the ship.
    At about this time, the turret was coming into use. The first combat use of the turret was at the well-known Battle of Hampton Roads, onboard the USS Monitor. In fact, the turret was invented independently on both sides of the Atlantic, by John Ericsson in the US and Cowper Coles in the UK, although they had slightly different designs. However, we are interested in the use of the turret on seagoing capital ships, which Monitor and her descendants were not, which brings us to one of the most interesting stories of the early ironclad era. The biggest problem with mounting a turret on a seagoing ship was that steam engines were not efficient enough to power it on their own, and a sailing rig was necessary. However, this obviously interfered with the arcs of fire of the turrets. The first seagoing ship with turrets was HMS Monarch, designed by the Admiralty, with two turrets between the fore and main masts. She was launched in 1868, and proved reasonably successful. However, Coles was not satisfied, and had managed to convince many newspapers and politicians that he was correct and that the Admiralty was not listening to him. As such, the Admiralty was forced to fund a second ship, designed by Coles and built by a commercial builder. This ship, HMS Captain, had a complete upper deck over the turrets, with the rigging for the masts attached to it. As a result, the turrets were only 8 ft above the water, as opposed to 16’ in Monarch. Captain did have slightly better arcs of fire, but suffered greatly in habitability, due to the loss of internal volume compared to Monarch.
    In September of 1870, shortly after she entered service, Captain was exercising with the fleet when a storm broke. The resulting heel caused Captain to capsize, with only 17 survivors of the 490 men aboard. Coles died with his ship, and thus was spared the inquiry, which determined that the original design was inadequate, with the center of gravity being about 8” higher as built than it was in the original design. Also, the ship had lost 22” of freeboard during construction, although a building error had resulting in her hull being 5” deeper than intended. This combination caused grossly inadequate stability, with a maximum righting arm (a measure of the safe stability of the ship) of only about .2 m at 15 degrees, as opposed to .5 m at 40 degrees in Monarch. Despite the vindication of the Admiralty’s design standards, the key players were forced to retire. An important lesson from all of this is that pressure from politicians and the media on military decisions is almost always a bad thing. Sadly, this lesson has still not been learned by the vast majority, despite numerous other examples throughout the years.
    None of these ships had more than a token secondary armament. Monarch and Captain, in addition to their 2 twin 12” turrets, each carried 3 7” guns to fire fore and aft, where the turrets couldn’t be brought to bear. Even these soon disappeared, as the requirement for a full sailing rig was removed, and the breastwork monitor was developed. In this design, the majority of the ship’s deck had only a few feet of freeboard, with a central ‘breastwork’ rising out of the deck, which gave sufficient freeboard to ventilators, uptakes (engine exhaust) and hatches. It also raised the turrets high enough that they could be fought in bad weather. However, the breastwork did not contribute to stability, and on some designs, such as the first seagoing capital ship without a full sailing rig, HMS Devastation, a light structure was brought out to the sides of the ship to make it more stable. However, this would have been rapidly riddled in action, and later vessels simply extended the breastwork to the sides of the ship. This general style of armor, a central section protected by a vertical belt with ends with a waterline belt and protective deck, would go on to be used until the development of all-or-nothing armor by the USN around 1910. However, the road there was not smooth. Some still thought a full ship rig was required, and this produced a return to the central battery, which was not a success.
    The way forward was shown by HMS Inflexible, which was generally successful and introduced the underwater protective deck despite a rather strange arrangement of armament. Inflexible had to have a large beam to keep draught down and allow the Suez Canal to be transited. The turrets were placed on the sides of the ship, staggered so as to theoretically give a 4-gun broadside and end-on fire with both turrets, one on either side of the superstructure that supported the sailing rig, the last one carried on a British capital ship. She also carried the first guns that I can find described as being for torpedo defense, although the same battery is described in earlier ships as ‘saluting guns’. Her central citadel carried the thickest armor ever fitted to a British battleship at 24” in some areas.
    At this point, I’m sure the obvious question is why I haven’t mentioned any ships outside of the RN. There are three reasons for this. First, my sources on this era are British, and don’t give good coverage to other countries. Second, the road to the pre-dreadnought and ultimately the dreadnought is basically that of British development, with other countries creating branches that ultimately died off. Third, trying to craft a coherent narrative out of the antics of, say, the French and Italians would be even harder than doing so out of the RN’s development, which I’ve trimmed somewhat (for instance, I haven’t even mentioned the armored rams.) The USN was basically doing nothing from 1865 to 1888, and their development after 1888 was fairly close to that of the RN.
    HMS Collingwood, laid down in 1880 and launched in 1887, was the next big step forward. She carried her guns in barbettes, basically armored tubs mounted high in the ship’s structure, with narrow tubes leading down to the magazines, and had a secondary armament of 6” guns mounted in a battery between the main turrets. Her vertical armor was limited to the waterline, and she also carried numerous smaller guns and machine guns for torpedo defense. She was followed by the similar Admiral-class, although there was then a brief return to turret ships for reasons that nobody clearly understands. The last of these were Nile and Trafalgar, laid down in 1886, which introduced quick-firing secondary armament. The stage was set, at last, for the pre-dreadnought to appear. Its story will be covered later. (I won’t promise it will be next time, as I might choose to write about something else.)
    Also, a reminder that I’m considering putting together a tour of the Iowa for SSC readers. Is anyone who could come (San Pedro, CA, which is part of LA) interested?

    • bean says:

      I’m a volunteer tour guide at 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, rebuilt here because the previous index has been locked down. 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
      The Early Ironclads
      US Battleships in WW2
      Rest-of-world Battleships in WW2
      Battleships after WW2
      The Destroyer that accidentally attacked a President
      The South American Dreadnought Race
      Dreadnoughts of the minor powers
      Fire Control
      Armor, Part 1 and Part 2
      Armament, Part 1 and Part 2
      Underwater protection
      Secondary Armament, Part 1
      Thoughts on tour guiding

    • dvr says:

      One only somewhat related question, from a conversation I vaguely remember from a while ago on the increase in ship sizes:

      What is the most recent/large/powerful battleship that is smaller than the USS Zumwalt?

      I tried looking a bit myself and discovered that Zumwalt is actually quite a bit longer than the 1906 HMS Dreadnought, but it is smaller in every other dimension and displaces signficantly less. I wasn’t quite sure where to go from there.

      • bean says:

        Zumwalt isn’t a battleship. She’s not even really a destroyer, given that she doesn’t actually work. The correct term is ‘target’.
        In seriousness, the current biggest surface combatant (which is what I will assume you meant when you said battleship, and please read General History, Part 1 to learn how to use the term properly) is the Russian Kirov-class, but they’re very strange and much larger than Zumwalt. The previous destroyer class is the Arleigh Burke-class, although there wasn’t really a predecessor to what the Zumwalts were supposed to do (before they figured out that they don’t work, that is). There are a lot of ships in the 6-10,000 ton range, but the single largest I know of is the Korean Sejong the Great-class of 11,000 tons fully loaded.
        Or are you asking about actual battleships? Because if you are, you’re way back into the era of the pre-dreads. In displacement terms, the Zumwalts are pretty close to the Royal Sovereign-class, which were the first proper pre-dreadnoughts, and will be discussed next time.
        (I won’t promise that nobody built a battleship of that size later, but I don’t have time to search every pre-dread in existence. Try a copy of Conway’s for that.)

        • dvr says:


          I did indeed mean to compare the Zumwalt to actual battleships of the past- I had read a comment to the effect of, “Ships are now so big that modern destroyers are bigger than the battleships of [some vague past time]” and was curious about how true it was and what time period it could refer to.

          More on topic, did these early ironclad battleships ever see significant engagements against each other? I’m curious whether the inconclusive results of ironclad clashes in the American Civil War were typical for early ironclads or just the result of early American models having under-powered guns.

          I did a bit of searching but it seems like most of the major European wars of the era had little or no naval conflict.

          • bean says:

            I did indeed mean to compare the Zumwalt to actual battleships of the past- I had read a comment to the effect of, “Ships are now so big that modern destroyers are bigger than the battleships of [some vague past time]” and was curious about how true it was and what time period it could refer to.

            There was surprisingly little size growth during the era discussed in this column. The ships were 6-10,000 tons, which is exactly the same range occupied by modern destroyers, and by WW2 cruisers. It seems to be a fairly standard sweet spot in surface warships.

            More on topic, did these early ironclad battleships ever see significant engagements against each other?

            No. The biggest naval engagements of the era was the Battle of Lissa, which convinced everyone that ramming was a good idea (it wasn’t). I’m not sure there were more clashes between ironclad warships before the 1880s-1890s, although I do know of a couple of battles between ironclad and non-ironclad warships.

      • John Schilling says:

        Zumwalt isn’t a battleship.

        Meh, the Zumwalts are the largest class of surface combatant in the United States navy, theoretically might be called upon to directly engage enemy warships in battle but more likely to be tasked with shore bombardment. With her mighty guns, biggest in the fleet, even (if we can be bothered to buy any ammunition for them). Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and haven’t we done the bit where warship classifications get arbitrarily juggled every few generations?

        The correct term is ‘target’.

        As was said about earlier generations of battleships with the invention of the torpedo, the submarine, the airplane, and the guided missile. Sometimes its true, but it doesn’t disqualify them from also being whatever it is we call battleships in this generation.

        • bean says:

          Meh, the Zumwalts are the largest class of surface combatant in the United States navy, theoretically might be called upon to directly engage enemy warships in battle but more likely to be tasked with shore bombardment. With her mighty guns, biggest in the fleet, even (if we can be bothered to buy any ammunition for them). Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and haven’t we done the bit where warship classifications get arbitrarily juggled every few generations?

          I reject this on the grounds that they have no armor. Battleship is one of the few terms that managed to stay at least pretty close to intact throughout its life. Obviously, there are questions, like Dunquerke and Scharnhorst, but nothing which had no armor and was that small was ever called a battleship, and I’m not about to start.
          Also, promoting ignorance about current military terminology is a bad thing. You were just bored and wanted to get a rise out of me, weren’t you?

          As was said about earlier generations of battleships with the invention of the torpedo, the submarine, the airplane, and the guided missile. Sometimes its true, but it doesn’t disqualify them from also being whatever it is we call battleships in this generation.

          You misunderstand. That wasn’t a comment about the surface ship being obsolete. It was about the Zumwalts in particular being about the single worst thing I’ve ever seen to come out of the DoD procurement chain. The decision to not buy any ammo is the most sensible thing about the program. The radar is self-jamming. The wave-piercing bow means that waves go over the deck, sucking open VLS cells and destroying things. They can’t have people on deck in any sort of sea. The automation basically doesn’t work. And they’re not actually stealthy.

          • John Schilling says:

            Also, promoting ignorance about current military terminology is a bad thing. You were just bored and wanted to get a rise out of me, weren’t you?

            That, and I think current warship classifications are such a muddle that there’s not really any such thing as promoting ignorance about them.

          • bean says:

            That, and I think current warship classifications are such a muddle that there’s not really any such thing as promoting ignorance about them.

            I have to disagree. There is nothing currently in service that is called a battleship by anyone who knows what they’re talking about. That, at least, is pretty clear. Yes, the words ‘destroyer’, ‘cruiser’, and ‘frigate’ all mean about the same, but battleship is not a muddled word at the moment.

  6. HeelBearCub says:

    Culture war free thread.

  7. keranih says:

    From the article:

    “A study released in 2010 by the Century Foundation found that when children in public housing in Montgomery County MD, were enrolled in middle-class schools, the difference between their scores and those of their wealthier classmates decreased by about half in math and a third in reading, and they pulled significantly ahead of their counterparts in poor schools.”

    Of the various bits of evidence referenced in the article (*) this seems like the study most likely to support the summary statement above. But there is no link in the article, and my google fu doesn’t find any such article at The Century Foundation.

    (*) I read the article when it came out last year, and found it a really interesting read, generally well supported, and full of un-examined assumptions and observations. Humans being human would be more fun to watch if the stakes were not so high.

  8. Alex Zavoluk says:

    How do the theories Scott described in the recent obesity post explain the difference in obesity rate between countries? I know that Scott (and other commenters) mentioned the snacks in Japan, Europe, etc. not being as sweet or optimized for taste as those in America, but then why is that the case? Optimization processes should still work elsewhere!

    • LHN says:

      Obesity is lower in other countries, but isn’t it rising in all of them (at least in the First World)? I’d expect there to be differentials in adoption and diffusion of those optimization, as well as effects from overall wealth differentials.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      Maybe cultures that developed delicious food before industrialization can resist runaway optimization for longer? Japan and France are stereotypically in shape, seems unlikely to be an accident that they also have globally renowned food.

      (And stereotype is confirmed by this: China also fits into this: not rich, but richer than India at least, and very low obesity. Also a heavy hitter in haute cuisine.)

    • keranih says:

      This article might be of some help.

      I would interpret those stats with some caution – the stats for Kuwait, f’zample, are doubtlessly of Kuwaiti citizens only. The Arab Gulf states have a huge guest worker population, who is generally a bit more trim.

    • Civilis says:

      Could smoking or drug use rates play a role in some cases? I know some totalitarian governments push tobacco / drugs as an appetite suppressant.

      Doing a quick ‘does this make sense’ check is interesting, but I don’t have the skills to do a proper analysis, or a full listing of the obesity percentages.

      Most of the Pacific Islands are at the very bottom of the ‘cigarettes per capita’ list and high on the ‘obesity’ list, which matches the theory. Most of the Commonweath countries are lower than the US on both the ‘cigarettes per capita’ list and the ‘obesity’ list, which doesn’t. Kuwait is higher than the US on both lists, which also doesn’t, but I think it’s the only one higher than the US on both lists, which is interesting. A lot of the countries mentioned in this thread as being low in obesity are high in cigarette usage, with France surprising me as being one of the few that wasn’t.

    • RH28 says:

      Genetics is probably part of it, as Asians are skinny everywhere. Don’t know about Europe.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      I think that cultural rituals and standards around meal timing and portion standards is probably huge too (much like our American portions, according to just about everyone from another country who takes a look at how we eat).

  9. Tibor says:

    In the last OP (I just noticed), there was a short thread about vegetarianism/bio meat. Keranih made some claims about bio meat essentially amounting to it being a scam or close to it (sort of something like “fair trade”). I expect there to be people here who have some knowledge about this topic (other than Keranih, who seems to have some), so I’d like to see more perspective. A lot of things I thought about bio meat and regular farming seem to be wrong as long as what keranih said is true and I really don’t like being a chump.

    Since I mentioned fair trade, is there anyone who is willing to defend that idea? My current opinion of it is that it ranges from being essentially a scam to being an extremely inefficient sort of charity.

    • rlms says:

      I can kind of defend fair trade, in the sense that a priori having a movement to pay for things produced by the global poor at above market price (with the difference going to the poor producers) seems sensible. You can think of it as enabling people to buy both a product and a feeling of doing a fair deal. But I don’t support fair trade as currently implemented; this article argues pretty convincingly against it.

      • Jiro says:

        I think that article does a poor job of arguing against fair trade because of the whoile weird EA assumption thing. Most people distinguish between action and inaction, and believe that one should avoid actions that cause unnecessary harm. This is separate from increasing overall utility. So paying £2 for malaria nets can’t funge against harm caused by contributing to unfair trade practices, even if more QALYs per dollar would be purchased by the malaria net than by avoiding unfair trade. Likewise, most people would not accept ethics offsets.

        • Most people distinguish between action and inaction, and believe that one should avoid actions that cause unnecessary harm. … So paying £2 for malaria nets can’t funge against harm caused by contributing to unfair trade practices

          You seem to have an odd definition of actions that cause unnecessary harm. The alternative to action is inaction. Buying coffee at a low price may be worse for the producers than buying it at a high price, but it’s surely better than not buying it at all. So it isn’t “Causing harm by action” it’s “Failing to cause good by action.”

          • Jiro says:

            Buying coffee at a low price is an action that contains harmful and beneficial components, which also can’t funge with each other. So the fact that when added together, the components have a positive sum, doesn’t make them into “one action which causes good”.

            Insisting that it is bad for a component to be negative even if the sum is positive isn’t utilitarian, but most people aren’t utilitarian.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            At the very least, the harmful component of giving up the coffee to the buyer and thus being unable to sell it to anyone else must be able to funge with the beneficial components, or you’re driven to the conclusion that trade is bad no matter how fair it is.

          • “Buying coffee at a low price is an action that contains harmful and beneficial components”

            What is the harmful component other than the fact that you aren’t buying it at a high price? But “not buying it at a high price” is inaction, and you were making a point explicitly about action.

          • Jiro says:

            The components are not separate actions, but separate aspects of the same action. Buying something at too low a price is considered bad by itself. The fact that the transaction leaves the farmer better off is arguably a good aspect of the transaction, but it can’t cancel out the bad aspect.

          • roystgnr says:

            “Buying something at too low a price is considered bad by itself.”

            With 7 billion people in the world, “X is considered bad by itself” is true for basically any X, and is therefore meaningless.

            If the seller doesn’t consider your purchase to be bad by itself, who else’s opinion matters more?

        • rlms says:

          I think the point that fair trade is ineffective still stands without those assumptions; it’s not very good at helping the people it’s supposed to (when compared with possible alternatives). You can accept that without further accepting that Fair Trade < non-Fair Trade + donate price difference is a meaningful equation.

        • I think that article does a poor job of arguing against fair trade because of the whoile weird EA assumption thing. Most people distinguish between action and inaction, and believe that one should avoid

          I think the weird thing you are talking s called utilitarianism.

          • rlms says:

            Ethical offsets are an edge case of utilitarianism (unless there are large numbers of EAs going on murder sprees then donating to AMF that I’m unaware of).

    • keranih says:

      I can’t defend fair trade as it stands – it’s a method to subsidize unskilled hand labor and therefore make it harder for competing industrialization & higher skilled work to get a toehold in a region. (It also helps the better connected and wilely farmers increase their lead over their competing farming neighbors – in areas with fair trade crops, most of that connection is familial/etc, and laced with corruption.)

      I am ambivalent on fair trade’s neighbor locavorism – I like it for its support of regionally-adapted plants and livestock, but it certainly doesn’t help decrease fuel use or feed efficiency. Mostly I like locavorism for its intermittent fasting/rotating Lent aspect – it’s like a new Fat Tuesday every month as something else goes in or out of season.

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        it’s a method to subsidize unskilled hand labor and therefore make it harder for competing industrialization & higher skilled work to get a toehold in a region.

        Steelmaning this: Industrial society is very productive, but (a) there’s not a lot of evidence that people actually enjoy it and (b) it extinguishes as much knowledge as it creates, which is going to a problem when the next civilizational collapse rolls around. We should protect the few functioning examples of non-industrial or small-scale economies, and fair trade marketing is a relatively non-distorting way to do this.

        • keranih says:

          Steelmaning your steelman – The functioning examples of small-scale economies that do not leave their citizens impoverished (and rushing to the cities to take on sweatshop jobs) and crippled by hard manual labor that no one likes any better than the industrial jobs should be protected.

        • Incurian says:

          We should protect the few functioning…


        • Matt M says:

          Is something truly an example of a “functioning” economy if we need outsiders to be willing to pay 2-4x market value for a product in order for said economy to continue to function?

    • Odovacer says:

      What is bio meat? Do you mean meat? Animal skeletal muscle for the most part? Googling bio meat brings up a survival horror manga.

      • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

        He probably means organic, at least that is what the German ‘bio’ translates to.

      • Tibor says:

        Yes, in English it is “organic” meat. I am more used to the European (not just German) “bio”. I also don’t like to use “organic” because it sounds silly to me. Bio is not that much better but still the distinction between “biological” vs “chemical” sort-of-ish makes more sence than “organic” vs “anorganic”. Of course, “bio” is essentially a lie, since all that is biological is also chemical, but “organic” is always true when you’re talking about food (unless you put salt in it 🙂 ). Anyway, I guess both are not very good and I only find “organic” stupider because I am not used to it…

    • Aapje says:


      For me, the problem with organic (US name)/bio (EU name) food is that it is a brand, where various issues are conflated and sometimes lied about:
      – Health issues of consuming the product
      – Indirect health issues
      – Animal welfare
      – Environmental issues

      The famous benefit of organic produce is that there are no pesticides, but this is false. ‘Organic’ pesticides are used in organic farming. This separation in ‘organic’ and ‘chemical’ pesticides seems pseudo-scientific to me. It’s hippie science where things that exist in nature are declared more healthy than manufactured compounds. If the organic pesticides are less effective, the farmers can need larger quantities, which may leave more unhealthy pesticide residue than classic farming techniques.

      The idea that organic meat is healthier due to being given organic feed makes sense if you believe that organic produce is healthier, but that is doubtful given the above. Meat has issues that are fundamentally different from produce, like animal welfare and antibiotics overuse. Antibiotics overuse is a huge problem, especially as it is often used not to treat animal illnesses, but preventative. This creates antibiotics resistant bacteria that can jump to humans. I think that organic rules err in the other direction, by not allowing meat to be sold as organic even if a farmer merely treats an animal for a disease. This seems to me to incentivize letting animals suffer. However, from a ‘benefits to humans’ perspective, I see this as the most legitimate reason to eat organic meat.

      I regularly see the claim that organic food combats global warming. However, this seems to be a false claim based on the halo effect. Yields of organic produce seem to be lower. AFAIK, organic techniques generally require more intervention, so I expect that relative to the yield, organic farming also burns a bit more fossil fuels.

      • Tibor says:

        What I particularly care about are the health issues and the animal welfare issues. I never actually heard the argument that bio/organic farming somehow produces fewer greenhouse gases and at least at a first glance, it does seem quite silly.

        Also, I am not very interested in “organic” plant farming, with some minor exceptions. There is no such thing as plant welfare so the only thing that matters to me as a consumer are the price, taste and health issues. For some reason I sometimes have a mild allergic reaction to non-“bio” apples, specifically the skin and the same with carrots. So those I buy “bio” (also lemons when I need the skin for cooking) but with the rest I just look for what tastes better and it is not always the “bio” stuff. In terms of price it is quite easy, the non-“bio” stuff of otherwise comparable qualities is pretty much always cheaper.

        I guess that “organic” farming might make sense in some places of the world where making your own “organic” pesticide and fertilizer is easy but obtaining manufactured supplies is hard because of bad infrastructure, etc (maybe it is also cheaper for you, if you’re this poor farmer, it is more labour intensive but you don’t have to pay for it). And this is all a big maybe, I don’t know much about agriculture.

        • Aapje says:


          I suspect that it’s actually more difficult to get the more effective pesticides in the EU, due to environmental regulation. My ex-farmer uncle has a supply of now-banned pesticides that you can no longer buy here, but those seem to be used with abandon in less regulated environments.

          As for health issues, there is no proof that organic food is healthier. Of course one can be allergic to trace amounts of non-organic (or organic) pesticides, like you may be. In that case, having an additional option is a clear benefit. But if only organic food was sold, people with allergies to organic pesticides would be screwed.

          Animal welfare seems like a decent reason to eat organic meat, although you might want to look for more strict labels, like Demeter, if you care a lot about that. The EU label for organic meat doesn’t restrict transport beyond ‘no more than necessary,’ which is a silly rule. My perception is that a relatively high amount of animal suffering happens during transport.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Last time I looked, there’s little research about whether organic food is healthier, so all you’ve got is theoretical arguments. Admittedly, this is a hard thing to research– longitudinal studies about food are expensive, and it would be tricky to get a definitiion of organic food. What’s more, I believe food gets mislabeled in both directions.

            I’ve heard that an organic rating limits pesticides to those derived from living things, and some of those pesticides are more toxic than synthecized pesticides. And that there are farmers who want to get things right who won’t use an organic label because they think the standard isn’t good enough.

            Aapje, there’s one more possible issue– safety for farm workers. I don’t know how organic food shakes out on that one.

          • Aapje says:

            I have no idea how it would be safer for farmers. It’s fundamentally still the same kind of work.

          • Tibor says:

            Yeah, I actually buy a lot of Demeter stuff, essentially if I have that choice, I buy their products. Mostly because from what I can tell it is better quality than most of the competition – their milk for example is almost comparable to the milk I know from one family in Flachau in Austria whose milk won several Austrian milk competitions (and who also have a nice hotel – well, Pension, but that means something else in English – and we used go skiing there with my parents). I don’t know any other milk on the market that is this good. If they actually have higher standards for the welfare of their animals, then that’s even better.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            If the organic folks’ hypothesis that conventional pesticides are especially dangerous is correct, then farm workers are especially at risk of getting poisoned. This could be true even if conventional (or “organic”) pesticides are safe for consumers.

            The risks from farm machinery would presumably be the same.

          • keranih says:

            @ nancy –

            Last time I looked, there’s little research about whether organic food is healthier,

            I refuse to say that anything in human nutrition is “settled”, but it’s been demonstrated pretty well that organic food does not have any real health benefits.

            The concerns about antibiotic resistance are legit – at least in principle – but the there are two (at least two) issues at play –

            1) if you look at the pattern of drug resistant infections in humans, they very clearly and overwhelmingly come from mis/over use of the drugs in human patients. Otherwise you’d see resistant infections in farmers and veterinarians, not in hospitalized patients (C diff) and poorly managed urban cases of TB & gonorreia.

            2) To the extent that humans are at risk from the common pathogen gene pool, it’s a global pool with contributions from around the globe. That means that people in the USA are as at risk of floroquinolone resistant bacteria as are people in the UK, regardless that the USA severely restricts the use of that drug in livestock and the UK far less so – in part because the drug is sold over the counter in places with less commitment to controlling how farmers raise their livestock.

            One of the best parts of the Obama administration was the Report to the President on combating antibiotic resistance – because the report made it a priority to start objectively, systemically measuring rates of resistance, so that the effectiveness of countermeasures could be assessed.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            keranih, from your link:

            “Organic produce did have the slight edge in food safety, with 30% lower pesticide residues than conventional foods. In general, pesticide levels in both organic and non-organic foods were within allowable safety limits. It’s still not clear, though, just what that means to consumers’ health. “Just because these foods aren’t going over what they call an ‘acceptable limit’ doesn’t mean they’re safe for everyone,” Dr. Hauser says. There haven’t been enough studies evaluating pesticide exposure to confirm the health effects, particularly in children and pregnant women, she adds.”

            I’m surprised (perhaps I shouldn’t have been?) that the pesticide difference was that small. Still, that side of the question is left open.
            “Just as nutritious” isn’t the same as “has the same poison level”.

          • Aapje says:


            Animal -> human disease transmission seems to happen mostly in Asia, where a lot of people live with their lifestock. ‘Factory farming’ seems a lot safer in this regard.


            It seems really high to me 🙂

            Clearly we have different expectations.

  10. bean says:

    I was in Singapore on a business trip for most of the last two weeks (Yes, that has been why I haven’t been posting much) and I wanted to share my impressions. Overall, I really liked it. The people were very nice, the food was good, and there was a lot to do. Everything that I saw was done really well. My hotel was designed to make it easy to forget you were in the middle of the airport. The various tourist attractions were designed to just the right point without being overdone. That, I really liked.
    Singapore has a reputation for being somewhat distopian, but I didn’t see that at all. It felt like a city in the US with a strict municipal government. There was litter and dirt, although not so much in the main tourist areas. (Much of what I saw of that came either in the area I was working or on my couple of trips to places not quite on the beaten path.) I think the problem is that William Gibson (who coined ‘Disneyland with the Death Penalty’) is also the man who invented cyberpunk, and had very different tastes than I do for cities. Yes, if you want real local color and lots of artsy stuff, Singapore is a bad place to go. But if you don’t really mind, say, Irvine, then it’s a good place to go.
    Except for the weather. Which was in the 80s (F) and about 90% humidity the whole time. AC is definitely your friend. (And for the record, I grew up in St. Louis, which is pretty much the same in July.)

    • Tibor says:

      Not for artsy stuff? Some of the architecture in Singapore is pretty amazing. Have you seen for example this and this building?

      But to some degree I get what you mean. Singapore is very polished, everyone is nice and polite, it’s sort of a place for “old people” (btw, I also noticed people being a lot more attentive to the old people there than they are in Europe – I saw a lot of couples of young/middle-aged people with their very old (grand)parents, this attentiveness might also explain the extremely high life expectancy there). Hong Kong is way less clean but has a lot more lively charm. Also, you can buy chewing gum in Hong Kong 🙂

      If I’d have to choose between the two, I’d probably rather live in HK (assuming Beijing does not take over entirely, there is this constant threat) and maybe retire to Singapore. I don’t find the weather to be an issue. I was there in August, although I don’t know if that matters much, Singapore is basically on the equator.

      Singapore is definitely not a democracy but in many ways it does work very well. My main concern would not be the democracy, I don’t care much about the voting right especially if it is one vote in a couple of millions and particularly not when those in power seem to be fairly competent. But freedom of press is also restricted to a certain degree and that would bother me more. However, it is no rose painted dystopia or anything like that, that is a sort of an arrogant euroatlantic idea that “not a democracy=oppressive hellhole”.

      In any case, I’m going to Singapore again this year, this time for two weeks and I am very much looking forward to that. And the best part is that the university will cover my expenses 🙂

      EDIT: There is one part of Singapore which indeed is kind of like a Disneyland. I forgot the name but you get there on a cable car. It is not particularly interesting, although children would probably enjoy it. However, in HK you actually have an actual Disneyland :-))

      • bean says:

        Anyone can hire an architect. All that takes is money. I was referring to the local ‘grassroots’ art scene. My attempts to find a place to buy local art (souvenir for my brother, who’s an artist) were amazingly unsuccessful. I haven’t been to Hong Kong yet (or, indeed, anywhere else outside of North America), so my baseline is pretty small.

        • Squirrel of Doom says:

          > Anyone can hire an architect

          Sure, but no NIMBY controlled city would allow such radical buildings.

          • In Shanghai, on the other hand, all of the architects who design skyscrapers are crazy.

            That, at least, was my impression.

          • bean says:

            @Squirrel of Doom
            Yes, but I still think that ‘city with money and not much NIMBY-ism’ isn’t even remotely the same thing as ‘arty’. Dubai is probably the best example of a place with lots of money and no NIMBYs running around. That doesn’t mean you have a vibrant local culture with lots of art and such. In some ways, it means the opposite.
            (I’m not trying to beat up on Singapore, just point out that it may not be the best destination for everyone.)

      • 1soru1 says:

        > Singapore is definitely not a democracy but in many ways it does work very well.

        Actually, Singapore is a (parliamentary) democracy, with votes on schedule ever since 1959. What’s more, that fact is inherent in the way it works. They wouldn’t have the health-care or housing systems they do without the goal of winning majority support for the policies of the liberal technocratic elite.

        What it is not is a liberal Republic; it doesn’t have any supra-democratic principles or rights a majority vote can’t overturn.

        • Tibor says:

          Well, I did not want to say that it is a dictatorship. It does seem to be somewhere in between though. The opposition is routinely suppressed and so if the freedom of the press. And they don’t even pretend that it is not like that (which is better than if they weren’t honest about it). I think that if the people were really very dissatisfied with the government they could choose a different party without the need of a revolution. But political competition is not exactly free there.

    • BBA says:

      It felt like a city in the US with a strict municipal government.

      Never been to Singapore, but this confirms something I noticed in NYC: that Mike Bloomberg, although a nominal Democrat for most of his business career and a nominal Republican while he was mayor, is much closer to the ruling People’s Action Party of Singapore than to either of the major American parties.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      I was in Singapore on a business trip for most of the last two weeks (Yes, that has been why I haven’t been posting much) and I wanted to share my impressions. Overall, I really liked it.


      Singapore has a reputation for being somewhat distopian, but I didn’t see that at all.

      I think things like that are difficult to see for an outsider who spends only a limited amount of time and does not engage in local politics. The word “dystopian” brings to our mind Orwell’s books or images of terrible totalitarian states, and not a many places are like that.

      Probably the problematic traits are not even easy to see for locals who are not directly affected by them. Most of Chinese have a favorable opinion of their system.

      As an another example, I believe that for most Westerners, Turkey is still a nice place to have a vacation. Meanwhile Erdogan is throwing thousands of people into jail, most likely cheated on the recent elections that granted him dictatorial powers, and recently apparently blocked Wikipedia.

      St. Petersburg is a great place with lots of astounding architecture, museums, and history, and mostly as safe as any other large city if you are not a prominent blogger criticizing how the things are run or exposing the corruption amongst the high government officials in Russian.

      Argentina was probably mostly fine place to live for great many people, except for those who found themselves with a political opinions and activities that made the state offer them a free helicopter ride with one-way ticket.

      addendum. And how many of people living in Western countries notice the problematic stuff (potentially called dystopian) going on in our societies while living their everyday lives?

      • bean says:

        I can see your point, but it still doesn’t really match what I saw. Yes, it’s a one-party state. But while that’s a potentially problematic condition, and in general competition for government is a good thing, I don’t think it’s fair to compare it to any regime where they tend to jail/execute people arbitrarily, because nobody accuses it of that. They accuse it of being too free with the death penalty, yes, but hanging drug smugglers is a long way from hanging your political opponents.
        To put it another way (stolen from Scott), the government mandating that you inject your kids with diseases sounds way more dystopian than anything you find in a typical dystopian novel. It’s also why smallpox and polio aren’t a problem any more.

        • nimim.k.m. says:

          My point wasn’t to argue that Singapore is similar to those more terrible examples, but rather argue even in case of far more egregious examples, the dystopian nature is not self-evident to a quite large set of people (in many cases, the majority or significant percentage of the local populace) who are not interested in politics or for some other reasons not targeted by the government utilizing dystopian measures.

          So evidence “I spent 2 weeks in X, didn’t notice any dystopia in X” is fairly weak evidence.

          • bean says:

            Yes, but there is more than one kind of dystopia, and the different kinds might be detectable in different ways. Singapore definitely has a different kind than any of your other examples, and it should be a lot more obvious than people being snatched off the street. The single most famous essay on Singaporean ‘dystopia’ is Disneyland with the Death Penalty. That was based on Gibson spending some time in Singapore. Why would he be able to see it and I wouldn’t?

        • Tibor says:

          Btw, Bavaria has had the same party (CSU) for all but one government ever since the end of WW2. The elections are basically about whether it is going to be the CSU alone or CSU with another party (usually the Free Democracts, sort of like a very diluted libertarian party). Of course, it is not entirely comparable, since the Freistaat Bayern is not exactly frei (yet! 🙂 ) and the federal government has a lot of power in Germany (for example it collects almost all taxes).

          I think that while it is unlikely it is not impossible for one party to keep power for decades as a result of an entirely transparent and democratic process. It is easier if your country is homogeneous/small enough. But it seems to be that the process is not entirely free and transparent in Singapore (and I have no idea how Bavarian politics would change if Bavaria became an independent country where it no longer makes sense to vote the CSU to stick it to the bloddy Prussians! :-)) ).

    • Deiseach says:

      Serendipitously, I was looking up online about gastric pain and came across this article, which represents Singaporeans as likely to be stressed, eating irregularly, smoking and drinking a lot (presumably to cope with the stress) and not exercising enough all of which means they commonly have gastric troubles. I was struck by the emphasis on “reduce your stress” in the advice:

      Gastric pain is not uncommon in Singapore, a country where many lead stressful lives and have irregular meals. But what exactly is gastric pain and when should you visit your doctor?

      The gastric pain that many Singaporeans experience in their upper abdomen is most commonly non-ulcer dyspepsia.

      “Non-ulcer dyspepsia, also known as functional dyspepsia, is the term used for gastric pain when all organic causes have been ruled out,” says doctors​​ from the Department of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth​ group.

      As stress is suspected​ to be a cause of non-ulcer dyspepsia, doctors may prescribe low doses of antidepressants and anxiety-relieving drugs to help alleviate symptoms.​

      1. ​Eat smaller but more frequent meals. If you often suffer from indigestion, have five to six smaller meals a day, rather than three square meals.
      2. Eat on time and avoid skipping meals. This will accustom your stomach to release its gastric juices only during at mealtimes and not erratically.
      3. Consume less irritating fo​ods. Cutting down on spicy, acidic, fried or fatty foods helps reduce gastric symptoms and allows your stomach to heal.
      4. Drink alcohol in moderation. Excessive amounts of alcohol may weaken your stomach’s protective lining, making you more susceptible to ulcers.
      5. Quit smoking. Smoking increases the production of stomach acid, slows down healing and increases your risk of getting stomach cancer.
      6. Better manage your stress. High stress increases the production of gastric juices in your stomach. Exercise regularly and adopt relaxation activities such as yoga to keep your stress in check.

      • MoebiusStreet says:

        I’ve been dealing with Crohn’s Disease most of my life. From my personal experience, learning to manage stress is a HUGE part of overcoming the disease and enjoying life.

  11. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

    Question snagged from Steve Barnes

    • Incurian says:

      Continuing with my shameless (but correct and proper) posthumous pimping of Heinlein: everything Lazarus Long has ever said.

    • onyomi says:

      My favorite piece of “advice,” such as it is, is something the effect of: “no piece of advice is any good to someone not ready to hear it.”

    • Chalid says:

      The best advice was, seriously, “ask lots of people for advice.” Not only do you actually get advice, which may or not be useful, but people *love* being asked to give advice. It’s basically a way to tell someone “I respect you and think you’re smart and knowledgeable” but without seeming like a kiss-up.

      • onyomi says:

        Though it might seem to conflict with what I said above, I like this one a lot and wholeheartedly endorse it. Though I think my friend’s phrase was part warning about the usefulness of giving advice, I think it’s also about having the humility to actually ask for, and sometimes, take advice, which is hard. And like you say, even if it’s bad advice, people are flattered and you are more likely to know what’s going on in said social circle.

    • veeloxtrox says:

      When you wanted advice for something, ask someone who is good at it.

      The example I find easiest to grasp is that if you want a happy marriage don’t ask your dad who has been divorced twice, ask your grandparents who are still happy after 40+ years. Similarly, consider someones financial situation when they give you advice about money, or someones job when they give you career advice.

      • Aapje says:

        When you wanted advice for something, ask someone who is good at it.

        But be wary that they may unconsciously be doing the right thing and may have a completely broken model of reality.

        And/or that the issue that they had was ‘too much X’, while your problem may be ‘too little X.’ So their advice may be direction pushing in the wrong direction.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      “If you feel like you need to throw up, to the point that you are trying to control your breathing to keep from throwing up, you are about to throw up and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Act accordingly.”

      • AnonYEmous says:

        pretty sure I’ve actually stopped that from happening before

        possibly multiple times

      • quanta413 says:

        “…Act accordingly.”

        And get to a toilet or trash can, or swallow vomit if neither of those is possible?

        Speaking of which, I advise care in the “swallow your own vomit strategy”. I have… succeeded once before (for lack of a better word), but I wouldn’t want to bet on succeeding again.

      • Montfort says:

        How frequently does this come up? I haven’t vomited once since I was in high school, and wasn’t under the impression that was especially atypical.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Even when you get sick? I vomit more than half the time when I’m ill, and I didn’t think that was unusual.

          • Montfort says:

            I’ve been sick less often since leaving school, but even in the worst cases no. I mean, fever, fatigue, coughing, etc. make my sick days miserable anyway, but maybe I’m luckier than I thought.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @Montfort – “How frequently does this come up?”

          I was given the advice by an older sibling when I was 10 or so, and it’s done me good service probably a dozen or more times since then. Once every two or three years? Stomach bugs, bad food, once from having to run up ten flights of stairs due to a fire drill at work, five minutes after finishing a big lunch of barbecue. The experience is traumatic enough with a sink or toilet handy; thanks to their wisdom, I’ve never found out how awful it’d be to have to clean puke out of clothes, bedding, mattress, carpet, off my boss, etc.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          I think that how vulnerable you are to the nausea and vomiting when you have a G-I illness is pretty variable. For my part unless I have out and out food poisoning I’m unlikely to vomit.

    • yodelyak says:

      The best advice I ever received had to do with the difference between advice and information: Whether you are three, or a hundred and three, if you understand the difference between information and advice, you should seek information, not advice.

      If that doesn’t make sense, then I advise you to read it again, and seek interpretative assistance as necessary. For folks inclined to quibble that they have in fact received “informative advice” I can reformulate the distinction as follows: “Asking someone what advice they would give, if you were to ask for advice, is seeking information, not advice. Seek information; don’t seek advice.”

      In my experience, the “advice” (not information) that other people who view me as successful tend to ascribe to my success to relates to the fact that I read more, and more widely, than others, or just that I’m smart and/or lucky. I tend to think these traits were pretty well set by the time I was 6 or 7, so I would generally not recommend trying to instill them via advice.

      Since we’re sort of talking about Heinlein, (re: Incurian) I think Ursula LeGuin makes a good counterweight to Heinlein’s tendency to impute some aspects of human experience to pure “maleness,” as though there are just two types of humans, of varying ages, and no further need for distinguishing of types, such as (say) sex from gender. If you need permission to be male, and Heinlein can give you that, then take it. But maleness-by-permission, or whatever it is young folks sometimes get from Heinlein is not all there is. If I could assign reading to my younger self (who read a lot of Heinlein, although no Lazarus Long) I would probably include The Lefthand of Darkness.

      Going back to advice generally, I think the one exception that may help illustrate the rule, is that in situations of a particular kind of extremity, received wisdom is all there is, because there aren’t resources available for thinking. Lazarus Long nods to this fact with this: “Avoid making irrevocable decisions while tired or hungry. N.B.: Circumstances can force your hand. So think ahead!” Lazarus is on to something. But I prefer to imagine in my minds’ eye someone who has tucked a few LeGuin aphorisms away, for possible reliance in later extremity, who I imagine might recite:

      “When action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep.” That may just be that I’m too curious to sufficiently prioritize action over information gathering, and I definitely don’t sleep enough, because the internet is a thing–so this is better advice for me than just to remind myself not to make decisions while hungry.

      I think the final exception that may explode the rule, is the question of determining whether or not your current situation is one of sufficient extremity to justify accepting advice. The answer to that question, I think, is the answer to how desperate you have to be to get religion, and/or on what your religion currently is. The saying that there are no atheists in foxholes is, I think, really the saying that in sufficient extremity, we act on our pre-programmed code, not on fresh thinking. Not all pre-programmed code is created equal… so think ahead.

      If you want a final piece of potentially helpful information, maybe it’s helpful to offer the hot tip that there’re a lot of examples in history and, most people’s lived experience, of people installing pre-programmed code in others without agreement or bare consent. (Not least, parents and their children, or soldiers receiving training that is equal parts keep-you-alive-arguably-good-stuff and now-you-follow-orders-against-your-own-self-interest-arguably-bad-stuff but impressionable young adults reading Ayn Rand might be another example.) There are also a lot of examples in history that tend to show it may be a pretty bad idea to try and get by without pre-programmed code (perhaps a link to “yes we have noticed the skulls” goes here), or to accept whole batches of pre-programmed code from strangers without careful vetting. Perhaps if you spend time with these examples, you’ll arrive at the sense I have, that it is a not-terrible idea to make some preventative investment in getting pre-programmed code from 1) people who live by it themselves; 2) people whose fate is tied to yours, or who are likely to see themselves or their loved ones receiving code back from you–either way, this tends to mean they have an incentive to only install high-quality programming, and to do so carefully, since installation itself can be damaging; 3) people who are happy (though this is sometimes a very low-cost signal to fake, and hence not that useful a signal); 4) people whose pre-programmed code has a long history of success in varied situations with only minor modifications, but which is capable of allowing modification; and 5) people whose pre-programmed code has a guided-by-the-beauty-of-our-weapons flavor to it, or that at a minimum is embarrassed by internal inconsistencies where they appear.

      If you want one of my heuristics for a hallmark of this kind of pre-programming is that it tends to cultivate a sense of humor, which especially extends to include cultivating an ability to laugh at the failure rate of pre-programmed code, as shown by the abundant examples I already mentioned are available to the student of history. (These examples really are abundant; e.g. any person who ever did what their parents would advise, only to have that turn out to be unwise in hindsight.) Two good results from this investment in a sense of humor are that so long as one is doing well enough to summon up a belly laugh, one can continue to ignore pre-programming in favor of thinking, and should one end up relying on pre-programmed code for something important… which if we’re honest, happens to everyone more than any of us ever manage to honestly grapple with… well, at least it’s likely to be funny.

      “Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee. And I’ll forgive Thy great big one on me.” — Robert Frost

  12. Tibor says:

    G’day Aussies! What’s there to do around Sydney and Melbourne?

    I’m going to Sydney this year in late August (which is sort of annoying, given that this means it’ll be way colder than Europe, but maybe it’s still better than 40° heat). I’m also thinking about taking a flight to Melbourne to see the Book of Mormon (the musical). I’ll be in Australia for about 2 weeks, the first week visiting a friend in Sydney who’s then going to Mauritius for a holiday and I’ll have a week on my own. Aside from seeing the sights in the city, I’d like to do a hike (a couple of days possibly, as long as one can borrow a tent somewhere) around Sydney and if I stay in Melbourne for more than a day then also there, perhaps. What would you recommend?

    Also, how likely is it to get bitten by something poisonous or attacked by a wild animal over there? Maybe a stupid question, but I’m asking since while we’ve successfully managed to exterminate more or less all the dangerous wildlife in Europe, I know that for example in some parts of Canada you pretty much have to hike with a rifle (base on what a Canadian friend told me) and Australia has a reputation for being full of dangerous animals.

    • keranih says:

      As a person who has touristed in Melbourne, I loved the penguins and the Great Coast Road.

    • doubleunplussed says:

      You will not regret seeing the Book of Mormon!

      I know everyone always says this about everything they’ve done because they don’t want to feel bad about having spent $100 on it, but it really is fantastic. I saw it in Melbourne a few months ago, and had an absolute ball.

      Your chances of less than great interactions with wildlife are very slim. The most dangerous animals, practically speaking once you take into account how often you encounter them and in what context, are snakes – I’ve seen many brown snakes and tiger snakes while hiking, though they’ve never so much as threatened us. Hikers in the summer definitely should carry emergency beacons with them for this reason (there’s antivenom so as long as you can get to civilisation you’re totally fine), but you’re there in the winter so if you’re hiking there will not be any snakes. If you were further north there are crocodiles, but not around Sydney or Melbourne. Everything else is not a big deal. Sydney has one species of nasty spider, the Sydney funnel web spider, but because they’re in urban areas and there is good antivenom nobody dies from them. The huge spiders you see on the internet (usually orb weavers and huntsmen) are actually totally harmless. And we have redback spiders – these are related to black widow spiders and are just as shy, so I’ve never even heard of someone being bitten by one. And again with the antivenom. Sharks are not even worth mentioning. There are some stinging jellyfish which hurt a lot.

      So yeah, for hikes around Sydney and Melbourne, no precautions with respect to dangerous wildlife are needed except for in the summer making sure you have an emergency beacon in case someone gets bitten by a snake. I mean, the emergency beacon is a good idea anyway in case someone gets hurt for a non animal-related reason.

      Oh shit I forgot about the drop bears – be seriously careful about them, they can smell that people are not locals and so tend to go after tourists. Be sure to look up around trees.

      I’m partial to the Dandenong Ranges on the outskirts of Melbourne. You could go for a (short) walk in Sherbrooke forest, you might see a lyrebird, they are incredible animals. You could take a ride on Puffing Billy, an old steam train that goes through the forest from Belgrave to Emerald, maintained by volunteers who try to recreate what catching a stream train would have been like in the past. For longer hikes the Grampians a little west of Melbourne have a lot of great walks – day walks as well as overnight hikes. Around Sydney you might look at the Blue Mountains for hikes, but I am less familiar.

      • Tibor says:

        I’ve already seen a very poor (and probably illegal) “home-video” recording of the show on Broadway, that’s basically the only way to see it without going to the US, London or now also Melbourne. So I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy it which is why I’m willing to take a flight all the way from Sydney just to see the show (although I will also probably visit the city while I’m there).

        Thanks for the tips!

    • Masero says:

      Long time lurker. This was the post that finally convinced me to create an account, so thank you.

      Firstly you shouldn’t worry about the wildlife. The only dangerous carnivores are crocodiles and they are only in the far north. There are many poisonous snakes and spiders but if you don’t bother them they won’t bother you. The snakes won’t be very active in winter, I’ve never managed to see one in the wild. That said you can’t be too careful about drop bears. 😛

      I live in Adelaide and haven’t been to Sydney for a long time. Worth seeing the Opera House and catching the ferry across the harbour. As far as hiking goes the blue mountains are where you want to go. They aren’t too far west of Sydney. I can’t recommend anything specific though.

      I’m somewhat more familar with Melbourne. The Great Ocean Road is definitely worth it if you have access to a car. You could get to the 12 apostles and back in a day. The Dandenong ranges would be a good place to go for hiking, they are quite close to Melbourne. If you are willing to drive a few hours then the Grampians are also a great place for hiking. They are between Melbourne and Adealaide. I’ve only done day hikes there but there are lots of options for overnight hikes as well. I’d recommend staying in Halls Gap.

      In the city itself the Queen Victoria Markets are worth seeing. If it isn’t raining then catching a train to St kilda is also worthwhile. There are a bunch of restaurants along South Bank, I stayed in a hotel near there last time.

      The other thing you definitely consider is seeing an AFL match. You can do it Sydney though going to the MCG is better. Melbourne is AFL mad where as the main sport in Sydney is Rugby.

      • John Schilling says:

        That said you can’t be too careful about drop bears.

        What an amazing way to end a paragraph that starts by telling would-be visitors not to fear the wildlife.

        Given the traditional view that all Australian animal life is either weird, venomous, and/or sheep, and the traditional everywhere-but-Australian view that bears are large dangerous carnivores whose general scariness is at least mitigated by the fact that they don’t go about unexpectedly dropping on people, I would think that some elaboration on “drop bears” and how to cautiously avoid them might be called for.

        • Incurian says:

          I heard they’re attracted to red hair, so if you have red hair make sure you wear a hat… that isn’t red.

          • tumteetum says:

            i believe that’s only during the mating season (around april), the rest of the time its being bald that’s the problem, something about the way the light reflects off the head seems to attract them.

          • doubleunplussed says:

            I think I was wrong above, I assumed it was the smell of foreigners compared to locals that made them more likely to be attacked, but apparently a study has shown that surprisingly it’s foreign accents that really make them aggressive.

        • Aapje says:


          It’s a tall tale that is used to scare tourists.

        • Tibor says:

          Wikipedia provides a couple of useful tips on how to avoid/defend yourself against drop bears.

        • Deiseach says:

          I thought drop bears were the local cryptids, how much of a problem can they really be?

          Water horses, now, you really have to be careful about 🙂

    • Tom Clarkson says:

      No need to worry about the wildlife – most of the really nasty stuff is up north. The giant ants have a painful bite, and the leeches seem a bit scary when you first encounter them, but they’re basically harmless. As long as you aren’t the sort to stick your head down a wombat burrow or take clifftop selfies, it’s safe enough.

      Snakes usually get out of the way before you see them, but just in case I always carry compression bandages and a beacon – wrapping a bite can keep the venom out of your system for days, so there is no need to panic, but when a ten minute walk will kill you, self rescue isn’t an option.

      If you aren’t used to walking in Australia, the coast track is a good option about an hour from central Sydney. It’s not wilderness by local standards, but not too touristy either, and next to impossible to get into serious trouble.

      The bigger parks out west are better for avoiding people and seeing wildlife, but those are also the places where unprepared tourists just disappear.

      • Tibor says:

        I guess I should be a prepared tourist then. The emergency beacon seems like a good idea anyway, since I will most likely be hiking alone. Anything else Australia-specific I should carry? Are the bandages necessary in August/are there any snakes around at that time?

        Btw, how and how well are the trails labeled in Australia? I’m used to a very good system from the Czech republic with tracks being denoted by various colours on trees, unified and synchronized with the maps, but in some parts of Germany I found the system quite lacking and imprecise. I guess I might take a GPS in case I really get lost.

        • Tom Clarkson says:

          Snakes are a bit slower in winter, but still around – winters aren’t exactly harsh here. Really though, the risk of getting bitten at any time of year is almost negligible, but being fully prepared is cheap and light.

          Although not precisely Australia-specific, water is pretty important – even outside of summer it can get hotter than you expect, and a lot of creeks are temporary.

          Beyond that it’s mostly a matter of basic navigation skills and a sense of scale – knowing that you can walk for days without seeing another person or any obvious landmarks, and that google maps will stop working as soon as you rely on it.

        • Tom Clarkson says:

          One of my favorite tracks has two official signs at the road end. One says it takes 3 hours, the other says 6. Further down there are unofficial cairns and whatever signs survived the last bushfire. Half of it doesn’t appear on the map at all. That’s fairly typical once you get off the few very popular tracks.

          Usually there’s enough to follow, but GPS with offline maps is definitely a good thing to have.

          • Tibor says:

            Yeah, it sounds like the marking is quite poor. An offline GPS it is then. I guess it is also different in that when you go hiking in the Alps there is still at least a village in sight in the valley or something. And there is no real wilderness in Europe in the sense of no civilization for hundreds of kilometers (although I probably won’t go that far just on my own anyway).

          • Tom Clarkson says:

            Yes, and the tracks are probably a bit rougher than you’re used to. It’s more fun that way.

            You can certainly get much further from civilization here if you want to, but that isn’t the whole story – you’re more likely to get into trouble if you get disoriented somewhere that is ten minutes from suburbia in one direction and hundreds of kilometers of nothing in the other.

        • Aapje says:


          Be sure to watch this documentary.

          • Tibor says:

            I’d seen it several times as a kid, it is my main source of information about Australia! 😛

    • Iain says:

      I know that for example in some parts of Canada you pretty much have to hike with a rifle…

      Wait, what? I assume your friend was talking about bears, but that’s crazy. Bear safety while hiking is much more about making noise so that bears know where you are and can avoid you; in the rare cases where a bear gets aggressive, bear spray is safer and more effective.

      I mean, it’s not like Canada has drop bears.

      • Tibor says:

        Well, she told me that this is the case in the north where you can encounter polar bears. She also said that since they are protected by law, you are required to have three types of ammunition. The first just makes a loud noise, the second is a rubber projectile and the third will kill the bear (I wonder what caliber it has to be to kill such a beast). She also mentioned that mountain cats can sometimes be a bit scary over there. Anyway, I’d rather face a bear with a rifle than with a spray, mostly because of the range.

        • Nornagest says:

          I wonder what caliber it has to be to kill such a beast

          For rifle rounds — actually for all firearms, but it’s especially noticeable for rifle rounds — caliber doesn’t tell you much about the overall power of a projectile. Full-power rifles, the type you’d want against a polar bear (or most other potentially dangerous wildlife short of African megafauna), usually shoot rounds somewhere in the neighborhood of .30 caliber or between 7 and 8 mm. In terms of power, though, these can range from relatively sedate to punishing. Take for example the .30-30 Winchester and the .300 Weatherby Magnum; a rifle shooting the former will generate less than half the muzzle energy of the former, but both bullets are exactly the same diameter. The .30 Carbine round, again the same diameter, is good for only about a quarter although that’s less of an apples-to-apples comparison.

          Bear spray’s generally a better plan, though, yes. Or at least a better Plan A.

          • Tibor says:

            What is the range of the bear spray? And will it really deflect an angry polar bear? I’d much rather shoot it from 10 meters away when it’s running towards me than to wait for when it is almost within reach of its paws.

          • Iain says:

            The difference between 10 meters away and 0 meters away for a charging polar bear is not a lot of time.

            You fire bear spray as the bear is charging so that there is a cloud of unpleasantness when it arrives. It makes a pretty big cloud; ideally, it should be running into the cloud about ten meters away from you anyway.

          • Nornagest says:

            What is the range of the bear spray? And will it really deflect an angry polar bear?

            Five to ten meters, and I don’t know about polar bears but it has a reputation for being effective against grizzlies. As Iain says, it’s more of an area than a point weapon; it’s basically extra-strong pepper spray.

            It probably won’t stop a really determined bear, but, first, most bears are not going to be really determined, and second, your gun won’t immediately stop an animal that size on the first shot either. (Unless it hits the brain stem, but if you’re aiming for that, you’re doing it wrong.)

        • Aapje says:

          Mostly what Nornagest said.

          Penetration is important to destroy enough tissue and a big bullet with little energy can stop or deflect if it hits a big bone.

        • psmith says:

          I agree with commenters saying that the utility of a gun in grizzly country is at least subject to debate (and not at all necessary in black bear country.). Having said that, for many years it was standard practice for Alaskan commercial raft guides to bring a gun along, probably something to do with liability, and the weapon of choice was usually a 12-gauge shotgun with the first round being a slug load and the rest buckshot.

  13. hoghoghoghoghog says:

    How to communicate admonition without blame, particularly on issues that are often moralized? Is there any reliable way to tell someone “it would be better if we did this, rather than that” without it being heard as “only scoundrels do that” or “that should be illegal”?

    Inspired by the following examples:
    * Assuming that fempto-aggressions are significant, there seems to be no non-threatening way to tell anyone about them.
    * Assuming that fempto-aggressions aren’t significant, there seems to be no way to tell this to people who think that they are, without accusing the latter of being authoritarians.
    * It seems very hard to articulate a position like “Botswana is within its rights to grant or not grant immigration to whomever the Batswana please (possibly no one), but it would be nice of them to let in such-and-such people.”

    (I realize this is risky in the no culture war thread, but I think it would be actually impossible in a culture war thread)

    • keranih says:

      “I feel very strongly that I should urge you to (not) do that, but I would not support a law that made that mandatory (or illegal.)”

    • Shion Arita says:

      Not all moral issues are things that should be in the domain of what legislation controls. In many cases, the cure is worse than the disease.

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      Don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s spelled “femto”.

      I often fall back on sticking to facts. Such as “I [don’t] think that’s really important”. That’s not asking anyone to do anything. Some people will not like it anyway, but that’s OK.

      But it sounds like maybe you’re (1) surrounded by overbearing jerks, or (2) really oversensitive to potential conflict. The advice on what to do are wildly different depending on which one it is 🙂

    • Zodiac says:

      Have I missed another euphemism? Google only knows Femto which is a measurement unit (or anime character).

    • lvlln says:

      I don’t think there’s a reliable way of doing this, because it’s trivial for anyone to decide to interpret whatever you say as blaming them. But I think one way to approach it that would work a good portion of the time is by combining the admonishment with a strong push back against that admonishment.

      For instance, for a femto-aggression, one might say, “That thing you did might have caused a tiny amount of harm to this person, so I would prefer it if you decided to avoid doing that, AND ANYONE WHO WOULD TREAT YOU ANY WORSE FOR NOT DECIDING TO AVOID DOING THAT IS A FUCKING ASSHOLE WHO DESERVES TO BE PUNCHED.” You need a strong, maybe even extreme, statement that communicates that your admonishment should carry with it no blame or demand to change behavior whatsoever, in order to interrupt and counteract the default impulse people seem to tend to have to interpret admonishments as blame.

    • Deiseach says:

      My own personal feeling is that femto-aggressions are not meant maliciously which, as you say in a case where actions and thoughts are moralised and intention counts for nothing, gets you nowhere; those who take them seriously think you’re defending jerks who deliberately and knowingly gravely insult others, and those who don’t take them seriously think you’re trying to accuse them of committing femto-aggressions all day long because they’re too oblivious/insensitive/uneducated to realise they’re being insulting.

    • roystgnr says:

      Phrase the admonition as a request? Add a note of thanks to anyone who accedes? Drop the matter with anyone who doesn’t? The cliche is “carrot-and-stick”, and just because everyone seems to be waling on each other with sticks lately shouldn’t mean that we completely forget that carrots exist.

  14. Dahlen says:

    Is there such a thing as an agency quotient, the equivalent of IQ for the capacity to make choices and act in a deliberate (as opposed to akratic, habitual, or unreflective) way? If so, does it similarly have neurobiological correlates? I can think of ADHD, for example, as a disorder that can negatively impact agency. And obviously people do vary on this trait; there are those who stare dumbly at a screen day after day and never make a choice or venture outside of their comfort zone, and then there are the people whose biographies you find interesting to read. It would be interesting if someone could come up with reliable measures of agency, but then again the test-taking setting isn’t one in which a person’s capacity for initiative can best shine through. It seems as important an ability as intelligence, and not all that correlated with it.

    • victa20 says:

      Maybe something that combines your stroop task speed with working memory?

      • victa20 says:

        Executive functioning is definitely key, though (and there are other EF tests that could maybe add to this “agency quotient). People with ADHD obviously have struggle with EF; but so do people with autism (get TOO fixated). And in a less technical sense, organizational skills? There’s definitely something to people who “take care of their shit.”

      • Dahlen says:

        I highly doubt it. Like I said, the capacity to initiate actions and pursue goals is difficult to measure in a lab setting, because tests that you can be given in a lab setting are of the form “here, have a seat at this desk/computer/machinery and follow the instructions that have been laid out for you”. Being assigned to do something that tests initiative, or the ability to be a “self-starter”, is inherently contradictory.

        What you’re saying is just part of the battery of tests given out to provide an indication of a possible ADHD diagnosis.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if the rudimentary form of such measurements would just be an interview that focuses upon certain aspects of one’s life and daily behaviour.

    • Incurian says:

      Your definition of agency seemed good at first glance, but after thinking about a minute I think this is probably a very complicated question and requires a very precise definition of agency. I can imagine different people having more/less agency under different circumstances, that is to say, there’s probably more than one kind of agency and they might not be strongly correlated. I can imagine resistance to akrasia, habit, tradition, authority, social pressure, etc. as being different and not necessarily correlated traits, and I can imagine a person being resistant for different reasons (although maybe the reason isn’t relevant to the AQ, still interesting though).

      I apologize if that was incoherent or stupid, I need to go to bed, but I wanted to throw my two cents in because that’s such an interesting question. I’m hoping others are able to shed some light on this.

      • Incurian says:

        Sleeping is hard. Some thoughts: maybe agency is primarily the capability to actually generate ideas, the confidence to implement them, and being sufficiently motivated to do so though resistance? I would be surprised if it was exclusively about high xor low level processes.

      • Dahlen says:

        It’s alright, I was sleep deprived when posting the grandparent comment and still am. The minimal thought given to the precision of the definition can be attributed to that; I just wanted to get my meaning across, before delving into the details.

        I don’t think it can be defined just in negative terms, in terms of resistance to our worse impulses. The very meaning of “agency” relates to active change, it is defined as what you do, not what you don’t do. What I had in mind was an ability to translate thought about action into action itself, to be sufficiently proficient in “taking actions” (in general) so as to exercise good judgment regarding your plans for action in the first place, to be able to prioritise and to have an appropriate sense of urgency when required, to not run out of determination too soon while you’re doing something, to cope well with a busy schedule, and to exercise the decision-making capacity to block certain actions that come more naturally (temptations, incentives, inconveniences, etc.) and change course.

        There may also be a component involving how ambitious or adventurous the actions you endeavour are; how well you tolerate risk, and how you bounce back from setbacks; how original and resourceful your methods are; how you capitalise on opportunities, etc.

        Put like that, it does indeed appear to be a very complex ability (perhaps something at the intersection of volitional processes and rationality), but somehow I think all of these fit into the same model of behaviour, in that doing well on one of these measures somewhat implies doing well on the rest, perhaps because there is a common factor involved.

        I’m interested in asking whether there are neurobiological correlates because I’m expecting these to overlap with the structures and processes implicated in volition and affected in ADHD, and thus they could be improvable by psychostimulants, at least a little. There’s also the harder problem in which these measures are more anatomical than functional, but even so, there’s a chance I might be on to something here. Yes, agency is to a great degree a high-level process, where low-level factors interact significantly with high-level, variable factors like mood, external opportunities, or how the person conceives of their own goals and of the resources they have for achieving them. However, it also might form a stable facet of one’s personality, with one person being consistently more engaged, active, and enterprising than another, across time and similar circumstances. And that implies (I think?) brain differences.

        • Incurian says:

          Some anecdotal data: I have found that adderall not only helps me think, it helps me actually execute my plans, and to persevere with them through resistance. That’s probably a point in favor of agency being a simpler concept than I was speculating above (or at least, that there is a common factor uniting the various components).

          Edit: Regarding defining agency by negation, as I was writing it I did feel as if a positive definition would be better, but now that I think about it, negative actually might be the right way. If you think of normal behavior as a series of pre-determined responses to stimuli without any cognition involved (as is the norm with living things), then defining agency as deviation from that norm may be most useful. The degree to which we are not wet robots. Now, I actually do think we are wet robots, with determinism and all, but we’re sufficiently advanced wet robots that our behavior is difficult to predict and self-modifying. Maybe that’s what agency is.

          • victa20 says:

            Being high in “Internal Locus of Control” would matter here, too, no?

          • Incurian says:

            Is that a measure of subjective belief or or an objective measure of the ability to do things?

            If it’s belief, then the causation could be backwards.

          • victa20 says:

            LOC is a subjective measure, but I’d also say that because we can measure high external LOC quite objectively (imagine a paranoid schizophrenic saying he can’t go to the store because the CIA will get him), we could also find a way to measure high internal LOC objectively. I’ll also just back up a bit here and say that it just wounds like we’re talking about conscientiousness, which now contains orderliness and industriousness, which is usually measured subjectively, but here is a study using an objective “conscientiousness index.”

            **Edit: I’m also sleep deprived. Ugh.

  15. Scott Alexander says:

    Any reason other than fear of losing that I should be reluctant to bet large amounts of money (let’s say more than $1000) on PredictIt? Large hidden fees? A tendency to occasionally refuse to pay you back? Risk that the Feds will shut down the whole site and nobody will get anything back?

    Yes, this is about Le Pen.

    • qwints says:

      10% of profit + 5% withdrawal fee. Takes 30 days to withdraw. Max of $850 per contract as well.

      Some counterparty risk as well. Google predictit no action letter (or I could: to see the rules they’re operating under. I stopped using it when I noticed they were offering makers on the number of Trump tweets in a given week.

      • random832 says:

        Does the CFTC regulate gambling, and/or does it deciding to take no action have any value in supposing that the site won’t get shut down as a gambling site? I honestly don’t understand how this works.

        • CatCube says:

          Remember, as the Dakota Access Pipeline people learned, just because a government agency says you’re good to hook doesn’t prevent them from changing their minds later if the political winds shift.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          The key point is that IEM has operated for decades with the same endorsement. Gambling is not the purview of the CFTC, I think. In theory another agency could declare Predictit to be gambling, but when the feds moved against off-shore poker, they ignored Intrade. In fact, it was the CFTC that ultimately moved against Intrade. First they negotiated a deal in which Intrade would only offer political betting, not betting on financial markets, which is obviously the purview of CFTC, but then Intrade broke the deal.

          In any event, since Predictit is operating in America and cooperate with the governments, I think that if it is shut down or excluded from more states, the unwinding will be orderly.

    • Deiseach says:

      A tendency to occasionally refuse to pay you back?

      That makes me wonder are they going by debts of honour not being recoverable, and that makes me ask: am I operating off outdated information (i.e. 19th century novels) and are debts of honour recoverable at law nowadays? (I am presuming here that in order to keep on the right side of the law/revenue, PredictIt are likely to claim they are a gaming, lottery or other game of chance and skill operation and not a stock market or financial whatever).

      If they have a habit of not paying up, I’d say to hell with them and blow it on the bookies (if you can afford to eat a loss of $1,000).

      • BBA says:

        (I am presuming here that in order to keep on the right side of the law/revenue, PredictIt are likely to claim they are a gaming, lottery or other game of chance and skill operation and not a stock market or financial whatever)

        Actually, the reverse. In America bookmaking is illegal in 49 of the 50 states, and the 50th (Nevada) prohibits bookies from taking bets on elections. On the other hand, futures and derivatives markets are specifically exempted from anti-gambling laws. So you’re on more solid ground legally if you can get under CFTC jurisdiction, though the regulatory burden is heavy.

        The no-action letter from the CFTC says “you’re too small for us to regulate” and is silent on the question of whether PredictIt is a futures exchange (and thus exempt from state gambling laws) or a bookie (and thus illegal).

        • random832 says:

          I’m not sure how it can be a futures exchange – what commodity is being traded?

          • BBA says:

            There are increasingly abstract “commodities” being traded on futures exchanges. The VIX, for instance, is a measure of the relative prices of certain options on index futures, which are themselves futures without a physical commodity. (ETFs can be converted into their underlying stocks, but index futures can’t.) If you can invest in the future value of an arbitrary number, why not have that number be an election result?

            And, yes, at some point this becomes indistinguishable from gambling, and the only reason why it isn’t illegal is that the Commodity Exchange Act says it isn’t.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        Let me add to this and say that there is precedent for anything that looks even somewhat gambling-ish and grows in popularity to draw the governmental eye of sauron at either the state or federal level.

        If someone DOES decide to lower the regulatory or legislative boom, I would not count on recouping ANY money at all.

        • Unsaintly says:

          To be fair, DraftKings is pretty obviously gambling and any classification system that says it isn’t should in fact be looked at and revised. Similarly, predictIt is also pretty obviously gambling and should be treated as such.

          While I disagree with our laws about gambling, and believe that it should be allowed pretty much everywhere, I find it hard to criticize the decision to classify gambling websites as such.

    • arabaga says:

      As qwints mentioned, there are some (non-hidden) fees, but they would still leave you with a profit if Le Pen loses. I don’t know of any hidden fees.

      This is my first time using it, since Le Pen seems very mispriced for some reason. I don’t know anyone personally who has used it, but I am not too worried since it seems to have been reported on in mainstream sources and there doesn’t seem to be any issue, e.g.

      I also just wanted to mention that there are 3 essentially equivalent bets, so that you can actually bet $2,550 total rather than just $850:
      1) Yes on Macron:
      2) No on Le Pen at the same link
      3) No on Le Pen getting 50+% of the vote:

      Currently No on Le Pen winning is cheapest.

  16. Well... says:

    I read what I could of Carter Scholz’s Gypsy here before the free preview ended, one page into chapter 4. Still deciding if I’ll try and get my library to order a copy for me or if I’ll just move on to more Neal Stephenson, or maybe something else. (By the way, I finished The Diamond Age, and I think what I said about it last time stands.)

    Anyway, someone asked me for a review of Gypsy. So, there’s my caveat: I read only some of it, and I’m not sure how much of it I didn’t read.

    To echo another SSC reviewer from the last OT, the scenario certainly felt realistic/plausible/etc. to me,* and for this reason I found it a very impressive story. Also, I thought the method of storytelling (the vignettes and the motivation for them) worked nicely. And all in all it was shaping up into something interesting I’d like to have finished reading (maybe I will have my library order it after all).

    …But I’m not sure what else I liked about it. The poetic bits were a bit overly poetic for my tastes. It was slow and dreary, a story set in space but with no sense of wonder, which is weird since even hardened career astronauts are always gushing about how wondrous it is up there. The characters didn’t engage me–all I got of each one was background on what is their area of expertise or what hurdles they’d overcome, and no sense of what they are like as people. Same for the settings, etc. And the story definitely didn’t have that sense of “what’s going to happen next?” It was more like Something Happened, here’s a bunch of technical jargon to impress upon me how well the author understands how that could have happened, and now here’s Another Thing That Happened, repeat.

    Come to think of it, I think I like realism and plausibility in science fiction because if it’s done right I end up with at least a rudimentary grasp of the basic concepts being used, which is a sweet deal from fiction. But if you just parade a bunch of technical jargon in front of my face then I’m inclined to believe it’s accurate and either that you’re really smart or that you’ve done your homework really well, but it also leaves me feeling dumber, lazier, uninspired, certainly no less ignorant. Right there is a big difference between Scholz’s and Stephenson’s writing and why I like Stephenson’s more.

    *Rkprcg sbe Fretrv trggvat qrgnpurq sebz gur fuvc qhevat uvf RIN. Frevbhfyl? Jul jnfa’g ur hfvat n grgure, ng yrnfg nf n cerpnhgvba? Gung znqr ab frafr.

    PS. I don’t normally write reviews, here or on my blog. If anyone thinks I should–or should not–please let me know, and if the former, what I should write them about.

    • herbert herberson says:

      My copy is still on its way.

    • Deiseach says:

      Mmm – I only read the preview bit on Amazon (the “look inside” snippet they offer you) and that put me right off, because from the start he’s stacking the deck to make the story work.

      Now, every author does that, but it should be done with some finesse and skill and, like a magician, not giving away the trick right away. From the first page with the “I can’t go hiking no more because of the Feds and the dad-gump environmentalist crazies passing their laws!”, that was rather too much showing his auctorial hand for me, and I folded my tent and slipped away. Indeed, it wasn’t even done as “I can’t go hiking no more”, it was flat-out “As you know Bob” telling, not showing.

      In short, you couldn’t pay me to read this book as it feels like being beaten around the face with a political tract and not a work of scientifiction. For an example of how to do your political tract right, see Ursula Le Guin’s The New Atlantis.

  17. nimim.k.m. says:

    Have not read it, but I’m reading his previous book, Sapiens, about half-way through. Might write a comprehensive review later, but initial impressions: I like reading this kind of summary of “what we know of our history” and many of his arguments, but he seems bit too attached to the phrase “exception that proves the rule” and other such … let’s say, inexact … argumentation.

    • herbert herberson says:

      I remember disliking and not-finishing Sapiens. It felt like reading a version of Guns Germs and Steel where the flaws were twice as bad and all the fun history and anthropology facts were ones I already knew.

      • Wrong Species says:


        Why the West Rules… For Now by Ian Morris is a book on Big History that’s that doesn’t sound like it was meant to be a Ted Talk. He evens quantifies a civilization score comparing Eastern and Western civilization and writes about the Singularity. Perfect for SSC readers.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        the fun history and anthropology facts were ones I already knew

        Ah, but most of them are new to me.

        Are you willing to elaborate on the flaws you saw?

        • herbert herberson says:

          The main flaw of Guns, Germs, and Steel is that it takes one interesting answer to one interesting question (namely, that the differences between the pre-Columbian eastern and western hemispheres can largely be explained by differences in domesticable flora and fauna and their distribution, which in turn can largely be explained with simple geographic facts) and tries to export the same ways of thinking to places where it doesn’t actually work except when applied very vaguely/broadly (i.e., the differences within Eurasia).

          Sapians does basically the same thing, except in the place of “Eurasia had horses, chickens, and cows, while the Americas only had turkeys and llamas” he uses a sort of Whigism of progressively more abstract thought, which is fair enough when applied to the Industrial/Scientific revolutions, but gets progressively sketchier when it is applied to its antecedents.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          tries to export the same ways of thinking to places where it doesn’t actually work except when applied very vaguely/broadly (i.e., the differences within Eurasia).

          I don’t remember this being anywhere in the book except the last chapter, and the language being very, very “I don’t know, here is an idea to explore”.

          The overwhelming theme of the book is Eurasis compared and contrasted to The Americas, Africa, Australia and the rest of the Pacific islands.

  18. aqs says:

    Hello, I’m advertising our SSC meetup information repository again.

    We have got some updates on the meetup information lately, so apparently some people are really using this resource (yay!?). So I thought I should remind the OT crowd that this is a thing that exists.

    • There will be another San Jose meetup this coming Sunday, again at our house (3806 Williams Rd, San Jose, CA 95117), starting at 2:00.

    • Having looked at your link, I cannot figure out how I am supposed to tell you about my meetup so as to put it on your repository. Google Groups shows various things with the SSC Groups label, so I don’t know which, if any, is yours.

      Can’t you just put up an email address to which you want people to send the URL of the page where they announce their meetup?

      Mine is:

      • aqs says:

        Thanks for the feedback! I guess I’ve been using GitHub so long that I’ve forgotten it might not be immediately obvious how to use it if you are not already familiar with it. (The idea is to register an account, and then create an Issue. Many FOSS projects use github for project management / issues / etc.)

        I also updated San Jose information, and updated the instructions (with an email).

        • My experience as a non-programmer who recently tried to set up a website with GitHub Pages is that GitHub has a remarkably confusing and user-unfriendly interface.

  19. Jaskologist says:

    Confessions of Augustine discussion thread

    Hope you found time to read the first two chapters. Post your thoughts here! I’ll probably get around to posting mine later in the evening.

    Previously: Intro

    Texts: Online | eBook | Audio | Latin | Abridged dead tree

    • Jaskologist says:

      FWIW, my initial thought every time I re-read this is that Augustine sure is whiny about his childhood and early education. Get over it already, Augustine.

      • Evan Þ says:

        I didn’t think it was whining, so much as reflecting back on it from a very different vantage point. He passes over his teachers’ faults quite briefly, and spends much more time lambasting himself and his fellow students for chasing after worthless fables rather than truly useful skills like grammar and reading itself.

    • Jaskologist says:

      keranih mentioned four archetypes to Christian living.

      Augustine – reflective, authoritarian, contemplative
      Thomasian (Thomas of Aquanias) – inquisitive, knowledge-based
      Ignatian (the Jesuits) – rule bound, obedient, unyielding
      Franciscan – glorifying, exhalting, unfettered

      I would suggest replacing “Ignatian” with “Monica.” She represents the archetypal rock-ribbed believer (I would call her a fundamentalist if that weren’t an anachronism). She is in many ways almost the complete opposite of Augustine, who represents a much more thoughtful, “needs to have everything proved to him” type (I’m not sure I would call him authoritarian. At least, he rebelled against such in his youth). One of themes underlying the book is tracing his journey as compared to hers, and tying them back together in the end.

      • keranih says:

        I am not very certain about the Augustinian charisma as I described it – I don’t have my notes from that session anywhere I could find them. I’d have to read more about Monica in order to consider the replacement, but I’m currently digging in my heels against it.

    • Jaskologist says:

      The Great Pear Heist

      There was a pear tree close to our own vineyard, heavily laden with fruit, which was not tempting either for its color or for its flavor. Late one night — having prolonged our games in the streets until then, as our bad habit was — a group of young scoundrels, and I among them, went to shake and rob this tree. We carried off a huge load of pears, not to eat ourselves, but to dump out to the hogs, after barely tasting some of them ourselves. Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden.

      Those pears were truly pleasant to the sight, but it was not for them that my miserable soul lusted, for I had an abundance of better pears. I stole those simply that I might steal, for, having stolen them, I threw them away. My sole gratification in them was my own sin, which I was pleased to enjoy; for, if any one of these pears entered my mouth, the only good flavor it had was my sin in eating it.

      Augustine’s philosophy is fundamentally about love. Whatever our hearts are inclined towards, we will gravitate towards that in attempt to unite with it. Sin is just as much as matter of love as anything else, it’s just that the love has been perverted (literally “turned the wrong way”).

      So think about the implications for him of realizing that humans can love to do a thing precisely because it is wrong.

      • keranih says:

        Part of me feels that the pear heist is kinda adorb, because that’s the sort of stupid thoughtless destructive behavior that young humans do, and it doesn’t end really badly.

        The part of me that loathes waste, that knows that that fruit could have fed someone (even if Auggie takes care to point out that the fruit isn’t really a good market money crop), that really annoys me.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Part of me thinks Augustine focused on this particular sin because it’s was a “safe” sin to confess to. He can admit his sinful nature without any of us actually thinking worse of him. Keep in mind that later in life Augustine live with a woman for over a decade, fathered a child with her, and then sent her away so he could marry a rich girl who would further his career instead. He spends as little time as possible on that particular incident.

          But I also think he’s right to focus on this incident, because it really does cut to the heart of the matter. Most sins can be explained as still being in pursuit of some lower good (robbery aims to get things that would be perfectly licit to get through other means, for example). What was the good being pursued here? Nothing; he was pursuing evil itself, even if on a very small scale. The Problem of Evil is that any evil at all exists, not just the really bad stuff.

        • Jaskologist says:

          (Also, from a thematic standpoint, it parallels the story of Adam and Eve’s fall nicely, which I’m sure is intentional.)

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        This is about building the system 1 belief (based on a system 2 conviction) that it’s alright to flourish and one’s good points are good enough, and one of the side effects is no longer finding perversity attractive.

        I find it plausible that perversity is a side effect of badly conceived efforts at virtue and/or teaching virtue. There’s a Rand quote which goes approximately that if people are taught that the virtues needed for life are immoral, they end up embracing actual evils.

        I didn’t notice the title was a song quote until it turned up in a google search for the article.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Reminds me of how Milton depicts Satan as falling in love with Sin some time after conceiving her (“of the Devil’s party” my butt).

        I agree with the term “adorb” for li’l Augustine’s mischief going all pear-shaped.

        @Evan: “musing about his infancy and even pre-birth existence.”

        I was going to say “because he was a philosopher, and pre-birth existence was a big issue of the day”, but maybe not. Origen died around AD 253 and “the fabulous pre-existence of souls” was only condemned at a Church council 300 years later, so I’m not sure how much any other intellectual cared about their pre-birth existence when Confessions was written.

        1.7: Augustine did not like babies. “I myself have seen and known an infant to be jealous though it could not speak. It became pale, and cast bitter looks on its foster-brother. Who is ignorant of this? Mothers and nurses tell us that they appease these things by I know not what remedies; and may this be taken for innocence, that when the fountain of milk is flowing fresh and abundant, one who has need should not be allowed to share it, though needing that nourishment to sustain life?”

        Note the adjective “foster” there. Would we with contemporary science explain Augustine’s sense-experience with evolutionary psychology? Was the baby jealous of his or her foster-brother’s nursing because of sensing he wasn’t a blood relative? Is it Original Sin that animals evolved to be selfish? All creation groans…
        Contemporary philosophy considers Hume’s guillotine stronger than ethical naturalism. But arguing that we ought not conform to what our nature is raises many questions for which philosophy lacks strong answers. Augustine tells us that we should follow the Good rather than our nature, and formulates (not here) the strongest answer I know.

        • Nornagest says:

          Milton definitely doesn’t paint his Lucifer as being on the right side of the plot, but he’s a far more interesting and dynamic character than Milton’s God or Jesus. Gets better lines, too; the Pandemonium speech is one of the best monologues in all of English literature, but I don’t think I can remember as much as a line from the side of the angels.

          Blake gets this; he says Milton writes “in fetters” about angels and God, and “at liberty” about devils and Satan. That seems like a fair take to me.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            True, the first part of Blake’s quote is highly insightful. God and Christ get no good lines, Michael is saddled with “an undigested lump of futurity” to declaim, Gabriel… I guess he gets lumped in with God. Raphael gets some cute lines, but “fetters” is still a fair take. Satan is the hero of the epic, and to say that heroes are bad because Satan is their archetype is a hard pill to swallow (Pascal says the same darn thing in his Wager argument: “you’ll still have many pleasures, just not fornication or military glory”, paraphrasing, and I think we’ve all strawmanned that).

        • JulieK says:

          I myself have seen and known an infant to be jealous though it could not speak.

          Once I bought matching pajamas for my sons, at that time about six and one-and-a-half years old. That night the older boy put on pajamas, and the toddler saw him and started whimpering, and I observed, “He thinks his brother took his pajamas!”

    • keranih says:

      Oh, here you are, good.

      I really like how Auggie spends the first bit of the book trying to define God, and through God, Creation and humans. Drilling down into the specifics helps to understand the whole concept of a God in that sense of infinite power and complete wisdom.

      It’s not like one can actually see the water, or feel it on your skin, but there’s this weird sense that there is *something* there, that had always been there, that you’d just never been aware of before as you swam along.

    • Evan Þ says:

      I was surprised by how much time Augustine spent (after meditating on God’s nature, as keranih said) musing about his infancy and even pre-birth existence. On the one hand, very few of us think about it, and it does showcase God’s provision for us. On the other hand, there’s nothing in it that actually tells us about Augustine’s life.

      So, perhaps the question is, why was Augustine writing this? Is it a biography to tell us about his life (where, under the styles of his time, he would have begun around the first notable events in his life), or is it something else? A Confession?

      • Jaskologist says:

        Confessions is Augustine’s HPMOR. He’s telling his life story in order to present his philosophy to the broadest audience possible.

        I’m not saying the events are fictional, but his primary goal is not to tell us about his life. It’s to illustrate human nature and the search for God by way of his own life story.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Another passage that stood out to me. Hopefully won’t get too culture-warry.

      My Father had no concern as to how I grew towards you, or how chaste I was, as long as I was skillful in speech, however fruitless I might have been your cultivation of my heart, which is your field, O God. Although my mother had now fled out of the “center of Babylon,” she still went more slowly in the skirts of it. She advised me to be chaste, but paid no heed to what her husband had told her about me, so as to restrain within the bounds of married love what she felt to be presently destructive and dangerous for the future.

      She did not heed this, for she feared that a wife might prove a clog an hindrance to my hopes -not the hopes of the world to come, which my mother had in you, but the hopes of education, which both my parents were too anxious for me to acquire- my father because he had little or no thought of you and only vain thoughts for me, and my mother because she thought that the usual courses of learning would not only be no drawback, but even of some help towards my attaining you. And my iniquity grew enormous.

      This sounds to me just like what we do when we prioritize sending our kids through college over getting them married. Augustine does not approve.

    • Jaskologist says:


      Read up to through Book 4, Chapter IX (page 56 in the abridged version). Some things to be on the lookout for:

      * Augustine develops a love of the theater, something he now regrets. What do you think of his view of fiction?
      * Augustine investigates astrology.
      * Monica’s vision.
      * Augustine’s best friend died young. How does this affect him?

  20. James says:

    Site mod suggestion: a John Sidles comment blocker. I keep struggling most of the way through his comments before realising they’re unusually opaque and thinking to check who wrote them. I’d be grateful to any script that could save me the trouble.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      There is already mod that hides users by name. It is client side, and I can’t remember where you get it from.

    • Incurian says:

      I think that would just be a person-blocker, since he changes his nick so often. Unless you mean a blocker that can automatically identify comments with a word to semantic content ratio of “wtf did I just read?” That might be a more difficult project.

      • rlms says:

        Checking for an unusually large number of questions would get you pretty far. If you were willing to manually update it with his ever-changing idiosyncratic vocabulary (STEAM, most recently alt.*) then that would do it as well.

        • rlms says:

          Update: am building a Sidles-classifier building on my previous comment scraper. Preliminary results: John Sidles occasionally uses Deiseach’s and bean’s accounts!

          • Deiseach says:

            Preliminary results: John Sidles occasionally uses Deiseach’s and bean’s accounts!

            Well, plainly I will need to up my usage of exclamation marks (and here was me thinking my abuse of semi-colons was my identifying mark)!

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:


            I demand that this shocking scandal be investigated at once! The people demand answers, Scott!

            Alternatively, bean, Deiseach, and Sidles are all the same person, switching sock-puppets depending on whether s/he wants to talk about technical naval and military matters, Irish/Catholic/European culture and petty bureaucratic nonsense, or incomprehensible castles of thought.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I think I can be distinguished from other people because I’m the only one who uses a lot of double dashes.

            Now that I think about it, how do people get through the day without them?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Lots of people use double dashes. Open thread 74.25 has 161 en-dashes and 63 em-dashes.

          • bean says:

            How did you know?
            (Attempt to spoof John’s style abandoned because I can’t bring myself to think like that.)
            For some reason, I find that hilarious. I can’t figure out why, unless it’s picking up on the index posts.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’m a pretty serious abuser of the em-dash — and I’m definitely not Nancy Lebovitz. (or John Sidles for that matter)

          • herbert herberson says:

            I only took two journalism classes in college–one on theory and one on practice–but they permanently converted me to Team Em-Dash

          • Deiseach says:

            I can’t figure out why, unless it’s picking up on the index posts.

            Thinking about it, I think it has to do with having a lot of links in a comment. John/Marshayne/whomever the next regeneration will be tends to use a lot of links, as well as question marks, in their comments.

            Note to self: stop putting in so many links in one comment. Also, brevity.

          • bean says:

            Alternatively, bean, Deiseach, and Sidles are all the same person, switching sock-puppets depending on whether s/he wants to talk about technical naval and military matters, Irish/Catholic/European culture and petty bureaucratic nonsense, or incomprehensible castles of thought.

            But you see, I’ve actually met Scott, which I don’t think is true of Deiseach or John, so that would clearly make me the puppetmaster, right.
            (Ignoring the fact that they were both here long before me.)

          • keranih says:

            John Sidles occasionally uses Deiseach’s and bean’s accounts!

            It’s been six hours and I’m still laughing about this.

          • rlms says:

            Are there any machine learning experts around? My current classifier seems to reliably detect Sidles comments on the non-training set, but it also has large numbers of false positives. Are there any general techniques to stop that? It predicts the training set perfectly.

          • Incurian says:

            Maybe you can whitelist known non-sidles posters.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            This is sidles until proven non-sidles, though.

          • Incurian says:

            Desperate times…

          • Brad says:

            I’m just starting down the path of learning, but it sounds like overfitting. Are you doing regularization?

          • Nornagest says:

            Good performance on the training set but a high error rate in the wild makes me think overfitting, but high rates of false positives and low rates of false negatives (high sensitivity, low specificity) makes me think something else is going on, too. The usual way to avoid overfitting involves splitting off a cross-validation set and using it to decide when to stop iterating over the training set, so that might be a good first step.

          • Chalid says:

            Everyone’s saying overfitting, and that’s probably true in a sense, but it may be that the proper response isn’t to bring in regularization or other anti-overfitting techniques but instead to expand your training set. What did you use?

          • Chalid says:

            I’m very far from an expert on this stuff, but would you get a high false positive rate and low false negative rate if the proportions of Sidles comments was much higher in the training set?

          • rlms says:

            My training set is all Sidles’ comments (including known alts) from posts outside the most recent 20, plus a number of posts from identified non-Sidles posters (I’ve experimented with the number of those, from half the number of Sidles ones to ten times). There are only a couple of hundred Sidles posts.

            I was originally using TextBlob, but I couldn’t work out how to add feature extractors that used frequency so I switched to scikit-learn. I think TextBlob had fewer false positives.

          • Marshayne Lonehand says:

            Rlms, your efforts are laudable! — please accept this humble type specimen.

            Pro Tip  Check for non-breaking spaces (i.e., the html code  “&nbsp;”):

            Typographers will tell you to eliminate widows and orphans — typographers are MONSTERS

            If your filter, once trained, does not block Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Lincoln’s Second Inagural Address, and Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! — at the very least, upon grounds of an excessive prevalence of em-dashes, superfluous exclamation points, and elliptical sentence constructions! — then please be assured that the defect cannot be in your filter, but in the target specimen’s poor prose.

            Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that the perfection of your typographic filter will preserve the alt.SSC’s “Lost Cause” of Boeotian orthography, against the monstrous cognitive incursions of the Progressive Enlightenment! 🙂

          • rlms says:

            Thanks John.

      • Deiseach says:

        a blocker that can automatically identify comments with a word to semantic content ratio

        Question mark content ratio is the way to identify it. If it looks like something written by The Riddler, it’s That Man Again! 🙂

        • dndnrsn says:

          For a while the best method was references to the Marine commandant’s reading list. The occasional reference to the novel Matterhorn still slips in.

      • Nornagest says:

        How can you block one person with dozens of handles but a highly idiosyncratic style? The world wonders!

        • Randy M says:

          Nornagest ponders:
          How can you block one person with dozens of handles but a highly idiosyncratic style? The world wonders!

          Indeed, SSC readers and (non-alt-realty) adjacent fellow empathetic cognators should carefully consider what it says to attempt to reduce a string of carefully curated, highly tuned signals and non-paradigmatic clues into base meaning.
          Should we engage in pattern matching for the purpose of exclusion? Nornagest makes the astute observation that “woke” rationalists will surely likewise endorse, and they are not the only ones.

    • Mark says:

      I really like John’s comments – in the last open thread I asked about people’s opinions on repatriating cultural artifacts and he responded with a series of links about Michael Foucault, comparing Foucaults position to that of the “alt.SSC” contingent.

      Now, I don’t know what the alt.SSC is, and I’m not familiar with Foucault, but his basic point was pretty clearly made:

      One point is that the value of cultural artifacts — like the value of a great many human treasures — is neither fungible nor liquid, is it? In particular that value can be harmed by sequestration, can’t it?

      So, a cultural artifact only has cultural value within some social context and removing items from their context destroys that value. It may have a different value in a new social context, but really, this is a question of which cultural/social context we value more – you can’t separate the question from these cultural considerations.

      Or something like that – I think that’s a pretty interesting and sensible comment, he provided links to further reading – and nothing wrong with a slightly idiosyncratic style in my opinion.

      • Incurian says:

        So, a cultural artifact only has cultural value within some social context and removing items from their context destroys that value.

        Like the way taking a baseball out of a diamond and scribbling all over it makes it worthless.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          But surely the relevant social context here is the United States which treasures its baseball players?

          What value would a baseball signed by the entire 1928 Yankees lineup have to a peasant in Maoist China, or a Roman legionary, or one of Napoleon’s soldiers?

          • Incurian says:

            So if the United States treasures the thing, then tautologically it has some value to them, even outside of its original context.

            To use a less silly example, the Brits (or whomever) didn’t go digging all up and down the Nile (or wherever) and bring the stuff back to their museums because they thought they’d value it less that way. Their (and basically everyone else’s) revealed preference shows that things have value outside their original context.

            Whether or not it’s a moral thing to do is a different question.

          • Mark says:

            I think the baseball example supports the “social context” argument.

            If I take a baseball and keep it in a glass cabinet, it means I can’t play with it. In the context of a baseball game I’ve destroyed its value.
            If I take a signed baseball and play with it, I destroy its value as a collectors item.

            Now, obviously, a baseball in play can be replaced with any other baseball (highly fungible?), so it makes sense to collect any particular baseball that can be collected.
            But if we imagine that weren’t the case, that we had just one baseball and we had to decide what to do with it, how would we do it except by deciding which cultural context were more important, which made the most sense?

            In practice, the person with power is going to be the one who makes this decision, so its likely that whichever context appeals to them is going to win the day.

            I think it’s possible that the Elgin marbles in the British Museum have a different kind of value to a different set of people than the Parthenon marbles.

          • Aapje says:


            The problem with that argument is that it is basically a tautology: if an item is valued beyond its usability, then there must be a cultural context that gives value to the item.

            However, it seems pretty obvious to me that cultural value can be created completely independent of the original context. Archaeology is a good example. We know jack shit about some ancient cultures and yet we value their artifacts, despite having no idea if they were valued artifacts back then or poop scoopers.

          • Incurian says:

            You know, I didn’t read your post carefully enough and missed “It may have a different value in a new social context, but really, this is a question of which cultural/social context we value more – you can’t separate the question from these cultural considerations.” I don’t think we’re in disagreement.

          • MNH says:

            Edit: A lot of new posts were made between me loading this page and making my comment. No longer relevant, apologies.

        • rlms says:

          Yes, precisely. A baseball removed from that context is no longer fulfilling its role as equipment in a game. It may have value in another context, but that cannot be guaranteed (especially if we pick an example that is actually analogical and doesn’t involve changing the object by autographing it).

          • gbdub says:

            Of course, if we’re talking about returning antiquities, the question isn’t “should we leave the ball on the field or remove it” – the ball has long since been removed and anyway no one has played baseball in a thousand years.

            No, the analogous question is “should the International Museum of Ancient Sports, who dug up the ball and studied it, be allowed to keep it, or should it be sent back to the people living in the condo development built upon the rubble of Wrigley Field?”

            The proper “cultural context” of King Tut’s burial artifacts is King Tut’s tomb. But that culture is long dead and gone, and buried in the ground those artifacts are of no value to anyone.

            Is mere geographic proximity to the original context the only or most important thing? Enough to outweigh legitimate concerns about total destruction?

            What’s the proper context for a Roman artifact in Alexandria – a city in Egypt founded by a Greek (and ruled since then by Persians, Turks, French, Brits, and modern Arab nationalists)?

          • Nornagest says:

            No, the analogous question is “should the International Museum of Ancient Sports, who dug up the ball and studied it, be allowed to keep it, or should it be sent back to the people living in the condo development built upon the rubble of Wrigley Field?”

            To be fair, in most of the famous cases the International Museum of Ancient Sports dug the ball up a hundred years ago and has already wrung about all the historical value out of it that they’re ever going to, and the Wrigleystanis have a Wrigley Museum of their own that they want to put it in. It’s not science vs. national prestige, it’s national prestige (and tourism money) vs. national prestige (and tourism money).

            I agree that local claims to a meaningful cultural relationship with the artifacts can be dubious, though.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Have they wrung it all out, though? I’ve heard scholars of ancient texts saying that seeing the actual originals can’t be replicated any other way (e.g. you get to see the details of brush strokes, exact shading, and how much the ink’s soaked into the papyrus or parchment, all of which can be invaluable when you’re trying to settle a disputed reading or make guesses about the hand of a scribe.) Perhaps this’s less important in other fields of study, but I wouldn’t take it for granted.

            Also, let’s not forget that the Wrigley Museum is probably much newer than the International Museum of Ancient Sports, with a lower budget and fewer safeguards against corruption or violence.

          • Jiro says:

            Is mere geographic proximity to the original context the only or most important thing? Enough to outweigh legitimate concerns about total destruction?

            I think there are cases where the owner plausibly is not geographically nearest. But you still need to figure out the owner. I’m not aware of any common theory of ownership which gives ownership of something to the party who can best take care of it.

          • Mark says:

            I think the idea that owners will be those who best look after something is a sort of implicit justification for ownership within a capitalist market system.

            That isn’t why people are given ownership, but it’s why they have it.

    • hlynkacg says:

      You know, there was a time that I though that Sidles was a friend of mine trolling me. Everything, the idiosyncratic word choice, the constant equivocation, his use of empathy as a bludgeon coupled with his cavalier attitude towards physical and mental trauma, his discounting of pure mathematics as being devoid of both soul or beauty, the whole “STEAM” thing, and the weird obsession with Mattis, the USMC, and Quakers, all seemed specially engineered to get my goat.

      Over time I’ve learned to find the humor in his posts, but at the same time I have become convinced that he is not in fact trolling. Like the Buddha, John Sidles is a state of mind and if you meet the Sidles on the road, you should kill him.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        You were around when he first showed up, under his real name. Did you never click on his name to this? That’s a lot of work for a pseudonymous troll.

        • hlynkacg says:

          yes, I was around when he first showed up. I didn’t click on his name, but I did find the above once I started investigating. As you say, that’s a lot of work for a pseudonymous troll, and there’s a enough corroborating material out there to convince me that he is in fact legit. I’m not sure if that makes the situation better or worse.

  21. Zodiac says:

    Europe’s youth don’t care to vote—but they’re ready to join a mass revolt

    Quick summary:

    Around 580,000 respondents in 35 countries were asked the question: Would you actively participate in large-scale uprising against the generation in power if it happened in the next days or months? More than half of 18- to 34-year-olds said yes.

    Well, this certainly is a worrying number. I’m sure you can poke a lot of holes in those numbers if you wanted to, but assuming for now these are accurate:
    Does anyone see a way to effectively lower these numbers in a good way?

    I tried imagining it for Germany (which is on the low end here but still at 37%) and I can’t see anything that the people in charge would be willing to do or just allow to happen.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      Wait for them to grow up.

    • bean says:

      I looked at the report, and it looks like it was a voluntary internet survey. The potential for selection bias is obvious. To confirm, I played with the filters on the question under discussion. They got 582,000 answers, 329,236 from females and 252,764 from males. That’s a big imbalance, and I thus am pretty sure it wasn’t a representative sample who answered. Get back to me when you have a proper sample.

    • Deiseach says:

      Yeahhhhhh… call me a cynical old grump, but people in their late teens/early twenties have a very romantic view of the world and political struggle. They might think they’d rise up with the masses against the corrupt establishment, but they have very little idea what that would actually entail.

      Visions of marches and images like Tank Man in their minds, I suspect, and no idea what a real uprising when it comes to riot police or the army being called in to kick ass and take names is like.

      Asked on a survey would they? Sure they’ll say yes, that’s the model of “good person, good citizen, good ally, punch a nazi” they have internalised. The streets are on fire outside their door right now? Different story.

      • Viliam says:

        I see two dangers here.

        First, a new politician can somehow convince them (most likely, using social networks) that somehow he is not a politician, but voting for him is, metaphorically, the uprising against the political elite they were dreaming about. Done properly, this could change a regime overnight.

        Second, most of people saying this are not doing anything specific about it. But a certain fraction could join some paramilitary organisation, if recruited properly. And the rest of them would help the recruitment.

    • herbert herberson says:

      Give them something to lose, either in the form of real estate or in non-precariat employment.

    • cassander says:

      This reminds me of an incident that took place at another college that was part of the consortium that made up my alma mater.

      The school in questioned has a normal student government. It also has, once a year, a direct democracy style meeting called “plenary” where students get together to vote on, among other things, the honor code they operate under.

      At one particular plenary, a bunch of minority students basically stormed the stage to protest against the normal student government, how it wasn’t representative, and how it was oppressive. Not only had most of the people in question not bothered to run for the offices in question, most of those officers had run unopposed.

      • Aapje says:

        It seems that in several places, the SJ people have taken advantage of the lack of interest by most students to get those jobs. The SJ students at that school weren’t very smart, it seems.

      • DrBeat says:

        They don’t want the student government to have any particular attributes other than “flatters my emotions instead of every trying to do useful things”. Running for student office is completely contradictory to their goal of having other people serve their emotions because they are inherently popular.

        Such protests are just saying “I’m upset because all of you aren’t dropping everything you’re doing to make me not upset”. I’m also very certain that a lot of what the student government was doing was dropped in order to make them not upset, because they were inherently popular and entitled to the attention, effort, and deference of others.

        • BBA says:

          Aside with your bizarre obsession with “popularity” like everything is middle school, I think you have it. These people are more interested in being righteous and offended than in actually doing something to fix the things they’re offended about.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Talk is cheap, C4 is expensive, and re-learning daily tasks without fingers after you try rolling your own is a bitch.

      I have serious doubts that even a tithe of those interviewed would actually follow through on such a claim. Furthermore, anyone seriously ready to participate in an uprising against a government, large scale or not, and actually potentially dangerous, knows enough not to indicate so on anything but secure channels.

  22. Mark says:

    Does anyone have any good links/books for a “big picture” introduction to logic/mathematical logic?

    (The simpler the better)

    The question I’m currently pondering:

    It seems to me that sets have likely been chosen as the fundamental element on which to base mathematics because associations of mental objects are fundamental to thought. I wonder how far the rules/axioms of set theories are determined by a consideration of how the mind must operate, or how far the rules have been developed as an ad hoc response to apparent inconsistencies.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Set theory isn’t natural. It was created in the 19th century. Before that people seemed to think in terms of a Platonic world of numbers. But in the 19th century people found it useful to create new sets, such as the sets of equivalence classes modulo N, which is more convenient than talking about congruences between integers. But in the 20th century, mathematicians shifted towards category theory. So today there is also the option categorical foundations. And the earliest program in formal logic culminated in Peano arithmetic, which remains the gold standard, in part because it doesn’t have sets.

    • You could try Peter Johnstone’s “Notes on Logic and Set Theory”. I like them a lot, but not everyone does. He covers a great deal of ground in only 115 pages.

    • Björn says:

      For book recommendations, it would be really good to know what your background is. Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter is a popular science book where many things that are relevant in mathematical logic or theoretical computer science come up (even though no set theory), if you don’t know it already. I also must warn you, digging into the mysteries of set theory is extremly pointless, as the power of set theory lies in application, not in “Look what happens when you create a set so bizarre that no one will ever do something meanigful with it”.

      Below, my answer to the question you’re pondering:
      I think the reason why set theory is often used to formalize mathematics is twofold. On the
      one hand, set theory is really intuitive. One can imagine a set as a bag with things inside, and everything that can be done with a bag with things inside can be done with a set as well (putting the contents of one bag into another one, removing things from a bag, etc.). In mathematics, it is very important that complicated objects can be thought about as easily and intuitively as possible. Set theory does this very well. I would say, from this perspective, the axioms of Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory are as they are because they model what can be done with things in a bag.

      On the other hand, set theory is really powerful. Nearly every reasonable thing can be modeled in set theory, and even though category theory can create objects that can not be created by set theory, category theorie is closely connected with set theory (category theory uses classes, which are not sets, but can contain sets, and function mostly like sets. Classes that fulfill certain axioms then are categories.) Informally, the power of set theory is that one can view mathematical problems “globally”, which gives rise to many powerful tools. (tools in this context are topologies, groups, etc.)

      One should note that the power of set theory is not that all mathematics can be axiomatized with it. (according to Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem every axiom system can be expressed with an axiom system that can create the natural numbers with addition and multiplication) There are other axiom systems that can do this as well, like the Peano axioms or Russell’s Principia Mathematica. The power is that high level structures from natural numbers to topologies can be created really fast and elegantly. Getting anything fancy with the Peano axioms or the Principia Mathematica takes forever and is not very readable.

    • Protagoras says:

      It sounds like you’re interested in philosophy of mathematics, rather than logic or mathematics at the object level. I’m not sure there is a truly good “big picture” introduction to the subject; every worthwhile discussion of it that I’m aware of ends up getting pretty deep into technical details. But the SEP article on the subject has a helpful bibliography, as usual. One philosophically interesting work on sets they don’t discuss is Lewis, Parts of Classes.

    • tumteetum says:

      well i’m not a mathematician by any stretch of the imagination, but i very much enjoyed the graphic novel Logicomix. if memoy serves, its got quite a bit about set theory in it, mixed in with history and philosophy.

      from the wikipedia link…

      Set between the late 19th century and present-day, the graphic novel Logicomix is based on the story of the so-called “foundational quest” in mathematics.

      Logicomix intertwines the philosophical struggles with the characters’ own personal turmoil. These are in turn played out just upstage of the momentous historical events of the era and the ideological battles which gave rise to them. The narrator of the story is Bertrand Russell, who stands as an icon of many of these themes: a deeply sensitive and introspective man, Russell was not just a philosopher and pacifist, he was also one of the prominent figures in the foundational quest. Russell’s life story, depicted by Logicomix, is itself a journey through the goals and struggles, and triumph and tragedy shared by many great thinkers of the 20th century: Georg Cantor, Ludwig Wittgenstein, G. E. Moore, Alfred North Whitehead, David Hilbert, Gottlob Frege, Henri Poincaré, Kurt Gödel, and Alan Turing.

      A parallel tale, set in present-day Athens, records the creators’ disagreement on the meaning of the story, thus setting in relief the foundational quest as a quintessentially modern adventure. It is on the one hand a tragedy of the hubris of rationalism, which descends inextricably to madness, and on the other an origin myth of the computer.

  23. Paul Brinkley says:

    Just got back from Penguicon in Detroit. I found out that I’d missed Scott by only maybe a few hours; I drove in on Friday, and didn’t make it in time for most of that day’s events.

    Among which: I heard Scott shot a firearm for the first time. @Scott: what did you think? How did you like it?

  24. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’ve been thinking that good, cheap exoskeletons would contribute a lot to quality of life.

    There are people who have difficulties moving, and exoskeletons would help them a lot.

    In some cases, people need *some* exercise but don’t have the strength-to-weight needed for ordinary activities– exoskeletons could be adjusted to require enough effort for maintenance and/or improvement. (Note passive voice– this would actually be a hard thing to get right.)

    Exoskeletons would also make EMTs and health aides less likely to get injured when moving patients. In some cases, an exoskeleton for the patient would be enough, in others, the EMT or health aide would need an exoskeleton.

    On the other hand, exoskeletons seem to be a hard problem, and cheap exoskeletons are a harder problem. On the other hand, they might be an easier problem than general solutions to the disabilities which make exoskeletons useful.

    How close are we to good, cheap exoskeletons?

    • Iain says:

      Exoskeletons may be closer than you think. If you trust this paper by F. Kafka et al, they could appear practically overnight.

      • Well... says:

        More seriously though, why are the things Nancy Lebovitz is talking about even called exoskeletons? They’re artificial exomusculoskeletal systems. Shouldn’t be too hard to come up with an abbreviated colloquialism (emskells?); it’d be more accurate and less likely to conjure up images of insects or crustaceans.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          It’s called a Loader

        • beleester says:

          Probably because the “skeleton” part of an exoskeleton – the metal frame that holds it together – is much more noticeable than the muscular part of it (which often is motors and not muscles, anyway).

          I think “power suit” is a good compromise that doesn’t specify muscles or skeletons, if it bugs you that much.

    • beleester says:

      Pretty close – they’re in the lab, and working their way to production. In fact, there’s already one being used for health care, as you suggested. (Called HAL, by Cyberdyne Systems, without the slightest hint of irony.)

      Current prices are in the thousands of dollars, so not something you can get for everyone, but tech will only get cheaper.

      The big obstacle, AFAIK, is the power source – the battery needs to be small enough to be portable while still providing enough power for a long time. That’s not an issue with exoskeletons for the disabled, who just need a little bit of extra force, but it’s a big hurdle for anything that’s supposed to enhance your strength beyond a human’s.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        (Called HAL, by Cyberdyne Systems, without the slightest hint of irony.)

        Wait, is that sarcasm?


      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        So as far as superhuman strength, the answer is “I’m sorry, Dave. They can’t do that.”?

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Good, we’re getting there, the biggest issues right now are power:weight ratio, battery life, and (for construction, combat, etc use) ruggedness.

      Cheap will come a decade or two after “Good”.

      That said, there are a TON fairly far along, though I’ve paid more attention to the military models like Sarcos/Raytheon’s Guardian and Lockheed’s HULC than the medical ones like HAL and LoPES.

      Sarcos is also doing some nifty stuff with manipulator arms as well

    • FacelessCraven says:

      The main problem is batteries, from what I’ve read. It’s one of those things that’s been ten years away my entire life. If a power cord is acceptable, They’re probably roughly workable with current tech.

  25. Tibor says:

    Why are people in some positions often required to work while standing? I find it incredibly stupid and serving no purpose. Sure, you don’t want the shopkeeper to be buried behind the desk, but you can simply let them use high stools. Then, even if sitting, they can be as high as the customer who comes in. Alternatively, they could simply stand up when the customer comes in but be allowed to sit down otherwise.

    Fortunately, I don’t have to be considering such work but I am pretty sure I could not do it – I have fairly flat feet and after a few minutes of standing in one place my back begins to hurt quite a bit. I could not do 8 (or even 12 on long shifts) hours like that. In any case it seems to me like a case of “that’s how we do things” which makes the staff less comfortable and happy and brings nothing to the customers.

    • Björn says:

      Sitting is actually quite unhealthy, especially for long times. Also, it is much better if clerks roam the store, so that they can have an eye on everything and find customers in need of advice. And clerks slouching in a chair makes a really bad impression. In some professions like cooking, standing is better because the motorics of the hand and arm function better while standing. That’s why workbenches are a thing.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Standing in one -spot- for long times without movement is actually worse than sitting, although probably not terribly worse. We’re optimized for -movement- (muscle pump action in the legs, all that). Your point about clerks roaming applies only to the tiniest of stores. Anything bigger than a couple hundred square feet (at least in the US) will have dedicated cashiers whose job is to man the register their entire shift, entirely separate from floor staff/stockers/etc.

      The basic answer is that it’s a lot more about that ‘impression’ and status symbols. Generally speaking customers/guests are standing because they’re moving to get to the counter, whether it’s a grocery store or a hotel. Think about how you greet a guest in most western cultures: you STAND to greet them, and if you’re going to sit down you offer -them- a seat. To remain seated while someone else stands is generally a power play, and you don’t power play -customers-.

      It also communicates attentiveness, energy, etc etc.

      For reference, I’ve been working in such jobs (wal-mart stocker, cashier, casino player’s club attendant, player’s club supervisor now) for years.

      And yes, people WILL complain about perceived “laziness” or “inattention” if an employee is allowed to sit even on a stool, even briefly between periods of standing, for medical reasons.

      As for managing it, the trick is to stay -moving- as much as possible. I manage it without a stool or chair and I’m rather obese ATM.

      • gbdub says:

        I don’t know, I feel like being e.g. a grocery cashier would be really hard from a seated position – lots of turning and reaching.

        Anymore, it seems like “does nothing but stand at the counter and run the register” is something of a rarity. Even at e.g. McDonald’s, the cashier, at all but absolute peak times, is responsible for grabbing take-out bags, sauce packets, etc, for counter customers, or making milkshakes or whatever, all of which require moving around.

        Maybe the ticket counter at the movies? But at the theaters I go to, the ticket clerks have stools.

        • Tibor says:

          I was thinking more about something like a clothing shop or a cosmetics shop where you have periods when there is nobody in your shop at all. When you do, you usually go to them and ask if they want any help but then if they don’t you could again go back to the desk and sit down (on a higher stool so that it looks like you’re at the ready and not hiding behind the desk).

          Also what kind of grocery do you have in mind? A regular supermarket where the customers pick the products from the shelves themselves and then just go to the cashiers to pay usually have the cashier seated, at least in Europe (I don’t remember ever having seen them standing up). If you mean a really small shop where you tell the shopkeeper what to give you from the shelves behind him then yes, but those are not very common.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        The local Aldi’s has rather nice upholstered high seats for the cashiers, and they don’t seem to lack for customers.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        The fix for the turning and reaching is to make ergonomic adjustments to the workspace, it’s not that hard to do. To be clear, I am not saying that I endorse the reasoning and the perceptions of status and idleness and the like, I’m just describing the way my employers see it and the way customers communicating to my department at my current job see it.

        I’d -love- to get stools for my guys for slow periods (now that I’m a supervisor I at least get some time sitting down doing office work), but suggestions along those lines have been strongly and consistently nixed for the reasons stated above.

        As for Aldi’s, people don’t go to that chain because of superior customer service and attentiveness. Their niche is price, efficiency and (to some extent) off-brands/products not available in other stores.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          For what it’s worth the staff at Aldi’s looked attentive. For all I know, the service might have been slightly better because their feet didn’t hurt.

          I’m not sure, but if the seats turned, that would solve a lot of the reaching problems.

      • Tibor says:

        Sure, I get that the clerk should stand up when talking to people, but there are times when the shop is empty or when the customers are looking at something at the other end of the shop. Walking is fine (even for people with flat feet like me) and I don’t think people complain about that, but standing behind the desk the whole shift can be very uncomfortable and probably also unhealthy. So as I said, you could have high stools (kind of like bar stools) for the clerks to sit on, so that they are not buried behind the desk and tell them to stand up when the customers approach them.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          As an idea, there is a tendency to equate a laborer who is sitting with one who is not working. The phrase “I’m not paying you to sit around” is common and evocative.

          This has broad connotations in a culture that pays homage to the idea of hard work as a terminal value. It explains why managers would want laborers to be standing, and why customers would come to associate it with businesses to which they wish to give their custom. This becomes circular.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            ok hi

            this really pisses me off because I am very much a deontologist on these issues, and I have problems standing up for long periods of time

            but there’s something to it

            …that said, I honestly think that discussing this issue at length is sort of a rehash of generic SSC tropes and that I have nothing to add besides just arranging that hash correctly and in a pleasing manner. If anyone wants me to do that, say so, but I can’t be the only one who noticed.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            If anyone wants me to do that, say so, but I can’t be the only one who noticed.

            I really have no idea what you are thinking, so elucidate me?

          • AnonYEmous says:

            f, now I sound bad

            Basically, many cases of sitting down are in fact slacking off. However some cases aren’t. Think of it as a consumer surplus, which is eliminated due to a…coordination failure? Or whatever it’s called. Some people legitimately aren’t slacking but just sitting down because it’s the right thing to do, but others are slacking.

            As to why they’re slacking, it’s a psychological thing that is not necessarily required to sit down, but usually accompanies it. Sort of Bayesian statistics, assuming I’m using the phrase right – if X, then Y is likely, even if not guaranteed.

            Also, maybe not so much SSC, but I happen to think that sitting or standing may effect a sort of wakefulness or laziness. Could just be my imagination though.

            Finally, another not-so-SSC thing: if you are sitting down and you must then stand you expend more resources than if you were already standing, prompting you to be less likely to get up.

          • Mark says:

            I think that when you are a “cog” worker rather than some shiny super-brain worker, and, moreover, a cog doing something fairly inconsequential, it’s your duty as a human with some remnant of a normal human spirit to passively resist systematic oppression through slacking.

            When I worked in a call centre, I managed to work my way into a corner seat where the supervisor couldn’t see me and spent most of my time (a) dozing (b) drawing pictures. I’d then do various things to give the impression of work (and they thought I was one of their best workers).

            I’m more proud of my creative slacking in that situation than I could ever have been of any work I did.

            (Though behaving in such a dishonest way, habitually, for a long time, ultimately led to a kind of mental breakdown.)

  26. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    What do you think about the ethics of lending or giving a book to a minor which the parents don’t want the minor to read?

    • Montfort says:

      It is intrinsically unethical to harm someone or hinder their development, and it doesn’t seem appreciably more unethical to do so just because their parents also disapprove (nor less so if they approve). And likewise aiding someone or helping them grow is good, so consider the effect of giving the book on its own.
      Of course, a minor’s parents often have information you don’t about the child, so it’s wise to explore their perspective.

      I suppose it might be unethical if you had previously agreed not to subvert their information control, or if you only had the access to give the minor the book because you’re acting as an agent of the parent (e.g. a babysitter while “on the clock”).

      Now, pragmatically, this seems like the kind of thing that will make the parents upset, and they may shout at you or otherwise voice their displeasure, and that will be unpleasant for you. So there’s a little bit of balancing to be done. Probably not worth it just to give them an issue of Hustler, perhaps worth it to give them something more meaningful.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @Montfort – “It is intrinsically unethical to harm someone or hinder their development, and it doesn’t seem appreciably more unethical to do so just because their parents also disapprove (nor less so if they approve). ”

        It is intrinsically hubristic to think you know with high confidence which stimuli will spur constructive development in a person better than the people who live with that person all day every day and have complete responsibility for their outcomes. If books have no great power to change them, why is it so important that you get them the right books? If books do have great power, then are you volunteering to clean up any damage they do for the rest of the child’s life?

        • Montfort says:

          Did you read my comment? Specifically the sentence that says “Of course, a minor’s parents often have information you don’t about the child, so it’s wise to explore their perspective”?

          I didn’t say it was very important, either. I’m skeptical of anyone’s ability to predict books that will affect someone’s life much one way or another, including parents and even the person themselves.

          Leaving aside all the words you’ve put in my mouth, the act of giving someone a book has some intrinsic ethical status, and nothing you’ve said really indicates that whether a third party approves is relevant. Ruining someone’s life and then not repairing the damage is already unethical, it doesn’t matter whether or not their parents were cheering you on or telling you not to.

          Edit: Or, rather, to clarify: there isn’t anything special about the parents’ “permission” in itself (besides in situations where you’re bound to it, as in the babysitter example or by agreement). Their opinions, like anyone else’s with relevant knowledge, matter in that they can better inform your own decision.

    • I’d suggest taking the ‘common sense’ approach, based on details, than trying to get your answer from a solution to the abstract philosophical/ethical principle.

      Common sense approach: Young female minor you know is having sex, you want to share with her a book about the female anatomy and safe sexual practices. (And you are in a position where sharing such a book couldn’t be misconstrued as inappropriate — I won’t bother with all caveats — it’s an example). This is probably smart.

      A minor has parents who are religious, but reasonably so, you want to give him a book by Richard Dawkins because you think it’s better to be atheist. In this case you should probably just keep to yourself and wait to talk to him/her when they are legally an adult.

  27. The Red Foliot says:

    I’ve recently enjoyed reading The Great Cat Massacre. It’s a peculiar book, one I’d recommend. It purports to look at the cultural history of France, the ‘history of its mentalities’, by studying an odd assortment of documents written by or belonging to everyday persons of the past. The one referred to by its title was written by an apprentice printer of the 18th century. He not only records the funniest day of his life but provides insight into class relations of the period. I find this up close extrapolation of facts highly appealing, in part for its novelty, but also, I think, for its humanity.

    Does anyone know of any similar books like it?

    • Montfort says:

      Perhaps The Cheese and the Worms by Carlo Ginzburg? It tries to reconstruct the views and life of one particular heretic in 16th Century Italy, and through that exercise illuminate peasant culture of the time.
      Is that the kind of thing you’re looking for?

      • The Red Foliot says:

        That’s exactly the sort of thing. Sort of like a fusion of anthropology and history; an examination of everyday peoples’ lives through historical documents.

  28. The original Mr. X says:

    Some people have done a study on Ethiopian sweatshops to see if they lift workers out of poverty; results suggest they don’t, at least in the short term.

  29. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    So, at least two people have been prescribed weight loss for an ear infection….

    The other one is a friend whose details don’t match the article.

  30. Franklynot says:

    That study that Scott wrote a critical post on ( has been peer reviewed and published. I don’t know what changes they have made to the paper since the first version. Any thoughts?

  31. Don_Flamingo says:

    All grocery stores in Germany have sitting cashiers, even more expensive ones, like Edeka, Rewe or warehouse grocers like Marktkauf and Kaufland. In Lidl (where I usually go, very similar to Aldi) they task their cashiers on demand, meaning they don’t sit, when there are not a lot of customers around and do inventory…stuff… (not really sure, what exactly, as the main part of the shelf filling is outsourced to cheaper labor, I believe). I didn’t know, grocery stores could be run differently. Germany is superior, for our menial labor is free-range!