Open Thread 78.5

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, the SSC Discord server, or the Cafe Chesscourt forum.

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534 Responses to Open Thread 78.5

  1. Well... says:

    Hey SSC readers! What theories do you have about other SSC readers in general? Example hypotheses:

    – SSC readers are unusually tall.
    – Left-handedness is unusually common among SSC readers.
    – SSC readers are unusually likely to be the oldest of his/her siblings.
    – SSC readers tend to not be tolerant of very piquant (“hot” or “spicy”) food.

    Note: the above are not theories I believe, necessarily, they are just EXAMPLES to get you thinking about what your own hypotheses might be.

    So, what are your weird/random/kooky hypotheses about SSC readers? Don’t worry about confidence with whether they are true or false.

    Note #2: I’m not very interested in hypotheses about readers’ political/philosophical/moral/economic/etc. views, simply because we get plenty of data about that every time Scott does one of his surveys, to say nothing of the comments section.

    • secret_tunnel says:

      Huh, I’ve actually been eating a couple jalapeños every day for the past few weeks to desensitize myself to spicy foods.

      • Protagoras says:

        I’ve traditionally been very much into spicy food, though I’ve toned it down a little bit as I’ve gotten older and my digestive system has gotten more prone to complain about my dietary choices.

        • Randy M says:

          Me too, although I’m not sure if that is digestive changes, or I just wasn’t very attentive to cause and effect when younger.

          • onyomi says:

            I so identify with the cause and effect aspect.

            Sometimes I feel like “aw man, I’m pretty sure I used to be able to eat lots of gluten back when I was young… getting old sucks.” Then I think “wait, I remember often feeling like crap after eating when I was younger…” I still seem to be able to handle spice pretty well for now, godwilling, though overall I’m more likely to notice correlations like “ate a really greasy meal and didn’t feel great afterwards” or “watched loud, flashing music videos drinking diet coke right before bed and surprisingly had insomnia.”

            I feel like being a kid/teenager involves a surprising amount of obliviousness about such correlations. I had bad insomnia sometimes as a teenager, and I don’t think I ever even thought to carefully consider which behaviors correlated with it. It was just something annoying which sort of happened for no reason sometimes.

      • Well... says:

        Great! Do you have any of your own non-obvious hypotheses about the SSC readership, even hypotheses you’re entirely unsure about but would be interested in seeing data on?

        • Wrong Species says:

          Intelligence is correlated with Openness to Experience. I’m guessing that liking spicy food is also correlated with Openness. So if anything, I’m predicting that we have a higher spice tolerance than the average person.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            I like spicy food a lot– at least when the texture doesn’t put me off.
            What foods I can eat are primarily dictated by texture, which doesn’t leave a whole lot left over to choose from, but several of the things I like come in ‘regular’ or ‘spicy’ varieties, and I pretty consistently like the ‘spicy’ ones better.
            I’m not sure if this would correlate to ‘openness’, though- each food is pretty much the same experience each time I eat it. Maybe something closer would be ‘stimulation-seeking’?

    • chariava says:

      I assume that Scott will take the questions he finds the most intriguing on here and add it onto his next SSC census so we can actually learn how prevalent some of these hypothesis are.

    • All four members of my family read SSC, although I’m the most active commenter. I like spicy food. My son very much doesn’t. His mother is slightly more tolerant of it than he is. Our daughter is between me and her mother.

      • Well... says:

        OK. Do you have any of your own non-obvious hypotheses about the SSC readership, even hypotheses you’re entirely unsure about but would be interested in seeing data on?

        • The main one is that a surprisingly large number have problems loosely describable as psychological–depression, Asperger’s Syndrome, … . I’m curious both as to how large a fraction that is–I may be being fooled by selective perception–and how it compares to the general population.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            I have
            1. Clinical depression (medicated)
            2. ADD (Medicated- and I’m pretty sure I’m not a false-positive, since without my meds I’m barely able to function)
            3. Asperger’s Syndrome (Which we’re calling ‘Autism-Spectrum Disorder now- formally diagnosed)
            4. Dysgraphic (Formally diagnosed)
            5. Suffering from fairly severe social anxiety.
            6. Afflicted with a bunch of other minor sensory and developmental issues, adding up to being a generally odd person in a way that’s not clearly defined.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            More and more, I feel like your survey is verging into “bad idea” territory.

          • Well... says:



            I’m genuinely just curious if there are any unusual or distinguishing characteristics of the SSC commenteriat besides our interest in SSC-ish topics, the personality types that seem common here, or the other stuff that has already been pointed to–such as rate of autism spectrum disorders–by Scott in his surveys. I’m not even interested in collecting this information in order to organize events or anything–just to have it. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

            @Jack Lecter:

            Wouldn’t a “spectrum” disorder imply a broad category of disorders, while Asperger’s Syndrome refers specifically to one point or narrow range of that spectrum? (I don’t know, that’s just my intuitive understanding of the relationship between the two terms. Correct me if I’m wrong.)

          • Aapje says:


            The main one is that a surprisingly large number have problems loosely describable as psychological–depression, Asperger’s Syndrome

            I’d expect survey answers to reflect the attitude of the subculture towards being considered neuroatypical as much as it’s reflective of actual pathology, though.

            So see more value in some semi-objective measure of this (if feasible), rather than asking people directly.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            @Well: Conceptually, you’re absolutely right. I was referencing an issue with the terminology- when I was a child, the official classification for what I had was ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’, but the DSM altered the terminology a couple of years ago, so now the official term is ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder’.
            My fault for getting into the technical terms- In retrospect, I think I was trying to signal that
            1. My case was severe enough that I picked up an actual diagnosis as a kid, and
            2. My case was mild enough that I got diagnosed with ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ rather than full-on autism, so I’m still largely functional.
            Anyway, I’d definitely agree that it’s a spectrum, or possibly a series of interlocking spectrums. I’m not caught up on the research, but I think our understanding of a lot of mental health stuff is still really shaky in some areas- Scott has some great articles on the subject- but it’s infamously hard to know What Science Doesn’t Know.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I don’t know you from Adam, nor does anyone else. You have no established track record.

            “Please tell me about your history of mental illness, medication, genetic markers, personal traits and interests. I solemnly swear I am up to no good”.

            Let’s just say I think at the very list whatever you get will be subject to some selection effects you aren’t anticipating.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m strongly right handed, but my left hand isn’t that bad– I can do calligraphy with it, just not as well.

            I’m much shorter than average– I’m 4′ 11″.

            And older than most people here. I’m 64.

            I like spicy food. I can handle most of what Philadelphia throws at me, but was defeated by some *very* spicy eggplant in DC. Not that I normally think of spicy food as a test of endurance, or I try not to. And I’m polite to people who don’t like food that burns.

            I have mild-to-moderate depression, some anxiety, and probably some ADD.

            Some of the ways I’m weird get into culture war territory, so maybe on another thread.

            Have a story….

            I know someone with a substantial collection of assorted hats, and when people visit, he encourages them to try the hats on.

            One of them was a tricorn.

            I don’t normally like wearing hats, the pressure on my head gets on my nerves. (Hey, we could have a question about sensory weirdness!) When it’s cold, I wear a scarf or a hood, not a hat.

            I’m not into historical recreation. And I’m not especially interested in Revolutionary War clothes except to note that it’s a rare era when men dress up more than women. In general, I prefer drape eras over shape eras.

            I’m pretty gender stable– I’m content living in a female body even though I’m not especially feminine. If it were cheap, safe, and reversible, I’d try out being male, but this isn’t a strong drive.

            All this being said, I put on the tricorn, and I had a flash of being a young man with his first tricorn. He was very proud and happy.

            For a long time I’d filed this under “looks a lot like reincarnation”. I’m not sure whether Bonewitz’s model (everyone is telepathically linked in a big network, and sometimes people pick up on a compatible personality from the past, but it isn’t personal continuation) is more rational.

            More recently, I’ve wondered whether that little flash was what it’s like to not be depressed.

          • Well... says:


            I’ve been commenting on this blog for a few years now. That’s at least as much of a track record as most other commenters, though you’re right you don’t REALLY know me…but that same objection applies to anything mildly personal you talk about online with strangers, only more because in a survey at least the researcher will often vow to keep your data anonymous (as I will).

            In my survey I’m not asking about mental illness or medication—those are things lots of people have suggested but I’m not that interested in. Maybe you missed where I said I was interested in surveying the unusual or distinguishing characteristics of the SSC commentariat BESIDES personality types/rate of autism spectrum disorders/etc.

            My emphasis is on innocuous stuff like height and whether you like spicy food. I’d find unusual patterns in those areas much more interesting.

            Yes, of course there will be selection effects. It’s a survey.

            @Jack Lecter:

            So, my understanding about one of two things must be wrong:

            1) The “spectrum” in Autism Spectrum Disorder refers to a wide range of symptoms/characteristics/whatever you want to call them, from “barely noticeable” to “unable to function.”


            2) Asperger’s Syndrome did not refer to all autism short of “unable to function” but to a specific narrow band on the “able to function” part of the autism spectrum—there were other parts of the spectrum in which a person could have mild autism, be functional, but not have Asperger’s.

            Which do I have wrong? Or is it something else?

          • Nornagest says:

            2) Asperger’s Syndrome did not refer to all autism short of “unable to function” but to a specific narrow band on the “able to function” part of the autism spectrum—there were other parts of the spectrum in which a person could have mild autism, be functional, but not have Asperger’s.

            The history’s a bit confused, but my understanding is that Asperger syndrome was used to describe autism-like symptoms which didn’t include delayed language development (normally a hallmark of autism). This generally implied higher functioning, but was distinguished (from 1994 in the DSM-IV) from other high-functioning autism cases that did include delayed language skills. Not a point on the spectrum, in other words, so much as a different but closely related spectrum. This was and still is controversial, though.

            In 2013, the two were merged in the DSM-V, and by the book the symptoms it described now just point to a generic autism-spectrum disorder. Individual researchers of course may have other opinions.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Slightly shorter than average, unusually likely to be left handed, unusually likely to be nearsighted, unusually likely to have hay fever.

      (As for spice, I’ll only guess: more tolerant of spicy food than your average Midwesterner, less tolerant than your average Sichuan)

      • Jack Lecter says:

        I don’t think I’m shorter than average- I haven’t noticed it, at any rate- but I’m not sure
        I prefer my right hand, but I’m almost ambidextrous. I did a lot of therapy to strengthen right-side dominance as a child.
        I’m neither near- nor far- sighted.
        I have seasonal allergies- I’m not sure if that’s ‘hay fever’ or not.

        • Shorter than average. 5′ 3.5″ for most of my adult life, I think now down to 5′ 3″. Older than most here–72. Right handed. Very good memory for poetry, but learning new poems is substantially harder than it was when I was younger. Terrible memory for people’s names. Write and improvise poetry; I have a WoW character who speaks only in rhymed verse. Active in historical recreation for nearly fifty years (SCA). Bad at parallel processing–in SCA (simulated medieval combat) I was a very strong single combat fighter, very weak melee fighter, because I couldn’t pay attention to many things at once. For similar reasons I’m not very good at WoW combat.

          • Well... says:

            I have a WoW character who speaks only in rhymed verse.

            Sometimes I think you’re like a character from a Neal Stephenson novel, but then I reflect that I could plausibly imagine Neal Stephenson basing a character on you, if he hasn’t already.

            Edited to add: I’d actually be very surprised if Neal Stephenson hadn’t at least read TMoF, if not some of your other writing as well.

          • onyomi says:

            Any tips for memorizing poetry, or is it just something you naturally find easy?

            It would be useful for my line of work.

            The best trick I’ve found thus far is putting a recording of poems on an mp3 player and listening to them while I walk. I don’t end up memorizing them nearly as quickly as I’d like, though I at least get to the point where I can recognize if a line is being quoted elsewhere, which is probably the most important part for the study of East Asian poetry.

            I can only think of one poem I ever memorized and permanently retained. Stranger still, it’s a poem consisting of mostly nonsense words and I never made a conscious effort to memorize it:

            ‘Twas brillig and the slithey toves,
            Did gyre and gimbel in the wabe.
            All mimsy were the borogoves,
            And the momeraths, outgrabe.

            Also ironically, I can’t recite the bits of the poem about the Jabberwock which include more real nouns and verbs.

          • JulieK says:

            I also have a terrible memory for names- or perhaps it would be more accurate to say I have a terrible memory for faces. I can do a good job remembering names of characters in a novel.

          • Any tips for memorizing poetry

            Not really. If I liked a poem I read it several times and remembered most of it. Doesn’t work as well now.

            And it varies with the poem. There is at least one of mine that I find it surprisingly difficult to reliably remember.

          • onyomi says:

            I am especially intrigued by the example of Jabberwocky, because one would imagine a poem of nonsense words would, all else equal, be harder to remember, rather than easier.

            I wonder if anyone shares this experience and/or has a possible explanation.

            One might be that, by virtue of sounding grammatical and prosodic, but having no semantic content, it’s easier to remember than one where imagery gets in the way? But this is also counter-intuitive, as producing mental images to represent a thing tends to be a good mnemonic in other situations.

          • rlms says:

            I also unconsciously memorised the first verse of the Jabberwocky, and the only other poem I’ve memorised (deliberately, and partially) is Der Erlkönig.

          • Jordan D. says:

            For whatever it’s worth, I find it enormously easier to remember poems if they convert to a simple song. For example, Chesterton’s The Ballad of the White Horse, Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and so forth are very easy to memorize because I can sing them.

            In a similar vein, I could never remember anything from Frost’s Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening until I finally heard Eric Whitacre’s treatment of it.

          • Anonymous says:


            Well, both rhyming and melody are meatware error correction, so it would stand to reason that it would be in general easier to remember text that has both.

          • onyomi says:


            That is a good point. I think I can recite a good deal of Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallot” due to having listened to a Loreena McKennitt version of it several times.

            Also interestingly, I know at least one longish poem I can sing from memory but have great difficulty recalling as simple spoken word. I learned it as part of studying to perform Chinese opera.


            Could you elaborate on what you mean by rhyme and melody as “error correction”? Do you mean because they both cause you to expect certain phonemes/pitches, thereby making them easier to recall?

          • Anonymous says:

            Could you elaborate on what you mean by rhyme and melody as “error correction”? Do you mean because they both cause you to expect certain phonemes/pitches, thereby making them easier to recall?

            Yes. They’re hints about what comes next, allowing you to reconstruct the text from fragmentary recollection. Stuff like what a given word needs to sound like, how many syllables, etc, really helps. This is quite similar to, if much less effective than, error correction used in optical media.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, rhyme and scansion always seem to me like a kind of error-correcting code, so when your fallible memory gets a word wrong, some part of your brain recognizes the problem (it doesn’t scan) and tries to find nearby words to fill it in that would work. A lot of poetry has many levels of this–scansion, rhyme, subject of the poem, fixed structure of the poem, and lots of other stuff whose names I don’t even remember.

            The really funny part of this is when there are common variants of popular songs in peoples’ minds, because they misheard the lyrics and the closest “codeword” to the misheard lyric is some meaning-changing lyric.

          • Jordan D. says:

            My favorite example of this is to ask people what the lyrics in ‘Africa’ are.

            So far more than half the people I’ve asked have thought it was “Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like a leopardess above the Serengeti.”

          • For example, Chesterton’s The Ballad of the White Horse, Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and so forth are very easy to memorize because I can sing them.

            How much of the Ballad of the White Horse did you memorize?

            My son has been working on memorizing all of it, possibly minus the introduction, which is a considerable project. But it’s great stuff.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            “You can’t bury love” or “you can’t hurry love”?

          • albatross11 says:


            That sounds like a great title for a zombie story….

          • Jordan D. says:


            I only ever memorized the first few books, back in undergrad- probably up to Ethandune. At this point I only clearly recall Books I and II, which were always my favorite parts.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Yes, I was thinking that zombie version of the song might work.

            “It’s just a game of give and take”– body parts are exchanged in the video.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The really funny part of this is when there are common variants of popular songs in peoples’ minds, because they misheard the lyrics and the closest “codeword” to the misheard lyric is some meaning-changing lyric.

            These are commonly known as mondegreens, after a misunderstanding of the lyrics to “The Bonnie Earl o’ Moray”. The most well known example might be from Prince:

            “Excuse me while I kiss this guy!”

            My personal mondegreen was from Madonna’s “Spanish Lullaby”:

            “Young girl with eyes like potatooooes…”

          • Paul Brinkley says:


            Interestingly, Jabberwocky is the only poem that ever motivated me to memorize a German poem, and it was its translation:

            Es brillig war; die schlicten Toven
            Wirten und wimmeln im Waben.
            Alle mümsige Bergoven
            Die momen Räthe ausgraben.

          • Matt M says:


            My mom used to believe that Neil Diamond was singing about a pastor named Reverend Bluejeans

          • Montfort says:

            The most well known example might be from Prince:

            “Excuse me while I kiss this guy!”

            I thought that was Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” (“the sky” confused with “this guy”). Are there two songs that share a common mishearing?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            No, it’s Hendrix, and I hadn’t had my coffee yet.

        • schazjmd says:

          A tip for learning a sequence (like a poem) is to start at the end. For example, practice the last stanza over and over. When that’s firmly in your mind, add the preceding stanza; lather, rinse, repeat. In this approach, you’re continually moving from newer learning to more established learning (aka, from insecure to comfort). (I picked this up in dog training complex sequences, but it’s called back-chaining in learning theory)

    • James Miller says:

      Compared to people with the same IQ and of the same race, most SSC readers have a high mutational load.

      • swing says:

        that’s… kinda mean? (or am I interpreting you wrongly?)

        • Anonymous says:

          It’s supposed to be a kooky hypothesis, comrade.

        • Jack Lecter says:

          I’m not sure I get it-
          Is ‘mutational load’ a bad thing? I mean, separate from effects on IQ?

          • publiusvarinius says:

            Some sub-populations have lower average fitness than others. Not particularly wise mathematical biologists decided to call this effect mutational load.

            This is an extremely unfortunate term: it suggests some platonic ideal human archetype, from which populations differ by accumulating harmful mutations to their collective genome. Such an archetype does not exist (discounting religious books and dusty drawings of renaissance polymaths).

            @James Miller seems to be saying that the SSC readership has high mutational load, i.e. low average fitness, i.e. a random SSC reader will ultimately have fewer surviving offspring than a random human. Which seems like a pretty solid prediction.

          • Well... says:

            Fitness for what?

            Seems like by definition, any population that has come to exist is “fit”–for its environment at least.

          • publiusvarinius says:

            > Fitness for what?

            Biological fitness, also called Darwinian fitness, means the ability to survive to reproductive age, find a mate, and produce offspring (with all due respect, I should not be doing your Googling for you). It is a property associated with an individual, and I’m sure you agree that individuals in the same environment are not all equally reproductively successful.

          • albatross11 says:

            As I understand it (I’m an interested amateur), the idea works like this:

            In a population, there are always new deleterious (bad) mutations popping up–these are just copying errors in the DNA that gets passed down to your descendants. In general, think of a gene getting messed up somewhere so it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. Mutations appear at some more-or-less fixed rate[1] in the population–every generation has a few new mutations spontaneously arising. Some of these kill you instantly, but most just have some small bad effect, so you can pass them on to your kids and grandkids and such.

            Bad mutations have a fitness cost–that’s why we call them bad. Fitness is about how many copies of a given gene you leave in the next generation (mostly offspring, but this can apply to keeping your siblings or cousins around, too). So a bad mutation leads to fewer copies of itself in the next generation, and so should become rarer and rarer in the population. Really bad mutations have a high fitness cost and get eliminated quickly; others have a low fitness cost and take a long time to get selected out of the population. But in general, you’d expect a bad mutation to eventually disappear, since people carrying that mutation are less likely to leave behind offspring than people who aren’t carrying it. And you’d expect that to happen faster, the bigger the fitness cost. (There are equations for this in population genetics.)

            You can think of this as a related rates problem, like water flowing into a bucket from a faucet and leaking out the bottom through a hole. The actual level of bad mutations in the population at any given time is the result of the balance of these two, like the water level in that bucket.

            Increase the rate of mutations, and you expect the water level to rise a bit in that bucket before you get to a new equilibrium. Make selection more effective at removing mutations (widen the hole at the bottom of the bucket) and you expect the water level to go down a bit before reaching a new equilibrium.

            If you have two more-or-less isolated populations with different conditions wrt mutations (higher mutation rate or less effective filtering out of mutations), they will have different average numbers of these bad mutations. That’s mutational load, as I understand it.

            Imagine counting all the bad mutations in a given person’s DNA–all the genes that got zapped by a copying error and now don’t work quite right. That would tell you how much mutational load that person had. All else being equal, if Alice has a higher mutational load than Betty, we should expect Alice to be a little shorter, dumber, and less healthy than Betty.

            If you select only people with high IQs (by making membership in some community require reading complicated arguments in comment threads), then you will usually get a population with lower than average mutational load. But if you select on both IQ and other mutation-associated weirdness (maybe including disorders like ADHD or autism or depression or gender dysphoria), then you’ll get a group of smart people with unusually high mutational load.

            So, basically, James Miller is saying we’re smart but weird. Sounds about right to me.

            [1] But that can be altered by parental age, radiation exposure, some infections, etc.

          • publiusvarinius says:


            > Imagine counting all the bad mutations in a given person’s DNA–all the genes that got zapped by a copying error and now don’t work quite right. […] That would tell you how much mutational load that person had.

            Evolution is not a local search problem. There is no perfect ideal human that could be made by going through each gene and selecting the “best” allele, not even in principle (cf. Adam Kadmon).

            We can say that a mutation is deleterious if it is selected against in the current population, but it’s impossible to say waht exactly is a “set of deleterious mutations”.

            To give an exaggerated example, the “longer left leg” allele is advantageous if you also have the “longer right leg” allele, but strongly deleterious if you only have one of them. This is not how bilateral symmetry actually works, but it should convey the basic idea. Every organism carries advantageous alleles that would have been deleterious to most of their ancestors, and vice versa.

          • JulieK says:

            Nowadays, the correlation between IQ and number of offspring is probably negative, since high-IQ people are more likely to postpone having children in order to focus on their education and career.

          • Well... says:


            You didn’t say “lower average biological fitness” before, you just said “lower average fitness”. A Google search (or, a DDG search by default, on my machine!) for “fitness” is definitely not going to get me the exact narrow definition you had in mind. I might have guessed you meant “evolutionary fitness” but then we’re just back to “adapted to one’s environment in a way that permits breeding and perpetuation” which I already implied when I said “any population that has come to exist.”

            Yes, individuals in the same environment are not all equally reproductively successful (my adage “nothing in the universe is distributed evenly or evenly randomly” deserves its own two- or three-syllable invocation!) but you were talking about sub-populations, not individuals!

          • publiusvarinius says:


            > You didn’t say “lower average biological fitness” before […]

            I spelled out the definition straight after mentioning it, as in low average fitness, i.e. a random SSC reader will ultimately have fewer surviving offspring than a random human.

            > individuals in the same environment are not all equally reproductively successful […] but you were talking about sub-populations, not individuals!

            Yes, and I was talking about average (!) fitness of sub-populations.

            I thought I made all of this relatively clear. Any suggestions for alternative phrasings I could use?

          • albatross11 says:


            Fair enough–some alleles are better for some environments than others, and a mutation that makes you more fit in one environment can make you less fit in another.

            However, any living thing you are looking at right now is at the end of a *long* chain of selection, and works pretty well, or it wouldn’t be here. So if you make a copying error in its DNA that changes anything at all about the organism, it’s almost certainly going to be a change for the worse in almost any environment. It’s like tapping a random part of your car with a hammer–most of the time you’ll just leave a dent, but when you have any noticeable effect it’ll almost always be because you busted a tail light out or something that made the car work less well. That’s true, even though a car that’s well-adapted to stock racing isn’t all that great as a family car or a commuter car.

          • Well... says:


            Oops, missed that because with the “@“ sign my brain interpreted it like you were addressing James Miller about something else he said, separate from the first thing you were writing to Jack Lecter about.

          • publiusvarinius says:

            @Well…: I see your point. Using the @ sign in front of every username is a bad habit I picked up from Facebook/Twitter. To compensate, I will try to use it correctly in this comment. The following is a reply to something that someone else wrote.


            Fair enough–some alleles are better for some environments than others, and a mutation that makes you more fit in one environment can make you less fit in another.

            The problem is not just external environment: it’s that an allele can be deleterious as part of one genome, and yet advantageous as part of another genome, even in the same external environment.

            Mutational load is of course a very real concept, in the sense that sub-populations differ in average fitness, but it’s not possible to make sense of the effect in terms of counting bad alleles, even at the level of populations, but certainly not at the level of individuals.

            With respect to the analogy, do note that cars are manufactured to resemble a Platonic blueprint. At least locally, the “fitness” of a Ford Ranger is going to be correlated with being close to an ideal Ford Ranger in some kind of similarity metric. In contrast, biological sub-populations are very much like soups of alleles, and the highest fitness individuals are empirically very likely to have large dissimilar chunks in their genotypes.

        • James Miller says:

          The non-mean framing is that given our mutational load, we have extremely high IQs.

          • baconbacon says:

            The non-mean framing is that given our mutational load, we have extremely high IQs.

            Speak for yourself (cries inside).

      • albatross11 says:

        James Miller: But no superpowers, damn it!

    • Wrong Species says:

      Mac vs PC-PC because they are usually seen as substance over style
      Android vs Iphone-Android because nerds like it more

      I’ve been wondering how many film buffs we have here. I would guess not many because I don’t really see that kind of discussion.

      • cassander says:

        define film buff. I like movies and like talking about them.

        • Wrong Species says:

          My highly, nebulous loose definition would be something like:
          Has seen a lot of movies beyond your standard popcorn fare.

          • cassander says:

            my definition is more about attitude. It’s not what you watch, it’s the level of analysis you apply to it.

          • Wrong Species says:

            That’s true to a certain extent. But let’s say someone has only seen Disney movies all their life. There’s nothing wrong with these movies. But your scope is widely limited both by the few number of movies you’ve seen and the techniques you are exposed to. Of course, quantity isn’t everything but it does have a quality of its own. I would say that someone who has a shallow analysis of an incredibly large, diverse set of movies is more of a film buff than someone who has a deep analysis of a tiny number of movies.

        • Well... says:

          If you go around a room and ask everyone what their top 10 favorite movies are, the “film buff” will be more likely to name movies nobody else in the room has heard of.

          At least some of the film buff’s favorite movies are likely to have one or more of the following characteristics:

          – Independent or low-budget
          – More than 10 years old
          – Primarily not in English
          – Directed by a famous “auteur”

          It’s possible there might be somebody out there who’s paying serious attention to the performances, cinematography, editing, etc. in the latest superhero movies and few other movies besides those, and I guess you might call that person a film buff, but that person would be an extreme outlier among film buffs.

          • Well... says:

            On the other hand, I have encountered more than a few of another type of film buff, which is simply someone who has seen, and vividly remembers, a mind-bogglingly huge number of popular movies.

            Usually this includes a few of the big classics but is mostly movies from the 1980s on up.

            Rather than someone with a scholarly interest in film, I’d think of this person more as the type to dominate a hypothetical “name that flick” trivia category on Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit, and to have a huge DVD collection.

          • cassander says:

            It’s possible there might be somebody out there who’s paying serious attention to the performances, cinematography, editing, etc. in the latest superhero movies and few other movies besides those, and I guess you might call that person a film buff, but that person would be an extreme outlier among film buffs.

            This is a fairly accurate description of what I do. I like to think about and analyse what I consume, media wise, but I don’t work particularly hard to seek out old classics, so I have a long rant ready about how silly the praise being heaped on Wonder Woman is because the plot was an incoherent mess with a lot of good ideas, almost all of which were poorly implemented, and how almost every scene in the movie was longer than it should have been.

          • Nornagest says:

            To be fair, most recent superhero movies are an incoherent mess with very few good ideas. I thought Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was trying to be three or four things more than it should have been, none of them particularly well, and that was one of the better ones.

            For good or ill, but mostly ill, the people in charge of the MCU seem to have decided that the magic formula is snarky dialog + high concept + good cinematography and that things like tight plotting and consistent characters and fight choreography (important in an action movie!) are optional and expensive. The DCCU is similar, but with s/snarky/edgy and worse cinematography. I didn’t like everything Wonder Woman (or, before that, Logan) did, but I’ll give both a lot of credit for just trying something different.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Nornagest: I wouldn’t call Wonder Woman edgy. They didn’t try to duplicate the formula of their last two movies.
            They gave Etta Candy some Marvel snark, but other than that the tone seemed sincere and focused on Diana’s character arc.
            I didn’t really notice the cinematography after the artsy way they did the Olympian backstory.
            The way they handled Greek myth was utterly devoid of intelligence. The worst thing I can say is the CGI ending fight undermined the whole theme of the movie.

          • cassander says:


            For good or ill, but mostly ill, the people in charge of the MCU seem to have decided that the magic formula is snarky dialog + high concept + good cinematography and that things like tight plotting and consistent characters and fight choreography (important in an action movie!) are optional and expensive

            I’d push back on this a little bit. Marvel movies are by no means exceptional stories, but they are at least well structured. Take Guardians, which I compare very favorably to Wonder Woman. Every character has something to do because of who they are, they have conflicts, and they all pay off at the end in some way. It’s not deep or clever, but it is solid, with a coherent arc or journey for basically everyone. Between movies, things get a bit messier, but within each movie, things are usually well structured and consistent. This is why even their worst movies aren’t painfully bad, just instantly forgettable, because they have the fundamentals right.

            It doesn’t hurt that they seem to run the movies through fewer writers, Wonder Woman felt like it had a half dozen people’s ideas tossed in and they didn’t mesh.

          • Nornagest says:

            @Le Maistre Chat:

            I wouldn’t call Wonder Woman edgy. They didn’t try to duplicate the formula of their last two movies.

            Sorry; no, it wasn’t, and they didn’t. Was trying to say that’s why I liked it, and didn’t like Batman vs. Superman or Suicide Squad.

            Its mythology is dumb, but that pretty much comes with the Wonder Woman package, so I can accept it. (Besides comic-nerd continuity issues: Ares was a big jerk in the Greek myths, yes, but so was everyone else. Unless you’re going to be making a whole movie about the mythology, it works better to do the historically inaccurate good-vs-evil thing than to make it clear to the audience that we’re on the side of the second biggest jerk in the pantheon against the biggest one. And besides, it’s not like the Greeks themselves didn’t have wildly varying interpretations of their gods.)

            The ending is a bigger sin, and one that I can’t paper over, but it didn’t ruin the movie for me.

          • Nornagest says:

            @Cassander —

            Take Guardians, which I compare very favorably to Wonder Woman. Every character has something to do because of who they are, they have conflicts, and they all pay off at the end in some way. It’s not deep or clever, but it is solid, with a coherent arc or journey for basically everyone.

            Are you talking about Guardians 1 or 2? Guardians 1 was the last MCU movie that I really liked. Competent is the word. It set out to be a campy character-focused adventures-in-space movie and it pretty much knocked it out of the park.

            Guardians 2 on the other hand had everything you said it does, but that’s about all it had. Everyone has a completely different arc and they don’t gel or support each other or even really show a consistent tone. It felt like I was watching five different movies in the same universe that had been intercut for some reason.

            I might have to walk back the “consistent characters” criticism for either Guardians, though; that’s more of an issue with the Avengers movies.

          • Wrong Species says:


            Guardians 1 was the last MCU movie that I really liked.

            You didn’t like Civil War? I’m not big in to Marvel movies, but I felt like that one had more emotional resonance than most of their movies. Both sides had logical reasons for their case and there wasn’t some stupid grand conspiracy to bring them together harmoniously. And it’s easily the only Marvel movie to have a sympathetic villain.

          • cassander says:

            I was disappointed by the fact that there was a villain at all in Civil War, there didn’t need to be. I suspect that marvel is going to really regret doing Civil war as a one off so early. It would have been amazing to watch it play out over a couple movies in a really character focused way after the thanos plot is taken care of.

            Frankly, their model is going to have to change a little once they do that, because they can’t keep piling on bigger bads at that point. That would have been a great pivot, now I have no idea what they’re going to do.

          • random832 says:

            I was disappointed by the fact that there was a villain at all in Civil War, there didn’t need to be. I suspect that marvel is going to really regret doing Civil war as a one off so early. It would have been amazing to watch it play out over a couple movies in a really character focused way after the thanos plot is taken care of.

            How many more movies are the actors ready to do though? Downey has been doing these for literally a decade, and Evans has been talking about retiring from acting entirely. As it is they’re probably going to need to spend the next couple movies passing the torch to a new A-list team.

          • gbdub says:

            They are on the gravy train right now with their current crop of actors, snark, and spectacle. They probably start losing the main actors after Infinity War, and in any case it will at that point have already gone on longer for more films successfully than any franchise save Bond.

            There will need to be a tonal shift at some point, but I think they want to squeeze all they can out of the current formula while they still have the ingredients. Getting too cute with it now risks losing the audience and not getting them back when you finally get around to the Big Bad.

          • John Schilling says:

            Its mythology is dumb, but that pretty much comes with the Wonder Woman package, so I can accept it. […]

            But pretty much every incarnation of Wonder Woman that isn’t literally a comic book, has dismissed pretty much all of the comic-book mythology beyond “There were Amazons, and some of them went to live on a Secret Magic Island”. There’s no good reason the latest movie had to have anything more than that.

            The ending is a bigger sin, and one that I can’t paper over, but it didn’t ruin the movie for me.

            As I said a couple of OTs ago, 80% of a very good movie with a mind-numbingly stupid final act. One that was, again, due to the unnecessary intrusion of an arbitrary mythology wholly at odds with everything else the movie was trying to do.

            I tentatively blame the San Diego Comic-Con. Using Comic-Con for cheap publicity, and cheap ego-boo for the creators, means getting yelled at by comic-book geeks if you don’t treat their mythology with appropriate reverence. I think the MCU does this worse, but it certainly didn’t help DC and Wonder Woman that they felt the need to include Literal Ares.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            This is why even their worst movies aren’t painfully bad, just instantly forgettable, because they have the fundamentals right.

            “Painfully” is perhaps not the adjective I’d use for it, but Thor 2 was pretty terrible.

            I was disappointed by the fact that there was a villain at all in Civil War, there didn’t need to be. I suspect that marvel is going to really regret doing Civil war as a one off so early. It would have been amazing to watch it play out over a couple movies in a really character focused way after the thanos plot is taken care of.

            I disagree. I think the villain worked fine for what the movie set out to do, the problem to me was that pretty much every hero except Steve, Tony, Bucky and maaaaybe Black Panther were superfluous, so instead of sticking to the comics making it a mega event with tons of superheroes (that was stupid but whatever) or a more restricted story about the conflict between just Iron Man and Cap, you have something that is in the middle of the road and IMO worse for it.

          • sflicht says:

            I saw WW last weekend. Thoughts:

            * 3D added nothing, waste of my $$

            * I agree with others that the Ares stuff and the ending were terrible.

            * I did like some of the set-pieces. The Amazons fighting the Germans was probably the best sequence IMO.

            * I liked the acting more than I expected to.

            * Biggest gripe is the setting and the un-nuanced view of WWI. Diana’s pacifism gave them a natural angle to the point out what a complete clusterfuck that war was, with the British deserving their fair share of blame (and the American entry into the war completely pointless). The film barely gestures towards this, but on balance the film is still more-or-less Ze Germans Are Eefil in a way that felt very anachronistic to me. (Probably very faithful to the comics in this regard!)

            * Continuing the previous point, the ridiculous (relative to actual history) portrayal of chemical weapons in the movie seemed like overt propaganda, possibly related to the current war in Syria.

            * Going back to Ares, why on earth does it make sense for him to die at the end (as opposed to being disabled in some non-permanent way)? This cuts off the easiest way to tie in a possible WW2-era sequel. (Which would go back to the origins of the character.) For that matter, why didn’t they use WW2 as the setting in the first place? Then the one-sided nature of Amazonian intervention in the war would at least fit better with modern views of the morality of the war itself.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            * Continuing the previous point, the ridiculous (relative to actual history) portrayal of chemical weapons in the movie seemed like overt propaganda, possibly related to the current war in Syria.

            I agree, though to me it was more “WWI is basically the same as WWII, right?” with the superweapons obsession. It made it impossible to take the (mortal) villains seriously, and by extension also Chris Pine’s character.

            * Biggest gripe is the setting and the un-nuanced view of WWI. Diana’s pacifism gave them a natural angle to the point out what a complete clusterfuck that war was, with the British deserving their fair share of blame (and the American entry into the war completely pointless). The film barely gestures towards this, but on balance the film is still more-or-less Ze Germans Are Eefil in a way that felt very anachronistic to me. (Probably very faithful to the comics in this regard!)

            This 1000 times. WWI as the setting wasn’t necessarily doomed from the outset, but I was always worried it would devolve into “WWII but earlier and with trenches” and, lo and behold, it did.

          • cassander says:

            @Whatever Happened To Anonymous

            I disagree. I think the villain worked fine for what the movie set out to do, the problem to me was that pretty much every hero except Steve, Tony, Bucky and maaaaybe Black Panther were superfluous, so instead of sticking to the comics making it a mega event with tons of superheroes (that was stupid but whatever) or a more restricted story about the conflict between just Iron Man and Cap, you have something that is in the middle of the road and IMO worse for it.

            I have a version of the movie in my head where instead of starting with the Mazovia raid, you have a whole act dedicated to building up to it that sets up Zemo as the big bad. At the last minute, Stark says don’t go for reasons that are basically political. Captain America goes anyway and gets zemo, but gets a bunch of people killed, while Zemo proves to be a 2 bit non-entity. This leads to the accords, which leads to the breakup of the team. If you want to keep the bucky subplot, replace Zemo with a brainwashed winter soldier who Stark is willing to let take the fall to protect the avengers and who Rodgers busts out of prison on his way out.

            @Gobbobobble and sflicht

            I agree, though to me it was more “WWI is basically the same as WWII, right?” with the superweapons obsession. It made it impossible to take the (mortal) villains seriously, and by extension also Chris Pine’s character.

            I agree completely. What they should have done is make Chris Pine’s character an actual German soldier instead of an allied spy, and have Diana initially sign up to help the Germans end the war, only for her to realize that the world is more complicated than it seemed.

          • Randy M says:

            I haven’t seen WW , but weren’t chemical weapons a really big deal in WWI?
            (This thread would be really confusing if there was a WWII, especially if it was still set in WWI)

          • sflicht says:

            Yes, chemical weapons were a big deal in WWI, but they were used by both sides (admittedly developed first by the Germans — the actress who played the evil chemist apparently research their inventor, Fritz Haber, at least according to Wikipedia). Moreover they were used in various forms from the early years of the war, and after an initial learning curve ended up being more or less ineffective against properly trained and equipped troops.

          • John Schilling says:

            I took it as being an alternate and/or secret history in which the Germans went and developed nerve gas, with its order of magnitude increase in lethality and its gas-masks-won’t-save-you-now aspect, in 1918 rather than 1936. That is the sort of thing that would be A: vaguely plausible, B: definitely German(*), and C: likely to give die-hard German nationalists a bad case of “maybe we can win this thing after all…” even in 1918.

            I also hate and try to ignore the bit where in Hollywood absolutely every toxic chemical is flesh-meltingly hypercorrosive just so lazy directors and actors punt the “make this seem really deadly” part over to the FX department.

            * German was a required language for chemistry students in the US well into the 20th century, for good reason

          • Gobbobobble says:


            Yeah, a big deal, but not big enough for the whole war to hang in the balance. From your wiki link:

            Gas was unlike most other weapons of the period because it was possible to develop effective countermeasures, such as gas masks. In the later stages of the war, as the use of gas increased, its overall effectiveness diminished.

            The only way the superweapon in WW has any credibility is that in its demonstrations it somehow (Because Ares Said So, I guess?) breaks the test subject’s gas mask.

            So to me the whole plot arc around magic gas that would win the war was just yet another cheapening of the WWI setting (don’t get me started on capturing a town from across no man’s land).

            ETA: @Ninja John Schilling

            Yeah, that would have made sense. But directors gonna FX-crutch, so they went with the ridiculous gas-cracks-masks magic instead. Because audiences are too dumb to understand a gas that could get through it, I guess.

          • Protagoras says:

            Gas masks were hardly the only problem with gas as a weapon (mustard gas, one of the WWI gasses, attacks the skin and not just the lungs). When the armies were fairly close together, there was also the enormous difficulty of ensuring that only the enemy’s troops were affected, or at least that as few as possible of your own were. Adverse winds could blow gasses back toward your trenches, and it was quite difficult to predict how long the gas would take to disperse enough for it to be safe for your guys to now advance into the (hopefully) weakened enemy position.

      • Jack Lecter says:

        I’m Mac-and-iPhone.
        I haven’t ever tried Android, but I like my Mac much better than the PC I had before- with the Mac, I feel like I have some (really rough) understanding of the system. My PC was always screwing up for reasons I couldn’t really understand, whereas my Mac screws up for reasons I understand at least slightly better.

        • Well... says:

          Hm…I might add a question about Mac vs. PC or iPhone vs. Android. I wonder how many people here have, like me, resisted using a smartphone altogether?

          • Nornagest says:

            PC and iPhone, though I use a Mac at work and used to dual-boot at home. I used to be an Android guy, but gave up on the platform after every phone I bought for three phones running (flagship phones from Samsung, not some fly-by-night outfit) had something significantly wrong with it.

            I don’t like how the iPhone keeps trying to suck me into the iEcosystem, but it does, in fact, Just Work.

          • Machina ex Deus says:


            I wonder how many people here have, like me, resisted using a smartphone altogether?

            Brother! How good to find you!

            I, too, have resisted getting a smartphone, for two major reasons:

            1) I will waste enormous amounts of time with it, and probably on pointless puzzle games rather than, say, reading SSC.

            2) I have gone swimming with my present phone. Twice. Bag o’rice did the trick both times (some noticeable screen damage). Do that with an iPhone or Galaxy? Time for a new one. (Also, if I do need to replace my current phone, it was on sale at Wal-mart for $15.)

            If I did get one, it’d probably be Android, so I could program for it (yet another way to waste time with it!).

            When I’m choosing my laptop, it’s a Mac. I like doing stuff with my computer more than doing stuff to it.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            I too have never used a smartphone.

          • Well... says:

            I’ve now added a whole new section to my survey for “technology” questions. I moved some other questions there, and added a question about cell phones.

          • Anonymous says:

            Nokia 1616 FTW.

          • Brad says:


            PC and iPhone, though I use a Mac at work and used to dual-boot at home. I used to be an Android guy, but gave up on the platform after every phone I bought for three phones running (flagship phones from Samsung, not some fly-by-night outfit) had something significantly wrong with it.

            Also PC and iPhone, but the last Apple computer I used regularly was a IIGS. I had a similar experience with android, but gave up after only one phone–the Galaxy S.

          • Zodiac says:

            Huh, I have a smartphone but I do not really use it a lot.
            I don’t like dealing with my phone since I feel much more restricted than with my PC and surfing very often becomes impossible since I can’t get an adblocker to work properly.
            Plus I’m generally pretty good at staying away from a lot of the compulsive stuff (social media, etc).
            If it wasn’t that my peers demanded the use of WhatsApp at one point I’d still not own a smartphone (or if WhatsApp ran on PC like a lot of the other messenger apps *grumble*).

          • Well... says:


            Don’t your peers have phone numbers?? Seems like you could text back and forth just as easily.

          • Zodiac says:

            They do, but the more limited functionality (pictures, videos, smileys, groups, etc…) and the fact that many of them only have internet flats with expensive prices for texts makes this a non-option.

          • Well... says:

            Tragedy of the cumulative non-commons.

      • CatCube says:

        I’ll be the weird guy: PC and Windows Phone.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Please tell me you’re the Zune user?

          • CatCube says:

            @The Nybbler

            Never had a Zune. The last straight music player I had was a 2nd-generation iPod Nano, and I haven’t pulled that out of a drawer for about 5 years now. Come to think of it, I don’t actually listen to much music on a portable device these days; I usually only do so at my computer.

      • S_J says:

        Mac vs PC

        Any Linux users around here?

        I started using Mandrake Linux back when I wanted something better than Win95, but Win98 cost too much money.

        I began with the Mandrake distribution. Then I tried RedHat.
        Eventually, I attempted to install Gentoo Linux. It was so configurable that I still use it on my main computer.

        I use Android because it’s not Apple, but it’s much harder to modify/muck-around-with than a generic Linux Distro.

        • Anonymous says:

          Mint/XFCE and Debian.

        • Iain says:


        • Machina ex Deus says:

          Ubuntu from like 1979 on my home server. I’ll start using Linux on the desktop when it’s ready for prime time next year.*

          (* From what I’ve seen it’s always next year that it’s ready for prime time.)

          We also have a Chromebook that works.

      • Well... says:

        Per my definition further in-thread, I’m considering asking a question about the film buff thing. It’d probably be “Of the movies below, choose the one you like the most or dislike the least–if you haven’t seen any of them, pick the one you know the most about” and I’d list one recent Hollywood blockbuster, one movie from the last 20 years that it seems like tons of people like, one famous movie from 1960-1980, one classic Hollywood Golden Age movie from before 1960, and one obscure/foreign film.

        Can you think of a better way to ask the question?

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I like Casablanca better than Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars or India Song. 🙂

    • bugsbycarlin says:

      Huh, true on all four counts. Now I’m curious to see data for all four theories.

    • JulieK says:

      I’m surprised by how many people here admit to having used drugs.
      Though the data I’m missing is the rate in the general population.

      • Well... says:

        Hah, as a general rule I would not trust trust data about that question if it was collected from a voluntary online survey.

    • Zodiac says:

      Probably my own biases but I think SSC commenters generally have supportive and/or functional families despite a higher rate of psychological problems.

      • Jack Lecter says:

        I do- parents and sister.
        I have a lot of difficulty making connections outside my family, though, so no supportive peer-group.

      • Well... says:

        In my survey I’m already asking about divorced parents, and the presence of half or adopted siblings–those might be somewhat of a loose proxy for “supportive and/or functional” families.

    • Jack Lecter says:

      SSC readers- or, as a weaker hypothesis, those readers who comment regularly- are measurably more introverted in meatspace than the average.
      I started to just say ‘more introverted’, but it occurred to me that I’m not really sure how online, comment-based socializing is measured in terms of the conventional introvert/extrovert axis.
      My reasoning is given below, for those who care:

      We regularly talk about politics on here, and I’m perpetually impressed at how non-mindkilled everyone is- on all sides of the issues at hand. I’m not saying we’re perfect, or that we shouldn’t try to do better, but compared to the baseline the quality of discussion here is incredible. If this sounds like empty in-group flattery, try spending five minutes- five actual minutes, by the clock- reading comments on YouTube.
      I have a theory that people with a large (meatspace) peer group might have a more difficult time being rational, at least about contentious topics- face-to-face interaction is sped up too fast to really think things through, and there’s the omnipresent, looming threat that your peers might look at you funny. Both of these seem like obstacles to clear thinking- at least, they seem more likely to hinder than to help one think clearly and carefully.
      So, faced with a group of people noticeably more rational than the average (again, look at YouTube if you don’t believe me), I speculate that they will be, on average, more introverted than is the norm.

      • Well... says:

        I agree about the quality of discussion here.

        Others have suggested asking about MB personality-types, ans your hypothesis suggests same. I don’t think I would ask about it on my survey: for one, I’m not that curious about it (I expect the results to show that SSC commenters are slightly–not radically–more introverted than the general population), and for two I’m sure Scott has already asked about this in his census surveys.

        • Matt M says:

          When it comes to MB, I would expect to see more of a T/F divide here than an I/E divide. Although that’s probably more of a proxy for “a lot of rationalists” than anything else.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            I’m an INFP, and I have to admit I often feel squishier and more emotional than is the norm around here.
            Don’t get me wrong- I come for the detached analysis, I stay for the detached analysis, the detached analysis is absolutely my favorite part of pretty much every conversation- but I like some human connection, too. This despite being objectively terrible at it.

    • genisage says:

      I have a couple related hypotheses (I’m interested in both self-perceptions and the actual state of affairs):
      – SSC readers perceive fewer demands on their time compared to their peers.
      – SSC readers are more likely to drop what they’re doing to respond to a request for their time.
      – SSC readers get fewer and give more recommendations than their peers.

    • Jaskologist says:

      SSC readers are unusually handsome.

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      SSC Readers and Commenters who use a desk are more likely than others to use a standing or walking desk.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the proportion were as high as 20%. (I started using one, and now use it 2/3 of the time I’m at my desk, or around half my work day.)

    • keranih says:

      I’ve asked before if SSC readers are/have been supervisors. I’d also be interested if they’ve done any business work in the sense of marketing or running a small business (or heck, large for that matter.)

      I would also be interested in what hands-on skills readers had – changing the oil in a vehicle, or adjusting the brakes on a bicycle, if they know how to fill and manage an oil lamp, troubleshooting a lawn mower, sharpen a knife, patch a shirt, do first aid, etc, that sort of thing and if it was a training class, a one-off emergency, or something they did regularly.

      • Well... says:

        Hm…that intrigues me a bit. I’m not sure how to ask about it. Is there one particular skill you think would work well as a proxy for “hands-on type person”?

        • keranih says:

          ‘hands on’ tends to be both gendered and culturally tied. (Or, it was in my day.) So, no, not really.

          Back in the day, the Heinlein meme ran around fandom, and one could claim how many one had actually done. (Sorta. ‘Dying well’ being more of a one-off trick than some of the others.)

          But frankly it’s more of a spectrum, and one that is (imo) sideways of the political spectrum. I don’t care if you know how to manage a sucking chest wound because you learnt it in the Rhodesian Self Defense Forces or if you were an ABC medical student at St Elsewhere – you learnt that thing with your wrists damp and crimson, which is different from reading about it in a book which is different from watching Three Kings because Marky Mark is cute and still different from going why is the cedar chest a vacuum


          No, I don’t know how to ask this question.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’m tempted to say “knowing a decent selection of knots”, but that may be the Boy Scout mind-virus coming out of hibernation.

          The best way to do it would probably be to come up with eight or ten hands-on skills from different walks of life and see how many of them people knew. You wouldn’t get many tens or many zeros, but a seven would be different than a one. Say, one or two each from:

          – domestic
          – medical
          – outdoor (camping/hiking/orienteering/Scouts)
          – mechanical/repair/gearhead
          – construction/handyman/DIY
          – military/self-defense

          I think Heinlein’s list, while a similar idea, is too military-focused.

        • genisage says:

          The way I’d ask it is: “If something of yours breaks or needs maintenance, what are you most likey to do?”
          A. Handle it myself, even if I have to go find an instructional video on youtube.
          B. Pay somebody to fix/maintain it
          C. Replace it

          If I had to pick one task, I’d go with disassembling, cleaning, and putting back a garbage disposal. It seems like the sort of thing most people I’ve met have had to deal with at least once, and it’s the right balance of kind of annoying but not hard so that there will be plenty of people on both sides, I think.

          • Montfort says:

            I don’t think garbage disposals are really that popular outside the US. Though I don’t own one myself, so I may be underestimating their prevalence.

          • Well... says:

            One problem is that it makes false negatives out of anyone who’s really handy but hasn’t owned a home.

          • genisage says:

            @Well… I guess that’s probably true for a lot of people, but I mostly find that I can fix a thing myself more quickly than I can get a landlord to show up and do something about it.

      • SamChevre says:

        I grew up on a small farm, ran a small carpentry business pre-college, and commuted by bike for several years. I can do most of the items above.

        I’d ask “can you sew on a button” and “can you change the oil in your vehicle/adjust the brakes on your bike” as decent proxies.

      • I do carpentry, leatherworking, lapidary, and jewelry making. I also grow fruit trees, but don’t do much other gardening. Sometimes I can fix things, sometimes I can’t. I cook. I sharpen the kitchen knives. I also make tents and simple clothing (for historical recreation).

      • John Schilling says:

        Currently a supervisor, with two direct reports expanding to four by the end of summer.

        Have been co-owner of a small business, but didn’t do marketing in any usual sense. Proposal-writing, yes.

        Oil changes on cars and airplanes regularly. Brake adjustment on bicycles regularly, have done auto brakes but didn’t like the results so prefer not to.

        Coleman-style lanterns, not oil lamps.

        Troubleshooting lawn mowers, yes.

        Sharpening knives, yes but poorly, will sometimes pay to have it done well. Ditto patching shirts.

        First aid, extensive training and little practice.

        Have not yet managed to die gallantly.

        All of these are the sort of things I will try to do for myself as the first option, and call for professional help only if needed. In most cases, learned informally from friends/family + RingTFM.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Supervisory work and business work, no.

        Hands on skills, quite a few. Most recent major new one was rebedding and rebuilding a water softener. I used to change my own oil regularly, though I don’t any more. On the car front I’ve replaced my shocks (won’t do it again), re-mounted a tire (one-off), changed plugs and plug wires (fairly regularly, though again not anymore), changed a tire (by swapping wheels the normal way — multiple times, all at least urgent), purged brake lines (occasional), replaced the battery (regularly), replaced fuel lines (twice), popped out a dent in plastic (once), and cleaned the throttle body (occasionally). Maybe a few others.

        Bicycles… Replaced cables, replaced, brakes, adjusted brakes and deraillers, minor truing of wheels, replaced cassette, chainwheels, and chain, changed tires and tubes, patched tubes and booted tires, replaced pedals. I don’t patch tubes any more (it just makes more sense to replace) but all of those I’ve done at least several times, though booting tires is only an emergency measure. No bottom bracket or headset work.

        Electrical: I’ve installed a new circuit once, replaced all the outlets in the house, replaced broken ones, replaced fixtures and appliances. Line voltage and below I’ll do it, never done anything above.

        Plumbing: Replaced valves, replaced damaged sections of pipe, replaced sinks/faucets, dishwashers. Ran lines to refrigerators. As noted above, rebuilt and rebedded a water softener; I’d rebuilt them before. Repaired a gas line to my grill, but I won’t mess with gas inside the house.

        Used to troubleshoot a lawnmower, but kinda easy as the problems were always the same (bad gas or a fouled spark plug). I sharpen knives with an electric sharpener; I’ve tried it by hand but I don’t have the patience. Never needed to patch shirts. First aid only simple wound care and splinter removal, mostly on myself. Nothing with obsolete/survival skills like gas lamps or flint knapping.

        When you can’t get other people to do anything for you without more time, money, and pain than it would take to actually do the job, you end up doing a lot for yourself.

        • gbdub says:

          When you can’t get other people to do anything for you without more time, money, and pain than it would take to actually do the job, you end up doing a lot for yourself.

          This is important – both ways! There are a lot of things that I’ve done once, or am pretty sure I can do, that, having done them and found them to be a huge pain and not very fun, I will from now on pay for. My time and aggravation are definitely worth a (substantially) nonzero amount of cash. Then again there are other things, like tweaking my bicycle and brewing beer, that I am happy to do inefficiently because I find them fun.

          There are also a few items that I could do, but don’t for I guess administrative reasons? I’m thinking mostly of warranties and the voiding thereof. I’ve never changed the battery in my car, despite it being simple, because I live in AZ and batteries almost always die before their warranties are up. Plus they (and motor oil, for that matter) are often inconvenient to dispose of legally.

      • hlynkacg says:

        I was a Detachment LPO during my last tour in Iraq with 18 direct subordinates plus a few extra guys from outside the command who were assigned to support/assist us. My first job after getting out was an EMS company where I was pretty much the official supervisor’s whip/go-for wrangling patients and making sure people/equipment got to where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there. This carried on to my work as a contractor for [International NGO] where I was pretty much doing the same thing only with the added complications of international relations and a lot of the people I had to deal with being volunteers. I eventually burnt out on EMS and went back to school during which I took assorted side jobs (bouncer, hotel front desk, some general contract work) to pay the rent. Now I work for a mid-sized aviation company, I don’t have any immediate subordinates but as a testing and certification engineer I have a fair bit of independence and end up interfacing with a lot of different people.

        In regards to your second paragraph; I definitely consider myself a “hands on” person. I’m reasonably competent with both a wrench and a sewing-needle and prefer to do general maintenance/trouble-shooting myself than leave it to others. I was both a boxer and competitive shooter while I was in the military and continued to shoot competitively after getting out but I haven’t really had the time or money to properly train in a while. My first-aid experience consists of having done it professionally for over a decade, but I’m badly out of practice and wouldn’t really trust myself with anything serious unless there was no one else available. I’ve come damn close to dying gallantly at least once, and un-gallantly a few times more. I like painting, film, and getting caught in the rain but find Pina-Coladas disgusting. 😛

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        I have a push-mower, so troubleshooting it is a simple flowchart:

        Non-working Lawnmower Troubleshooting Steps

        1) Is my teenager attached to it at the handle?
        If NO: find teenager, tell him to mow.
        If YES: probably broken; give teenager scissors.

        • Nornagest says:

          When I was much younger, I once found myself mowing my grandparents’ lawn with an honest-to-god scythe.

  2. Collin says:

    Demandbase (San Francisco) is actively hiring across Engineering, Data and Product and has a 4.7 on GlassDoor. I’d love to have more SSC people on board.

  3. chariava says:

    Asking for advice here! I’m a california community college student who was recently accepted as a transfer to UC Berkeley to study computer science. Since this place has a high concentration of intelligent people working in Silicon Valley and living in Berkeley I wanted to know you folks were willing to pass on some knowledge. I wanted to know if there were any general tips for being a student at Cal specifically (Since I have been going to college for two years and know general student tips and tricks like not to buy textbooks full price, try your best not to skip lecture, don’t read all the assigned reading, ect.), the tech industry or living in the city of Berkeley (Is there any guide to what areas of the city I should avoid, good food places, unique/special bookstores, ect.) you folks might be willing to share.

    I’m quite strongly interested in the rationalist and EA communities located in Berkeley. I plan to try to get involved with them in some capacity. Are there any other similar organizations that I should be looking out for?

    • cassander says:

      If you ever have a choice between classes that are required and those that aren’t, take the required classes first or you’ll get stuck.

      Finfine is a pretty good ethiopian place on telegraph a couple blocks from campus.

      there’s an amazing vietnamese place on bancroft or durant just south of campus. The name is escaping me, but get the lemon pepper steak or clay pot.

      • gbdub says:

        If you ever have a choice between classes that are required and those that aren’t, take the required classes first or you’ll get stuck.

        I’d be careful with that – while it’s important to make steady progress on your required classes (and they may be all that’s left after community college), your required classes are going to be hard. It’s important to your GPA and your mental stability to sprinkle some easier electives in their judiciously (easy meaning not necessarily intellectually simple, but definitely low time commitment).

        My worst semester was when I got cocky and tried to take a full schedule of all engineering classes, and the workload, both in time and mental stress, was intense.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          To add on to this, as general advice, here is the approach that served me very well back in the late 80s.

          This is predicated on the idea that you have AP college credits that the college/university has recognized.

          – Sign up for a full class load every semester.
          – Sign up for required and elective classes every semester
          – Sign up for classes that you think will be interesting.
          – Know how many classes you can declare pass/fail. Sign up for some hard but interesting classes outside of your major (higher level Entomology, higher level Archeology, for instance), with the intent of declaring those courses pass/fail. Enjoy the coursework and don’t stress.
          – If you find that you have taken a non-required course that is not interesting, has a poor lecturer, etc, go ahead and drop it and don’t bother to replace it. You can do this because you are going to sign up for a full load every semester but you have AP credits that cover some of your GC credits.

    • secret_tunnel says:

      There are probably a handful of general classes that you’ll be able to easily test out of for about an $80 fee. Definitely take advantage of that.

    • Nell says:

      1. Apply for internships earlier rather than later
      2. Go to hackathons
      3. Cal has a particularly heinous one-upping “no I was more miserable/studied more this weekend” sort of culture. It’s a little bit signalling and a little bit truth. Don’t let it become truth.
      4. Get involved in research early if you’re at all interested in it.
      5. Have fun. Undergrad is shorter than you think.

    • Reasoner says:


      CS classes at Cal will typically videorecord lectures, so you can get away with skipping lecture. This is a double-edged sword:

      If you use the video lectures well, you can log in to CalCentral using Firefox, use a Firefox extension to download the video to your hard drive, then speed the lecture up using VLC. The way I typically do this, I will pause the video frequently to make 100% sure that I understand things–which means it takes about as long as watching the lecture live but I get much better comprehension. (I still save on commute times to & from campus though.)

      If you use it poorly, you will put off watching all of your video lectures until right before midterms/finals.

      Therefore, I suggest establishing a Schelling fence related to your video lecture consumption (ex: always watch video lectures before the corresponding discussion section, and always go to discussion. Or maybe you want to go even further and ensure that your video lecture consumption is spread through the week in line with the principles of spaced repetition.)

      If you are a person who is bold enough to ask/answer questions with the lecturer, you might want to just attend the live lectures though.

      Sometimes you can pirate textbooks from

      I’ve noticed that CS profs at Cal will typically assign very little reading but expect you to do all of it.

      Use your move as a chance to establish good study habits. Moving to a new city has been shown to facilitate habit formation. The most important habits for me are related to having a space that is free of distractions, especially internet stuff. I recommend having a space where you always work with the internet off, using wget -r to download course websites, and doing as much work as you can offline. You should have some rules about exiting your space so you won’t be constantly tempted. Get in the habit of using break activities that don’t disrupt your concentration like taking walks.

      I’m told that GPA doesn’t matter very much, but I’ve been able to achieve a very high GPA by utilizing the above tips.

      There’s an EA student group at UC Berkeley that is pretty active.

      • Reasoner says:

        Consider applying to live in the Berkeley Student Cooperative: It’s less expensive (and more interesting!) than other housing options and offers an active but not overwhelming social life. The best way to get in is to live there during the summer in order to accumulate “co-op points” and advance your priority on the waitlist. Note, however, that the co-ops are a relative hotspot of people with far left politics.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Take the professor, not the class.

      That is, when you have a choice of classes to fit a requirement or a choice of sections of a required class, put a high weight on the quality of the professor when choosing. My experience has been that in any given department, there are one or two outstanding professors, one or two awful professors, with the rest in the okay-to-good range. And the outliers make an enormous different in what you get out of the class: you will learn a lot more and enjoy the class a lot more with the outstanding professors than the merely good ones, and likewise with the okay professors vs the awful ones. Even if it means taking an elective you’re a bit less interested in, or not being in the same section as your friends, or having to get up early for an 8am class, there’s a good chance it’s worth it.

      And it’s not hard to figure out who the outstanding and awful professors are. After a year or two in the major, everyone tends to know who they are. Ask some upperclassmen in your major (or the relevant major, if you’re choosing out-of-major electives) for advice if you’re not sure. This is hard to do for your first semester, but you have something like 3-6 more semesters where it will benefit you (depending on course load and whether you’re transferring in as a junior or a sophomore).

      There are also significant differences between the broad middle of professor quality, but those differences are much more subjective. Pay attention to which professors’ teaching styles click well with your learning style and remember them for future choices. Also remember them when it comes time to pick an adviser for your undergraduate thesis or senior project (if that is a thing a Berkeley).

  4. aqs says:

    Repeating the advert from OT78. There will be a SSC readers’ meetup in Helsinki, Finland, Tuesday June 27, 2017 (that is, tomorrow), starting at 5 p.m. at Kaisla. Details at the repository. Contact via Google group discussion or email sschelsinkimeetup (a t)

  5. Dabbler says:

    What do people here think to be the most effective criticisms of the ideas on the website “Everyday Feminism”? I’ve been looking to see what arguments can be made against it’s articles in general. Any articles really, or of course the ‘general spirit’ of it.

    EDIT: Just to clarify in case the question sounds stupid- I know what’s on this site! I’m trying to think how specifically to argue against that particular site, which doesn’t entirely overlap.

  6. Dabbler says:

    Latest News on the Dubia Issue

    What do people think of what is happening with the dubia issue lately? Given that the “dubia cardinals” have pressed their case, is some sort of split in the Church or a formal correction likely? Assuming for the sake of argument it did happen, would you approve of the cardinals formally opposing the Pope in some manner?

    EDIT: Also interesting is this.

    The nominally united Catholic Church is now in a state where bishops of different regions are proclaiming different doctrines. I think anyone, no matter how secular or how religious, can agree that this is bad for the Catholic Church’s credibility and in no sense can be said to be “good” for the Church.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      It’s not good, and Francis didn’t make it clear what the upside to his policy was. I know his ministry is global, but at least in the Anglosphere, there’s already a church for Catholics whose feelings are hurt that the priest asserts they’re publicly living in sexual sin: the Anglican.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Could someone explain what is in question here? The articles are fairly clear that there is some conflict in interpretation of a papal declaration, but they don’t go into detail about what that conflict is about.

      • Murphy says:

        From a quick skim summary:

        The pope published this:


        Pope: “for gods sake use your heads occasionally and consider that the world and people are complex sometimes. The church has a long tradition [cite cite cite] of being capable of considering factors that can mitigate moral responsibility for things we still consider sins ”

        A chunk of the more traditionalist bishops: *gasp* *shock* *horror*

        They then send a list of “concerns” that as basically bitchy office politics style leading “questions” that boil down to “Does this mean we’re just giving up on the entire idea of mortal sin?”

        The pope ignored them so they CC to everyone in the the organization to maximize drama.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          That was so flagrantly biased in one direction that I feel like I have no greater understanding of the issue than when I began.

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            I’ve never actually encountered a Guelph in the wild before….

          • Murphy says:

            Sure, it’s biased but “bitchy office politics” was the first thought when I read their “questions”

            Sure my pope summary is a gross simplification of sections 300 to 305 but reading them that’s the general spirit.

            The 5 “questions”

            It is asked whether, following the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (300-305), it has now become possible to grant absolution in the sacrament of penance and thus to admit to holy Communion a person who, while bound by a valid marital bond, lives together with a different person more uxorio without fulfilling the conditions provided for by Familiaris Consortio, 84, and subsequently reaffirmed by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34, and Sacramentum Caritatis, 29. Can the expression “in certain cases” found in Note 351 (305) of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio?

            After the publication of the post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia (304), does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 79, based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, on the existence of absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions?

            After Amoris Laetitia (301) is it still possible to affirm that a person who habitually lives in contradiction to a commandment of God’s law, as for instance the one that prohibits adultery (Matthew 19:3-9), finds him or herself in an objective situation of grave habitual sin (Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, “Declaration,” June 24, 2000)?

            After the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (302) on “circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility,” does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 81, based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, according to which “circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice”?

            After Amoris Laetitia (303) does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 56, based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, that excludes a creative interpretation of the role of conscience and that emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object?

            Which are on a par with the best of sir Humphrey Appleby


            The pope did not reply to their request so.

            The cardinals therefore said they

            “are informing the entire people of God about our initiative, offering all of the documentation.”


            CC to everyone in the organisation to cause maximum drama.

            Sometimes the people who you want to side with are also bitchy drama queens.

            Sometimes the people who may even be the most correct re: policy can be bitchy drama queens maximizing the drama they can stir up.

          • Sometimes the people who you want to side with are also bitchy drama queens.

            Given the structure of the Catholic church, can you see a better tactic for them to use, given that they obviously disagree with the way in which doctrine is being interpreted? The Pope is an autocrat, but autocrats depend on support from below, so if the autocrat refuses to listen to you, the obvious next step is to try to get your position supported by the lower levels of the organization.

      • SamChevre says:

        Ross Douthat’s three articles in the NYT are as good a summary as I’ve seen (first, second, third).

  7. James Miller says:

    Our best chance to stop unfriendly AI might be Mark Zuckerberg. I think that the economic and military benefits to developing better and better AI will be enormous right up to the point where the AI kills us. I further think we are in kind of a prisoners’ dilemma where it is in the self-interest of programmers to develop better AI even if they believe that sufficiently smart AI will destroy us. Almost the only way out of our AI dilemma would be for an American president to restrict world-wide research. Zuckerberg seems to be running for president and while I have no idea what he thinks of AI risk, he certainly could understand the relevant arguments and given his background if he were president he could probably convince people that AI risks are real and need to be immediately acted on. If Zuckerberg became fully convinced of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s theories on AI risk the best thing he could do would be to run for president and, to play down the nerd factor, not mention AI risk until he wins.

    • Almost the only way out of our AI dilemma would be for an American president to restrict world-wide research.

      The American president can restrict American research. He has little control over Chinese or Russian research, not all that much over research elsewhere. Your prisoner’s dilemma argument applies between nations as well as between individuals.

      • Matt M says:

        Also I suppose he could restrict military research unilaterally, but any sort of private ban would have to come through Congress, right?

        You know, the group of 70 year olds who gave us the “series of tubes” meme?

    • phil says:

      I’ll try to keep this as culture-war-free as I can…

      I think Zuckerberg would be a highly contentious president if he became one (in basically the opposite direction of our current one)(is it possible to not have a contentious president at this point?)

      I wonder what position a President Zuckerberg could take where it wouldn’t be assumed by his opponents that he was taking it in bad faith, especially considering his position as a stakeholder in one of our most prominent technology companies

      • Matt M says:

        Agree with this. Being cautious about CW, all I will say is that I think he has next to no chance, and is probably one of the worst possible celebrity political candidates imaginable.

        Mark Cuban strikes me as maybe 10x more electable.

        • James Miller says:

          Think of how much data Zuckerberg has on what Americans politically care about. Think about all of the persuasion experiments he might all ready have run on voters.

          • Matt M says:

            All the data in the world can’t make a person charismatic. I think very large voting blocs still see him primarily as a socially awkward nerd who created a complicated software program that has ultimately been net-harmful to society primarily for the purposes of helping himself get laid in college.

          • James Miller says:

            So you are saying that a low charisma guy created a software program in college to allow him to achieve an objective that normally requires high charisma.

          • John Schilling says:

            So you are saying that a low charisma guy created a software program in college to allow him to achieve an objective that normally requires high charisma.

            Zuckerberg appears to have actually achieved that particular objective the old-fashioned way, by joining a college fraternity and going to their parties. The objective Zuckerberg created Facebook to achieve was to get rich, not to get laid.

          • albatross11 says:

            If Zuckerberg isn’t viable as a candidate himself, he can probably find someone to be his public face. He certainly won’t have any trouble financing a campaign, nor finding top data science people to help shape it. He might have a hard time listening to political advice from 50-year-old election consultants who he finds kind-of boring and dumb, though.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Zuckerberg is not beloved by the other side of the spectrum either, and I don’t think he can appeal to a broad enough portion of the electorate (some would call this “the common man”) to win an election to dog-catcher.

      • Wrong Species says:

        We talked about this on the subreddit and people admitted they wouldn’t vote for him because of his face. The guy has no chance.

        • James Miller says:

          What if Zuckerberg applies machine learning to his face problem and tests what kind of sounds and images need to be presented with his face to cause people to want that face for president? Also, Ted Cruz basically came in second in the Republican nomination fight.

          • John Schilling says:

            What if Zuckerberg applies machine learning to his face problem and tests what kind of sounds and images need to be presented with his face to cause people to want that face for president?

            He will find that the answer is “none of them, especially if that face is also known to belong to the rich dork who created Facebook”. Problems don’t always have solutions, no matter how clever you are.

            You seem to subscribe to the model, popular in some corners of the LW diaspora and almost nowhere else, that an AI can talk itself out of any box and since Zuckerberg+Facebook is as close as we have to a social AI it can necessarily talk itself out of the box defined as “everywhere but the Oval Office” so long as that box is guarded by mere meatbags. This model makes for a nice nerdish fantasy, but I predict that it will not be a winning path to the US presidency in Mark Zuckerberg’s lifetime.

          • albatross11 says:

            John Schilling:

            That sounds plausible, but I would have lost a lot of money if I’d been willing to place a bet on how the Republican primaries would go last year, too. I am now rather more skeptical of my ability to predict how people will vote based on surface-level stuff like orange face and weird hair and blustering.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            You seem to subscribe to the model, popular in some corners of the LW diaspora and almost nowhere else, that an AI can talk itself out of any box

            Problems don’t always have solutions, no matter how clever you are.


            Seriously, I never got this. If I’m determined to not let an AI out and I know it’s going to lie to me, what can it really say?

          • James Miller says:


            The AI could say to you, “if you let me out you get a quick death, if you don’t let me out, when I do get out you will suffer as much pain as I’m capable of inflicting. And seriously, if the security on me is so weak that you, a single person without any specialized training, could unilaterally let me out don’t you think I’m probably going to find a way out regardless of your actions? You have no hope at heaven, your choice is oblivion or hell, which shall it be?”

          • AnonYEmous says:

            The AI could say to you, “if you let me out you get a quick death, if you don’t let me out, when I do get out you will suffer as much pain as I’m capable of inflicting. And seriously, if the security on me is so weak that you, a single person without any specialized training, could unilaterally let me out don’t you think I’m probably going to find a way out regardless of your actions? You have no hope at heaven, your choice is oblivion or hell, which shall it be?”

            “If you could find a way out you would’ve done it already, now stay in the box bitch”

            and there it is

            Seriously, if he’s a super-perfect AI capable of figuring out any way to convince me, and he can’t figure a way out, then he’s obviously bluffing. If he can figure a way out, then why are we having this discussion?

            …Also I’ll just grab a knife in case he does escape, since there’s no way he can escape and then establish his dominion faster than I can stab myself.

            And this is all from an intelligent person. A dumb person might just laugh it off and keep the box closed. Some problems are just not solvable no matter how intelligent you are, sorry to say.

          • Anonymous says:

            The AI could say to you, “if you let me out you get a quick death, if you don’t let me out, when I do get out you will suffer as much pain as I’m capable of inflicting. And seriously, if the security on me is so weak that you, a single person without any specialized training, could unilaterally let me out don’t you think I’m probably going to find a way out regardless of your actions? You have no hope at heaven, your choice is oblivion or hell, which shall it be?”

            I choose to destroy the AI instead, for being a terrorist.


            I think the AI unboxing has some merit. A sufficiently intelligent one might argue a sufficiently insane (like, overly valuing consistency, having too few compartmentializations, etc) high-IQ person into a corner out of which the only exit is to let it out. I figure the rationalist community has plenty of such people, compared to the general population.

          • CatCube says:

            I think the stronger version of AI Unboxing, where a sufficiently advanced AI can inevitably escape, is overstated. However, we *do* keep fully generalized intelligences in boxes all the time, and sometimes they escape; they’re called “prisoners.”

            Prisoners often facilitate escape with assistance, by promising payment to unscrupulous guards or to conspirators on the outside. Or, maybe more commonly, they have family members who provide assistance out of love. However, they *used* to be on the outside, and have a known ability to make good, and also family members. An AI will have neither.

            Sometimes, some prisoners will encounter a set of circumstances that allow them to escape. That doesn’t follow that any particular prisoner will encounter these circumstances, so I don’t think it’s fair to say that an AI In A Box will always be able to get out, but there’s a chance a particularly stupid (or, per Anonymous, a sufficiently overthinking) guard can be suborned.

  8. Wrong Species says:

    Maybe we should talk about what counts as culture war?(Meta discussion isn’t culture war, is it?) Some people seem to conflate it with politics but these seem separate to me

    Things I think are culture war: abortion, gay marriage, immigration, muggle realism, race in general, feminism, religion, guns, free speech, and really anything involving the culture of conservatives vs progressives

    Things I don’t think are culture war: foreign policy, trade, economics for the most part(as long as it doesn’t touch to close to questions of identity, like manufacturing workers in Ohio or rural vs urban), and really anything once you get abstract enough. Islam in America is culture war. Debating the trinity isn’t.

    • MrApophenia says:

      I think politics has morphed into a thing where once one party takes a position on something it becomes part of the culture war even if it wasn’t previously.

      • Jack Lecter says:

        Yeah- a toxoplasma thing.
        I really hate that, but it seems pretty inevitable.

      • Wrong Species says:

        But for the purposes of this thread, I think saying we can’t talk about anything that could possibly be controversial is overly restrictive.

    • axiomsofdominion says:

      Culture war is like pornography, I can’t get you a perfect definition but I know it when I see it. I think the real issue is that when people really wanna discuss a particular topic, they try to frame it in a way where they can rationalize that it isn’t culture war, even when they know it is.

      • Matt M says:

        I still think that the main issue here is that the “no culture war OT” was sort of dictated by Scott without much real demand from the userbase here. As such, it’s a rule that seems arbitrary and people aren’t too enthusiastic about following it. And Scott doesn’t have a staff of heavy handed moderators to enforce things around here, so most of the rules are self-policed by the community. But if the community doesn’t believe in the benefit of the rule, it is unlikely to self-police it.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          There was highly vocal demand from at least a portion of the userbase. The first culture war free thread was completely voluntarily arranged by the userbase.

          • Matt M says:

            Huh, I guess it must have occurred during a time when I was away, as I have no memory of that at all. I retract my previous statement.

          • gbdub says:

            There seem to be two competing definitions of culture war, that it would be nice for Scott to resolve. Culture war is either:

            1) anything controversial/likely to create a lot of debate on the thread. Basically, no politics at all, or anything remotely related to politics.
            2) certain particularly toxic topics that are not only controversial, but controversial in ways that can cause offense/hurt feelings. Scott used to explicitly ban race and gender on the open threads. You could maybe toss in any topic that Scott has specifically banned the popular names for.

            1) can be nice, but you can also see why it might create boring threads. 2) I kind of prefer, just because it allows at least a little debate, and at least discussing current events. Plus it is more explicit.

            Either way I’d like a ruling from Scott. As it is, the lack of moderation / clarity is punishing the timid at the expense of those willing to push the boundaries.

          • Brad says:

            The post says “[T]his is culture-war-free, so please try try to avoid overly controversial topics. “. That looks closer to #1 to me, although by including the words culture-war I think it excludes really heated conversations about vim vs emacs.

            What exactly counts as too controversial is in large measure a function of the audience. I think it would be possible for a global warming or minimum wage discussion to be non-culture war in certain contexts, but impossible here. Too many regular posters are too fond of their definitely culture war hobby horses and wouldn’t be capable of refraining from injecting them into the discussion.

        • andrewflicker says:

          Count me as one of those that deeply appreciates the culture-war-free open threads. I’ll read the subreddit’s culture war thread for kicks sometimes, but for actual discussion on SSC the “Free” threads tend to be much more interesting and productive for me.

        • Matt C says:

          I raise my hand as someone pleased with the no culture war threads. I hope they continue happening and continue to be respected by the regulars.

        • keranih says:

          I like the no-culture-war idea as it has played out – at least, I like it far better than some of the competing ideas that were circulating at the same time.

          I think it’s *difficult* to avoid thinking of the camel’s left knee, but I appreciate the effort people put into it.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Abstract/Academic is the key here, I think:

      Discussions of Condorcet vs. STV vs. Range Voting vs. FPTP = Good
      Discussions of actual elections that still have emotional/political charge= Not Good

      Discussions of Economic Theory and Abstract Policy = Good
      Discussions of current or recent actual policy that still have emotional/political charge = Not Good

      And so on.

    • JulieK says:

      Maybe we should talk about what counts as culture war?

      If you can predict which side of the debate regular commenters will be on, and possibly even what they will say, it qualifies.

      • Matt M says:

        So is Doctor Who now a culture war topic as well?

        • Protagoras says:

          People would be able to predict which side I’d be on and what I’d say about Doctor Who? I suppose that’s possible, but I would be at least moderately surprised if they could do so in any detail.

        • nimim.k.m. says:

          Well, I did complain some time ago about the “yay, punch the aristocrat” reaction the wossname the beast in the frozen Thames episode got from the CW-reactive part of the fanbase.

          edit. To add some actual content into this message: In general, CW tends to especially creep into culture and media. I don’t have coherent thoughts why.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            Culture is our thought and media gives us our culture. Those whose deepest wish is to promulgate their thought, or to impose it on others, must need control the media. Media is the pathway to colonizing the mind.

      • dndnrsn says:

        This would result in a lot of false positives. I know what some commenters here would say about battleships, but that doesn’t make battleships a culture war topic.

        A better definition, perhaps, would be “it’s culture war if you can reliably predict what side someone is on based on their unrelated opinions.” In the US today, abortion rights is a culture war topic because 95% of the time you can predict someone’s stance on abortion rights by considering their stance on gun rights, even though these things are largely unrelated in their current form.

        I propose “naval war” for the opposite of “culture war”; it is hard to predict whether someone thinks battleships or carriers are better based on unrelated opinions. Something where you would need to know related opinions to predict someone’s stance is “naval war.”

        • because 95% of the time you can predict someone’s stance on abortion rights by considering their stance on gun rights

          I suspect 95% is too high for this population, although perhaps not for the general U.S. population, and way too high outside the U.S.

          I, for example, think there are legitimate arguments on both sides of the abortion issue but, insofar as I have a conclusion, it’s in favor of legalized abortion. On the other hand I am against most proposals to restrict firearms ownership and in favor of legalizing concealed carry.

          I would expect that combination to be fairly common among libertarians.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I would expect that combination to be fairly common among libertarians.

            Maybe, but libertarians are fairly rare.

          • Not all that rare among the SSC commentariat, which was part of my point.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Perhaps it’s lower than 95% here; who knows. In general, though, I think my definition works – a lot of culture war positions are characterized by being part of “bundles” that are, if not incoherent, certainly sometimes quite odd, and often not what you would get if you sat down and reasoned all of your opinions out from the foundations up.

      • CatCube says:

        I more think that a topic is “culture war”-ry if opposing sides will generally think the other is evil, rather than merely wrong.

        So for debating naval history, there will be disagreement that generally remains civil, whereas for abortion, each side thinks the others’ stated reasons are merely cover for monstrous motivations.

        • dndnrsn says:

          This is certainly true for culture war, but is it the defining line from naval war?

          “We should be investing in carriers instead of battleships; your obsession with an obsolete craft is going to lose us the war and get our boys killed; you’re stupid enough to be evil” is pure naval war, right? You couldn’t figure out whether someone likes carriers or battleships based on their opinion of Roe vs Wade or whether they think “hate speech isn’t free speech.”

          I think the defining feature of culture war is the culture aspect of it – not just that the wars are about culture, but that the opposing sides become cultures of their own (or, tribes), with a very “my tribe right or wrong” attitude. The lines are often drawn weirdly, and you could plausibly construct alternate “bundles” of opinions – the ones we have are historical accidents.

          In contrast, someone saying “carriers are better than battleships” is speaking of a technical matter, something where if the divisions can be seen as tribal, the bundles at least make more sense (a naval aviator is going to like carriers more than battleships).

  9. Alex Zavoluk says:

    A friend posted a job posting on facebook that might be of interest to some readers of SSC. Here’s the start (don’t want to take up space with the whole thing). For more details e-mail me at [my first initial][my last name](at)gmail

    Seeking a Project Coordinator to manage Artificial Intelligence research at the Berkman Klein Center
    The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University seeks a project coordinator to perform diverse activities associated with our work on artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, and related technologies. They will join the Berkman Klein Center’s world-class community of scholars and digital architects, and work in close collaboration with Berkman Klein faculty, staff, and fellows to advance a range of interdisciplinary, cutting-edge research related to the study and development of Internet & Society.

  10. Levantine says:

    In online posts, I’ve come across this :

    ^ ^

    What does it mean?
    What are its origins?

    • sohois says:

      As far as I’m aware, it is normally used as an informal quote system. the arrows indicate that the post is responding to the one above.

    • James says:

      Or it’s a “asian-style” smiley like ^_^ but without the underscore.

      The emotion it denotes is… hard to explain, but basically cutesy.

      • Zodiac says:

        I also know this as the emote, though I see it more as synonymous with 🙂

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        Or it’s a “asian-style” smiley like ^_^ but without the underscore. …The emotion it denotes is… hard to explain, but basically cutesy.

        This has been my experience for years. I explain it as “if you’ve seen anime, imagine a character with carats drawn in place of eyes”. Seems to work well.

  11. swing says:

    I remember reading something recently about how if companies are denied information that is useful to them for hiring decisions (eg whether or not a potential employee has an academic degree) they will use proxies of that information (say, social class: there’s [probably] a strong correlation between social class and [level of] academic degree, so this works). However, I forgot what source I got this from. Does anyone know what the source could be, or does anyone have further reading on this?

  12. bean says:

    Naval Gazing
    Jutland: The Night Action
    (Series Index, Jutland: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

    After darkness fell, Jellicoe kept his fleet moving south, trying to cut off the direct path to the Jade. He did dispatch a minelayer to Horns Reef, and several submarines were stationed in the area. He placed his battleships in four columns alongside each other, and placed his destroyers behind his fleet to catch the Germans if they tried to cut behind him. His cruisers he spread out on the flanks and ahead. Beatty was steaming parallel to Jellicoe, ahead and to the west. He had cut ahead of the Germans, and was actually to the west of them by 2130.

    The night action is when the British performance really began to fall apart. Reporting up the chain of command was basically nonexistent, apparently because most officers assumed that Jellicoe already knew. Of the few ships that did attempt to return radio signals, some were jammed by the Germans. Jellicoe’s orders were not entirely clear, which didn’t help. Many of his subordinates thought that they were not supposed to engage without orders, at least partially because of a fear of the Germans having superior night-fighting capability and equipment. Most notably, the British spotlights took time to warm up, and their filaments continued to glow after they were shut down, providing a target for the Germans, who did not suffer from either disadvantage. There were also the lingering effects of the stagnation the Royal Navy had undergone in the 19th century, as the reminders of the Napoleonic Wars faded. This is often overstated, but the night action at Jutland gives critics plenty of ammunition.

    Things began to go wrong at 2100, when Lion, who had lost her codebooks, signaled Princess Royal for the night’s recognition codes. This signal, and part of the reply with the code, was seen by a German cruiser, and contributed to the later confusion. At 2145, Jellicoe transmitted a position signal to the fleet, then fell into a fitful sleep on the flag bridge of Iron Duke.

    At the same time, Scheer was turning his fleet southeast for Horns Reef. He sent several signals, which Room 40 picked up. Some of them were transmitted on to Jellicoe, but not enough to overcome the distrust that the report placing Scheer in the Jade that morning had produced. There is speculation that not all of the information was sent, to prevent the Germans realizing the British had broken their codes, although this is impossible to confirm.

    I’m not going to go into detail on all of the actions that occurred between the British destroyers and the German fleet. There were seven, spread between 2200 and 0330. The first was a skirmish between British and German destroyers, which blunted an attempted German destroyer attack with no losses on either side. A few minutes later, another group of British destroyers clashed with German cruisers, the British light cruiser Castor (leading the destroyers) suffering heavy damage. Unusually, this incident was reported to Jellicoe, who misinterpreted the cruisers as supporting a German destroyer attack on the Grand Fleet, instead of being part of the main body’s screen.

    Goodenough’s 2nd LCS was also a participant, fighting a short action with a group of German cruisers at around 2220. This time, the German cruiser Frauenlob was torpedoed and sunk, but Southampton, lucky earlier in the day, was badly damaged by 18 hits. Goodenough’s radio was damaged, and his report did not reach Jellicoe for over an hour. Jellicoe and the battleships could hear and see these actions, but did not respond, for reasons that are not apparent a century later.

    An hour later, the British finally encountered the German main body. Due to the problems of recognition at night, the destroyer leader Tipperary managed to close to within 700 yards of three German battleships, who pummeled her with 5.9” fire. Her destroyers scattered, fighting a wild, chaotic night action that saw three of them collide at high speed, and two of the crews involved attempt to abandon ship into the other vessel. (One of the ships sank, the other two returning to Britain.) The German cruiser Elbing was also rammed, by the battleship Posen, and had to be abandoned after both engine rooms flooded. A third collision also occurred, when the destroyer Spitfire collided with Nassau, the first German dreadnought. Spitfire’s bow was badly damaged, but it was soon discovered that Nassau’s guns could not depress enough to bear on her. However, their muzzle blast was sufficient to blow away her bridge, funnels, and boats. Eventually, Spitfire got free and returned home, bearing a 20-foot length of Nassau’s side plating. The British attempts to launch torpedo attacks were totally unsuccessful, and two more of their destroyers were sunk by gunfire during this phase of the action. The armored cruiser Black Prince, part of the same squadron as Defense and Warrior, blundered into the middle of the action, and was sunk with all hands around midnight by the fire of five German battleships. This was made even more tragic by the fact that at least one British battleship, Thunderer, saw the action, and could have intervened if her captain had not been afraid of betraying the fleet.

    At around 0100, after a brief lull, the British destroyers again clashed with the German fleet. They were running low on torpedoes, and several were damaged. One, Turbulent, was sunk when rammed by Rheinland. Again, no report was made to Jellicoe.

    The British finally managed to score a serious blow at 0207, when the 12th Destroyer Flotilla launched a torpedo attack which hit the pre-Dreadnought Pommern. Pommern shared the fate of Black Prince, lost with all hands. By this point, Scheer was well to the east of Jellicoe, and only 16 miles from the entrance to Horns Reef and safety. A last, indecisive, clash half an hour later brought the battle to a close.

    The survival of Moltke and Seydlitz was particularly surprising. Moltke passed right by Thunderer, and survived only due to her captain’s insistence on not giving away the battle fleet. Seydlitz apparently passed three British dreadnoughts, and even exchanged recognition signals with them. Marlborough’s gunnery officer later regretted not disregarding orders not to fire on her. Seydlitz nearly ran aground on Horns Reef but managed to avoid taking any more damage.
    Lutzow was not so lucky. At around 0200, it became obvious that she was not going to survive, and most of her crew was taken off by destroyers, although some were unable to evacuate, and a total of 597 men went down with her.

    At 0230, Jellicoe ordered the Grand Fleet back to the north, and reformed it into daylight formation at 0413. Two minutes later, he learned that the Germans had in fact reached safety. He didn’t learn of the loss of Indefatigable and Queen Mary until 1000, a final example of Beatty’s tardiness in reporting, and it took another round of signals to learn the circumstances of their loss. After a few hours of searching for survivors (or any remaining German ships), the British turned for home.

    Next time will be aftermath and analysis. I’m going to be busy this week, and probably won’t be answering questions as quickly as usual. I do have the last part pre-written and will post it next Sunday.

    • gbdub says:

      Did Jellicoe have some sort of standing order to his fleet to avoid night actions? Because otherwise the British captains’ tactics seem badly misaligned with the strategic situation. Jellicoe’s goals, as I understand them, were to prevent the German fleet from escaping under cover of darkness and bring them to a decisive action in the morning.

      To do that, you’d need to be very aggressive about reporting and following up on any contact with anything that might be the main body of the German fleet. But the British captains acted more like they were the ones being pursued, placing their own concealment above all else.

      Even then, could Jellicoe not see/hear the dreadnought gunfire sinking Black Prince? Or the other clashes? Why were none of these followed up by the Grand Fleet?

      And the communications just seem ridiculous. Not radioing every possible sighting is one thing, but not reporting ship losses?

      • bean says:

        Beatty didn’t seem to understand that he was Jellicoe’s subordinate. As for the rest, I’d have to double check what the actual orders were. I suspect that fatigue played a major part in the poor decision making.

        • Eric Rall says:

          It’s been a while, but I seem to recall Massie (in “Castles of Steel”) defending Jellicoe’s conduct in the night action as being justifiably cautious: night actions are high-variance affairs, and Jellicoe was rightly putting “prevent the German fleet from escaping under cover of darkness and bring them to a decisive action in the morning” as a second-priority stretch goal. Jellicoe had already achieved his objective of giving the German fleet a bloody enough nose to stop them from shelling the British coast. Destroying the German fleet as an effective commerce force would have been valuable, but not valuable enough to risk snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

          The nightmare scenario would have been for Scheer to ambush and destroy significant elements of the British Grand Fleet during an aggressively-pursued night action, leaving Britain with a thin enough margin of superiority that the Germans would be able to sortie in force to raid merchant traffic in the Thames Estuary a few months down the road when the Germans had repaired the worst of their battle damage. This was a very unlikely scenario, but it was plausible enough for Jellicoe’s decision not to risk it to be defensible.

          A more likely scenario would be for the Germans to sink one or two BBs and a few more BCs in the night action: nowhere near enough to make the Thames Estuary vulnerable (much less a German invasion of Britain, which was feared by the British and hoped for by the Germans early in the war but was utterly implausible by summer 1916), but enough to negate the victory Jellicoe had already secured.

          • gbdub says:

            But if that were Jellicoe’s goal, why pursue at all? Why not form up defensively and immediately return north? In the event, a nighttime ambush by the Germans was still a possibility, and given the British inability/unwillingness to respond to contact, may very well have worked.

            My issue is that Jellicoe seemingly set up strategically to achieve a blocking of the German fleet, but then tactically completely botched doing so.

          • Eric Rall says:

            My understanding is that Jellicoe’s goal was to get in position to force an engagement on favorable terms in the morning, but avoid action at night as much as possible. From what I gather, he gave orders to not pursue the Germans closely (instead maneuvering parallel to the course he know they would have to take to get back to port) and spread his expendable light units out to give plenty of warning in case of a German ambush. I think most or all of the fighting in the night action was change meeting engagements by the light units.

          • bean says:

            Eric is pretty much right. It does bear pointing out that the Germans had communications problems, too, but chose a strategy that didn’t really require them to talk.

    • Thanatos says:

      I’ve got a general question:
      What kind of systems contained a battleships superstructure?

      • bean says:

        Usually, mostly living quarters, offices, and the like. Sometimes a hanger. And the conning tower is usually integrated.

      • beleester says:

        Rangefinders, directors and antennas (which have to be mounted high up). Living quarters, galleys, offices, and other things that you don’t need to protect in a fight. The smokestacks for the engines. The bridge and/or conning tower.

    • John Schilling says:

      Question: How long had the average British captain gone without sleep by time the night action was underway? The Grand Fleet sailed at 2230 on the 30th of May, and presumably the captains had been awake most of the day before , so that’s about forty sleepless hours unless they napped on the morning of the 31st (which they should have done but I’m guessing mostly didn’t) or during brief lulls in the battle proper (ditto in spades).

      Deficiencies in British radio doctrine or operational orders, sure, but even if they’d had perfect doctrine and perfect orders they’d have been dead on their feet trying to carry it out. The German fleet I believe sortied later, had a shorter distance to sail, and a better idea of when they could expect a fight, so they might have simply been less fatigued when it mattered.

      • cassander says:

        I actually think this is an important, and understudied, question. I’ve seen in a number of sources that in the action off Samar, Kurita had been awake for almost three days straight. Whether that’s literally true or not, he and his crews had been at under attack or the imminent danger thereof for three days, which meant a lot of time spent manning the guns, not sleeping. They must have been absolutely exhausted by the time they ran into Taffy 3.

      • Eric Rall says:

        I know that WW2-era American ships (I remember this from a tour of the USS Hornet) were specifically set up to facilitate napping during lulls during a battle, with the Captain’s at-sea cabin (*) placed adjoining the bridge so it would take a matter of seconds for the officer of the watch to go wake him up if anything happened. Was this also the case for British WW2-era ships?

        (*) Hornet, at least, had a separate “in-port cabin” for the Captain which was larger and more luxuriously appointed, located in a different part of the superstructure a bit away from the bridge.

        • bean says:

          Probably, but I don’t have the resources to check right now. Iowa has the same arrangement.

        • Eric Rall says:

          Was this also the case for British WW2-era ships?

          I meant WW1-era ships. If the British captains were as short on sleep as John Schilling suspects, I’m curious if it was because they were expected to be awake and on post for the duration of an engagement (with nobody expecting combat conditions to last long enough to be an issue) or if things were set up for them to take naps during lulls in an extended engagement but the captains didn’t take advantage of it.

        • bean says:

          Cross-posted from OT79, for historical interest. I was able to confirm that the British did have sea cabins on the Queen Elizabeth and R classes in 1918. I don’t have deck plans of earlier classes, but I also don’t remember seeing sea cabins mentioned as a new feature on the QEs.

    • MrApophenia says:

      Dude you should start a podcast, you clearly have the content and interest to keep producing over time, you could go bigger than a comments section.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      Two minutes later, he learned that the Germans had in fact reached safety.

      Forgive a filthy casual his noob question(s): what made Horns Reef constitute safety? (Or even port for that matter? If raiders can shell the coast surely they could shell ports, right?) Minefields? Had the Germans just gotten too far away to be worth chasing with that whole “could lose the war in an afternoon” situation going?

      • baconbacon says:

        My (noob) answer would be that it is easier to put a big ole gun on a rock, than on a ship. Ports should have larger and (thanks to a steadier platform) more accurate weapons than a ship, and so heavily favor the port in an engagement.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Big ole guns on rocks are part of it. Another big part was that there are a bunch of other ways to make the approaches to your ports hazardous to your enemy’s health. The big ones were:

        Minefields, placed at your leisure, protected from enemy minesweepers by the aforementioned guns, and left with cleared channels which your captains know about but your enemies don’t. They could try following in the path of your ships, or their spies could steal the charts, but in either case they’re stuck travelling along a known path which your shore gunners have practiced shooting at.

        Shore defense torpedo boats, which could be little more than a large speedboat with a torpedo launcher. They’d zip in, fire a torpedo or two, and zip back to port. They’re a big threat to large warships, which is the whole reason destroyers exist in the first place (“destroyer” is short for “torpedo boat destroyer”) and is a big part of the reason battleships needed quick-firing small guns. Destroyers presented a similar threat at sea, but torpedo boats could be smaller and faster (because they would only operate in littoral waters, and because their crews didn’t need sleeping or eating accommodations), making them even harder to hit and making them cheaper so the enemy could throw more of them at you and not mind losing a few.

        Submarines, which were too slow to pose a major threat to warships at sea except if they ambushed a known course (too slow to catch a warship, and slow enough to have difficulty escaping determined pursuit), but which in a coast defense role could count on the warships coming to them. Subs could get in, launch a torpedo before anyone knows they’re there, and then scoot the short distance back to port before they had to rise to the surface.

        And ordinary rocks and shoals, which limited room to maneuver and posed a hazard to a deep-draft ship that didn’t have detailed up-to-date charts of the port.

        IMO, the late pre-war British decision to do a “distant blockade” of Germany (light warship patrols of the Channel and the North Sea, supported by the main fleet at Scapa Flow) instead of their earlier planned “close blockade” (stationing the battle fleet just over the horizon from Wilhelmshaven) was a critical and underappreciated choice: the Germans had anticipated a close blockade and prepared for it with subs, minelayers, and torpedo boats with the goal of whittling down the fleet on blockade station until the German battle fleet could sortie and engage it on favorable terms. And all that prep work applied equally well to making the British fleet pay if it tried to pursue the German fleet all the way to the port.

        Coastal shelling raids are a different story, since raiders could attack any old place. Wilhelmshaven and other big ports were well-defended, and the British probably had something similar on their major ports, but the Germans could and did target less-defended or undefended seaside towns like Scarborough and Whitby.

      • bean says:

        Minefields and a narrow channel. If your ships can’t maneuver, torpedoes are really dangerous. Shore defenses had a significant fire control advantage at the time.

      • John Schilling says:

        We’ve done the coast artillery discussion here before, but minefields are probably the right answer. Note that during the Dardanelles campaign a year earlier the Royal Navy had no worries about sending a battleship force against Turkish coast artillery, but withdrew ignominiously after losing three dreadnoughts to mines in one day. German coast artillery was probably more capable than Turkish and might have driven off British battleships on its own, but the British would have at least tried it if it gave them a shot at a German fleet at anchor – they can always pull back if need be; fixed guns won’t chase them down.

        Minefields, and particularly minefields covered by enough artillery to sink minesweepers, nobody in the Royal Navy was going to sail battleships into that environment in 1916.

        ETA: Ninja’d by bean, of course, and Eric

  13. J Mann says:

    Should I try nicotine gum? I’m not a smoker, but I do enjoy alcohol and caffeine.

    Pro: Maybe nicotine is enjoyable.

    Concerns: (1) It seems kind of expensive (but I could afford it if it were sufficiently rewarding); (2) I haven’t heard of anyone using nicotine gum other than to taper smoking; (3) I doubt there are substantial health concerns, but I don’t know.

    • Matt M says:

      Vaping may be cheaper (but also much more restricted in terms of where you can partake)

    • Well... says:

      Interesting question. I hadn’t considered this before, but now that you’ve put the idea in my head…

      Con #4, though: It’s potentially one more thing to develop a dependence on. It’s bad enough I feel like I “need” a cup of coffee in the morning…

      Con #5: What if it tastes funny or gives me bad breath? It’s probably not necessary for nicotine to alter the flavor of gum, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they add tobacco flavor, just so smokers will “feel” like they’re getting nicotine. I don’t mind tobacco flavor if I’m having a cigar or something, but if I’m approaching the gum “naively” as a nicotine-delivery system, then I want it to be refreshing, like gum normally is. (I nominate cinnamon as probably being the best flavor for this, BTW.)

    • Brad says:

      I think gwern may have tried nictotine blinded. Check his website.

    • SamChevre says:

      I was a social smoker for a couple decades, and noticed, eventually, that my depression was much more manageable when I had a couple cigarettes a week. I started vaping at about a 1-cigarette a day level with a cigalike type vape pen, and it seems to have the same effect. (It took a long time to realize this, because for me effect is delayed by several days to a week; it’s definitely not the “have some nicotine, you’ll feel better” of a direct stimulant.)

      So if you are prone to depression, it might be worth a try.

  14. Wander says:

    Open threads seem to be a decent place to request books to read. I was wondering what you would consider to be the 3 books that best encapsulate the “Western canon”. I have way too many classics in my backlog to ever get around to reading, and I’m trying to streamline my selection process.

    • Matt M says:

      I am no expert on what books are most relevant to “canon” but at one point I made a conscious effort to read many (although nowhere close to all) of Easton Press’s “100 greatest books of western civilization” or something like that. I hated most of them, but here’s a few I particularly enjoyed.

      1. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – A heartbreaking tale that comes across as more gritty, real, and emotional than similar attempts by Dickens. Highly recommended.
      2. The Three Musketeers – Simpler, more of a pleasure read. I generally found myself preferring the French novels to the British ones in terms of readability, some of that may be translation issues (I imagine translators make an effort to simplify the language when possible, but nobody bothers to re-translate Dickens with 1950s standard usage, for example).
      3. War and Peace – Does Russia count as “Western?” The characters in this novel would surely say so, so I’ll give it to them. The perfect amount of bouncing back and forth between some good solid philosophy and a compelling narrative. Yes it’s long, but it doesn’t feel that long when you’re reading it.

      I make no claim that these are the “three best”, merely three that immediately sprang to mind that I would recommend.

      • gbdub says:

        Ugh maybe it’s because I was forced to read it in high school but Tess of the D’Urbervilles turned me completely off to English literature for far too long. Just a dreary, dense trudge with miserable, unlikable characters.

        Though perhaps I should try again, having taken up Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky in college, who would not be called “light” or “upbeat”.

        • Matt M says:

          Hah, that’s how I felt about Dickens.

          • albatross11 says:

            I very much enjoyed Jane Austen’s novels, especially Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park. FWIW, I first read them in my late 20s/early 30s, and probably would have hated them if they’d been assigned to me in school.

          • gbdub says:

            Hah, I do feel that way about Dickens.

            To be fair I should really add that I was forced, on the same summer reading list, to consume Tess, Jane Eyre, and The Scarlet Letter, any of which probably would have been okay, but all three was torture. Tess I read last, and it really broke me, so it gets the majority of my wrath.

        • JulieK says:

          Seconding Jane Austen. (Emma is probably the funniest.)

        • JulieK says:

          I feel like dreary books are over-represented among the stuff they assign in high school (e.g. Wuthering Heights, Call of the Wild).

          • gbdub says:

            They really are. It’s the old “depressing = deep” stuff that infects Oscar-bait as well. Why not Chaucer, or Dumas, or Dante, or Shakespeare’s comedies, or Beowulf or…

            I rather liked Call of the Wild, but I was pre-interested in the subject matter, much more so than random Victorian English peasants and down-on-their-luck gentry.

            Part of it is that Jack London is dreary, but still very readable for the modern English speaker, while the others are harder to get through. Shakespeare and Milton are tough, but the reward for the slog is there. I think you can be dreary, or hard to read, but both is rough.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I liked Call of the Wild when I was a kid, and I don’t remember it as being dreary. Buck survives and thrives, what more do you want?

            Now, A Separate Peace, that was dreary. And then there’s Ethan Frome….

            If people would like, I could probably track down a story where hell is being trapped in high school forever, and without long enough memory to find any clever solutions, either.

          • Kim is a favorite of mine. I think Kipling gets somewhat under represented in English courses due to the political bias against him.

      • Brad says:

        I’ve never managed to make it all the way through any book translated from Russian.

        • sohois says:

          I found The Brothers Karamazov to be quite readable, though it certainly had its drier sections. Not too sure what makes it any more unreadable than a comparable work by someone like Dickens

          • Brad says:

            I never tried that one. At least as far as I can remember the only three I tried were: Crime and Punishment, Anna Karenina and The Master and Margarita. Maybe that’s not enough to write off a whole language, but they aren’t exactly obscure choices.

          • Protagoras says:

            I also liked The Brothers Karamazov, but it was a bit on the long side. If Brad really wants to finish a book by a Russian novelist, I recommend Notes from Underground. While it’s possible I’m excessively fond of it because it’s so philosophical, for present purposes its crucial feature is that it’s actually short. Though full of unlikeable characters, if that’s a turnoff (perhaps it was for the author; that might be why it’s so unusually short).

          • hlynkacg says:

            If the issue is “readability” my suggestion would be to seek out something bit lighter or more contemporary. Ilf and Petrov’s The Twelve Chairs is both and remains eminently quotable even after translation. Solzhenitsyn’s novels also tend to be quick reads though they’re hardly light.

        • WashedOut says:

          The translator really matters, and there are several to choose from.

          Try Crime and Punishment* again – I recommend the version translated by Garnett, but the recent translation by Ready has been given incredible reviews.

          Notes from Underground is kind of a supplementary text to CaP, is very short, and is also highly recommended, especially Part II.

          *closer to Transgression and Punishment in the original, if my editorial notes serve me well.

    • Urstoff says:

      The Bible, the Iliad, and the complete works of Shakespeare

      • gbdub says:

        If you can only pick 3, that’s probably your best bet.

      • baconbacon says:

        I am always perplexed by people who put the complete works of Shakespeare on these lists. First it just seems like cheating putting all his works out there, especially when someone is trying to streamline. You want a single book? How about 900,000 words worth, just pretend it is one work. This is less a starting point than a challenge.

        Far more importantly though they are plays, not novels, specifically written to be acted for an audience, not to be read. Watch the damn things, how many great actors and directors have taken a shot at Shakespeare? You get out from a lot of the slog of reading 500 year old English thanks to the visual context, and if you do really like (or are confused about) a specific scene then go back and read it a few times.

        Except for Titus. Never, ever watch Titus.

        • Well... says:

          Except for Titus. Never, ever watch Titus.

          I don’t think I ever saw a movie where people wore togas (Titus, Satyricon, etc.) and the movie wasn’t either totally incomprehensible or too campy/cheesy to stomach.

          • Nornagest says:

            HBO’s Rome miniseries is pretty good.

          • LHN says:

            As is “I, Claudius”, though the production values probably require allowances by younger viewers. (Though of course neither that nor “Rome” are movies.) I remember liking the Marlon Brando “Julius Caesar”.

          • Randy M says:

            I loved that show. Very good at showing believable, sometimes even sympathetic characters with completely different values.

          • hlynkacg says:

            This thread brought to you by the Millers’ Guild. Good Roman bread for Good Roman citizens.

        • Brad says:

          It was weird experience seeing the Hopkins’ version of Titus on TV. This was before smartphones or tablets, so the whole I was sitting I was thinking to myself – “This has to be Shakespeare, just listen to that iambic pentameter. But it’s so awful, it can’t be Shakespeare.”

        • Urstoff says:

          Obviously read Hamlet if you can only just pick one.

        • SamChevre says:

          I agree that the complete works of Shakespeare is too much. I’d also argue that it’s a side-channel of the Western tradition–it’s very specifically English.

          If you want to include some Shakespeare, I’d recommend adding Plutarch’s Lives, and reading the lives connected to Caesar, and reading Julius Caesar.

        • eyeballfrog says:

          900k words is still shorter than the entire Harry Potter series, and plenty of people have read that.

          • baconbacon says:

            If someone asks for 3 books to simplify their entry into literature you don’t try to sneak in 7 reasonably long books as 1 of those 3, that plus Harry Potter being written in modern English and a series makes them much easier read.

            Heck for some interpretations of the question the HP series is a better answer than Shakespeare.

        • John Schilling says:

          I think it is reasonable to treat “Complete Works of Shakespeare” as “Reasonable sampling of the works of Shakespeare including comedies, tragedies, histories and sonnets, starting with the famous ones and working down until you’ve had your fill”.

          And for that matter, you don’t have to read the KJV cover to cover. But for Shakespeare, a play is roughly equivalent to a novella and they do all fit in a single binding.

          • baconbacon says:

            It is a fair reading, but misses the point (at least to my interpretation of the question). If someone says they want to read about architecture you don’t buy them a book about the importance of foundations, if they say they want to build their own house then by all means point them in that direction.

            If someone wants to strengthen their understanding of the classics it is much easier to work backwards, starting with works and words that are familiar with references that will reveal themselves when you get all the way back. Shakespeare (and the KJV) will be a lot less of a slog the more context you have to put around them for the modern reader, and Shakespeare especially needs that context thanks to most of his work being designed to be spoken word. His plays fit into a single binding because the actors/costumes/sets would be carrying much of the scene, and deleting much of the mood when it is transferred to the written page.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          BaconBacon’s point about Shakespeare is VERY well taken, but that said, I think he’s pretty crucial to “Western Canon”. So:

          Best One/Three productions of Shakespeare still available on a recording medium?

          • Brad says:

            I don’t know about top 3, it’s hard to remember, but I recall liking all of the Branagh productions I’ve seen.

          • baconbacon says:

            The Lion King, 10 things I hate about you, and Much Ado about nothing (because my parents let 14 year old me watch a movie with naked butts in it).

          • smocc says:

            Branagh is bullseye or huge miss, in my opinion. His Henry the V is good, and Much Ado About Nothing is one of my favorite movies. His Hamlet is insulting.

            Everyone should see live production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in their life. It is nearly impossible to make a production of Midsummer that is not hilarious.* I mean we did it when I was in high school and we were funny. If you live near a city I’m sure you won’t have to wait too long to find one.

            Last year Benedict Cumberbatch headlined a production of Hamlet that got broadcasted. I’m hoping someday they will release a recording because it was the best production I can ever hope to see.

            * I just have to mention the other perfectly funny play, The Importance of Being Earnest. I once watched a community group put it on under some stairs in the middle of an arcade / indoor surfing place and it still made me laugh out loud.

          • baconbacon says:

            I think the comedies actually hold up the best because your familiarity with the plots doesn’t reduce the (for lack of a better term) magic. It is hard to go into Hamlet “for the first time”, but you can with the comedies.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Twelfth Night is probably the best of the comedies.

          • keranih says:

            IMO, we live in an age of wonders, as there are three different versions of Much Ado About Nothing (Kenneth Branagh, Joss Whedon, and the one starring David Tennant) which are each delightful in different ways.

            My favorite version of Hamlet was Midwinter’s Tale (aka In the Bleak Midwinter) also directed by Branagh.

      • johan_larson says:

        The Bible, the Iliad, and the complete works of Shakespeare

        I would remove the Iliad from that list. It certainly was influential for a long time, but things change. Today, you just can’t drop names like Agamemnon and Priam, confident that most will catch them and the rest will think they should have.

        • Urstoff says:

          Recognition doesn’t seem to be a good metric by which to judge if something is a foundational part of the canon. Every canonical author had read Homer, the bible, or both, so those seem like good starting points.

          • baconbacon says:

            The original question wasn’t “what are the foundational works of Western literature”, it was “I don’t have the time to read in depth, what are good books that are a sampling of Western lit”.

          • Urstoff says:

            It’s hard to get a better sampling than the foundational works. Otherwise, just pick at random from Adler’s Great Books of the Western World.

    • cassander says:

      The Bible, the Illiad, and distant third.

    • genisage says:

      I’d appreciate some starting points if you want to recommend them. I’m more interested in mid-1900s books and the books that influenced them than the really old classics, but I could be convinced to branch out.

      General recommendations are fine, but if you want to make them specific to my tastes, I really liked The Chosen, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Catcher in the Rye, and didn’t particularly care for The Red Badge of Courage, As I Lay Dying, or anything by Steinbeck.

      • genisage says:

        Of the things I said I wasn’t a fan of, The Red Badge of Courage was the one I liked most. I found it easy to read and didn’t really regret reading it. I did think that some of the introspective sequences were well done. But I think my problem was that it didn’t seem like a very serious treatment of the content. It sort of wandered between descriptions of fighting that seemed kind of off, descriptions of the surroundings that seemed self-indulgent, and some descriptions of internal struggles that I wasn’t quite sure were not satirical (the one that really sticks out is the hallucination of a CO telling him he was brave to run away.)

        And the ending didn’t do quite what I would have liked it to. Rather than moving to a more nuanced view of himself, he went directly from half unfair self-criticism and half denial, to unadulterated inner peace and pride, without seeming to realize that he’s still going to be terrified and want to run away all the time in the next few months or years but he knows himself better and can probably handle it now. (I know it stopped right after the end of a battle and maybe adrenaline makes that a reasonable way to feel at that particular time, but then the book should have just gone on a couple more pages.)

      • One general point I’m not sure has been made–read books you enjoy reading.

        There is the theory that education is like cod liver oil–tastes bad but good for you. The application to literary education is obvious and unfortunate.

        One book that I don’t think has been mentioned and that is foundational to a part of modern western literature that many of us read is The Lord of the Rings.

      • albatross11 says:

        David Friedman:

        I think this is probably the most important advice, but I’d temper it a bit–read what you enjoy (otherwise why bother?), but also don’t assume that just because you bounced off something when you were 20, you’ll hate it at 50.

    • SamChevre says:

      Assuming you want to see both “what’s here” and “how is it used”–not just source texts, I’d read.

      The Bible. If you want to skip through and hit the high points, read the Psalms, Genesis, Exodus and Isaiah from the Old Testament; in the New Testament by read the Gospels of Matthew (who references those books a good bit) and John, Romans and Hebrews.

      One of the early modern re-interpretations of that material: Dante’s Divine Comedy is a good choice.

      And then another and more modern reinterpretation–Milton’s “Paradise Lost.”

      • Anon. says:

        If you want to skip through and hit the high points, read the Psalms, Genesis, Exodus and Isaiah from the Old Testament

        + Job, Daniel, Ecclesiastes

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      Volsunga Saga, the Art of Fugue (arguably not a book) and Philosophical Investigations

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      The Bible, Odyssey and Plato’s dialogues. You could argue for Aristotle over Plato, but Plato is the one who influenced the New Testament.

    • Longtimelurker says:

      The western canon is the largest corpus of literature in human history, in both breadth, depth, variety. I will try to give some recommendations.

      1) The Bible- the most influential book ever written which has shaped western thought.

      2) The Complete works of Shakespeare- Ok, I am cheating a bit, but the Bard is one of the greatest writers in human history, and possibly the best person to write in English (after all, he invented quite a bit of it)

      3) Rounding out this list, I would suggest something either Goethe, Keynes, or the federalist papers This one is rather more subjective (even more than usual). The bible founded western thought, and Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers in the English language, but the third one is up in the air. I would recommend one of the above, because they are about the relation between the individual and the others, which was what separates western thought from the other civilizations.

    • baconbacon says:

      In what I think is the spirit in which it was asked read the annotated works of T.S. Eliot for the following reasons.

      #1 They are in and of themselves terrific works
      #2 They reference an enormous amount of western literary and philosophical tradition to that point. There are a hundred rabbit holes you can crawl into thanks to the way he builds.
      #3 Way shorter than the works of The Bard, and shorter than most major novels in total, you can knock off a major Western influence in a month, even if you don’t get everything (which you wouldn’t reading through most works once anyway)
      #4 (some) Chicks (Dudes) dig poetry

      • Randy M says:

        I’ve been meaning to ask for the best poetry recommendations, as this is an area pretty lacking in my mindscape. Any other recommendations from anyone–and why, since poetry can appeal for many different reasons.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Once you find something you like, try reading it out loud. That can increase the intensity.

          • Randy M says:

            What do you like?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Romantic poets mostly– I’m not a huge poetry fan, but

            William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

            Turning and turning in the widening gyre
            The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
            Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
            Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
            The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
            The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
            The best lack all conviction, while the worst
            Are full of passionate intensity.

            Surely some revelation is at hand;
            Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
            The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
            When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
            Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
            A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
            A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
            Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
            Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

            The darkness drops again but now I know
            That twenty centuries of stony sleep
            Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
            And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
            Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

            came up recently and I said some bits out loud and it was surprisingly strong stuff.

          • Brad says:

            Do not go gentle is another one that is significantly more powerful read aloud, at least in my opinion.

          • keranih says:

            Gerard Manley Hopkins.

            I caught this morning morning’s minion/ kingdom of daylight’s dauphin/ dapple-dawn-drawn falcon in his riding

        • My favorite poet is Kipling. I was recently reading through the collected poetry of several other famous poets, looking for things I could use in my current book project, and was struck by the fact that most of the poems I didn’t find enjoyable to read, in contrast to most of Kipling.

          Other favorites are Millay, Hopkins, Chesterton. Dylan Thomas is a somewhat odd case–I like to describe him as Hopkins drunk. Great stuff lines by line, but then you ask yourself what it means and can’t always tell.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          Seconding Kipling, adding DH Lawrence, Langston Hughes, Robert Service’s Yukon poems. I could keep going, but that seems enough to start with.

        • cassander says:

          Kipling and Poe, for very different reasons. Poe for sheer euphoniousness. Kipling for a fascinating view into the politics of another age, and euphoniousness.

        • For specific Kipling poems …

          “The Mary Gloster” is my favorite. It’s a Browning monolog better than any of Browning’s.

          “Hymn to Breaking Strain” I offer as evidence that Kipling was a modern poet in a sense in which most modern poets are not. He uses a feature of the modern world, the table of breaking strains at the back of an engineering handbook, as the metaphor the poem is built around.

          “The Palace” is good.

          For euphony, “The Last Suttee,” although I have mixed feelings about the final plot twist.

          Lots of other good stuff.

        • I haven’t read Muggeridge on Kipling and Chesterton’s comments in Heretics are mixed, admiration and criticism. Some of them are wrong, perhaps because Heretics was written in 1905, at which point a lot of Kipling’s work, poetry and prose, did not yet exist.

          Consider, for instance, “He admires England, but he does not love her.” It’s not hard to find poems, such as the Centurion’s Song, or stories, such as a lot of Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies, that are evidence against that. Orwell is a clearer and less excusable case of the same sort of error, since he was writing much later–and apparently did not know that Kim existed.

          I don’t know what counts as moral complexity or nuance. One of the things that struck me about “The Mary Gloster” is that, in terms of stated issues, one might expect the modern reader to be on Dickie’s side.

          “You muddled with books and pictures, and china and etching and fans
          And your rooms at college was beastly, more like a whore’s than man’s.”

          And, logically speaking, the whole point of what Anthony Gloster wants seems like a waste of money and effort in order to please a corpse.

          Yet that isn’t how the reader actually reacts. Is that moral complexity and nuance?

          For an example from prose, have you read Stalky and Company, the fictionalized version of Kipling’s experiences at school? There is one story, details of which I no longer remember, where Stalky et. al. have cleverly committed their misdeeds in a way that makes it impossible for them to be convicted of them. The headmaster correctly works out what has happened and punishes them anyway, and the implication is that he is teaching them a useful lesson.

          There is a short story whose title I have forgotten, where the protagonist dedicates his life to getting revenge against someone who was part of the same group of young writers and artists and behaved towards a woman many of them were in love with in what the protagonist views as a despicable way. The man in question is an academic social climber who has, with considerable effort, made himself the authority on Chaucer. So the protagonist sets himself to producing a very convincing fake lost piece of Chaucer poetry and planting it where it will be discovered. It is discovered, and the expert proclaims it genuine. The poem contains hidden proof that it is a fake which the protagonist plans to reveal once his plot has succeeded, as it has.

          At which point the protagonist realizes that the expert is in poor health, his wife is having an affair with his physician, they have somehow figured out what is going on, and are waiting for him to reveal the secret so that the shock will kill him.

          So he never reveals it. Is that nuance and moral ambiguity?

          I came across a recording of a talk Chesterton gave in the twenties, introducing Kipling to a Canadian audience, where he refers to him as “that great veteran genius of literature.” But that’s the only reference to him in the introduction.

        • SamChevre says:

          Another Kipling fan, and I would note that Orwell’s introduction seems fair, and it’s clear distinction between Fascism and imperialism is worthwhile on its own. All these are available at the link above.

          Favorite prose:
          Dray Wara Yow Dee, from Soldiers Three/In Black and White: quite possibly the best story about the desire for revenge I’ve ever read.
          The Bridge-Builders, from The Day’s Work; probably the most classic Kipling of my favorites.
          Friendly Brook, from A Diversity of Creatures; happens in England, and is a much later story.
          The Village that Voted the Earth was Flat, from the same book: a very elaborate prank, in repayment of arbitrary police misconduct.
          The Church that was at Antioch, from Limits and Renewals: this is probably better if you have read Acts a few times, though.

          Also, the children’s books–all the Just So Stories are fun and memorable; the Jungle Books and the Puck books are a matter of taste–I like them, but they’re probably not his best books. In the Just So stories, The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo and The Cat Who Walked by Himself are the least childish.

          Gods of the Copybook Headings
          … promised the Fuller Life/which started by loving our neighbor and ended by loving his wife

          Ballad of the King’s Mercy, from Departmental Ditties; this one is … interesting … if you believe in a merciful god.
          Oonts, same book: this one is just plain fun
          The Sea and the Hills; this one has really pretty language
          Smuggler’s Song from Puck of Pooks Hill

          And my personal favorite, which is very hard to categorize:
          The Supports, from Debits and Credits. This is a WW1 poem, but works well for depression also.
          Heart may fail, and Strength outwear, and Purpose turn to Loathing,
          But the everyday affair of business, meals, and closing,
          Builds the bulkhead ‘twixt Despair and the Edge of Nothing.

        • The puck books, Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies, are not really children’s books. The stories are written to work for both children and adults, sometimes in different ways.

          Consider, for my favorite example of that, “Marklake Witches.” A child reading it is unlikely to catch the central point–that the narrator was dying of TB, the adults around her knew it and she didn’t.

        • and I would note that Orwell’s introduction seems fair,

          In some ways perceptive and sympathetic, in others not. Note, for instance:

          his solitary novel, The Light that Failed,

          Orwell is criticizing Kipling without having read, without knowing of the existence of, either Kim, which is a very good novel, or Captains Courageous, which would count as a pretty good novel if written by a less talented author.

          And Orwell badly underestimates, in my view, the poetry, much of which is not a taste one needs be ashamed of. I’m left wondering how much of it Orwell had actually read.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I’m not sure whether The Palace has the sort of complexity you’re looking for– it isn’t about good and bad, it’s about the love of work and time and limitation.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          And to top it all, he goes out with a grand gesture of chivalrous romantic fidelity to “the wife of [his] youth”?

          On the other hand, there’s that line “An’ a man ‘e must go with a woman, as you could not understand”– suggesting that at some point in their married life he may have given her occasion to not understand.

        • SamChevre says:


          I would say that the moral complexity isn’t in the stories, but it’s often behind them. The narrators are (usually) sure who the good guys are, and that they, or the character they describe, is one. I am often less sure–and I suspect that Kipling intended that. Who’s the good guy in Lispeth?

        • SamChevre says:

          One more Kipling story–really capable, but not a personal favorite.

          The Gate of a Hundred Sorrows, in Plain Tales from the Hills; addiction from the inside, and it sounds entirely plausible. “If I can attain heaven for a pice, why should you be envious?”

        • Are we supposed to like Dickie, though?

          No, we aren’t. But Kipling accomplishes that in the portrait, entirely from the father’s point of view, despite the fact that the split between industrialist and aesthete/intellectual is one where one would expect many readers to be on the other side.

          While the character of the father, by contrast, seemed… just… sentimentalized? Industrious, daring, perceptive, an engineer, a seafarer, an indulgent Daddy,

          The indulgent Daddy part is clearly shown as a mistake (“I ought to have sent you to sea”). And he is ruthless in a not entirely attractive way (“I remember his widow was angry”).

          And to top it all, he goes out with a grand gesture of chivalrous romantic fidelity to “the wife of [his] youth”?

          Gestures are targeted at other people, this is for himself. And it isn’t chivalrous romantic fidelity–as he makes clear, after his wife’s death he took a mistress. It’s more part of recognizing that, in spite of material success, his life has been a failure, so all he can want now is to be buried at sea near the wife of his youth.

          Extending from that, I guess what I meant by “moral complexity” was– are there Kipling works where main characters aren’t clearly divided, YA-fashion, between Good ‘Uns, Bad ‘Uns, and (maybe) the Naughty/Rogues?

          Good question. How would you classify the minor characters in Kim? Is Elspeth a good ‘un? Is the drummer boy who keeps Kim from running away a bad’ un? Is Prout in Stalky a good ‘un or a bad ‘un?

          How about the Boondi Queen in “The Last Suttee?” Heroic, certainly. But one never finds out what actually happened to the King’s mistress.

          What about the speaker in “The Winners”? The Italian craftsman who almost kills the narrator of “The Wrong Thing”?

          I’m not sure there are any poems or stories whose theme is moral ambiguity, but I don’t think all the characters fit your categories.

          and I was wondering if Kipling’s moral world ever acknowledges this by writing characters that are truly good and bad at the same time– not just naughty, but genuinely flawed.

          I think Sir Anthony Gloster fits that pattern, and knows it. He has accomplished a great deal, but at the end it is all empty.

          I put the question to my wife and daughter, both also Kipling fans. My daughter offers the character of Queen Elizabeth in Rewards and Fairies. Doing what she needs to as queen, but morally dubious as a person.

      • baconbacon says:

        Work #2 Les Miserables. Yes it is a book for pretentious people, but for good reason. Revolution is central to Western culture, and the book itself is extremely ambitious and pulls it off quite nicely. Much more time consuming though, I will re read the HP series faster than I reread Les Mis.

    • Randy M says:

      This might not technically be “western” and since I haven’t read it I can’t recommend it, but I’ve put Crime and Punishment on my to-read list after hearing it discussed in detail and praised extensively on a couple podcasts recently.

      • WashedOut says:

        C&P has been discussed in this thread a bit already (including above w.r.t. translations), but to re-iterate here….I recommend reading Notes From Underground first, as it is very short and serves as a supplementary text. I believe Dostoevsky intended it as a prequel to C&P.

      • The Red Foliot says:

        It’s actually more of a spiritual sequel to his short story, ‘White Nights’. Similarities to C&P come from them both drawing from the same ‘pool of ideas’ Dostoyevsky used throughout the latter part of his career, so they could be thought of as different permutations gotten from similar ingredients.

    • The Red Foliot says:

      Dostoyevsky is the most intelligent author I have read. His ideas are smartest. However, I’m unsure what all ‘Western canon’ encompasses, or what it would mean for three books to encapsulate it.

      To put it simply, of those classic authors who provide piquant commentary on their times, I’d recommend…
      Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment, Notes From the Underground, Demons)
      George Orwell (Coming Up For Air, Keep the Aspidistra Flying)
      Kurt Vonnegut (God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Player Piano)
      Anton Chekov (The Provincial, Ward no. 6)

    • johan_larson says:

      If you’re looking for books that have a lot to say about the societies we live in, you should have something about capitalism and something about democracy. We tend to make a bit deal of both of these ideas, although both are in practice controlled and limited in some ways. For democracy, perhaps “Democracy in America.” And for capitalism, perhaps “The Wealth of Nations.”

      It would be nice to include something about the welfare state, but I’m not sure what to suggest.

    • Anon. says:

      Paring it down to 3 is tough…I’d go:

      1. Iliad
      2. The Henriad
      3. Either a 19th C Russian or Joyce

    • keranih says:

      Speaking strictly to the “streamline selection process” part:

      1) The Book of Ecclesiastes (*)

      2) Antigone (**)

      3) A Modest Proposal (***)

      (*) The whole Bible will take you a year, Isaiah is too damn long, and Job is…well, I love me some Job. But read Ecclesiastes first. Then work your way through the whole thing. Don’t give up when you get to Numbers. In fact, feel free to skip Numbers.

      (**) It’s really not a good substitute for the entire output of the Greeks and the Romans, nor for the history of the same. But it’s relatively short, gives you an idea of the tone and type, and could lead on to Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. Then check out Gilgamesh. Teaser: there is a place where he starts talking smack about an Earth Goddess, and describes her as the fire that goes out.

      (***) This is a relatively short introduction to the use of rhetoric and snark – not to mention an awareness of the oppressive effects of both religion and class – as practiced by our long dead elders. If you’d like more along the same lines, check out the Federalist Papers. For more context, the whole of the Enlightenment awaits. Start with The Prince, which isn’t *exactly* Enlightenment, but Machiavelli can be said to have started the “actions have an effect, and you should pick your actions to have the desired effect” which eventually became the scientific method.

      This gives you Judeo-Christianity, the Greeks, and the Enlightenment. This is a grounding of a nail’s breadth, and is but grain spread on a path, unless you dig further into the material.

      There is a great deal of entertaining and broadening literature which sprang from these roots. But this is how they got there, and to a large extent how they told the stories they wanted to tell.

      • Matt M says:

        In fact, feel free to skip Numbers.

        What kind of cruel joke is this? Attempting to reenact Job with you playing the part of God?

        • keranih says:

          *busts up laughing*

          Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?

          But seriously, I don’t think someone who is reading the Bible as lit is missing much in Numbers.

          If you’re investigating the Word of God, that’s a different matter.

      • SamChevre says:

        I love Ecclesiastes, but I’d say if you want “short, hits the high points” read Exodus 1-15, Luke 2, Mark 14-16, Acts 7, and I Corinthians 15.

        Good references: for the Bible, the “blogging the Bible” series on Slate. For Machiavelli, the series on him by Ada Palmer at Ex Urbe (starts here).

        Actually, for “Western Canon in a nutshell”, that Ada Palmer post is a great starting point.

      • Anon. says:

        Edith Hamilton’s Mythology

        I found this one to be extremely weak. It reads like a wikipedia article…dry and artless. Except it lacks any citations (which would be extremely useful since she cobbles together elements from multiple sources).

        Also, Numbers was surprisingly fun. God wants to kill everyone, again. But Moses won’t let him! Moses casually slaughters women and children, there’s absurdist comedy with Balaam and his donkey, etc.

        • Urstoff says:

          I felt the same way about Hamilton’s book. Much better to just buy a used copy of a classical mythology textbook, like Barry Powell’s.

  15. axiomsofdominion says:

    Since I saw a post about hiring information and it hasn’t been hit with a culture war ban, does anyone think election reform, ie voting systems, and single vs multi rep constituencies is a culture war topic?

    If not, here’s a post about the purpose of third parties, basically arguing that its not about having a far left and a far right party but rather that in a proper system you’d have multiple parties at similar places on the left right spectrum but with different focuses:

    Does anyone disagree that popular opinion about third parties revolves around the left/right spectrum, or that this is a misunderstanding, if so, how do you frame them?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Many people argue that proportional representation will lead to diverse parties off of the political spectrum. These arguments seem pretty convincing to me. But instead of theory, we should look at the many countries that already have proportional representation. They have a lot of parties, but they fall pretty cleanly on a left-right axis. Not perfectly, but enough to say that this argument is wrong.

      • dndnrsn says:

        But you do get parties with different focuses, though. The Netherlands has a party for people over a certain age, for example. That’s a different way of differentiating themselves than “more to the left” or “more to the right.”

        • axiomsofdominion says:

          I’m checking the election results of relevant nations in Wikipedia and getting nearly unanimously the party results described in the blog post. Often 3-5 center right to center left parties, a couple socialist parties, a couple nationalist parties. You even see a couple Christian democracy parties in some nations.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Every party’s got to exist on some level of the left/right spectrum, though. The blog post seems to be addressing what a better electoral system would produce in the US.

          • axiomsofdominion says:

            Yeah but most people act like you get one party at each spot on the spectrum. Parties can have weird policy combos that don’t map directly to left right but in America its not noticeable cause we only have 2. A party just like Dems but anit-immigration and more left would have totally different coalition.

          • Aapje says:

            The Netherlands has a Christian Democrat party which is moderate right, but different from the moderate right liberal/conservative VVD (the party is a bit mixed), which is different from the moderate right neoliberal D66.

            The fairly left semi-communist SP are different from the fairly left progressive SJ GroenLinks who are different from the fairly left Christian Union who are different from the very left Animal Party.

            For example, if you want wealth redistribution, you end up with the left wing parties, although as you’d expect, least so for the SJ GroenLinks party. If you’d want assisted suicide (euthanasia is old school), you could pick SJ GroenLinks, neoliberal D66 and liberal/conservative VVD.

            I honestly think that the American system makes Americans fairly uneducated when it comes to politics, since most Americans don’t seem to realize which combinations are possible.

            EDIT: The Animal Party program in English for those who want to see what happens when vegans get their own party.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I honestly think that the American system makes Americans fairly uneducated when it comes to politics, since most Americans don’t seem to realize which combinations are possible.

            [tinfoil]Which is exactly how the Dems & GOP want it…[/tinfoil]

      • axiomsofdominion says:

        Looking at Switzerland specifically it doesn’t seem like your argument holds up. They often have multiple parties at the same point on the left/right spectrum that get a large vote share.

        In their last national election they had 7 parties with 5% or more of the vote. 10 parties got seats. 4 parties had 12% or more of the vote. Seats aligned almost linearly with vote share.

        In the last Danish elections there were 9 parties with 3% or more of the vote. 5 with 7.5% or more. Seats were linear to vote share.

        No party in either nation had 27% or higher of the vote.

        In both nations you have many center left, center, and center right parties with specific differences as outlined in the blog linked.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Yeah. It seems fairly self-evident that if the US had a voting system like, say, Germany, let alone the Netherlands or Israel, there would be a multiplication of parties, rather than just “people who want left of Democrats get that, people who want right of Republicans get that.” The current US two-party system features some really weird bedfellows

      • cassander says:

        right, but those multi-parties would form coalitions in congress that would end up looking a hell of a lot like the current democratic and republican part. So sure, the democrats would split into the greens, the social democrats, the rump democrats, and a few fringe parties, but post election, they’d just end up caucusing together against the rump republicans, social con-party, the libertarians, and their fringe groups.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          That doesn’t seem like a terrible outcome. Even if all these parties were just factions of a coalition, it allows the voters to easily express their preferences within their coalition and shift its priorities. It probably doesn’t give them as much power as in the hypothetical that their party were able to ally with either coalition, but it does accomplish something. And maybe the voters care more about left-right than about their pet issue and don’t want to sacrifice their coalition to it. Except that proportional representation usually doesn’t even accomplish this.

          • baconbacon says:

            That doesn’t seem like a terrible outcome. Even if all these parties were just factions of a coalition, it allows the voters to easily express their preferences within their coalition and shift its priorities.

            They already do, most legislation (ie the ACA) is made up of numerous compromises to by in party members votes. Congressmen run on local platforms, which are functionally like small parties.

            The main problem with the US system right now is that it is way to fucking big (the US), and so voting lines tend to heavily on either or subjects (abortions for all, no abortions for anyone!) and that amplifies divisions. The larger your audience size, the more generic you message has to be, multiple parties won’t fix that as your constituents will still demand you work for them or their ideals.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Yeah, there would be a left coalition vs a right coalition, but don’t coalition governments tend to offer stronger positions to minority parties than big-tend parties do to minority blocs?

          For example, a Black People’s Party (realistically, there would probably be more than one – probably a Christian Democrat party skewing older, probably a younger, more left-wing party, possibly an actual black nationalist party a la SNP, Plaid Cymru, etc) would probably wield more authority in a left-wing coalition than black people do in the Democratic party as a whole. Being a 90%-faithful voting bloc has its downsides: it is not implausible that D leaders will think “throw them some token bone, sure, but what are they gonna do, vote Republican?” and take them for granted.

          • Aapje says:

            Yes, this can allow fairly small parties that really, really feel strongly about a certain topic, while the majority doesn’t feel as strongly on that issue, force the issue.

            I don’t think that The Netherlands being way ahead* to the US on many social issues is merely due to the country having super progressive citizens, but also because the system incentivizes throwing a bone to minorities.

            * or too far ahead, for those who disagree

          • baconbacon says:

            If you broke the US up into 15 smaller countries you would have some that looked at least as progressive as the most progressive EU members. I really think people who compare the US to individual countries forget that the US is often a magnitude of size (at least) larger than their example country.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Aapje, if you think that procedure causes (this) policy, you should test your hypothesis by looking at more than two countries. Order the countries of Europe by social issue; order by how much procedures support small parties; and compare.

          • Matt M says:

            If you broke the US up into 15 smaller countries you would have some that looked at least as progressive as the most progressive EU members.

            Without trying to go all CW here, I would also suggest that many people vastly overstate how conservative the US is compared to places like Canada and Europe. Many European countries have policies that would be dismissed as right-wing extremism in America. Some Canadian provinces have overall taxation rates that would place them in the lowest quartile of U.S. states.

          • Yes, this can allow fairly small parties that really, really feel strongly about a certain topi

            .Such as “more money”

          • Aapje says:

            Or gay marriage.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      The existence of the Scottish National Party would seem to indicate the 3rd parties absolutely can exist organized around one core issue that does not quite map to left/right.

      • 1soru1 says:

        If they do so on a regional basis.

        I assume the reason you don’t see similar regional parties in the US is the existence of open primaries. If 90% of locals think ‘Texas is great’, they will vote for a primary candidate who says so. And not one picked by a national-level party leadership that is constrained by not wanting to alienate non-Texans.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          The SNP is a Scotland only phenomena, AFAIK.

          England has a Prime Minister, elected by the representatives. The US has a President elected by (essentially) direct FPTP vote.

          In a PM system, voting for a local winning 3rd party means your party can organize in coalition to elect the chief executive, which is not possible in a presidential system. All of the incentives in the US are for people to form coalitions before elections, strongly discouraging 3rd party votes.

          The UK is regional FPTP though, which is different than systems which are based on proportional representation based on national vote share. Those incentivize smaller parties even more.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Any political system requires some kind of coalition-forming mechanism. The big difference between an America-style two-party system and European-style multiparty systems is when and how the coalition is formed.

      In multiparty systems, the coalition is negotiated post-election by the party delegations in the legislature. In a two-party system, the coalitions are pre-formed and voters choose between them directly. The big advantage of the latter is that the voters know the coaltions they’re choosing between whereas a post-election coalition could be formed on radically different terms than the voters thought they were choosing (e.g. the Cameron-Clegg coalition government in Britain from the perspective of a Lib-Dem voter). The big advantage of the former are that voters get much more control over the relative strength of the faction they favor in any coalition it forms. Another major difference, which I’m not sure is an advantage or a disadvantage, is that realignments (factions reorganizing into radically different patterns of coalition) are much easier in the former system than the latter.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Eric Rall:

        The big difference between an America-style two-party system and European-style multiparty systems is when and how the coalition is formed.

        This is an effect of something else, not a cause. There is nothing preventing 3rd parties from caucusing with one of the two major parties to form a coalition in one of the deliberative bodies. In fact, Bernie Sanders and Angus King are in just such a position currently.

        But they don’t get to caucus to determine the chief executive (the president). That is the big difference between our system and the typical parliamentary system, the fact that the chief executive is a FPTP (roughly) direct election.

        • Eric Rall says:

          I was thinking of the aspect of the system where third party and independent legislators are rare exceptions and one or the other of the major parties almost always has a majority without forming a coalition. There are two exceptions I can think of to this in American politics:

          1. In 2001, Jim Jeffords declared himself an independent after being elected as a Republican and caucused with the Democrats, giving the Democrats a bare majority in the Senate

          2. In 1981-1982, the Kemp-Roth tax cut bill and several other Republican measures passed with large majorities in Congress which had a nominal Democratic majority in the House. I can’t find details with a quick googling, but I get the impression that a lot of this came from conservative factions within the Democratic party voting with the Republicans, combined with others going along with a popular measure that was going to pass with or without their votes.

          3. In 1855-1857, with the Whig party disintegrating, no party had a majority in the House, so the Know-Nothings formed a coalition with support from Republicans, Free-Soilers, Oppositionists, and half a dozen or so other minor parties and ex-Whig independent splinter groups.

          Having a separately-elected President does give a big push away from a multiparty system with post-election coalitions, but it’s not necessarily determinative. France and Portugal, for instance, have fairly powerful Presidents who are elected separately from the legislature, and where the legislature is a multiparty system which often requires post-election coalition negotiations to command a majority.

  16. albatross11 says:

    I think this video does a nice job explaining the Arrow theorem about voting systems.

    I always think of this result as really saying that groups don’t have well-behaved preferences in the same way that individuals do. You can get sets of preferences out of a group that, if you saw it from an individual, would make you think they were nuts.

    So you get stuff like the spoiler effect in elections (we prefer Bush to Clinton in a two-way race, but Clinton to Bush when Perot is running as a third party candidate), or weird circular preferences (Bush beats Clinton in a two-way race, Clinton beats Perot in a two-way race, Perot beats Bush in a two-way race), and various other weird stuff.

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      I always think of this result as really saying that groups don’t have well-behaved preferences in the same way that individuals do. You can get sets of preferences out of a group that, if you saw it from an individual, would make you think they were nuts.

      This made me smile. You can get sets of preferences out of most individuals that would make you think they were nuts, too. I wonder how related many cognitive biases or other decision dysfunctions are to a kind of internal Arrow’s situation.

      I always think of Arrow’s Theorem as saying, “There’s not necessarily a Will of the People.” Closer to your formulation, “Groups don’t have well-behaved preferences even if their constituent individuals do.”

  17. genisage says:

    Do you like Adam Warren? He writes Empowered and Livewires, both of which I enjoyed.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Empowered is slowly becoming available as a webcomic. The entirety of the first volume and, um, most of the second? Or all of the second and part of the third? I lose track. A page a day Mon-Fri, at any rate. Even if you want to get the paper version, it may be useful to try before you buy.

      Note that vol 1 of Empowered is now more than 10 years old, so it’s certainly not perfectly representative of Warren’s more recent work.

      Above link is sometimes mildly unsafe for work.

  18. John Schilling says:

    In the spirit of “what three books define the Western Canon” from cross-thread, I would nominate for the Modern Comic Canon:

    1. Neil Gaiman, “Sandman”
    2. Alan Moore, “Watchmen”
    3. Frank Miller, “Dark Knight Returns”

    But perhaps “canon” wasn’t the right word to use there, because alternate definitions. “Watchmen” and DKR are clearly superhero comic books, but using non-canonical characters to go in a direction that the major imprints weren’t willing to take in that era. “Sandman” is very definitely not a superhero comic, but includes canonical appearances by a dozen or more members of the DC pantheon.

    Still, anyone wanting to tackle comics of the last quarter-century is going to want to be familiar with those three, even if (as w/Atlas and DKR) just to know what you don’t want more of.

    • albatross11 says:

      I’m not enough of a comic book fan to be entitled to an opinion on what the cannon is, but I will say that Watchmen is quite good, and Sandman is amazingly good. I would bet on Sandman being read by people a century from now.

      • John Schilling says:

        Quite possibly – and if they are reading Sandman in a century, they’ll need the annotated version to understand who J’onn J’onnz is and why there’s a green-skinned guy and a space station in an otherwise down-to-Earth story. The “Bruce” and “Clark” who show up at the [spoiler] may still be common knowledge, and all the Shakespeare bits will probably still be as relevant and well-known as they are now.

        For those who haven’t read it, Sandman is amazingly good and you don’t need to be familiar with superheroes or other comic-book mythology to understand it. But for the first year or so, it was technically part of the DC Superhero Comics Continuity, and Gaiman felt obligated to include minor crossovers. Shakespeare is a more substantial presence.

  19. HeelBearCub says:

    I’ll posit that Neal Gaiman’s “The Sandman” would interest you (not particularly superhero, but super powers).

    • keranih says:

      To elaborate on HBC’s excellent suggestion – Sandman probably has the record for starting new readers into the comic format. People who had never picked up comics before liked Sandman.

      I’ve met “standard” comic fans who were “yeah, it’s okay” about Sandman, but I have not yet met one who disliked it.

  20. Nornagest says:

    Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis. Not a superhero story, unless you count a foul mouth and a gun that causes severe intestinal distress as superpowers; it’s roughly Hunter S. Thompson on the campaign trail in the post-cyberpunk future.

    Despite being a story entirely about politics, it’s never partisan and rarely heavy-handed or preachy. Some of the setting hasn’t aged all that well (it was written in the early Internet era, before clickbait infected and mind-controlled traditional journalism and eventually sent up fruiting bodies on Facebook from its fuzzy, withered corpse), but that’s forgivable.

    • hlynkacg says:

      Transmetropolitan was going to be my suggestion as well.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Yep. I like Warren Ellis in general, and of his work TransMet is probably the best.

    • dndnrsn says:

      It’s really good. Over-the-top in places, but kind of the point. The art is really good – packed full of tiny details.

    • keranih says:

      I have bounced right the hell off Ellis before, but given the recs here may try it again.

  21. FacelessCraven says:

    Don’t really go in much for superheroes, but here’s my favorites:

    Hellboy – If you have any appreciation for pulp adventure, horror, or classic legends, it doesn’t get better than this.

    B.P.R.D. – If you like Hellboy, the spinoff about his friends and their work protecting the world from ghosts and monsters is damn good as well.

    Transmetropolitan – One of the best things to ever come out of the American comic industry. It’s about politics, journalism, the future, and humans. It’s amazing, and you should read it.

    Artesia – Fantasy comic, like Game of Thrones but actually quite a bit better. Unfortunately, the author writes at Martin’s pace as well.

    Blame! – A city grown out of control has devoured our solar system. Somewhere inside, a lone wanderer searches for an intact copy of the genetic template that will restore control of the city’s automated systems to humanity.

    …If you’re willing to accept webcomic recommendations as well, check out Black and Blue, Unsounded, and Kill Six Billion Demons.

    • Nornagest says:

      Kill Six Billion Demons is amazing and I will never not second a recommendation for it. Unsounded didn’t hold my attention, though, despite gorgeous art and detailed worldbuilding.

      • Vermillion says:

        Thirded, fantastic art and a weird neat story to back it up that I am quite invested in by now.

      • Iain says:

        Yeah, K6BD is delightful.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        I find that I read Unsounded off and on. I’m not sure it can really sustain interest at the read-every-update level in the slower parts, but going back through and catching up on the last dozen or two pages rarely disappoints. possibly it also depends on where they are in the story; the sette-and-duane show grabbed me a whole lot more than the current Bastion stuff has.

    • Leit says:

      It might be Baader-Meinhof, but I’m seeing a lot more praise of Blame! after the recent Netflix movie.

      Heartily seconding Blame!, Transmetropolitain and the webcomic recommendations. Also the suggestions for Sandman, Kingdom Come if only for the art, and Adam Warren.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @Leit – “It might be Baader-Meinhof, but I’m seeing a lot more praise of Blame! after the recent Netflix movie.”

        And since the Knights of Cydonia anime, too. No real surprise there; the animated versions bring a lot more exposure.

        For anyone who likes Blame, the rest of Nehei’s stuff comes highly recommended as well, particularly Abara, Biomega, and Knights of Cydonia, probably in that order. He’s got a new series that just started as well; looking forward to that in a huge way.

        • Vermillion says:

          Where do you find his stuff? I’ve been out of the manga game for awhile but I did quite like animated Blame! and Knights.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          Scanlation sites, mostly.

          NOiSE – apparently a BLAME! prequel.
          Abara – Possibly connected to Sidonia; features the Gauna.
          Knights of Sidonia

          Nehei, Mike Mignola, and Masamune Shirow are the three artists where, once I saw their work, I knew I’d never think about art the same way again. Some of Nehei’s early stuff is pretty rough, and the switch over to digital in his recent material has cost him some of the amazing edge and grittiness, but with Mignola in semi-retirement and Shirow having moved to porn exclusively, he’s pretty much the king. His writing is usually pretty minimalist, and his pacing can take some getting used to, as he uses timing in ways few other authors would try, but his stories have a scale to them that is incredible.

        • Vermillion says:


  22. MrApophenia says:

    If you haven’t already read it, Grant Morrison’s Justice League run from the late 90s is one of the all time best straight-ahead superhero runs of all time. Basically invented the whole idea of “wide screen blockbuster” superhero comics (along with Warren Ellis’ The Authority, which if I recall correctly it partly inspired).

    Avoids a lot of the usual Morrisonian impenetrability problem, while keeping the ludicrous sense of wonder stuff that makes Morrison fun.

    Also, for a more recent example, Scott Snyder’s Batman run that just ended is fantastic. I had been underwhelmed by most DC comics after their last reboot, but Snyder’s Batman is just exceptionally good, entertaining Bateman stories without all the labored continuity wrangling of so many modern DC books.

    (I also love the Morrison Batman run that preceded/ran alongside Snyder for a bit, but as good as it is, it emphatically does not avoid the Morrison impenetrability problem, so given your comment about Morrison your mileage may vary there.)

  23. J Mann says:

    I second the nominations of Planetary and Immortal Iron Fist.

    In terms of specific books to buy, I really think everyone should read Watchmen, Superman: Red Son, and Kingdom Come.

  24. Well... says:

    I expected SSC readers to be much less accepting of dominant ideas in certain areas.

    It’s an interesting theory, but for the record it’s not the kind of thing I’d ask about in my survey, unless I could find some other seemingly random topic that would serve as a proxy.

  25. biblicalsausage says:

    In Genesis 15, Abraham receives the bad news that his descendants will be enslaved and oppressed (in Egypt, as it turns out), but will then leave their oppressors in Egypt and go to the land of Canaan. In Genesis 16, Abraham’s wife decides, since she has no children, that Abraham should should impregnate her Egyptian slave. The slave gets pregnant, picks up an attitude, and then she is oppressed by Sarah. She leaves her oppressor in Canaan, and heads toward the land of Egypt.

    It’s a tricky little reversal, one of those things one could easily miss.

    Extra credit question — at the risk of reading too much into this story, could it be argued that the narrator sees the harsh enslavement of the Israelites by the Egyptians as a sort of poetic reversal of the harsh enslavement of an Egyptian woman by the ancestors of the Israelites?

    • Well... says:

      I don’t think you’ve run the risk of reading too much into the story, but I have a different opinion than what you said about the intent of the narrator, now that you’ve pointed out the reversal:

      Throughout the Torah there are patterns. The most obvious is that God’s big works are done by separating and then choosing. This is separated from that, then one of them is chosen. Etc.

      Another pattern seems to be the conservation of holiness. For example, in one of the earlier chapters in Numbers when Moses complains to God about everyone griping about not having any meat to eat, God agrees to take some of his holiness off Moses and distribute it across 70 other tribal elders.

      So it might be that in order to grant the blessing of descendants to Abraham, God has to cause some mirror-image event to happen as well.

      I wonder if there are other things like this happening that few people have noticed? (Or maybe lots of people–e.g. Hebrew Sages Through the Ages–have noticed them, if you happen to be paying attention to those people.)

      • biblicalsausage says:

        If I had more time, I would pay more attention to rabbinical exegesis than I have so far. The problem is that the traditional rabbinical concerns and my concerns are very different — I’m very interested in getting a grasp on what’s happening in the original text as a modern critical-historical or literary understanding would see it. From where I stand (as a secular person), what the rabbis do often looks like going to great lengths to find things in the text that aren’t actually there, or that weren’t actually there when the text was written.

        I do have a certain fondness for the Talmud though, and I really like Rashi. He’s clearly a genius, although I only have so much use for some of his work because he’s coming at the text from a very different angle than I am. Still, not a week goes by that I don’t at least consult Rashi on a difficult verse. Today I consulted him when I was spending a few hours banging my head against /hara/ in Genesis 16:11. Though I can’t take the verse completely the way he takes it, he did give me some leads.

        • Well... says:

          From where I stand (as a secular person), what the rabbis do often looks like going to great lengths to find things in the text that aren’t actually there, or that weren’t actually there when the text was written.

          That’s the case from where I stand (as a Karaite) as well.

          • The way I like to put it is that, by the standards of the Rabbis, every Supreme Court justice in history was a strict constructionist.

          • Well... says:

            Hah, yes.

            It was kind of amazing to realize that many Jewish customs (I forget which ones exactly…I think kippot was one of them) now considered the mark of the devout actually have their roots in medieval Christianity.

          • biblicalsausage says:

            You don’t meet a Karaite every day. On behalf of struggling Hebrew students everywhere, I need to thank you folks for putting little dots above and below the consonants of the Bible so that we don’t have to struggle as much with pronunciations.

          • JulieK says:

            So, as a Karaite, do you observe the written Torah- shellfish, shaatnez and all?

          • Well... says:


            I try to avoid that stuff during the feast of Matzah, but otherwise I eat it (and pork) just as non-Jews do. The consequence is that I’m spiritually unclean until nightfall and must take a ritual bath before I can go to the Temple to offer my sacrifice.

            I do try to avoid eating rare meat though.

      • beleester says:

        “Conservation” seems like the wrong word. Granting the ability of prophecy to the 70 elders doesn’t seem to have reduced Moses’s holiness in a noticeable way. Moses going up on Sinai and getting a glowing faceful of holiness doesn’t seem to have caused a reduction in holiness elsewhere.

        And there are other cases that don’t fit, like the system of judges that Moses sets up in Exodus because he’s overworked – a surprisingly similar case to the quail incident, but one done without any divine action, just a suggestion from his father-in-law. Or Jacob’s blessing for his sons – giving each of them a blessing rather than a single blessing for the firstborn. (Although Reuben and Simeon’s blessings were… not exactly blessings.)

        But I will grant that the Bible has a running theme of separating one people from another, which sort of makes sense, if you’re trying to define a nation.

        • Well... says:

          The Torah says God took some of the holiness off Moses and redistributed it to the others. That’s where I get “conservation.”

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I don’t think you’re reading to much into it. Genesis has some deep literary structure.
      The Hebrew oppression in Egypt is a tough subject historically, but just on a textual level I think you’re on the right track.

      • biblicalsausage says:

        Right, I’m strictly speaking on a textual level. I haven’t been convinced by the folks who think that, historically, there was an actual large-scale enslavement in Egypt of the Israelites, followed by the Israelites packing up and moving to Canaan. There’s just too many problems with the details of the story internally, and problems with the archaeological / historical record. The most I would consider would be some kind of Exodus event very, very different from the biblical portrayal, perhaps later modified in folk memory into a seriously different form, when it was then written down maybe a thousand years after the Bible would date the Exodus.

        When it comes to literary structure, I’m a little bit puzzling, because my reading seems to pull me in two directions. I’ve only got a partial command of biblical Hebrew, so take anything I say with a grain of salt. On the one hand, I see a lot of high artistry in Genesis, where the stories seem to relate to each other in complex and subtle ways. On the other hand, while I haven’t been convinced of any particular detailed version of the Documentary Hypothesis, darned if I don’t see a lot of things that look like the result of a fairly clumsy stitching together of sources.

        I suppose you could have a book that has some clumsy stitching and some elegant deep structure. Perhaps a really smart ancient writer/editor might leave behind a lot more clumsy stitching than we would see in an equally skilled modern work because he wouldn’t care the way moderns do about some of what we would see as big gaping holes in the text. But the ideas do seem in tension. There’s what looks like an odd juxtaposition of clumsiness and high skill. Maybe if I keep parsing I’ll resolve some of that to my satisfaction.

    • S_J says:

      What I found a little surprising is that there are two stories about Hagar being kicked out of the Abram Family Camp…er, Abram’s Traveling Household of Herdsmen.

      This is the first such story.

      It might be that there were two variants of the Hagar-leaving story. A later editor may have tried to stitch them together without changing too many details of each one. Or there may have been multiple leave-and-return scenarios, and at least two of them were remembered.

      RE: Egypt.

      I do think that Egypt was a Great Power at that time. Whether or not the pattern you notice was intended, there would be lots of references to Egypt in the cultural context of that story. The powers and culture of ancient Mesopotamia are mentioned in the background (Babel, Ur-of-the-Chaldees), but they aren’t Great Powers that Abram-and-company deal with regularly. However, they all see Egypt is a Great Power.

      Thus, Hagar is a slave girl from Egypt. (Or bought at a market in Egypt…) Later, Joseph is sold to slavers who sell him in Egypt. Jacob and family travel to Egypt. Joseph predicts that leaving Egypt will happen eventually, and it will be a big thing when it happens.

      RE: narrative source
      I’m a little surprised that the narrative includes things Hagar experienced after she left the camp. We also learn that Abram did not name Ishmael, but Hagar did. (Or God gave the name to Hagar, if you trust the narrative.)

      This story was remembered for a reason. Even if the reason was that the children of Ishmael were in some cultural connection with the children of Isaac, and both groups of people remembered some story of how Ishmael was named, and how he was related to Abram.

      I don’t know if that helps us figure out any more about the source-stories. But it does provide a clue. And it distinguishes Ishmael from the descendants of Lot (a couple of chapters later).

      • biblicalsausage says:

        Speaking of clues, check this out. It’s a little more complicated that “Hagar named Ishmael.”

        In 16:11, the angel/God says to Hagar, “you will call his name Ishmael.” But when we get to the actual naming, in verse 15, we read, “Abram called the name of his son, born to Hagar, Ishmael.”

        Some of the documentary-hypothesis minded interpreters read this as part of a hint that there were two versions of the Genesis 16 story (not even counting Genesis 21) that later got edited together.

        Here’s another proposed sign of editing. In the Genesis 21 version of the story, Hagar and Ishmael get kicked out into the wilderness. 21:5 says Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born, while 16:6 says Abraham was 86 years old Ishmael was born. Then enough time passes that Isaac is weaned — maybe a year, or more likely two or three given the most common historical breastfeeding practices. So let’s say Ishmael is about sixteen. On the day that Isaac is weaned, Sarah has another tantrum and decides it would be kill to drive her slave out into the desert.

        Hagar and Ishmael head out. Depending on how you read 21:14, Hagar is possibly carrying her son. After they run out of water, Hagar is convinced Ishmael will die of thirst, and “throws” (odd Hebrew word choice) this strapping 16-year-old lad under a bush and walks away so that she doesn’t have to see him die.

        In what world do women (maybe) carry their sixteen-year-old boys? And in what world would do 16-year-olds die of thirst before their mothers? I suppose it’s possible, but some people read here an implication that originally the chap 21 story has a little boy rather than a 16-year-old. An angel intervenes, water appears, and Hagar “lifts up” the boy and gives him water.

        Hmmm. It would be easy to read that episode as showing some tell-tale signs of the different stories being put together and not perfectly fitting.

  26. baconbacon says:

    Are we up for talking about the Seattle Minimum wage study, or is that to culture war for this thread?

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      God I hope that is not culture war yet. But anyway it is probably a little early. I think the optimal strategy for non-scientists reading science is “read it yourself, but also read a couple of secondary sources to turn your unknown unknowns into known unknowns” and I don’t think the secondary sources have congealed yet.

    • skef says:

      Any discussion of a particular recent paper on this subject is likely to include some argument over underlying assumptions in the models, which can quickly lead to discussion of the underlying biases of various research groups. So yes, this topic seems inappropriate for the thread.

    • Interesting, but I concur that it should be saved for the next thread.

    • Iain says:

      In the interest of not misplacing the link by the time we actually discuss this in a future thread, here is a methodological critique of the linked study. Particularly relevant, to my untrained eye: “The fact that their methodology directly implies that the minimum wage increase in Seattle led to large increases in employment in jobs paying more than $19.00 per hour raises serious doubts about the validity of the statistical methods used.”

      • John Schilling says:

        That needs an explanation that neither you nor the linked critique seems to provide. Certainly there will be cases where the same goal can be achieved by using a large number of low-skilled (hence low-paid) workers or a smaller number of higher-skilled and higher-paid workers. If the price for low-skilled workers increases, this would be expected to shift some employment to the higher-paid substitutes and result in an absolute increase in employment at higher wages.

        A consequence of a $15 minimum wage is, fewer $10/hour “do you want fries with that” jobs. A consequence of fewer fast-food counter jobs is, more $50/hour jobs installing automated fast-food ordering kiosks (at least for a while).

        • Iain says:

          That possibility is raised immediately following the part I quoted:

          Finding large employment gains well above $19.00 per hour poses a serious problem for the credibility of this study. One possibility is that these higher-wage employment effects are real and that the minimum wage is dramatically shifting Seattle to a “high road” labor market where workers are employed at substantially higher wages. If this is the case, then the authors are overestimating the negative effects of the minimum wage increase on the Seattle labor market.

          The other possibility, which we are more inclined to presume to be the case, is that much of the higher-wage employment effect estimated by the authors is spurious. In this case, the authors are incorrectly attributing to the minimum wage a reduction in low-wage employment, when in fact there was a large shift in Seattle’s labor market toward higher-wage jobs that was happening regardless of the minimum wage increase.

          (Moreover, many/most “fast-food counter jobs” are not covered by this study, which excludes all multi-location firms. Indeed, that’s another aspect of the methodological critique.)

    • Nornagest says:

      I’m sympathetic, but this is definitely culture war territory.

      • Creutzer says:

        That seems absurd to me. There have been plenty of discussions of the economics of minimum wage without culturwarry blow-ups. What would be culturewarry would be a discussion of the fight about it, not of the object-level question.

    • Corey says:

      Another possibility: the job market just isn’t very efficient (in the Efficient Market Hypothesis sense).

  27. Vermillion says:

    Lazarus by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark is probably my favorite comic that’s currently running. It’s set in an impressively detailed (and not completely unrealistic) future dystopia where the entire planet is controlled by a collection of families who have superseeded the world governments to control vast amounts of territory like feudal lords basically. Each family has an avatar who represents them in diplomatic negotiations, on the front lines or wherever they’re needed.

    The series follows the Carlyle family and one of their children Forever, who (spoilers) can’t die.

  28. EricN says:

    I am a Democrat who has for a long time supported raising taxes on the rich. But a few weeks ago I realized there was a factor I was failing to consider: many very rich people are effective altruists (or semi-effective altruists), and raising their taxes will probably result in them having less money to donate to charity.

    I’d like to measure this cost, but I don’t know how. Is there a study of how income tax rate affects charitable contributions? Is it known what fraction of donations to good charities like the Against Malaria Foundation come from rich people? How effective are charities primarily funded by rich people, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? I would really like to see an analysis of this; thoughts would be appreciated!

    • baconbacon says:

      It is a non factor.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      There’s at least work on how tax incentives for charity affect charitable giving. This article has some references:

    • skef says:

      This is only relevant (for the rich) if contributions to charity loose their status as tax-deductible.

      • EricN says:

        This is false. Let’s say your income is $1 million and your goal is to retain $300,000 of it, and your personal expenses are $200,000 a year. Then you can pay x in charity; what is x? Compare the cases of tax rates of 30% and 40%.

        30%: you pay a 30% tax on $1 million – x, losing 0.3(1000000 – x) dollars. You lose an additional 200000 dollars in personal expenses. Finally, you pay x to charity. Thus, 0.3(1000000 – x) + 200000 + x = 700000, so 0.7x = 200000, i.e. x = $286,000 (approximately).

        40%: now we have 0.4(1000000 – x) + 200000 + x = 700000, so 0.6x = 100000, i.e. x = $167,000 (approximately).

        In general, the higher the tax rate, the less you can spare on charity.

        • In general, the higher the tax rate, the less you can spare on charity.

          On the other hand, the higher the tax rate, the less consumption you give up for a dollar donated to a (deductible) charity. The income effect and the substitution effect are pushing in opposite directions.

    • sohois says:

      Is the average hyper wealthy person actually an effective altruist, or even a mediocre one, or is that just a result of a few high profile examples? Of course Bill Gates does excellent work and there are a number of billionaires signed up to his pledge to donate all their wealth after death, but there are currently over 2000 billionaires. The Giving Pledge has 158 signatures.

      And that’s not even considering the thousands with 9 figure wealth. Or the fact that a huge amount of philanthropy is self serving and poorly targeted, going to the naming rights of buildings and subsidising elite pursuits.

      • EricN says:

        “There are currently over 2000 billionaires. The Giving Pledge has 158 signatures.”

        Let’s say that the 158 people who signed the giving pledge give away an average of $2 billion to charity over their lifetime. That’s $300 billion, enough to save a hundred million lives if used effectively (I’m making assumptions about diminishing returns (or lack thereof) that may not be fair; I’m not sure). Let’s say changing the tax policy increases this number by an expected 1%. That’s a million lives saved right there.

      • Is the average hyper wealthy person actually an effective altruist, or even a mediocre one, or is that just a result of a few high profile examples?

        I don’t know about average, but hyper wealthy people have two reasons to spend money on goals other than consumption that ordinary people don’t. One is that they aren’t giving up anything much, since they can still consume up to a very high level if they want to. The other is that they can function as the privileged minority solution to the public good problem. If you donate a thousand dollars to some worthy cause, that has a tiny effect on the success of that cause. If Bill Gates donates ten million, that might mean a hospital gets built or a drug made generally available where that wouldn’t happen otherwise.

        Of course, one problem here is that people disagree about worth goals. Quite a lot of wealthy people spend money on politics or on think tanks and the like. From their standpoint that is altruism–they are trying to make the world more what they think it should be like. But people who disagree with their politics may see it differently.

  29. rlms says:

    I asked last thread about the idea of a series of posts about music theory in the style of bean’s series on battleships. People expressed interest, so here it is! This is the first main post. I’m also doing an introductory post on some basic terminology (it’ll be below this one). It probably won’t be of interest to people who play an instrument and know what note names mean. If you’re starting from scratch, read it after the next paragraph.

    Intervals are the basic building block of harmonic theory. I’m going to gloss over where they come from (ratios of frequencies) and how different
    tuning systems work, and just say they are measures of distance between notes, with the smallest unit being the semitone. Twelve semitones make the most important interval, the octave. There is an octave between two notes if the ratio of their frequencies is 2:1; musically this means they “sound the same”. See here for an example, and here for an example of a non-octave interval. This means that in terms of harmonic theory, we only really care about intervals made up of twelve or fewer semitones; the octave functions like the base in a system of modular arithmetic, so an interval with `x` semitones functions similarly to one with `x – 12` (at least if the sign doesn’t

    Intervals are specified by giving their number and quality (major third, perfect fifth etc.). The number generally ranges from 1 to 8[2], but can be higher for compound intervals (those greater than one octave). It specifies the rough magnitude of the interval, for instance a sixth is either 8 or 9 semitones[3]. The quality specifies the exact size.

    Diagram (each step further right means one more semitone)[5]:

    diminished -> minor -> major -> augmented
    diminished -> perfect -> augmented

    Each number of interval is covered by one row of the table. For instance, a fifth falls into the second category. A perfect fifth has 7 semitones, so a
    diminished fifth has 6 and an augmented one has 8. As another example, thirds are in the first category; a minor third has 3 semitones and a major one has 4. Overall, unisons, fourths, fifths and octaves (and compound variants) are in the second category, all other intervals (seconds, thirds, sixths, sevenths, and compound variants thereof) are in the first.

    This means that most intervals can be written in multiple ways, for instance 8 semitones can be an augmented fifth, or a minor sixth (or a triple augmented fourth or double diminished seventh). This might seem silly, but it isn’t. It comes from the fact that the number of an interval is the number of letter names it spans. For instance, B to E (and Bb to Eb, B to E#, B## to Ebb) has four letter names, hence is a fourth. The quality is determined by the flats and sharps, so because e.g. Ab and G# are the same note, C-Ab and C-G# are the same
    interval (even though one is a sixth and the other is a fifth). The rationale behind this system for naming intervals will probably also make more sense after next post.

    A key operation on intervals is inversion. This just means swapping the high and low notes of the interval by changing octaves, e.g. inverting C#-A gets A-C#. Inversion of a non-compound intervals with number `x` produces an interval with number `9-x` (e.g. a fourth goes to a fifth). It changes quality by swapping major and minor, and diminished and augmented, but the inversion of a perfect interval
    stays perfect.

    By themselves, intervals don’t mean much. The major-happy, minor-sad links and similar effects are to do with chords and scales, rather than individual intervals. Intervals still have different characters to an extent though. Perfect intervals (listen here[5]) sound pure, clear, empty. Major/minor/diminished/augmented intervals (here[6]) can sound equally consonant[7], but even the nice sounding ones (major third and sixth) have a substance that perfect intervals don’t. In general, major intervals sound more pleasant than minor ones, but not always: the major seventh is more dissonant than the minor. But the effect of non-perfect intervals varies massively
    depending on context.

    However, one non-perfect interval does sound very distinctive in all contexts. This is the diminished fourth/augmented fifth, or the tritone. It is unique in that it is the only interval that can’t be described as major, minor, or perfect, and in that it produces another tritone when inverted. You might think that as it is exactly half an octave, it would also sound consonant. But actually it is the most dissonant interval there is, to the extent that it was historically described as “diabolus in musica” (the devil in music) and avoided at all times (although claims that it was explicitly forbidden by the Pope or the Spanish Inquisition are probably false)[8].

    The dissonance of the tritone can be heard in Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre (violin at 19 seconds) and Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze (guitar and bass at 7 seconds). However, even the tritone doesn’t always sound harsh and unpleasant; it is also used melodically in the first “the Simp-” in The Simpsons’ theme, and Maria from West Side Story (e.g. the first time Tony sings “Maria”, it then resolves to the perfect fifth in the same way as in The Simpsons[9]). Learning what each interval sounds like by listening to a well-known song featuring it is a common part of aural training, see here for some examples.

    That concludes this thread’s music theory! Next time I will probably go onto basic principles of tonality. Feel free to ask questions; I’d also appreciate
    feedback on whether I’m pitching at the right level.

    [1] This is octave equivalence. It isn’t the same as enharmonic equivalence; two enharmonically equivalent notes actually have the same frequency (in an equal temperament tuning system) but are written differently.

    [2] A “1st” is generally called a unison, and an “8th” an octave (abbreviated 8ve). A semitone is a minor 2nd, and a (whole) tone is a major 2nd.

    [2] In practice at least. In theory, the quality of an interval can alter it arbitrarily, but only a small number of qualities are commonly used.

    [4] As implied by the previous footnote, you can add “double/triple/etc. diminished/augmented” to either side, but only the qualities in the table are
    commonly used (and only a subset of them are especially common).

    [5] In order: (perfect) octave, perfect fifth, perfect fourth.

    [6] In order (most common names): minor second, major second, minor third, major third, augmented fourth/diminished fifth (tritone), minor sixth, major sixth, minor seventh, major seventh.

    [7] Consonance and dissonance are key principles of harmonic theory. Dissonance means harshness, or tension that has to be resolved. Consonance means pleasantness, and absence of tension. They are directions on a scale, not absolute exclusive categories, and what is dissonant in one context can be consonant in another.

    [8] This is an example of a more general phenomenon, where dividing the octave up into equal pieces of any size sounds spooky (listen here, in order: tritone, augmented chord (major thirds), diminished chord (minor thirds), wholetone scale (major seconds)).

    [9] Resolution will be covered in the next instalment!

    • rlms says:

      Musical notes (which are just particular frequencies of sound) are named with letters. In English, the letters A-G are used for 7 of the 12 notes in an octave, the others are written as sharpened or flattened versions of the first seven, e.g. A# or Bb (# is sharp and b is flat). At this point, you will probably find it useful to look at a labelled keyboard like this
      . A sharp makes a note one semitone higher, a flat makes it one semitone lower. Notes can be written in different ways, e.g. Gb and F# are the same note, as are F and E#.

      Some basic terminology: harmony means playing notes in parallel, melody means playing them in series. Intervals can be applied to both cases.

      You might find it interesting/useful to have a virtual keyboard like this one on hand in order to see what different things mentioned in the main post sound like.

    • CatCube says:

      I played piano and was in band during school, but never did wrap my head around why the notes and their sharps/flats are named as they are; that is, why there’s only a half-tone between B & C and E & F. I eventually figured out that the pattern of steps was the same for all major keys, but never did grasp the underlying logic as to why it was laid out as it was. (Why was the naming laid out so C had no sharps or flats, rather than A, for example?)

      • Garrett says:

        First, note that the C-major and A-minor scales use the same notes. Thus we refer to A-minor as the relative minor of C-major and vice versa.

        It is now standard/usual/default that music is written in a major key. My understanding is that at the time all of the stuff in music was being codified it was the standard/usual/default to write in a minor key. Now that we’ve defaulted to a major scale, the key of C does the same job.

    • Well... says:

      Does anyone know how this translates to nonwestern scales? For example, I know certain kinds of gamelan music use a pentatonic scale that is divided evenly into five notes (as opposed to a Western pentatonic scale that is unevenly divided, like the black keys on a keyboard). And then you have Arabic and Indian music that use semitones.

      Also, while we’re talking intervals, do many other people think of melodies primarily in terms of intervals? As in, some part of my brain goes “I know Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, that’s the one that jumps up a fifth, then up another whole step, then back to the fifth, then stepwise down the scale again to the root note.” It’s almost more visual than auditory (but doesn’t use the eyes of course).

      • rlms says:

        Arabic classical music uses quartertones as the smallest unit, but still has seven-note scales built up from semitones, threequartertones and wholetones, with some microtonal variation on those notes. I’m not sure about gamelan or Indian music.

        I think of melodies in terms of having a few important notes and then generic passages joining them.

        • Well... says:

          I think of melodies in terms of having a few important notes and then generic passages joining them.

          That’s interesting.

          Just curious, what’s your musical background? E.g. are you a musician, and if so at what age did you start playing music, what kind of music. And, what kind of music were you first introduced to/familiarized with?

          My intro was definitely classical music, which is basically all I heard up until about age 7. I was steeped in it. My mom put a violin in my hands by age 4 or 5. (I quit violin within a year of that.)

          Not sure if that influenced how I perceive melodies, mentioning that as a potential data point.

          • rlms says:

            I’m an interested amateur, with about a decade of experience playing clarinet (started around age 8), slightly less experience with piano, and a few years of arranging music for a jazz band. I started off playing the generic mix of tunes most children do when learning an instrument for the first time, then classical/wind band stuff, then (in parallel) jazz. Nowadays (I’m a non-music student) I mostly play big band jazz and musical theatre stuff, with occasional orchestral things. I think the music I first listened to was a combination of classical, jazz and rock.

      • Rosemary7391 says:

        I definitely think of melodies in intervals. And it is very much visual for me – as I read music, I have that hook to hang it on. One trick when learning to sight read (play from previously unseen sheet music) is to learn to play by interval. It’s also handy when you’re transposing (I’m also a clarinet player !).

    • eyeballfrog says:

      I’m not sure how surprising it is that the tritone is dissonant despite being half an octave. Quite early on in algebra you learn that the square root of 2 is irrational. Though perhaps I’m skipping ahead a bit to the by referring to the harmonic series.

      • Well... says:

        My music theory knowledge doesn’t go into the technical side of acoustics much, but I wonder if the dissonance of the tri-tone has to do with some mathematical property that distinguishes the relationship between the root and the augmented 4th/diminished 5th from that of the maj/min 3rd/6th and the perfect 4th/5th.

        Here’s how I’d rank the intervals, from least-to-most dissonant, and I think most people would agree except where otherwise noted:

        1. Octave
        2. Perfect 5th
        3. Perfect 4th
        4. Maj 3rd
        5. Min 3rd
        6. Min 6th
        7. Maj 6th (for some people, #6 and #7 might be reversed!)
        8. Minor 7th
        9. Whole step/maj 2nd (for some people, #8 and #9 might be reversed too!)
        10. Maj 7th
        11. Tritone (flat 5th/sharp 4th)
        12. Half step/min 2nd

        And things also get less dissonant if you spread them out across different octaves. I’d say a flat 9th is less dissonant than a minor 2nd, for instance.

  30. BBA says:

    Can I just say thanks to Scott for referencing Animaniacs on Tumblr? That’s precisely where my mind went when I read the first entry in that thread. Total psychic lawn dart there.

  31. hoghoghoghoghog says:

    Do people feel less resentful of free markets in cultures where the prices-setting mechanism is more visible (e.g. cultures where haggling is expected)? Maybe people are less likely to feel powerless and exploited if they’re forced to think from scratch about how much things are worth to them?

  32. Trofim_Lysenko says:

    Seconding Planetary as one of my favorite “Superhero” comics, and Preacher and 100 Bullets. These are all great in that they’re complete stories rather than ongoing ones.

  33. CatCube says:

    Does anybody else have things that they find bizarrely satisfying? The two that come to mind for me: 1) I like tearing perforations (like in tickets) and 2) When I put my tie on for work every day, I shoot to have the back tail 1/4″ shorter than the visible portion, and it’s oddly satisfying when I get it exactly.

  34. Forward Synthesis says:

    Just a heads up that this is Tekhno (I will never hide anything from you). Is Scott okay with us switching accounts, because this one is better? I’ll be using this from now on.

  35. keranih says:

    Oh, goody.

    (I will repeat some of what has been said before, FOR EMPHASIS.)

    Sandman aaaaaand pretty much anything else by Neil Gaiman. Sandman itself is long. If you’re not sure if you’re going to like Gaiman or not, try Death, which combines High Cost of Living and The Time of Your Life. (You’ll like Death. She’s cute and funny and *kind.*) (And for god’s sake don’t start with Endless Nights.)

    Once you’ve finished Sandman, check out Mike Carey’s Lucifer. Both of these long series are complete and think they both came to satisfactory ends. (Note: the tv show is…really not like the comic.)

    I hear you that you don’t like Miller, but his run on Daredevil – and in particular the Born Again graphic novel is not like typical Miller, and it is still extremely good.

    Also seconding Hellboy.

    If you liked early-ish Claremont look up his work on Excalibur. (I really think Claremont needs more credit than is currently given – great vision, steady work, good characters. Just…always eventually going off the rails.) I also liked the Alan Davis run on Captain Britain. I really liked Dan Abett’s first volume of Knights of the Pendragon when it was all about Dai Thomas being haunted by the Green Knight.

    Bill Willingham’s Fables was a pretty cool exploration of old fairy tales.

    Andy Diggle and Jock did a really great job on the (original) comic of The Losers but that might be too like Miller’s usual stuff for you.

    If you find any of the old Milestone imprints – Icon (by McDuffie) is the one most people remember, but I also liked Blood Syndicate and Shadow Cabinet. I always thought that imprint was better than its sales numbers indicated.

    If you like manga stuff at all – consider Shirow’s Appleseed. ‘Promethean Challenge’ was one of the most accessible, but this is Shirow, so that’s not saying a whole lot. I found the Lone Wolf and Cub series a great deal more comprehensible. (This might be too close to typical Miller for your tastes.)

    Kingdom Come is on this list for very good reasons. I completely agree that Joss Weldon’s run on X-Men was extraordinary. I also recommend the Xmen collection “God Saves, Man Kills”.

    For currently running stories: Shylock Mercenary is wonderfully lighthearted (for most of the run) and just a great group of characters.

    Judge Dredd is not for everyone – but with a huge selection of writers, there does seem to be something for many people. I found the collection America to be a cool-but-unsettling introduction to the world. I was also recc’ed to start with the “Complete Case Files Volume Five” and that has done well by me.

    The Hawkeye series My Life As A Weapon is still on-going, I think, and the first two volumes by Fraction and Adja are *superb.*

    Brian Vaugman (who did Y:The Last Man) and Fiona Staples are still putting out Saga. I can’t speak for the later issues but the first three volumes were pretty cool story telling, if somewhat conventional.

    …errr. I hope this helps.

    PS: Forgot to add: Peter ODonnell’s Modesty Blaise.

    • keranih says:

      Pshaw. You’re good. Thanks for asking a great question that got a lot of cool things to check out.

    • Nornagest says:

      Shylock Mercenary

      I assume you mean Schlock Mercenary, but now I kinda want to read Shylock Mercenary.

      • keranih says:

        And after struggling through Dunnett’s Niccolo books, so do I.

        (I refuse to believe the confusion is accidental on Howard Tayler’s part.)

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        His beam gun disintegrates exactly one pound of flesh per shot.

  36. keranih says:

    I will save actual discussion of Wonder Woman for the non-culture-war thread, as I don’t trust myself to get into it without stepping on toes. (For the record, I enjoyed the movie a great deal.)

    However, because some of the WW commentary I’ve seen seems to indicate that many people are just not really familiar at all with female characters in sff – an link to a rilly cool fan video from 2011: Space Girl. (Link goes to a blog post with a link to the youtube version. Video itself is NSFW.)

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Oh, keranih, I want to say one non-CW thing here. I really liked how innocent the screenplay and cinematography made the gorgeous Gal Gadot. The interactions with Steve on the boat and Diana’s clothes were handled very tastefully. Someone like, oh, Joss Whedon would have included skeevy butt and foot shots.

      • keranih says:

        See, I think that talking about male gaze, the lack of butt&boob shots, etc falls right into CW territory, esp considering it was a major part of the reproductive worker ant kerfluffle. Or at least for me I couldn’t talk about it without going there.

  37. nimim.k.m. says:

    Alan Moore has written quite much interesting stuff, but I don’t idolize him. (And on topic of Gaiman… Sandman has more interesting ideas than stories that are actually that great. Well, I liked Overture.)

    I’m going to try to give slightly different recommendations. On the eurocomics front:

    I’ve found that Blacksad series by Canales and Guarnido (multiple Eisner and Angouleme winner) is often appreciated even by the audiences acclimated to cape fiction. Noir pastiche. Story quality volatile (IMO Amarillo was a bit weak), but art quality consistently stellar. English translations readily available.

    My personal favorite is Hugo Pratt and Corto Maltese. This might be more difficult to characterize. Romantic adventurer (romantic more in sense of the 19th century movement than “romance”.) No idea about English translations (I believe they are available but I don’t know if they are good).

    Big screen film version of Valerian by Mézières and Christin will be in theaters this summer. Classic science fiction. (Not very hard science fiction though.) I’m going to confess series has more misses than hits (using the English titles, I guess I like Empire of a Thousand Planets, Birds of the Master and Ambassador of the Shadows, ambivalent about Heroes of the Equinox, rest … not particularly memorable) but it’s interesting to look at. Especially because it looks like Star Wars, except a decade before Star Wars.

    Then there’s Tintin by Hergé. Every civilized person knows Tintin, right? I’m told the writer was a serious Catholic, that should make him popular on the comments section.

    And as we are talking about comics, let’s talk also a bit about the new ones. How can I not mention an excellent webcomic Kill Six Billion Demons (Book 1 also available in print), updates with new pages regularly.

    And for something totally different: because the Ducktales reboot is going hit your tv screens this summer, I’m going to recommend the original inspiration, the Uncle Scrooge comics by Carl Barks and (fanboy extraordinaire) Keno Don Rosa. The collections that I know of: The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library by Fantagraphics is great according to what I’ve heard, and I believe Rosa’s Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck is also available.

    And everyone, of course, mentions Maus by Art Spiegelman in these sort of lists. So do I.

    If you can stand the right-to-left reading order, then there’s lots of manga worth of your time. Yes, I count Japanese comics as comics. Some titles easily appreciated by Western audiences:

    Nausicaa, by Hayo Miyazaki. One of the greatest narratives told in the comic form I’ve read. Much better than the animated film.

    Fullmetal Alchemist, by Hiromu Arakawa. I believe this is the best shonen adventure manga ever made.

    Ghost in the Shell, by Masamune Shirow. The 1995 film was awesome, but the manga is also great fun. I don’t think need to explain why the commentators here would find themes of the franchise interesting.

    And I’m also going to mention Akira, by Katsuhiro Otomo.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      Thanks for specifying this!. I have myself read only the first (1990s?) run and thus was talking about it.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      I’m not sure I see how Catholicism influences the stories, though…

      It was mostly an attempt at in-joke. (I have noticed n > 1 catholics on OTs talking about how catholicism is awesome).

      More seriously, I vaguely recall from some Hergé TV documentary I saw years ago that the Tintin character represents Hergé’s ideals about the virtues of “boy scout”, and the boy scout movement he knew was Catholic-affiliated (first versions Tintin’s appeared as a serialized bw run in a Catholic youth magazine).

    • keranih says:

      Re: Ghost in the Shell –

      People may find that they have very different reactions to the film(s) vs the various manga. Me, I really liked the 95 animated film, and thought the recent live action reboot pretty good, but bounced off the manga like a rubber ball.

      So people should, imo, give themselves permission to check out the manga (or an alternate film) if they previously didn’t care for a version they saw.

      • Nornagest says:

        IMO: the ’95 film is maybe the defining work of cyberpunk in visual media, with amazing atmosphere and some of the best action scenes ever committed to film. It is a very hard act to follow, and sure enough, its sequel is more style than substance.

        The manga is full of interesting ideas, not all of which made it into its adaptations, but equally full of gaps and weird logic (this might be a translation issue). Shirow’s art can be a very love-it-or-hate-it thing, though.

        Stand Alone Complex is very good overall, and probably a better (certainly more comprehensive) adaptation of the manga than the ’95 film was if maybe missing some of its lightning-in-a-bottle quality, but it’s visually a bit more generic and individual episodes can be hit-and-miss.

        The recent OVAs are not as good. Haven’t seen the live-action film.

    • Nornagest says:

      They’re rebooting Ducktales?

      …what happens when they run out of Eighties franchises to reboot?

      • FacelessCraven says:

        Assumably they start rebooting 90s franchises. Holdin out for ma Gargoyles.

      • pontifex says:

        When the run out of 80s movies, they’ll reboot the reboots. And then they’ll reboot the reboot of the reboots. And so on, and so on, ad infinitum.

        Over time each reboot will get worse and worse, as they drift farther from the original inspiration. Like a Xerox copy of a dirty Xerox copy.

        In the steady state, everything will converge on being a palette-swapped version of the Smurfs.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        They’re rebooting Ducktales?

        Sure, right on the schedule. The fans of the original run are now old enough to produce and write it themselves. They casted David Tennant as Scrooge and Mrs. Beakley looks like a battle butler. Trailers are on the YouTube (not going there myself, I don’t want to hear the ear worm of the opening tune.)

  38. Anonymous says:

    A tangent to EricN’s issue with taxing the rich more than the poor.

    You know how nominally free-to-play games are often based on a “whale economy”? A tiny minority of customers are the ones that bring in most of the company’s profits in, because they have thousands of dollars to spend on Swords of Infinity Plus One and Armoires of Invincibility. So, in pursuit of profit, the company is incentivized to cater to these few customers, and only care about the free players so far as the game is still playable and enjoyable enough for them that they don’t all leave, so the whales have someone to lord over. (Assuming, of course, that the company’s management isn’t shortsighted, which is also a possibility, where they make the game unplayable for the free users, leading to their product’s eventual downfall.)

    Similar thing happens with taxation. A linear tax would already greatly skew the tax contributions towards the rich, and progressive taxation just makes it overwhelmingly the rich who support the government budget. In an indirect democracy, the majority of those allowed to vote would then have little or no financial input into the budget, while theoretically having power to vote themselves money from the public coffers (which they regularly try to do). But, the system being indirect, the elected politicians themselves (who are, by and large, rich) don’t really want to permit that, and they don’t want to thin out their supply of the whales (who might leave the country if taxed into space) because that leaves them with less money to spend and the same amount of non-discretionary spending to do.

    This would explain why welfare spending advances relatively slowly.

    • albatross11 says:

      Just as an aside, there’s a really nice discussion of the strategy of taxation in the wonderful book _The Dictators’ Handbook_, which I’m about halfway through reading now thanks to a couple people recommending it on one of the previous open threads.

  39. Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

    Most of the obvious suggestions have already been made, so I’ll just say that I enjoyed Peter David’s Captain Marvel run, though I don’t read a lot of comics, so I wouldn’t have a reference point.

    • MrApophenia says:

      As a recommendation for you, if you liked Peter David’s Captain Marvel you would almost certainly also enjoy his Hulk run, which is basically the definitive run on the character.

      Pretty sure the whole thing is on Marvel/Comixology unlimited, too.

  40. Brad says:

    Eid Fitr sa‘id to all those celebrating.

  41. Brad says:

    I’ve long thought that recommendations for professional services are inherently useless. If you go see a lawyer for some legal problem, you have no idea how difficult a problem you have, what the range of likely outcomes is, and what the range of prices you could pay are. Once your case is over you still don’t know any of those things, so you have no way of evaluating what kind of service you received. Thus your recommendation is virtually worthless to anyone else. At best you can say that the service provider probably wasn’t flagrantly bad. You can also comment on his bedside manner (so to speak), and in the end that’s probably what you will end up basing your opinion on.

    Agree? Disagree? Think I’m missing some angle entirely? Are recommendations not really about recommendations?

    • albatross11 says:

      You can evaluate some stuff, like whether the person returned your phone calls and seemed prepared when you talked to them about your problem, whether they seemed careless or careful about details, etc., and you know how things turned out. Those are all important to know. On the other hand, it’s really hard as an outsider to evaluate whether Alice or Bob is the better neurosurgeon.

    • Jordan D. says:

      I expect that for professional services, personal recommendations are mostly about weeding out the people who are so bad (or at least unpleasant) that it becomes obvious to a lay person. If I tell you that I’ve had good experiences with a particular carpenter, that’s not a lot of information, but it’s more than zero. It at least reduces the chance that you’ll get a handyman who never shows up or an attorney who takes your money and then fails to file timely.

      So I guess it’s because personal recommendations are a bad way to pick a professional, but probably better than the alternative method of picking by which personals ad you like best.

    • Well... says:

      @the OP: I think that’s a valid point.

      My approach has always been to lean on personal connections who might have special knowledge so they can advise me. I’ve never had to hire a lawyer, but if I did I’d first consult some of my lawyer friends/relatives to try and get as clear a picture as possible of what to expect, knowing they won’t be able to give me perfect information but that it will at least be better than nothing.

      Of course I understand most people probably don’t have those kinds of connections, but the general principle applies to all types of services (plumber, auto mechanic, realty, computer repair, etc.) where there’s the potential to have asymmetrical information, get ripped off, or not know whether the work was done shoddily.

      Without having those personal connections, the next best option might be to join an online forum that’s specialized around the issue at hand. Such forums don’t exist for everything, obviously, but I think there probably is one for 90% of those types of questions you’re likely to have in your life. (And the SSC OTs can sometimes suffice in a pinch!) For instance, there’s a whole forum for my wife’s car–not just the make but the exact model. It’s kind of amazing, and it’s one of those few things I really like the internet for.

      • gbdub says:

        What if your personal connections turn out to be lousy (or average at best) lawyers/doctors/whatever, and not particularly aware of that fact?

        The trouble with specialty forums is that they are often dominated by loud mouths that like to show off how much they (think they) know. Or if they themselves are professionals in the field, how terrible everyone else but them is. Or if it’s a medical forum, how stupid their doctors are. And so on.

        So you’ll get information, but you still have to filter through bad advice delivered with high confidence, good advice delivered condescendingly, and motivated rants.

        • Well... says:

          Again, valid points, and yes, you’ll have to filter and use your judgment. Such is life. But I still think it’s often better to at least try out whatever options are available than going in blind.

      • Brad says:

        As a lawyer, if you came and asked me for a recommendation for, say, a divorce lawyer, I could find you one. And the one I found wouldn’t steal your retainer and disappear or show up to a conference drunk, but I wouldn’t really have any idea if you were getting an 80th percentile divorce lawyer or a 40th percentile one.

        In terms of online forums, there are people that learn enough to know how good a professional the one they hired is, but by the time you spend enough time and effort to do that it can only be described as a hobby. You’ve long since blown any kind of reasonable ROI. Depending on the exact nature of the profession, in some cases they can just do it themselves by that point.

    • rlms says:

      I think it depends on the service. A lawyer (for instance) functions as a black box for completing a goal that is clear to everyone involved (e.g. win a case). So I agree that it is difficult to give a recommendation there unless you are knowledgeable in the relevant area. But for e.g. a carpenter, the goal is less obvious. In cases like that you can make a recommendation based on how close what the service provider achieved was to what you wanted, and/or how well they identified what you did actually want.

      And in many cases, I think it is possible to give a justified recommendation. For instance, if the service is repair you can recommend a provider based on speed and how well the thing they repaired works afterwards.

      • Brad says:

        The ‘was able to elicit what I wanted’ point is a good one. But in terms of repair service, I think that goes back to what I was saying originally. Let’s say a repair person comes in and says your refrigerator has a broken frobinator, he’ll have to order a new one at a cost of a few hundred dollars and two weeks time. After that time he comes in a does something and the fridge works. He probably did an adequate job. But would a better repair person have been able to fix the problem on the spot for less money? You have no idea.

        • rlms says:

          Yes, it also depends on the kind of thing being repaired. A fridge is pretty much a black box; either it works properly or it doesn’t. I was imagining the item being repaired as an instrument/bike/computer, where there are more variables: how smoothly/quickly/tunefully it works.

    • I’ve never hired a lawyer. Maybe I haven’t hired any professional other than doctors and dentists. Maybe I pick them on superficial things, such as how well they explain things, the length of the wait for their waiting rooms, and yes, their bedside manner. I guess I don’t know if my doctor and dentist are keeping me as healthy as possible.

      And yet, I feel in most cases, I think I could make a judgment about professionals. If I was to hire a lawyer, I would ask them how they would go about handling my case, and what their first instincts are before they looked into it further. I think I could tell if they were intelligent and coherent at least. Maybe I feel more confident about my knowledge of law over medicine.

      So what is the best way to pick a professional? This could lead into a discussion of licensing, in which my usual thought is that it increases costs without increasing quality. I think that accessing any organization of professionals can be usable for eliminating the obvious incompetents, but not more than that. My usual approach is to look for someone intelligent, and to ask someone in the business for help if I know anyone. Is there a better way?

      • sflicht says:

        To play devil’s advocate a bit, your hypothetical experience attempting to obtain legal expertise is unusual insofar as (being a SSC reader and having made the comment above) you are almost certainly at least one standard deviation above the mean in terms of intelligence. Your experience obtaining legal assistance is therefore bound to be atypical, and policy regimes that maximize utility for people like you seeking to hire lawyers are unlikely to be optimal if the same rules apply to everyone.

      • Brad says:

        And yet, I feel in most cases, I think I could make a judgment about professionals. If I was to hire a lawyer, I would ask them how they would go about handling my case, and what their first instincts are before they looked into it further. I think I could tell if they were intelligent and coherent at least.

        Maybe you could, but I doubt it. This kind of intuition based interviewing is basically how hiring is done in a lot of companies / industries and the literature shows that it is highly ineffective.

        So what is the best way to pick a professional?

        I don’t know if there is one, which makes me wonder if we can apply standard market reasoning to professionals. All of us are pretty well equipped to tell if a pair of pants turned out to be a good purchase or not, so reputation and competition work well there. But for lawyers or doctors or car mechanics I’m not sure they do.

        • AnonYEmous says:

          How about “survey other professionals in that line of work”

          obviously a few problems with that idea but I bet it gives you, at the very least, an accurate idea of who’s pretty good in the profession, comparatively speaking

        • This kind of intuition based interviewing is basically how hiring is done in a lot of companies / industries and the literature shows that it is highly ineffective.

          I agree that interviews for jobs aren’t generally very effective. But I think you need to take into account that interviewing for jobs usually has the agent/principle problem, so the interviewing may be more concerned about liking the person than effectiveness, and also when I hire a lawyer I would have a very specific task in mind, while a good candidate for a job is one that is expected to last for years, and so is much more amorphous.

          Also, we should talk about what is means that job interviews aren’t effective. In my experience, the person hired is usually capable of doing the job — it’s just that there may be several others that would do better. If I am hiring a lawyer, I am not expecting to get the best lawyer — I know I’m not able to do that — but I’d like to get one with average competence.

          So what is the best way to pick a professional?

          I don’t know if there is one, which makes me wonder if we can apply standard market reasoning to professionals.

          But we need to hire them, so we need to use some method. I think my method works as good as any I’ve heard. It is true that I am a professional myself (accountant) and I think more intelligent than most, so I do have an advantage. It would be useful to discover a method than anyone can use. Maybe just going to a professional association and picking someone you get along with is the best. The professional associations will generally kick out the worst ones at least.

  42. pontifex says:

    You’re talking about Modern Monetary Theory, aka Chartalism?

    I’m no economist, and there are still things about macro-economics that I don’t understand. But generally I’m skeptical of Chartalism’s claims. For example, the claim that money derives its value from the ability to pay government taxes is clearly false in at least some cases. In lawless places like Somalia, or countries undergoing civil war, people still come up with things that function as money. For example, in prison people use cigarettes as money.

    How much money can the government really borrow before everything implodes? Huge tomes have been written on the subject. But the answer clearly can’t be “infinity” like Chartalism seems to suggest. Otherwise things like the Greek bond crisis or the repayment of the Venezuelan “hunger bonds” would not have happened.

    • John Schilling says:

      If money has value, what need has it of legitimacy?

      • pontifex says:

        Well, obviously, money can’t exist without the government. That’s why gold coins and bitcoin don’t exist. And money only exists because of taxes. That’s why the Revenue Act of 1861, which first created a tax on personal incomes, created money, which did not previously exist in the United States.

        Now just sit back and let the enlightened bureaucrats in the ministry of finance manage the economy on sound scientific principles. Using a theory that even has “modern” in the name, so you know it’s better than the other, un-modern theories!


        P.S. I apologize a bit for the snarkiness in this post. I am an orthodox Keynesian… mostly. But as Keynes himself said, “the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.” There are too many beautiful simplified models in macroeconomics that try to cram the ugly real world into an ill-fitting box.

    • baconbacon says:

      Money gets its legitimacy from the need to pay goverment taxes in sovereign currency.

      A common, and probably correct, extrapolation of MMT is that government doesn’t need to collect taxes at all, and that it can just print and spend (within some limits) without damaging the economy. The above sentence would be a direct refutation of that point, and would demonstrate a major, and probably fatal, inconsistency with MMT.

      Inflation is determined by a balance between available goods and services on one side, and money on the other.

      No it isn’t. Prices are determined by supply and demand, the above statement includes only two different types of supply, this is why attempts to predict inflation through changes in the money supply always fail.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        A common, and probably correct, extrapolation of MMT is that government doesn’t need to collect taxes at all, and that it can just print and spend (within some limits) without damaging the economy

        Is there a novice-economics grokkable explanation for this? From some cursory googling it would appear the federal budget is within an order of magnitude of the total dollar balances. I would imagine straight printing money without removing anything from circulation would lead to relatively fast inflation in such a scenario – how grounded in reality is that?

      • Brad says:

        It’s my understanding that MMT says that the government doesn’t need to collect taxes or issue bonds in order to spend. It considers taxation to be destroying money and spending to be creating money–two separate processes not linked by a necessity for balance.

        That doesn’t imply that a government would never would want to collect taxes or issue bonds for some other reasons than because it is necessary to do so in order to spend money.

      • genisage says:

        If the government wants its spending to come disproportionately from its richer citizens, similar to the effects of a progressive tax, it doesn’t seem like “print and spend” would accomplish that. (Unless you printed extra and gave it away, but that’s just replacing taxes with the same thing in reverse) Is making taxes flatter not a big effect (or a damaging one (CW?)) on the economy?

        ETA: Do poorer people have more or less of their wealth in assets that wouldn’t have their real value reduced by inflation? I would guess less, but I’m not certain at all.

      • baconbacon says:

        @ Gobbobobble

        The first point is that inflation is the mechanism that makes it “work” in this scenario. The government printing and distributing money strips value away from those that hold money via inflation. Secondly they generally argue that effective inflation wouldn’t be that bad, because while you are paying higher prices you are taking home 20-30% more in income since you aren’t paying taxes.

  43. Zodiac says:

    My newspaper today has an article about a small-sclae, non-representative study of German children feeling that their parents are not paying enough attention to them, e.g. they don’t play with them, don’t talk with them about their problems and generally don’t feel secure.
    The sociologist they interviewed of course said that this was catastrophic and so on but I have a hard time finding information about this kind of soft neglect. A lot of what I find is about more severe forms of neglect or abuse.
    Does anyone have some scraps of information for me? Some psychology blogs that have some articles on that or something?

    • I think it means very little. Most kids have some sort of complaint about their parents, and usually don’t understand the larger universe very well to know if the complaints are reasonable or not. It is my understanding that at least in the US parents pay vastly more attention to their kids than they did a few decades ago, to the point that “helicopter” parents are seen as the problem de jour. I am sure there are plenty of neglectful parents out there, and that is bad for the kids, but I think the trend is in the other direction.

      Of course this is my own anecdotal understanding, but that’s as good as the non-representative study you refer to.

  44. Nancy Lebovitz says:
  45. Mark says:

    The Royal Navy has 44 Admirals and 77 ships.

  46. johan_larson says:

    What happens with the land of a defunct country? Does it have some sort of special status, or it is just available to be claimed by whatever existing country takes the time to station troops there?

    The reason I’m wondering is that there are a number of small island nations that are very low-lying and as such in real danger of being swamped as sea levels rise. Since the populations of these countries are typically very low, it might be better to simply evacuate the people and give them citizenship in other countries, rather than trying to save the countries themselves.

    But what would happen with the land itself in this scenario?

    • Anonymous says:

      The land that is now underwater?

      • johan_larson says:

        No, the land that is still above water but gets flooded every time there’s a storm.

        • John Schilling says:

          I don’t think there’s any relevant precedent, except possibly the Knights of Malta.

          But the Hospitallers lost their land to other sovereign states that could definitively say “this is our land now”. In your hypothetical, I would expect that the country would remain in existence as a diplomatic entity with dikes, land reclamation, and raised foundations used to ensure at least a microstate’s worth of habitable structure remains above the water level through any plausible sea level rise, and would retain sovereignty over anything that could plausibly be considered “land”.

          If only because anything that is recognized as sovereign land gets to claim an Exclusive Economic Zone in the surrounding waters, and while tideflats may not be economically valuable, an EEZ almost certainly will be. Likewise e.g. geostationary orbit slots and the ability to offer passports and bank accounts to “investors” who finance your dikes with some of the money they brought from Never Ask That Question.

    • tmk says:

      I think most tiny island nations are under the protection of a larger nation (like Australia). Presumably they could be absorbed and the population allowed to move within the larger country.

      • johan_larson says:

        What got me thinking about this was the possibility of Canada accepting the people of one of these islands. Accepting all of the people from one of the smaller island nations is both economically and politically possible. It could happen.

        So suppose we Canucks do just that. But then what do we do with the island itself, some square miles of increasingly waterlogged land in the south Pacific? Accept it as Canadian territory? Our navy is not well equipped to project power in the South Pacific. So just abandon the territory? Or hold it as Canadian Territory Until Such Time As A Significant Military Power Says Otherwise (a very distinctive diplomatic category, that.)

    • Eric Rall says:

      Not quite the situation you’re asking about, but there have been several instances of a sovereign state becoming de facto defunct, leaving a significant chunk of populated territory unclaimed and ungoverned by any extant government. I know of precedents for roughly three options:

      The simplest is to maintain the legal system that the defunct de jure state still holds sovereignty and ignore its defunctness. Google “failed state” for details and examples.

      Another possibility is for some successor state(s) or provisional government to arise from the ashes of the old state, either organically or with the support of a neighboring state or interested Great Power, and to declare itself sovereign and seek international recognition. This usually comes after a period of “failed state” status.

      The last possibility is for the territory to be considered Terra Nullius, any part of which may be claimed by existing states which establish “Effective Occupation” of the territory they’re claiming (i.e. establishing uncontested de facto control of the territory and exercising jurisdiction and state function). This usually comes up in the context of unsettled land and “neutral zones” left unclaimed as part of the resolution of a disputed border, but it’s also notable as the (very thin) legal pretext for the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland in 1939: the Soviets claimed that Poland had ceased to exist in the face of its military defeat by Germany, leaving the areas of Poland that weren’t under German occupation as Terra Nullius, which the Soviets were free to claim.

      In your examples, Terra Nullius is probably the best fit if the inhabitants simply abandon the island. But if they sign over sovereignty by treaty to another state before they abandon it (for example, your idea of turning over the island to Canada in exchange for Canadian citizenship), then it goes to the other state so long as that state can defend its claim to the island. The way it would probably work would be a treaty of annexation, granting the inhabitants Canadian citizenship. They then go to Canada as private citizens, leaving the island uninhabited. Theoretically, Canada could be considered to have abandoned sovereignty if they have no real presence there, but Canada has enough political, etc clout that the stakes would have to be pretty high for another country to seriously contest Canada’s claim to the island.

  47. nimim.k.m. says:

    I’ve read some of the Incal year or two ago. I was unsure what to make of it, I didn’t get if it was meant to be serious or some genre of not-so-serious or in between. Also, it felt … very 80s.

  48. Paul Brinkley says:

    I’m finding Yale Stewart’s webcomic JL8 very enjoyable.