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Open Thread 84.5

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

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450 Responses to Open Thread 84.5

  1. bean says:

    Naval Gazing:
    The Pursuit of the Goeben and Breslau
    Series Index

    While rebuilding the battleship index in Google Docs, and ran across a mention of Goeben and Breslau, with the statement that I’d get back to it later. So, seeing as it’s now much later, I’m going to do so.
    I’ve put together a map to make this easier to follow.
    The battlecruiser Goeben (sister ship to Moltke of Jutland) and the light cruiser Breslau formed the German Mediterranean Division, stationed at Pola, the main Austrian naval base. They had been sent in 1912, to project German power into the region, with the wartime mission of disrupting the flow of troops from French North Africa (modern Algeria) to France.
    The British Mediterranean fleet, composed of the battlecruisers Inflexible, Indefatigable and Invincible, four armored and four light cruisers and a flotilla of destroyers, was ordered on July 30th to cover the French transports, and on August 2nd, to shadow Goeben while maintaining a watch on the Adriatic in case of a sortie by the Austrians. Admiral Souchon, in command of the German force, had already sortied, but was spotted in Taranto, Italy, by the British consul, who reported the findings to London. The Admiralty ordered Indomitable and Indefatigable sent to Gibraltar to guard against a sortie into the Atlantic, presumably an attempt to return to Germany. Souchon, however, was headed for Bone and Philippeville, embarkation ports in Algeria. On the evening of the 3rd, after having slipped through the Straits of Messina ahead of British searchers, he was informed that the Germans had signed an alliance with Turkey, and he was to head for Constantinople immediately. He ignored these orders, and bombarded the ports (doing very little damage) at dawn on August 4th before heading back to Italy to coal again. Shortly thereafter, Indomitable and Indefatigable sighted Goeben, but the British had not yet entered the war, and they did not engage. Admiral Milne, the British commander, reported the contact, but did not tell the Admiralty (headed by Winston Churchill) that the Germans were heading east, and Churchill continued to believe they would attempt to interfere with the French troop movements.
    Both Goeben and the British ships were having boiler problems, reducing Goeben’s speed from 27 to 24 kts, which was still faster than the British ships could manage. The light cruiser Dublin managed to stay with the Germans for a while, until she lost them in a fog. By the next morning, the Germans were safe in the neutral port of Messina, and the British had declared war after the invasion of Belgium. Because of the need to stay well outside Italian territorial waters, Milne was forced to cover both sides of the strait. Inflexible and Indefatigable were placed on the north side of the strait, while the light cruiser Gloucester was sent to cover the south, due to the continued British misunderstanding of the German plan. Indomitable was sent to coal at Bizerte, Tunisia, instead of to Malta, another unfortunate choice.
    The Germans had problems, too. The Italian authorities were slow to supply coal, and Souchon had to take coal from German merchant ships in the port. However, he wasn’t able to get enough to allow him to reach Constantinople before the Italians ordered him out of the port entirely on the evening of the 6th. The Ottomans had decided not to join the war yet, and the Austrians (not yet at war with France and unsure of their fleet) were unwilling to help Souchon, making his situation worse. For some reason, Souchon was allowed to decide where to go, and he chose Constantinople, hoping to force the Turk’s hand.
    Milne assumed that Souchon would go either west for the Atlantic, or head into the Adriatic, which was already patrolled by a squadron under Admiral Troubridge, composed of the armored cruisers Defence, Black Prince, Warrior, and Duke of Edinburgh (who we met at Jutland) and 8 destroyers. Goeben would have had a massive advantage in a gunnery duel, leading Troubridge to plan a night attack in the entrance to the Adriatic where superior numbers would tell. However, he was under specific orders not to engage a superior force, which had been intended to mean the Austrian fleet.
    When Souchon left Messina, he was shadowed by Gloucester (there was a full moon, allowing the chase to continue through the night), who reported when he revealed himself to be headed for the Aegean instead of the Adriatic. Troubridge headed south, hoping to intercept Souchon at dawn, where he could close and use his destroyers to launch a torpedo attack. Unfortunately, only three of his eight destroyers had sufficient coal to keep up with his dash south, and at around 4 AM on the 7th, it had become obvious that he would not reach the intercept in time. He thus applied his orders about not engaging a superior force, and turned back.
    Souchon didn’t know he was now safe, and that the battlecruisers were far to the west. He continued to strain towards a rendezvous he had set up with a collier off of Greece. Gloucester briefly engaged Breslau, but neither side inflicted serious damage, even when Goeben fired at long range. Finally, on the afternoon of the 7th, Gloucester, her coal nearly exhausted, broke off at Cape Matapan as the German ships entered the Aegean.
    Souchon met his collier on the 9th, while the British were distracted by miscommunications about the situation with Austria. It wasn’t until midnight on the 8th that Milne took the battlecruisers west, and he still thought it was all an elaborate feint, and took station off the entrance to the Aegean until the early hours of the 10th, when Souchon, alerted by the increase in radio traffic, set off again at dawn after coaling for 24 hours. (Yes, coaling was that hard.)
    By the time he reached the entrance to the Dardanelles, columns of smoke from the British were visible on the horizon. Souchon, uncertain of how the Turks would respond, requested a pilot, and the Turks decided to allow him through. The British were denied entrance, and the pursuit was over.
    To avoid the legal complications inherent in then-neutral Turkey allowing the ships to pass into the Black Sea, they were officially transferred to the Turkish Navy on August 16th, and renamed Yavuz Sultan Selim and Midilli respectively, although they retained their German crews. Souchon was made commander-in-chief of the Ottoman Navy.
    The gift of the two ships did much to swing Turkish public opinion in favor of the Central Powers, particularly after the British seized two ships building for Turkey and paid for by public subscription. On October 29th, Souchon, under the guise of taking his ships to sea (and with the concurrence of some Turkish officials), raided the Russian coast. Goeben (I’m going to continue to use the German names) bombarded Sebastopol, while Breslau bombarded the grain port of Novorossiysk. Damage was fairly minimal, but it did force the Ottomans into the war a few days later.
    There was a short battle off Cape Sarych on November 18th, where Goeben engaged five Russian pre-dreadnoughts. The results were inconclusive, and Goeben took a hit which killed 13 men and damaged one of her secondary guns, while doing light damage to one of the Russian ships. Goeben struck two mines on December 26th, which was only partially repaired during the war, due to the absence of drydocks that would fit her. She bombarded Allied positions at Gallipoli, which brought her into brief contact with allied battleships. May 10th saw another inconclusive encounter between Goeben and the Russian fleet, while the new Russian dreadnought Imperatritsa Ekaterina Velikaya engaged the ship on January 8th, 1916 with no results on either side. A coal shortage limited operations in 1917, until the armistice with the Russians late in the year.
    On January 20th, 1918, Goeben and Breslau sortied again, this time into the Aegean. They sunk a pair of British monitors (coastal bombardment ships), and were preparing to attack the base of the pre-dreadnought covering force when they ran into a minefield. Breslau sank, while Goeben took three hits. She was beached just outside the Dardanelles, and crippled for the rest of the war.
    Goeben was originally to have been transferred as a prize to the RN, but the Turks held onto her. She was in bad shape, but a new floating dock was purchased, and she was finally repaired in 1930. She remained in service until 1950, undergoing further refits. The Turks offered to sell her to the West German government in 1963, but the Germans declined, probably because of her poor material condition. She was towed to the breakers in 1973, the last dreadnought outside of the United States.

    • johan_larson says:

      Hey bean, what’s the most elaborate (large? expensive?) warship that never saw any action of consequence?

      The Swedes had the Vasa, which sank on its maiden voyage, but that was a long time ago. Anything more recent? I’m thinking there may have been something commissioned for WWII that was essentially sent directly to retirement after V-J Day.

      • beleester says:

        I’d nominate Shinano. Originally intended to be a third Yamato-class battleship (the biggest battleships ever made), then it was converted to be a carrier partway through construction, then it was sunk by a submarine ten days after commissioning (the largest ship ever sunk by a submarine), without ever launching a plane.

      • bean says:

        If we disqualify Shinano (sometimes ships last 5 minutes in combat, sometimes they last for 5 wars), then the obvious winner is Vanguard, a British battleship commissioned in 1946, who never fired her guns in anger.
        Or every ballistic missile submarine ever built, if you want to look at it a certain way. (And thank goodness, too.)

        • Do we know if the Ptolemaic Forty was ever in combat?

          • bean says:

            I know very little about ancient naval warfare. But I doubt it, given that it seems to have been absurdly big for a ship of that size.

          • In its context, I think it’s arguably the “most elaborate (large, expensive).” A rowed warship built in the third century BC with about the displacement of a treaty heavy cruiser, arguably two hulls, 4000 rowers, … .

            And the Wiki article suggests that it was never used in warfare.

          • Protagoras says:

            No way the thing was remotely seaworthy. So it could only have fought if the battle was conveniently very near where it was built, on an extremely calm day.

          • bean says:

            Honestly, I think it fails the criteria of being a warship. There are warships that are obsolete before they’re finished, and there are warships that are white elephants. But something that absurd can’t really have been built with the intention of being used in combat.

          • I’m curious why both of you think the Forty wasn’t seaworthy or couldn’t be used in combat. The fact that nothing that big was ever built again, so far as we know, is evidence that it wasn’t worth the cost but not that it was worthless.

            I gather there were also several Twenties and the conjecture is that the Forty was basically two of them with a joining deck, making a giant catamaran. Do we have any information on how the Twenties performed?

          • Protagoras says:

            The 130 meter length. Wood isn’t stiff enough for ships of that size; when it bends and twists in the waves (as it will), it will also leak as boards separate. The largest practical all wood ships topped out at around 80 meters, and most of the big all wood ships were built with much better shipbuilding technology than the ancients had. The Mediterranean is not as bad as an ocean, so a tiny bit bigger seems to be possible there, but 130 meters is more than a tiny bit bigger. The “twenties” mentioned would not have been of that length. Twenty referred to the number of rowers per set of 3 oars, not the number of sets of oars, which was apparently supposed to be 50 for this monster, and presumably some more sane number for any pratical “twenty.” Assuming we’ve correctly guessed what the number means; honestly it kind of seems like the numbers on the later galleys were like the numbers on cars these days, which occasionally mean one thing or another, but quite often mean nothing.

      • cassander says:

        I’m partial to beleester’s answer, but you have the whole bayern class of battleships, two of which were finished just after jutland, spent their career sitting at kiel, sortied once to attacka convoy that didn’t exist, then were scuttled at scappa flow.

        • bean says:

          Bayern was heavily damaged in Operation Albion, the attack on Riga in the Baltic. I think that disqualifies her. Baden never saw combat, but she at least had the possibility of doing so.
          Thinking it over more, I don’t like Shinano for the crown. She was kind of a stupid design, but she was sunk in combat. Yes, some of it was self-inflicted (lack of proper damage control), but things like that do occasionally happen in war.

          • beleester says:

            Yeah, that’s fair. Shinano didn’t really accomplish anything, but she did go down to enemy action. Vanguard had a much longer career but never entered combat at all.

    • John Schilling says:

      More proof that German battlecruisers could punch well above their weight class. It only took one of them to bring down the Ottoman Empire (which you seem to have misspelled several times here).

      • bean says:

        Oops. And outside the edit window, too.
        I’m not entirely sure they wouldn’t have entered the war anyway, but I also don’t feel like improving my predictions on this matter. I have enough on my plate right now.

      • Protagoras says:

        Yeah, along the lines of bean’s suggestion, I feel like Ismail Enver Pasha was entirely capable of destroying his country without any foreign help.

        • John Schilling says:

          He needed at least the passive acquiescence two other Pashas and maybe a Sultan for any domestically-sourced schemes he might have had. Souchon gave him an independent ability to conduct major offensive operations with a force that wouldn’t ask pesky questions about legality and chain of command and so forth, and so couldn’t be blocked by people who might have been more pragmatic about joining the losing side of someone else’s war.

          • Protagoras says:

            I realize he wasn’t actually in charge, but in practice he seems to have been able to get the others to go along with his horrible ideas most of the time.

    • quaelegit says:

      Hey Bean, thanks for all of your effort posts here! I’ve been really enjoying them.

      Do you have any books you would recommend on the aspects of airline industry you covered in your posts? I looked for sources/further reading recommendations in the old open threads, but didn’t see any.

      (I know this is off-topic but I wanted to post in the active thread.)

  2. Nick says:

    Well, we’ve had a Star Wars thread and a Star Trek thread, so how about a Stargate thread?

    I watched a lot of Stargate SG1 before I ever saw the original trilogy or much Star Trek, so maybe it’s personal bias, but it’s always seemed to me to be a stronger series. I was rarely disappointed by a Stargate episode (well, until Universe) the way I was many Voyager and Enterprise episodes. Not to make this a vs. thread or anything; I like all three, and I’ve hardly watched any Stargate in years, but I rewatch Star Wars and Star Trek regularly.

    So what do you guys think of Stargate?

    • toastengineer says:

      Stargate was pretty wonderful. Not sure about the later spinoffs though, just saw SG1 and some reviews of Atlantis.

      Red Dwarf was also better than Star Trek.

    • Protagoras says:

      The plots were often absurd, but the series was still mostly fun. I thought the main cast was better in Atlantis, but the villains were even sillier, making the Atlantis vs. SG1 comparison pretty much even. I actually liked Universe a lot, though there were certainly some weak episodes.

    • johan_larson says:

      I’ve only seen a few scattered episodes, and never really understood what the fuss was.

      Someone want to take a stab at explaining what was awesome about the series?

      • hlynkacg says:

        I find it hard to articulate exactly, but for me at least, SG1 scratched the itch for interesting/fun ensemble cast + mid-to-high concept sci-fi that had previously been covered by Star Trek in it’s various iterations.

        • Civilis says:

          It helped that the series was based around modern-day Earth, with the addition of the titular MacGuffin. It meant that the series didn’t rely as much on the ‘have our scientist use our technobabble to solve the problem of the week’ plot.

          The cast and character dynamic played into it well; Richard Dean Anderson is exactly the right actor to play the guy that can pull off a low-tech solution to a high-tech problem.

          Bra’tac: (Contemplating how to destroy the shield generator) The shield generators are far below. There, in the very bowels of the ship. We must climb down several decks, through the length of the ship. Then. taking our weapons we must…
          Col. O’Neill (Anderson):(Arms two grenades and tosses them down. They watch as the generator explodes.) Grenades.

      • vV_Vv says:

        I’ve only seen a few scattered episodes, and never really understood what the fuss was.

        Me too. From the few episodes that I’ve watched I got the impression that it was a low-budget Star Trek ripoff.

        • hlynkacg says:

          That impression is not unwarranted. They are both, at their core, optimistic, occasionally high-concept sci-fi, featuring an ensemble cast boldly going where no one (no earthling at least) has gone before.

          That it happened to hit it’s it’s stride as just DS9 and Voyager were winding down, only strengthens the comparison.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Often with Star Trek I would shout at the screen “well why don’t you do obvious thing?” and in Stargate they would bring it up very soon.

        One of my first episodes was where the gate dialed a black hole and started massive time dilation in the gate room. Someone near the gate gets a super-detailed plan and asks “you’ve only been gone 30 minutes, when did you come up with this?” and are told “we set up a remote base several miles away and have had several days to think about this.”

    • John Schilling says:

      Stargate at its best shared one feature I really liked about Star Trek at its best, and very few other SF series – depicting military officers as competent professionals who got the job done (or sometimes not) with a minimum of personal drama. Because if I want the personal drama, if I want to see someone not getting the job done because that would require spending ten minutes not arguing with their girlfriend or their ex-wife or whatever, there’s entire TV series devoted to that and you’ll note that I’m not watching any of them.

      Stargate at its worst had a mythology that was pretty clearly being made up as they went along, and took itself too seriously for me to let them get away with that.

    • cmurdock says:

      I’m curious to know what you found disappointing about Universe.

      Me, I was never a big Stargate fan (had seen a smattering of SG-1 and none of Atlantis; knew nothing about the lore except that there’s a race called the “Goueauouaouaeoua’oueaold” and another called the “Asgard”), but I thought that season 1 was some of the best tv science fiction I’ve seen. Particularly the stuff in the middle, after they get on the ship but before other alien species show up, when the show’s focus was on character tension and trying to survive on a dying ship. I seem to recall it getting less good after that, though, and I don’t remember a single thing about season 2. And Robert Carlyle is great.

      • hlynkacg says:

        I was a fan of SG-1 but “meh” on Atlantis and agree heartily with your assessment of Universe.

      • doubleunplussed says:

        The focus on character tension is annoying to a lot of people. When the biggest problems are the interpersonal conflicts between people, I feel like it’s just pointless filler. I want to see them work together against an external threat. The bickering among themselves is just noise to me.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          The external threats were rendered moot by 15 seasons of acquiring massive technology.

          By the end of the 5th season of Atlantis, Stargate Command had a crazy technological lead on the everyone else. They had to have the cast make increasingly stupid decisions in order to provide tension for that last season of Atlantis.

          The only thing holding Earth back at that point was dollars and time. They were rolling out a new capital ship every 12 to 18 months that, each, 1) could travel to another galaxy in 3 weeks 2) could beam things at least 10x farther than the transporters on Star Trek 3) were armed with plasma weapons that could punch through Ori shields 4) possessed a Star-Trek style matter replicator capable of making anything, 5) had time dilation devices that were usable in battle, 6) etc etc etc.

          That doesn’t bring up the other game changing tech that they had, like phasing technology.

          You can’t bring credible external threats against an empire. You can still tell interesting stories about the once-threatened people are handling now running an empire, but it’s going to be character-driven.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          Agreed with unplussed, the infighting removed what made Stargate Stargate.

          That said, taking the series in a darker new direction didn’t have to be bad, just different. I like a lot of dark media, but the problem was that there was nothing to temper the darkness. The characters who I think were supposed to be likable, weren’t (or at least not enough), and the series arc didn’t deliver good moments of triumph. I stopped watching pretty fast, feeling like they should all just curl up and die.

    • cassander says:

      Alright, three’s a trend! this just means I get to bring up babylon 5 next open thread!

    • SUT says:

      Is there literary name for the concept at the heart of stargate? The melange of sci-fi and actual history. And what other movies use it?

    • Nick says:

      I’m amazed that no one’s brought up the Replicators. They’re more terrifying than the Borg in their own way, and probably the closest thing we have to Clippy in mainstream scifi.

    • Nornagest says:

      I watched the first couple of seasons in college, and found it fun but not particularly moving or thought-provoking. Well-done popcorn media, basically.

    • Jaskologist says:

      SG1 fills the TNG slot in my mind, but better. It’s a mostly episodic sci-fi show, but improved by also having a some overarching plotlines running. It’s still lighter entertainment, because the arcs aren’t planned out several seasons in advance and you can miss a few episode and be okay (unlike B5). Good popcorn show.

      I think it took a downturn when they added in the Ori. Those guys were way too OP, which is probably why they ended up having to fight them with (multiple!) macguffins instead. The fight against the Goa’uld seemed much more plausible to me, in the sense that we were clearly outgunned, but not completely hopeless.

      Oddly, I didn’t find the characters outside of Daniel Jackson very interesting; normally I would hold that against a show a lot more.

      I liked Atlantis, but I seem to be in the minority. Rodney McKay was the best character by far. Didn’t care for Universe; it was way too depressing with no upside.

  3. johan_larson says:

    Let me wave a big red flag of warning before anyone thinking of seeing the movie “Alien:Covenant”. (I’m going to go ahead and spoil the ending, since Ridley Scott isn’t around right now, which means I can’t literally piss in his shoes.)

    Ridley Scott did a lot right in this film. It looks great, there are appealing characters, and the action really moves. And through artful choices in characters, dialogue, and gear, the film respectfully references earlier films in the franchise. I was ready to give it an A- until a revolting twist ending made it a tragedy. As such, C-, unless you like your entertainment black as tar.

    (Spoilers! Final warning!)

    In the final minutes of the film, after all the action is done, the heroine of the piece is about to re-enter cryo-sleep. A chance comment reveals that she has been betrayed by the android on the ship. At that point, it’s too late to do anything about it; she is already in the pod and going under. It is strongly implied that she is going to end up a xenomorph-incubator with the rest of the colonists aboard the ship.

    This is the woman who managed to escape a planet with an entire ecology based on the Engineers’ bioweapons. She faced two (TWO!) xenomorphs on the way out, in close combat even, and beat them both. She had paid her dues; she earned her victory through heroic action. But the director threw all of that in the scrap-bucket for shock-value.

    I’m done with this franchise. There are only two Alien films.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      We already know that all of them save Newt die prior to Aliens, so what’s surprising about that ending?

    • johnjohn says:

      Did we watch the same movie?

      Twist ending???

      The ending was telegraphed an hour in advance! That’s not a twist!

      It looked terrible 90% of the time (Plasticy CGI, the ships and the aliens looked terrible. Boring, dry landscapes. The Dead city did look great and the flashback to how it died was also visually stunning, but both were completely wasted through the plot), the characters were barely caricatures, the dialog was stunted expository nonsensical schlock. The deaths in the movie had no emotional heft. The pacing was rushed. There was absolutely no tension at all.
      The last half hour of the movie was a completely unnecessary, rushed, remake of the first alien movie for some inexplicable reason

      I rate it a solid F, and the ending had zero impact on that rating either way

      • Conrad Honcho says:


        And I did not, at all, understand David’s motivation. “Creators created my creators so I’m going to…kill people and create monsters that will probably never create anything because they’re just killing machines.” Why…?

        • johnjohn says:

          And then he talks about them as having created the “perfect being”, the xenomorph, in a universe where throwing black goo at random species creates aliens that are superior in every way.

          Impervious to bullets, moves faster, incubation time measured in minutes instead of hours, etc.

        • vV_Vv says:

          Between Prometheus and Covenant, the pretentious pseudo-philosophical navel gazing was unbearable.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Also, I think trying to explain where the aliens come from ruins what made the original movies more than just run-of-the-mill monster movies. The Alien was alien. Completely foreign, unexplainable, impossible to communicate with.

            Explaining them, and worse, giving them a past connection to humanity including them being influenced and modified by our own creations, this makes them far less alien.

            Explaining aliens removes alienness. If you like aliens, you want more alienness, not less.

  4. Nancy Lebovitz says:


    Peter Thiel mentions someone named Loughlin (sp?) who was a tenured professor who investigated scientists ripping off the government and had his career wrecked for it. A fast search doesn’t turn up who it might have been.

    Anyone know?

      • Elephant says:

        When was Bob Laughlin’s career ever wrecked? (There was his short-lived leadership role at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, I suppose, but that hardly seems relevant.)

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          So I checked the Thiel video. The bit about Laughlin starts at 9:10.

          What Thiel actually says (quoting one of Laughlin’s grad students) is that Laughlin was defunded. This might refer to just one project. I have no idea how Laughlin’s career is going in general. Thiel also said that the grad students couldn’t get PhDs because they couldn’t pass peer review.

          I exaggerated what Thiel said about Laughlin’s career, and I’m sorry for that.

          Annoyingly, Thiel describes this as part of the problem of political correctness, which I think makes political correctness out to be *any* enforced conformity of speech.

          Anyway, I haven’t found anything about Laughlin and a general investigation of scientific fraud, though I did find that he was early to notice a fraudulent paper from Bell Labs.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I found the NYT article confusing and it wasn’t at all clear that Laughlin was early. It might just be saying that he was early in public confrontation, not early in doubt. He claimed that “no one believed,” ie, that everyone agreed with him, so he claimed he wasn’t early. But lots of people falsely claim that everyone agrees with them. However, NYT gives this October 2001 confrontation to demonstrate that Batlogg maintained public confidence despite beginning a private investigation in summer 2001, in response to outside complaints. Given that the complaints had Laughlin is correct in claiming that he was not early.

            Here is a more detailed account. I still don’t know what the story is. I think that many groups tried and failed to replicate it. So Laughlin really was correct in saying in October 2001 that everyone was waiting for a replication outside of Bell Labs. But that’s not the same as “not believing.” I think it is pretty common that unreplicable work gets swept under the rug. People just wait it out. Whereas, Laughlin was more willing to say that it was probably just wrong. He was also more willing to use the word “fraud,” not meaning fabrication of the original experiment, but meaning that the follow-up experiments and measurements were not designed to reach truth. Even a year earlier he complained in Batlogg’s seminar about the kind of data he presented. That’s great, but it seems disjoint from the NYT story.

            “Laughlin doesn’t count,” because, Forrest said, Laughlin was known for being too skeptical.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Actually, that wasn’t my main point, which was just to find out what Thiel was talking about.

            At this point, I’m wondering whether there was some other scientist who was looking into scientists defrauding the government, and Thiel got the name wrong.

  5. theodidactus says:

    Hello SSC community,
    I arrived at the tail end of the classifieds thread, and the beginning of this one…so I posted the same thing in both. I hope that’s not a problem

    My name is William Dooling, I’m the guy that wrote Synchronicity, which I shared on a previous classified thread, and which seemed to get a pretty good reception around here*

    Anyhow, I’ll announce, here, the completion of another creative project, this one is a bit more interactive.
    I have recently created a text-based adventure game, in the manner of the old fantasy games that were popular in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. It was created using ADRIFT, a tool for creating interactive fiction (if you don’t know about that, I suggest you check it out here: http://www.adrift.co/

    There’s a link to the game on my website, here: http://www.theodidactus.com/tingalan/

    you can download the game as a windows executable file here:
    (your computer might think it’s a virus)

    You can download the game as an “adventure pack” that runs off the ADRIFT engine here

    and you can get the adrift engine itself here

    The above links will always go to the most recent version of the game, and I intend to update it quite a bit over the next day or so, as people find more problems with the game that my playtesting crew missed. It’s a pretty big game, and it’s designed to be very difficult (and more than a little confusing).

    The game has an old-school manual, here which I suggest you take a look at even if you have no intention of playing the game, because I’m really happy with how it turned out.

    If you have any questions about the mechanics, or if you find any bugs, please write me at Theodidactus@gmail.com and I’ll try to get back to you as quickly as I can.

    Good luck out there, stay sane, and don’t get eaten…

    * who am I kidding, you guys gave some of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received.

  6. BBA says:

    I’ve been binge-reading Fancyclopedia lately, with a focus on the First Fandom era. It interests me how much continuity there’s been since the early days, and how “fandom” grew from such humble beginnings. In particular, although now there are cons and online communities (and earlier, there were clubs and fanzines) for just about any kind of media imaginable, there don’t seem to have been any kind of “fan communities” before the 1930s and pulp science-fiction magazines got the ball rolling, and for a long time it was localized to that particular group.

    The first Worldcon, in 1939, featured a number of luminaries of the nascent genre, a screening of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and the invention of what was many years later named cosplay. Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury were there – as fans; they’d both just started writing, that’s how long ago it was. And of course, no gathering of young nerds would be complete without heated internecine fighting over trivial matters. As this is the culture-war-free thread, I don’t know if it’s appropriate to get into the Futurians/New Fandom feud, even if the culture war in question has been over since before most of us were born. Suffice it to say, one of the main combatants wrote a book about it called The Immortal Storm, which I’m told is every bit as overdramatic as the title suggests, and one reviewer says it makes the outbreak of WW2 feel like an anticlimax. (If anyone’s interested, I can say something about it in 84.75 – or even here if there’s no objection.)

    On the other hand, the con fit into a single ballroom and only had 120 in attendance. There was no charge for the main programming, although the banquet cost $1 to attend, a princely sum very few could afford in those days. And aside from those pioneering cosplayers (Forrest Ackerman and Myrtle Douglas), business attire was the standard dress code.

    Browsing through the wiki, and the old fanzines and con memorabilia linked from it, is a fine way to waste an hour or twelve. I may be posting some tidbits I find here in the future.

  7. kenziegirl says:

    Hi SSC, I’m curious if anyone knows of any online evaluation that would help me get at what my political ideology is. I keep hearing things like social conservative, paleocon, neo-liberal, libertarian, etc and I’m interested to know what group I would most align with. I’m in the USA by the way. All I’ve really been able to find are things that show which political party you should join, which isn’t really what I’m after. America: land of the two-party system where everyone’s a single issue voter because the two major parties clumsily group people who actually have strong differences of opinion on a lot of issues.

    • hlynkacg says:

      Contrary to popular narrative, this is a complicated topic. Rather than finding a quiz telling you which club to join I think you’d be better off trying to articulate your beliefs yourself and then find a like minded group of people.

      To that end; What exactly do you believe? alternately, what do you think most other people get wrong?

    • cassander says:

      If you need a quiz to tell you what your ideology is, you almost certainly haven’t done enough research/study to justify holding the opinions you do. The proper order is study, then form opinions, not form opinions then study.

    • Wrong Species says:

      What exactly are your political beliefs?

    • johan_larson says:

      One of the interesting features of the 2012 US presidential election was that both major-party candidates had written books explaining their visions for the country. Why don’t you try reading them and figure out what points you agree and disagree with? That would be a good start to a political education.

      Mitt Romney’s book is “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness”.

      Barack Obama’s book is “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream”.

      • John Schilling says:

        That’s not an interesting feature of the 2012 election, that’s a boring feature of every election. In 2016, approximately all 8,315 candidates for the Republican nomination had written books (usually plural) explaining their visions for the country. Well, OK, usually one explaining their vision for the country and one about all the adversity they had overcome in getting to be The One who would carry out that vision.
        It’s a thing you do if you want to be President.

        Also I suspect most of them were ghostwritten, and all of them for the purpose of inspiring their party’s base, providing easily-mined quotes for sound bites, and offending no one except the other party’s hardliners. I suppose if someone genuinely doesn’t know if they are a Generic Democrat or a Generic Republican, this sort of book might help them decide. But kenziegirl was specifically not asking for advice on which of the two US major parties she should join, instead namechecking alternatives she’d heard of but didn’t know too much about.

        We got any books for those? “The Machinery of Freedom” for the anarcho-capitalists, of course, with the bonus of regular Q&A sessions with the author right here, but there should be counterparts for the paleoconservatives, neoliberals, etc, etc.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          If you want to know if you’re a paleoconservative, read Pat Buchanan’s books and see if you find yourself nodding along. I highly recommend “A Republic, not an Empire.”

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            As a necessary control, read something that isn’t paleoconservative, such as the aforementioned Audacity of Hope, and see if you find yourself nodding along there as well.

            (It’s possible that books like these are simply persuasively written.)

        • . says:

          How about {progressives: John Rawls, neoliberals: Charles Murray, reactionaries: Confucius, greens: Peter Singer, transhumanists: Derek Parfit, paleoconservatives: Edmund Burke, Obscurantists: Lao Tzu

          • rlms says:

            What definition of neoliberal gets you Charles Murray? I would say neoliberal is either Margaret Thatcher or Hilary Clinton depending on which definition you use.

          • . says:

            Murray is definitely a long shot, but when neoliberalism got started he was a big chunk of the zeitgeist, and I think of neoliberals as “people who think the capitalist state of nature sucks, but concede all of Murray’s points about how government action can mess up incentives”

          • rlms says:

            That’s almost exactly the opposite of how I’d describe neoliberalism! I think that the one common core of the varying definitions I see is that all flavours of neoliberals are big fans of unregulated capitalism.

          • I think that the one common core of the varying definitions I see is that all flavours of neoliberals are big fans of unregulated capitalism.

            I see the term used with the claim that it is now a dominant ideology, applied widely. But I don’t know of any modern society that comes close to “unregulated capitalism.” Do you?

            I’m not sure whether the “neo” is supposed to contrast it with “liberalism” in the late 20th century sense or in the 19th c. sense. If the former, I would interpret it as “liberals who have concluded that markets work much better than government control.” If the latter, as “liberals who have concluded that laissez-faire doesn’t work, so must be modified by extensive government interventions.”

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, I can count the amount of public figures in the US (and that’s with a pretty loose definition of “public figure”) who are in favor of unregulated capitalism on one hand.

            Even Ron Paul cannot fairly be said to be in favor of “unregulated” capitalism.

          • rlms says:

            They support unregulated capitalism in the sense of wanting less regulation than their political opponents.

            I think the referent of “liberalism” depends on who is talking about whom and when. My understanding is that neoliberalism(1) (Thatcher and Reagan as influenced by Hayek and various other people you are probably familiar with) is a successor of classical liberalism; neoliberalism(2) (Clinton, Cameron, Merkel) could refer to either kind; and the little-used neoliberalism(0) (Hayek and more statist friends in the 1930s) was an alternative to classical liberalism (more statist than that, less so than Keynesianism).

          • Brad says:

            What about the definition being the set of beliefs that (Thatcher and Reagan) and (Clinton, Cameron, Merkel) agree on?

            That would then explain why people think it is the currently dominant ideology, at least in the West and excepting college campuses and certain corners of the internet.

          • Matt M says:

            They support unregulated capitalism in the sense of wanting less regulation than their political opponents.

            So can I fairly say that Hillary Clinton supports communism (in the sense that she wants more government control over industry than her political opponents)

          • Matt M says:

            What about the definition being the set of beliefs that (Thatcher and Reagan) and (Clinton, Cameron, Merkel) agree on?

            Yeah, this is basically how I think about it. The spectrum between Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney. The “3×5 card of allowable opinion” as Tom Woods calls it. The stuff you can advocate without being accused of being either Ayn Rand or Joseph Stalin.

          • @rlms:

            For your Neoliberalism (1), what’s neo? The people who were influencing them thought of themselves as classical liberals.

          • rlms says:

            @Matt M
            “So can I fairly say that Hillary Clinton supports communism (in the sense that she wants more government control over industry than her political opponents)”
            No, because “more communism” isn’t a coherent concept. For the same reason, you can’t say Trump supports fascism even though he likes white nationalism than his opponents; neither fascism nor communism are sliding scales. You can certainly say Clinton supports regulation, even though she doesn’t want to regulate literally everything though! (This might seem to contradict my previous claim that neoliberals like Clinton support unregulated capitalism. That’s because Thatcher-neoliberals are fans of unregulated capitalism in comparison to everyone but ancaps, whereas Clinton-neoliberals are fans in comparison to the leftists who call them neoliberal.)

          • rlms says:

            One answer would be that neoliberals(1) care more about economics and less about social issues than classical liberals did. Another would be that they are simply different in the object level things they believe: Thatcher wasn’t concerned with the Corn Laws and the Whigs weren’t concerned with trade unions.

          • Matt M says:

            No, because “more communism” isn’t a coherent concept.

            Neither is “more unregulated capitalism.” Capitalism is either regulated or it isn’t. You’re either communist or you’re not. Claiming that Mitt Romney supports “unregulated capitalism” because his opponents favor slightly more regulations than he does is absurd.

          • rlms says:

            Communism is either a complicated end-state or a complicate set of policies; in both cases “more government control over the economy” is only a small part of it. “[adjective] ideology” is much simpler: supporting it means you want more [adjective] and opposing it means you want less; you can have degrees of [adjective]. Unregulated capitalism is one example of that. Would you say that it’s silly to describe Clinton as supporting regulated capitalism because she doesn’t want maximal regulation of everything?

          • Nornagest says:

            Describing any mainstream US politician as supporting “regulated capitalism” is kinda silly, but it’s silly because it’s so obviously true. It’d be kinda like a position paper describing Hillary Clinton as a mammal.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @DavidFriedman and @rlmss

            Another thing that makes the term neoiberal suitable for people, such as Hayek, who influenced Thatcher and Reagan would be that they did at times describe themselves as part of a neoliberal project.

            See, for example, this paper

            As part of a project to revive liberalism, Hayek and Mises did ally with people who were suggesting liberalism of a different sort from the classical version:

            Other participants like Mises and Hayek were far less convinced, but in the end the Colloque Walter Lippmann was united in their call for a new liberal project—a project that still needed a name. ‘Liberalism from the left’ was one idea; others were ‘positive liberalism’ or ‘social liberalism.’ But the term on which the participants actually agreed was ‘neoliberalism’—Rüstow’s original recommendation.

            It’s probably worth pointing out–although I would have assumed you were well aware–that Reagan was not only influenced by the Austrian school. Milton Friedman was an unofficial economic adviser of his, and we can see him arguing for neoliberalism here:

            Neo-liberalism would accept the nineteenth century liberal emphasis on the fundamental
            importance of the individual, but it would substitute for the nineteenth century goal of laissezfaire
            as a means to this end, the goal of the competitive order.

            The precise definition of neoliberal depends on exactly who you ask but the standard definition is people who were involved in trying to revive liberalism whether in classical or modified form. This has now been extended to describe the fact that Presidents and Prime Ministers either side of the pond do not stray from the orthodoxy of turning public services over to the market through increasing privatisation (this orthodoxy has been under attack the past few years), even though some of them simultaneously invest more in public services than you would expect from a freemarketeer. See for example Thatcher describing Blair as her greatest achievement.

          • Incurian says:

            Does disputing what biological class Hillary belongs to count as culture war?

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @Matt M

            Have you not come across the idea of “unregulated capitalism” before? It is rather confusing because there never has been such a thing as capitalism without any rules or regulations, and indeed, its not clear that such a thing would be possible, but it’s generally used as short-hand for pro-market or pro-capitalism. I think it comes from the strange fact of both left and right agreeing that deregulation is a thing that’s happening all the time (just disagreeing about whether it’s good or not) despite the fact that whenever you hear about deregulation it almost invariably means “regulating in a different way” rather than removing or reducing the amount of regulation.

          • Matt M says:

            but it’s generally used as short-hand for pro-market or pro-capitalism.

            Yeah, by anti-capitalists looking to smear their opponents. Reagan never described himself as in favor of “unregulated capitalism” I’m sure.

            Similarly, I use “communist” as short-hand for everyone who is to the left of standard neocons. And people usually correct me and say that isn’t accurate. Which is probably true. But let’s at least be consistent here.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @Matt M

            Largely fair and refreshing honesty. I certainly agree it’s a misleading term.

            But there’s still a slight difference in that if you go on about how you want to deregulate the economy, people are liable to think you’re in favour of unregulated capitalism. If we heard politicians talking about how they were going to communalise the economy, I couldn’t complain too much about your accusations of communism even if their practice didn’t live up to their rhetoric.

          • Milton Friedman was an unofficial economic adviser of his, and we can see him arguing for neoliberalism here:

            The link doesn’t work but I found the quote, and it’s from 1951. The piece quoted from doesn’t sound all that close to the views Friedman held in 1981, when Reagan took office.

            On the question of whether Hilary should be defined as a communist on the grounds that she was for more regulation than some other politicians, I suggest replacing “communist” with “Hilary was a big fan of socialist central planning.” That would be the equivalent of “big fans of unregulated capitalism.”

          • hyperboloid says:

            @Matt M

            I don’t need even one hand to count the number of people who are “anti-choice”, or publicly identify as members of the “culture of death”.

            Nevertheless, there are two well defined groups of people with differing positions on abortion.

            With the exception of some people like David Friedman*, few would ever identify with the phrase “unregulated capitalism”; but many talk about “unleashing the power free market”, or “getting government out of the way of job creators”. Similarly, one will find few advocates of big government bureaucracy, but many supporters of checking the power of big business, and building a strong safety net.

            In political debate it is common for different sides to use different emotionally loaded words that have little difference in factual meaning.Their are few terrorists, and many freedom fighters.

            The word Communist is not like that. Many do, or did, self identify as Communists, and it seems to have a clear agreed upon meaning.

            In common usage a Communist is a person who supports the core principles of Marxism-Leninism. For example someone who believes in the dialectical materialist theory of history, or advocates the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat. Hillary Clinton is, as far as can be seen from her public statements, and political record, neither of these things.

            Course if you want to stick an idiosyncratic usage of Communist to mean anyone to the left of Mitt Romney, then fine. But in that case, not only am I a “Communist”, but Communism is the political, and economic system of almost every western democracy, save the United States.

            *In fairness to Friedman the younger, I’m sure he will insist that he advocates self regulating capitalism.

          • Matt M says:

            If we heard politicians talking about how they were going to communalise the economy


            What is “spread the wealth around?” what is “the rich must pay their fair share?” what is “you didn’t build that?”

          • albatross11 says:

            Most practical day-to-day politics is arguing about a direction you’d like to move policy, and arguing about some alleged endpoint is almost never all that informative. It’s mostly cheap rhetoric–instead of coming up for a coherent argument for why my proposed elimination of some specific regulation is bad, you accuse me of wanting to turn the US into Somalia. (Alternatively, instead of a coherent argument for why my proposal to increase antitrust law enforcement is bad, you accuse me of wanting to turn the US into Venezuela.)

            Now, there are interesting discussions about endpoints to be had, as well. But they’re pretty far removed from current policy debates.

          • albatross11 says:

            Charles Murray considers himself a libertarian. My reading of his work is that he’s somewhere between libertarian and moderate Republican, perhaps fairly close to Megan McArdle.

            I think it’s better to try to decide what you believe than to find labels. And for each of those beliefs, to ask yourself how you would know if they were wrong. I think it’s especially important to separate claims about morality and claims about reality, because lots of people get those tangled up and can’t think straight as a result.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @Matt M

            What is “spread the wealth around?” what is “the rich must pay their fair share?” what is “you didn’t build that?”

            Sorry, I should have used quotes to indicate I literally meant they use the word “communalise” (or some construction like “make more communist”). Or we could take David Friedman’s examples and they could say “socialise” or “we need more central planning”. You could call Sanders a socialist because he says that he is. My point is that if politicians literally say they will fight for “deregulation” or that “we need less regulation” its not so much of a stretch to think they want “unregulated” markets.#

            Do you think “the rich should pay their fair share” sounds like “I want to introduce communism” to most centrists? Do you think its possible that “I’m going to bring in deregulation” could indicate “I’m in favour of unregulated markets” to them?


            I will defer to your greater knowledge of what his thinking was in 1981 but it’s rather besides the broader point. Let me try to restate it in a different way.

            neo could indicate that this liberalism is new in the sense that it has been modified (which seems to be your interpretation), but it could also indicate that it was a revival of liberalism. The second usage is as legitimate as the first. There was a revival involving people who saw themselves as continuing classical liberalism as well as those who argued for a modified form. These were not entirely separate trends: Hayek and Mises temporarily threw their lot in with modified liberalism under the banner of neoliberalism; Milton Friedman moved from one position to the other throughout his career.

            Neoliberalism as it’s generally used refers to both an intellectual movement to restore economic liberalism’s legitimacy, and then to later political changes, inspired by this earlier intellectual work, which brought about the ascendancy of economic liberalism in practice.

            Disclaimer: I’m not denying that there are people who throw it around willy-nilly and muddy the waters, I’m just pointing out that it also has a sensible definition beyond “CAPITALISM IS BAD!”

          • My point is that if politicians literally say they will fight for “deregulation” or that “we need less regulation” its not so much of a stretch to think they want “unregulated” markets.

            Exactly as much of a stretch as to think that if politicians say they think more regulation is needed they want totally controlled markets.

            If you want less regulation then you want less regulated markets. If you want more regulation than you want more regulated markets.

            I want to weigh less. It doesn’t follow that I want to weigh zero.

          • Art Vandelay says:


            So have you given up on trying to argue that the term neoliberalism makes no sense?

            If Hillary went on about the wonders of a controlled market and the need for more central planning I wouldn’t think it strange if you said she wanted totally regulated markets even if she didn’t put it in exactly those terms. I might think that you were technically incorrect, partly because the idea isn’t entirely coherent (a government could never regulate every aspect of economic behaviour even if it tried) but I wouldn’t think your characterisation unreasonable because I would understand perfectly well what you meant by it. Given that Reagan did bang on about the wonders of the free market and championed deregulation, its not entirely strange for people to talk about him being in favour of unregulated markets even if he didn’t use specifically those terms and didn’t in practice bring it about (and again, I don’t believe you could actually have a totally unregulated market and I don’t personally think this is what Reagan was aiming for). “Free market” is an inherently ambiguous construction.

          • @Art:

            Whether the term “neoliberalism” makes sense depends on what it is supposed to mean. If it means “19th c. liberalism in the 21st century” then it makes sense. But the usual term for that is “libertarianism.”

            If it means “The set of ideas shared by Clinton, Romney, and everyone between them” it makes sense as well, and that probably is how some people are using it. But I don’t see a consistent usage.

            If someone argues for more regulation of the economy, it makes as much sense to describe him in favor of a totally regulated economy as to describe someone in favor of less regulation as in favor of an unregulated economy. On the face of it that’s unfair, since I added the “totally.” But essentially everyone in the political world is in favor of a regulated economy if that means an economy with some government regulation–including Reagan and Thatcher (when alive). “Unregulated” doesn’t mean “less regulated” it means “with no regulation,” just as “unbelievable” doesn’t mean “less believable.” So the equivalent is entirely regulated–hence centrally planned socialism or something along those lines.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Your question is confusing because it’s hard to tell what you’re planning to do with the information.

      If a quiz tells you that your preferred policies are, say, more National Conservative than Anarchocapitalist how does that help you? What’s the next step?

      If this is about your identity, I strongly suggest that you don’t ground your self-conception in politics. Finding meaning in your accomplishments and the relationships with your family / community is much more healthy than looking for it in political activism. Whatever your politics are they’re a small part of your life compared to the people you spend time with and the work you do.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      The political compass will pinpoint you broadly, though likely not as specific as those categories you list.

      Your score will also map to a broad range of US and international political parties (if you look at some of the side-bar pages) which might help in further pinpointing.

      • I was not impressed with that quiz.

        If economic globalisation is inevitable, it should primarily serve humanity rather than the interests of trans-national corporations.

        This was the first question. You were supposed to put level of agreement. The rest of the questions didn’t misunderstand the free market so greatly as this one, but I think it is enough not to trust the results. In the end, you are rated in a four dimensional space of statist vs libertarian, and right vs left. If you want to be rated in those four dimensions, I think a better quiz is that of the Libertarian Party. Here. I don’t think this quiz fails the Turing test for other idealogies, as does the other one.

        Edit: I just took the LP quiz, and it was a bit too short. I came off as almost perfect liberatarian, and I’m not. So I’d like a longer quiz, just not the previous one suggested.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          This isn’t some “which hogwarts house do you belong in” quiz. It’s meant to include even those with wacky-extreme political ideas. And to include those folks you have to have propositions which can suss out wacky-extreme ideologies.

          This is their FAQ response to objections to that first question: https://www.politicalcompass.org/faq#faq10

          Your proposition on globalisation suggests that corporations and humanity can’t both benefit.

          This one sometimes ruffles feathers on right wings. What the proposition actually suggests is that humanity should be the priority.

          Critics argue that there’s no conflict of interest. Transnational corporations naturally and unfailingly serve humanity by serving themselves. In enriching business, the argument goes, globalisation will always subsequently benefit humanity. Prioritising humanity would only limit the ability of the corporations to inevitably do greater good. So advocates of this trickle down approach should simply click ‘strongly disagree’ We don’t see the problem.

          The record, however, makes clear that there have often been spectacular conflicts of interest between corporate enrichment and humanity. Halliburton, Enron and the tobacco industry’s research cover-ups are perhaps the best known examples. Others are detailed at The 10 Worst Corporations of 2008 and Corpwatch.org.

          On the other hand, for the comparatively few who tell us that corporations can never serve humanity, Milton Friedman argues the case for unfettered market forces.

          And this is their FAQ response to the slant of the test propositions:

          Some of the questions are slanted

          Most of them are slanted! Some right-wingers accuse us of a leftward slant. Some left-wingers accuse us of a rightward slant. But it’s important to realise that this isn’t a survey, and these aren’t questions. They’re propositions — an altogether different proposition. To question the logic of individual ones that irritate you is to miss the point. Some propositions are extreme, and some are more moderate. That’s how we can show you whether you lean towards extremism or moderation on the Compass.

          The propositions should not be overthought. Some of them are intentionally vague. Their purpose is to trigger buzzwords in the mind of the user, measuring feelings and prejudices rather than detailed opinions on policy.

          Incidentally, our test is not another internet personality classification tool. The essence of our site is the model for political analysis. The test is simply a demonstration of it.

          • Jiro says:

            The propositions should not be overthought. Some of them are intentionally vague. Their purpose is to trigger buzzwords in the mind of the user, measuring feelings and prejudices rather than detailed opinions on policy.

            This means they’re useless for exactly the kind of thoughtful people who may have a reason to use them.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            The propositions should not be overthought. Some of them are intentionally vague. Their purpose is to trigger buzzwords in the mind of the user, measuring feelings and prejudices rather than detailed opinions on policy.

            This means they’re useless for exactly the kind of thoughtful people who may have a reason to use them.

            You see, that’s what the website owner says, but I found it was very possible to complete the quiz in a thoughtful manner, and to get accurate results this way.

            The word used was “overthought”, not “thoughtful” (nor “reactive”). Quibblers always have trouble with opinion questions. As a person prone to quibbling at times I know this to be true.

          • So advocates of this trickle down approach should simply click ‘strongly disagree’ We don’t see the problem.

            But strongly disagree means that the person answering is in favor of multi-national corporations over “humanity” (which is presumably everyone). Such an opinion is not just wacky; it makes no sense at all, and will only capture the lizardman constant. They could have asked the question whether serving multi-nationals serves humanity. They could then have actually gotten a reasonable difference of opinion. Instead the question implies they can’t conceive of the possibility that multi-nationals might benefit humanity, which makes their quiz suspect.

            Actually I can’t believe you are defending this extremely bad question. Are you trolling me?

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Posted in the wrong place

            But strongly disagree means that the person answering is in favor of multi-national corporations over “humanity” (which is presumably everyone). Such an opinion is not just wacky; it makes no sense at all, and will only capture the lizardman constant. They could have asked the question whether serving multi-nationals serves humanity. They could then have actually gotten a reasonable difference of opinion. Instead the question implies they can’t conceive of the possibility that multi-nationals might benefit humanity, which makes their quiz suspect.

            Actually I can’t believe you are defending this extremely bad question. Are you trolling me?

            Then you should probably be a person who answers moderately on this question. Martin Shkreli and the kind of person who says a corporation’s sole purpose is to make as much profit as possible would likely respond “Strongly disagree”. Should these people not have an option? Should their worldview not be differentiated from yours? Those sorts of political opinions actually exist, and need to be differentiated from the more moderate ones.

            You sound like a person who didn’t read the latter paragraphs of the FAQ to this question, or who doesn’t realize that more extreme political opinions exist, and yet I don’t say you’re trolling me.

            And it worked for me, I chose “strongly agree” which fits with my fairly extreme anti-corporation leanings.

          • Matt M says:

            I think the point is that some people (myself included) would tell you that the best way a corporation can “serve the interests of humanity” is by maximizing profits. That the two issues are not contradictory and are, in fact, one and the same.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            “The best way” implies that there is more than one way. Saying that profit should be maximized implies side-lining these other ways.

            I don’t want to get too much into culture war stuff, so why not just answer “moderately or strongly disagree” if you see that prioritizing profit-seeking as superior to prioritizing humanity when it comes to actually helping humanity in the long term?

            I favor prioritizing humanity to a strong degree; this doesn’t mean that companies shouldn’t profit at all. They need just enough profit to continue functioning, continue R&D, have enough for a rainy day, and have enough to fight off hostile takeovers and to compete with competitors, and maybe some dividends to keep the owners happy (though I prefer employee-owned corps). Anything else is too much profit which makes the product too expensive for many.

            Yet despite feeling that some profit-seeking is okay, I still felt comfortable clicking “strongly agree”.

          • Matt M says:

            “The best way” implies that there is more than one way.

            Not really. The best way to maximize is the only way to maximize, based on the definition of what maximize actually means.

            The point is that the question assumes (or at least heavily implies) a negative correlation between profitability and “service to humanity,” when some people would say the correlation is actually positive.

          • why not just answer “moderately or strongly disagree” if you see that prioritizing profit-seeking as superior to prioritizing humanity when it comes to actually helping humanity in the long term?

            Because if you believe that you believe that prioritizing profit seeking is the way to prioritize humanity, hence the question makes no sense.

            I gave up on the quiz after that question, both because none of the answers made any sense to me given my views and because I concluded from the question that its author badly misunderstood some of the views the quiz was supposed to identify.

          • I don’t want to get too much into culture war stuff, so why not just answer “moderately or strongly disagree” if you see that prioritizing profit-seeking as superior to prioritizing humanity when it comes to actually helping humanity in the long term?

            Yeah, you see this is the point. It makes no sense to prioritize profit-seeking OVER humanity — it only makes sense to prioritize profit-seeking as a means to raise humanity. But it does appear that you also don’t understand this point, so I see why you don’t realize why the quiz itself is biased. The question fails the ideological Turing test because they don’t understand part of the universe they are quizzing.

            But you are right that we are getting close to culture war, so I guess we shouldn’t go any further.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          The libertarian party quiz always makes me out to be more statist than I am, just because I believe in the importance of constraining the anti-democratic impulses of big business (and multinational business). It’s appropriate for the state to regulate another government’s power – this is the only way to ensure freedom from unnecessary government control. And big businesses certainly are governments, they’re even licensed as such by the state.

          The propositions are also insufficiently nuanced.

          • The quiz is too short to be nuanced. But at least they weren’t biased in their actual questions.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            The quiz is too short to be nuanced. But at least they weren’t biased in their actual questions.

            I believe they are biased in their questions.

            1)”Repeal laws prohibiting adult possession and use of drugs.”
            – Yeah, sorry, I still don’t want you smoking around my home (reasons exist which are more than petty annoyance). The “no smoking within X feet” ordinances are laws prohibiting (some) use of drugs, and I’m in favor of them. Given people’s penchant to break these laws with cigarettes, I’m also opposed to legal marijuana (but only smoking it). However if the “no smoking within X feet” laws were actually enforced well (or had harsh enough penalties to act as a deterrent), then I’d tolerate marijuana smoking. I’m also flat opposed to PCP and the like due to the side-effects on innocent bystanders, and I think any sane person should also be opposed to their use outside of a controlled environment. Thus any sane person shouldn’t answer stronger than “maybe” in favor of this proposition.

            2)”There should be no National ID card.”
            – There is no national ID card. This isn’t a question many people today care about, so how can it effectively parse them? And what if the National ID card was voluntarily chosen by the individual states or private organizations (such as workplaces) to be required by the people? Along this vein: What are people’s attitude toward actual international ID cards such as Facebook accounts (which governments and companies actually demand access to)? This question is really 20th century and misses what’s actually going on in society.

            3) “Let people control their own retirement; privatize Social Security.”
            – People still can control their own retirement, it’s not as if they’re forced to use SS in lieu of anything else, or forced to take SS when available. This question implies that any taxation of income totally eliminates control of one’s retirement.

            4) “Replace government welfare with private charity.”
            – Both currently exist. How would ending government welfare guarantee that private charity grows enough to “replace” it? Or would this be government-funded “private” charity? A better proposition would be: “Government welfare shouldn’t exist. If private charity isn’t enough then people need to find a job or count on the support of friends and family.”

            5) “End government barriers to international free trade.”
            – Funny this question is asked and the “open borders” question isn’t asked.

            I’m okay with the other five questions.

      • rahien.din says:

        This was fun!

        Scale ranges from -10 to 10

        Left/Right: -0.75
        Libertarian/Authoritarian: -2.36

        • Deiseach says:

          I can never take this one seriously because it always makes me out to be some kind of collectivist anarchist (and I promise, I answered the questions straight):

          Economic Left/Right: -5.63
          Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -1.44

          I mean, on their UK political parties graph, I’m to the left of the SDLP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens! I’m a conservative authoritarian, dang it!

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            A -1.44 is quite moderate.

            I’m a conservative authoritarian, dang it!

            Okay, I believe you, how so though?

          • hyperboloid says:

            From reading the questions, it seems like the test is very poor at capturing the nuances of ideas like Catholic Social Teaching, or Christian Democracy.

            These are in many ways very conservative world views, that are very different from the dominant traditions of the Anglo-American right (with the partial exception of so called “red Toryism”).

            In fact I would draw a subtle distinction between, right wing politics, and conservationism qua conservationism. As I understand it, to be right wing is to oppose egalitarianism, to be conservative is to oppose, at the very least radical, social change. These positions are correlated with each other only because the status quo is quite inegalitarian.

            Nevertheless, there can be right wing radicals, and though this may seem odd to Americans, left wing conservatives. In the literary world Tolstoy would be a good example of the latter. Conservatism is basically risk aversion expressed as a political principle.

            I think the political spectrum chart would be more representative if it included a conservitive-radical axis, alongside left-right, and libertarian-authoritarian.

          • Aapje says:


            In Dutch politics, with its many political parties, you can see this much more clearly. For example, you have the Green Left party which is very progressive left, with mainly well-educated, richer voters and the Socialist Party which focuses on defending/expanding the welfare state, with mainly lesser-educated, poorer voters. The former is (critically) globalist, the latter is anti-globalist.

          • As I understand it, to be right wing is to oppose egalitarianism … .

            I don’t think that works as a definition of right wing, and I doubt that many self-identified right wingers would agree with it. Nationalism, for instance, is part of what gets movements called right wing nowadays, and it’s consistent with egalitarianism within the national boundary.

            I think the closest one can come to a definition is a list of positions, where a movement gets considered right wing if it supports enough of them. That would include nationalism, immigration restrictions, tough on crime policies.

        • Brad says:

          It puts me in no-man’s-land of -0.38,-4.56

          I’m not sure how they picked 0,0. At first I thought it was the UK center — more authoritarian and further left than the US center, but after clicking on the parties, it looks like both major parties are in one quadrant (upper right).

        • rlms says:

          I’m (-2.13, -4.97), and here is a handy chart of everyone who has answered so far.

          • johan_larson says:

            I’m at

            Economic Left/Right: -2.13
            Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -1.030
            (very modestly Left/Libertarian)

            Strange. It doesn’t match my self-conception at all. I thought I would be distinctly but not radically Right/Libertarian.

          • Deiseach says:

            That graph is a work of art and congratulations for making it. Apparently I’m the left-wing firebrand round these parts, which I find totally hilarious and I really, really want to see a lot of other answers plotted on there 🙂

          • quanta413 says:

            I’m at Economic: 2.13 and Social: -4.1. This seems like a vaguely reasonable place to put me, although I think I’m more authoritarian than indicated. I get the feeling Americans will tend to appear that way on this quiz. One or two questions were almost skirting “Should there be a group of aristocratic betters to rule over the common peasant?” Which is the sort of thing I’m sure some people in America might believe at heart, but no one in hell would answer yes. I had to answer some questions by interpreting what I thought the buzzwords meant and then imagining what would make me least misinterpreted.

          • hyperboloid says:

            “Should there be a group of aristocratic betters to rule over the common peasant?”

            I think for almost all of the people who answer yes to that it comes with the condition that they will only support an oligarchy that either includes them, or is composed of people whose preferences are identical to theirs.

          • Iain says:

            Economic Left/Right: -4.13
            Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.36

            Doing my best to contribute to SSC’s social-libertarian bias, I guess?

        • rahien.din says:

          Apparently, I’m closest politically to 2008 Dennis Kucinich and 2016 Jill Stein.


        • Charles F says:

          I think it’s underestimating how far down the libertarian axis I belong. I’ve probably got slightly red/conservative ideas about the correct social things but also strong opinions about that not being govt’s business. Anyway:

          Economic Left/Right: 4.61
          Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -2.36
          (medium right, weak libertarian)

          Kind of empty around here…

          • Nornagest says:

            It put me at about (+4, -4). I think that’s accurate on the social side but somewhat overestimates how economically rightist I am; I’ve taken the test before and my scores vary substantially depending on how much I feel like hedging my bets that day.

          • Charles F says:

            Still closer than anybody else so far. So hello neighbor.

            Yeah, whether I was willing to strongly state something was probably a big factor, and on a bolder day I bet I could get a much more extreme result.

        • Nick says:

          I ended up -0.5, -3.08. So smack between rahien.din and Brad.

          ETA: I’ve been discussing this test with a friend on Discord and was persuaded to do an “emotional” run of it, just answering based on gut reactions to the questions. I ended up with -3.5, -5.44.

        • Eltargrim says:

          Another data point:

          Economic Left/Right: -4.38
          Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -5.79

          I’d probably tend closer to the origin under careful consideration, or if asked for specifics as to how to implement change. It’s also possible that I just have some inconsistent values. For calibration, I voted NDP in the last federal Canadian election, and the NDP are apparently (0,-2).

        • dndnrsn says:

          Left -4, Libertarian -3.18. Which feels a lot more libertarian than I consider myself – I answered consistently moderately anti-corporation, but I’m socially quite liberal. I think for a lot of questions I answered a given way but not for the typical way someone answering that way would.

        • Sluggish says:

          I’m way down at

          Economic Left/Right: -3.5
          Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -8.41

          which seems pretty extreme, looking around here! More of an outlier than I’d expected.

        • Aapje says:

          Economic Left/Right: -4.38
          Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -3.95

          It puts me at almost the same spot as the Green party and I did vote for the Dutch green party. However, I fundamentally don’t fit neatly into the various dominant belief systems, being a special snowflake person who questions more than is probably good for me.

          • johan_larson says:

            I’d like to see where John Schilling and David Friedman land on that chart.

          • rlms says:

            Based on my comment scraping analysis, I’d most like to see baconbacon and Douglas Knight’s positions.

          • Aapje says:


            So despite the accusations frequently leveled at SSC, the real bias of this forum seems to be anti-authoritarian*.

            * If this poll is sufficiently meaningful, of which I’m not convinced yet.

          • rlms says:

            Which poll — the chart or my analysis? If the former, it definitely isn’t big enough to be meaningful.

          • John Schilling says:

            Since you ask:
            Economic Left/Right, 3.5
            Social Libertarian/Authoritarian, -2.82
            This question is stupid and I hate you, 12.0

            50 mA to whoever wrote the test, repeated for each stupid question.

          • Aapje says:


            Their chart/questions.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Right on, here’s mine: https://www.politicalcompass.org/analysis2?ec=-5.13&soc=-5.54

            I think it realistically captures my anti-authoritarian tendencies versus my fears of genuine anarchy/chaos (Chaos destroys the pursuit of dreams).

            Love the conversation on this as the disagreements are bringing up important points. Is it possible to make an attitude test which isn’t biased?

            Your comment scraping analysis has me under libertarian with 6 comments. What is this supposed to indicate? I missed whenever you described it.

          • Brad says:

            I don’t know that it is possible to do a test like this well. But a less awful version would:
            1) Strongly take into account saliency
            2) For each question distinguish between: centrist because of uncertainty, centrist because of you are conflicted, and considered and principled centrist.
            3) Probably be adaptive — e.g. once it determined you are in the libertarian half, switch to questions designed to tease out what kind of libertarian rather than throwing more questions at you that you are just going to show you are libertarian.
            4) Have error bars

          • dndnrsn says:

            The general feeling I get from the test is that it is aimed at someone who came of age politically in the 80s or 90s. The questions just give off that vibe.

            EDIT: my new idea for a political quiz: randomly assigns someone a number, and then they can choose “I agree with this number” or “no, I have many reasons why this quiz is bad.”

          • Nick says:

            The general feeling I get from the test is that it is aimed at someone who came of age politically in the 80s or 90s. The questions just give off that vibe.

            I can tell you the test hasn’t substantially changed in a long time. I remember many of these questions from when I took this test more than six years ago.

          • I’d like to see where John Schilling and David Friedman land on that chart.

            Assuming you are talking about the test that started with the corporations vs humanity question we’ve discussed, I stopped at that question since none of the answers made sense to me.

          • rlms says:

            See here. I filtered through the comments containing political terms and found one that made me classify you as a libertarian. The 6 means that the first 5 comments I saw weren’t conclusive.

        • Thegnskald says:

          -5.25, -6.0

          Which is approximately where I expected to be (although too far libertarian – it doesn’t do a good job distinguishing between “I hold this position as a matter of generalized principles” and “This specific position is the more pragmatic given the level of social technology currently available to us”), so even if the questions are kind of… poor, the results at least are approximately accurate for me. (And it doesn’t let you skip questions which you are neutral on, so for a few questions I answered according to how I expected them to be scored, rather than how I felt about the matter).

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        Economic Left/Right: 1.38
        Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.1

        Though some of the questions deserved an answer more akin to “this question is stupid and I hate you”. Sadly, that was not a provided option.

        • Aapje says:

          I think that every survey should feature the Milgram question at the end: “how any volts do you want to administer to the person who made this survey?”

          • John Schilling says:

            All the nerds will write in: “This question is stupid and I hate you. Everyone knows it’s the amps, not the volts, that really matter”

          • Aapje says:

            Both matter. For instance, the resistance of the skin breaks down at 500+ volts.

            But the Milgram Experiment did provide insufficient information to determine the actual risk to the subject as the amperage was not reported to the test subjects.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Volts to punish.

            Amps to kill.

          • johan_larson says:

            If you know both the volts and the amps, it’s trivial to calculate the ohms. And who among us doesn’t want to know the electrical resistance of the authors of internet political surveys?

            Please don’t ask about the capacitance. Please.

        • johan_larson says:

          These questions are stupid and I hate them.
          – It’s natural for children to keep some secrets from their parents.
          – Astrology accurately explains many things.
          – When you are troubled, it’s better not to think about it, but to keep busy with more cheerful things.
          – Abstract art that doesn’t represent anything shouldn’t be considered art at all.

          These don’t seem like political questions at all.

          • Aapje says:

            Various regimes had strong political opinions on art.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            And various modern-era regimes rewarded children for tattling on their parents, used astrology for political guidance, or encouraged “keep calm and carry on”.

            Misread the children proposition. More authoritarian tendencies agree that concerned parents should have the rightobligation to poke into their children’s privacy whenever they deem fit, for the child’s and family’s own good. Some people extend this authoritarianism to the government as well, for the nation’s good (e.g. racial profiling, demands for ID).

            The astrology question has it’s own FAQ entry: https://www.politicalcompass.org/faq#faq12

          • Nick says:

            Come on, no special hatred for “Some people are just naturally unlucky”? 😀

          • J Mann says:

            I guess the interesting question is whether the answers correlate with what we would recognize as political viewpoints.

          • Nornagest says:

            The “abstract art” question smells strongly of Ayn Rand to me.

          • hyperboloid says:

            Some of those are clearly aimed to pick out authoritarian tendencies. But the astrology one is just weird,
            and the FAQ entry doesn’t help much.

            Even in the US religion reflects the whole gamut of political opinion — from Quakers, Unitarians and, to some extent Episcopalians, who support gay marriage, the right to choose etc. and oppose, for example, capital punishment and the invasion of Iraq. At the other end of the religious spectrum, there are fundamentalists who hold opposite beliefs. Our social scale already covers these political/social attitudes, whether or not the individual belongs to a religious organisation that reinforces them.

            More significant for our purposes is whether or not the individual believes in mystical determinants of fate, hence the astrology proposition. There is a psychological linkage between determinism and authoritarianism. The astrology believer may hold very liberal social views in other areas, but this does not alter this more authoritarian aspect within his or her cluster of attitudes.

            The only people I’ve ever known who were into astrology, were new age hippie types who, what ever their other faults might have been, were not the types to be blindly obedient to established authorities.

            Unless we are talking about cult members, the sort of people who hold weird mystical ideas at odds with prevailing scientific belief are probably going to tend away from authoritarianism.

          • Nick says:

            Some of those are clearly aimed to pick out authoritarian tendencies. But the astrology one is just weird.
            And the FAQ entry doesn’t help much.

            Ah. So if Trump and the rest of the 2016 presidential candidates really believe in fate and natural unluckiness, we really can get a 9 on the authoritarian scale!

      • J Mann says:

        I registered as

        Economic Left/Right: 3.5
        Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -2.67

        I thought the questions were mostly stupid, but on the two axes that the chart uses, that’s probably about right.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Guess I’ll toss in my data point:

        Economic Left/Right: -3.25
        Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -1.69

        …which was unexpected. Seconding that it’s not a very impressive quiz.

        What the hell is

        Multinational companies are unethically exploiting the plant genetic resources of developing countries.

        supposed to mean anyway?

        • J Mann says:

          My understanding is that there’s a theory that multinationals like Monsanto are taking genetic material they find in the rainforest or something, then either demonstrating its utility or modifying it so they can sell it.

          Alternately, there’s probably a certain type of anti-capitalist who would assume this is the kind of thing that multinationals would do.

          • Brad says:

            That’s exactly it. There’s the notion that if a company develops a medicine based on a molecule from a flower that grows in a certain area of Brazil, then the indigenous people of that area specifically and Brazilians in general have some entitlement to the profits from that medicine.

            If the local people use it as some sort of folk medicine and took steps to bring it to the attention of a scientist which eventually lead to the discovery then maybe I could see it. But the general form of the argument is bizarre to me.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Huh. Weird. Thanks, guys. Glad the “disagree” I put meaning “this makes no goddamn sense (and I hate you, have 50V)” also applies once the question is explained.

          • Aapje says:


            My perception is that a large percentage of people with little knowledge about how these businesses actually operate don’t realize amount of hard work that is necessary beyond merely discovering the compound/plant. So to them, turning a plant from Brazil into a product and selling it for many times the cost of cultivating & processing the plants seems like mostly price gouging. They see it as little different than if FDA-approved tablets in their packaging would grow on trees and then a person would sweep in and ban everyone else from taking these tablets without paying him. So they see this as being almost the same as what Martin Shkreli did.

            Note that the common misconception that the main value of a startup is the idea, rather than competent execution, is very similar.

      • veeloxtrox says:

        Well I am almost dead center:
        Economic Left/Right: -0.13
        Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: 0.41
        Which surprises me, I am strongly religious but I guess I don’t align with the social Authoritarian side on some issues which throws the compass off. One thing in particular is that I think that we should have a much more common death penalty but at the same time I think that the main goal of the criminal justice system should be rehabilitation.

        • Nick says:

          In the page on the 2016 election, the testmakers write, “There is no stronger single indicator of authoritarianism and state power than a willingness to execute.” This seems pretty dubious to me, since I can think of a lot of better indicators of authoritarianism and state power than capital punishment, but whatever. To be frank, especially given the answers we’ve seen above, I’m not sure how anyone person could end up more than a few points in the authoritarian direction. Yet the testmakers ask us to believe that both major political parties and most Democratic and Republican candidates in America are 5+ on the authoritarian and rightwing scale. Trump scores a 9, which I find ludicrous. They have Barack Obama at +6, +6, for goodness sake.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t think I have a good enough handle on what Trump actually thinks to estimate his score, but if you feed the test the 2016 Democratic Party platform and make some educated guesses about the personal questions, you end up somewhere in the neighborhood of (-3, -3).

            That’s largely rhetorical, and how politicians actually behave is more authoritarian, but I don’t think the test is equipped to capture that.

          • Matt M says:

            If “authoritarian” is the opposite of “libertarian” than I’m more than willing to believe both U.S. Republicans and U.S. Democrats deserve quite high scores.

            Defaulting to a position of “people should be able to do what they want” is an incredibly unpopular opinion and uncommon mindset. The corruption of the 2-party system isn’t the only reason the LP can never get more than 2% of the vote. Most people simply don’t agree with them on much.

          • Nornagest says:

            Sure. But in the context of this test, “libertarian” is defined not as “people should do what they want”, but rather as “answered positively to the libertarian questions and negatively to the authoritarian ones”.

            Since the topics here, as others have noted, have a pretty strong early-90s-culture-war flavor to them, we should expect the current mainstream to be slanted towards the winners of the early 90s culture war. That’s the “libertarian” side. The fact that modern politics is heavily authoritarian in other ways is beside the point.

          • dndnrsn says:

            OK, reading the text on that page, there’s clearly an axe to grind. I can see Obama and mainstream pre-2016 Republicans chilling in the top right corner of the centre. That’s plausible. It’s not plausible to believe that the Democrat and all major Republican candidates, except Ron Paul, were a shadow away from Pinochet.

          • rlms says:

            If I pretend to be Trump and take the test, I get 4.5, 2.21. I think most of the analysis on there is crazy. According to their analysis of the 2017 French election, the current French president is basically Gary Johnson, which I am fairly sure is not true.

          • Matt M says:

            the current French president is basically Gary Johnson, which I am fairly sure is not true.

            Well, he did just propose massive tax cuts with the explicitly defined goal of reducing the deficit.

          • dndnrsn says:

            How far away from the centre is anyone in mainstream North American, Western European, etc politics really? If that’s where you put Trump, where do you put Putin (more authoritarian than Trump), Orban (more anti-immigrant), or Modi (certainly more anti-Muslim)?

      • scherzando says:

        Agree with most of you that that quiz is not so great, but I’ll throw in my data point of (-3.13, -7.74).

      • keranih says:

        I got Economic Left/Right: 3.63
        Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -0.62

        …which makes me practically Pinochet, around these parts.

        I was frustrated by many questions, in particular the ones which were couched in terms of absolutes. I also think that had they asked if particular choices were always moral/immoral, rather than asking if those choices should be legal/illegal, I would have answered quite differently. As others have said, I don’t think Catholics map well on this chart.

    • MA Kinney says:

      You could do this with a great book from Jonathan Haidt called “The Righteous Mind” which explores the evolutionary roots of our political temperaments. Haidt is a moral psychologist that became hung up on how irrational your average person is, so he performed rigorous cross-cultural research to discover six core moral intuitions behind all moral decision-making. He then found equally cross-cultural patterns in how liberals and conservatives adhere to these values (spoiler alert: conservatives adhere to all of them a little bit, liberals don’t care about half and care a lot about the other half, and Libertarians are liberals that also care a lot about autonomy). Turns out, temperamental dispositions predispose us to these patterns of adherence, and this is evolutionarily functional because one group tends to conserve what a group has learned to help it survive, while the other helps the group to grow and change. He shows how each side creates a reality that conforms to their value profile, and how each side (plus Libertarians) have a piece of the puzzle necessary to make the whole thing work. Finally, he explores how to integrate them all into a meta-framework to “get outside the moral matrix.” Great stuff, and a great way to transcend arbitrary rhetoric/special interests/single issues to get at your political roots.

      • cassander says:

        it’s worth pointing out that since publishing the book, haidt has largely given up his view that there’s no such thing as left wing purity, just that he was asking the wrong questions to find it.

        • John Schilling says:

          And if I recall correctly, he figured out where to find right-wing fairness just in time to make it a late addition to the book, not as well integrated into the central thesis as it should have been. Haidt is definity worth paying attention to, in part because of his willingness to update beliefs on the basis of new evidence, but it means his work can’t (yet) be frozen in book form.

  8. Wrong Species says:

    Who’s interested in a Star Trek thread next Sunday for the premiere?

    • cassander says:

      what are the odds it’s not a trainwreck? I like that they’re trying to be different, but you don’t push back the airing of your show for months if it’s good.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’m wibbling on this since I got burned so badly with Enterprise.

        Good things: A proper theme tune! Yes, the Alexander Courage motif and I don’t care that they took it wholesale, it’s way better than Faith of the Glurge.

        Things maybe not so good: They gave Spock a human step/foster-sister. Look, stop pulling new and hitherto unmentioned family members out of the air for Spock!

        Alex Kurtzmann, co-writer of the scripts for the first two reboot Trek movies is involved.

        Bryan Fuller’s involvement as co-creator makes me uneasy; unlike those thrilled by his TV shows, I don’t really like his work. I do see that he has a creative vision, but there’s just something a tiny bit off about him as far as I’m concerned and I’m not too sure where he’ll take this – I don’t want the dark side of the Federation, thanks all the same, and rumours of “we’re going to see the Federation at war” as plot arc make me very uneasy because this has been done before, and done to death, in previous series and movies.

        Well, we’ll just have to wait and see! Anybody who does want to do a thread, I’m open to being spoilered since Lord knows when I’ll get to see it myself 🙂

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Pushing back the premiere can show that they had someone watch it and had thought it needed improvement. Seeing the number of things thrown out there where no one had bothered with anything beyond the first draft, I can only approve.

      • John Schilling says:

        Agree with Deiseach here, including the bit where I’m probably not going to pay to watch this any time soon so spoil away.

        More good things:

        Jonathan Frakes is at least directing an episode or two, and implicitly endorsing the concept. Not my first choice of Trek alumni in that context, but his talent and taste are a net positive.

        Doug Jones in a supporting role. If you want something more than rubber foreheads, Jones is on the short list of people who can play really alien.

        Harcourt Fenton Mudd as a recurring quasi-villain. OK, a guilty pleasure there.

        The setting is a well-established period of Trek continuity with a lot of good storytelling material for them to use; they aren’t just taking the “Star Trek” name and some tropes and running off to a new quadrant or century to make stuff up.

        They’re using John Ford’s “The Final Reflection” as their basis for the Klingons, who will be playing an expanded role in this series. I assume they’ll keep Mark Okrand’s version of
        the language, but the rest of Klingon culture from the TOS/TNG era was never all that well developed.

        More maybe not so good things:

        The Klingons will be playing an expanded role in this series, because they are going to be doing (cold) War Stories in Space. Little mention in the promos of strange new worlds, nor boldly going, and the Klingons are hardly a new civilization to us at this point.

        A recent interview, LA Times I think, had some of the creators talking about the relevance of their having met to chart the course of the new series on Election Day 2016, because Star Trek is such a wonderful tool for commenting on the issues of the present day. Yangs vs Khoms, BlackWhite vs WhiteBlack, Space Hippies vs. Reality, to my eyes “Star Trek” was always at its weakest when it was overtly talking about the political issues of the day, and I don’t need even a single season of “Star Trek: Why Donald Trump is Evil”.

        From the promotional materials, the crew looks like a bunch of almost literal half-breed freaks carrying more baggage than the Titanic. TOS got some good material out of Spock’s half-breed freakishness, and TNG a bit more from Data and Worf, but they were careful not to overdo it. If the focus of the show is going to be on how all these people Overcome Adversity To Do Their Jobs, then I’m not going to be as interested as I would be in the jobs they are supposed to be doing.

        The show allegedly stars and “focuses on” the Discovery’s first officer. Star Trek always worked best when it was a true ensemble cast, with the captain as the star mostly by default and not because there was any great focus on William Shatner’s mug over Leonard Nimoy’s. But, ultimately, the captain is the one who has the agency to resolve all of the stories that aren’t about overcoming adversity and personal baggage to do one’s job. I am reminded of Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing”, which was originally supposed to be about all the people who worked in the White House who weren’t the president, but had to really be about President Bartlett.

        The captain of the Discovery, whom the show is officially Not About, is a southern-accented White Guy who is described as a “brilliant military tactician” and also, by his actor, as “more fucked up than any previous Star Trek captain”. Some of that could be positive in other contexts, but:

        Taking all of this (and some other hints) in context, I have a bad feeling that they are setting up an adversarial relationship between the first officer and the captain, and more generally between the Oppressed Wise Multicultural Beings stuck under Starfleet’s transparent aluminum ceiling and the Jingoistic Warmongering White Dudes who want to turn the Klingon Cold War into a Hot One because they are stupid.

        Meh. Not inspired to pay for it sight unseen, so definitely interested in discussion here.

        • cassander says:

          I have exactly the same suspicions you do, but I think I would prefer them taking the name and tropes and running off something new. Enterprise had many problems to be sure, but it certainly didn’t do itself any favors by putting itself in a position where it constantly had to come up with coherent explanations for inconsistent future cannon. It was a recipe for annoying both casual and hardcore fans. The latter will be annoyed when the version you come up with inevitably contradicts some part of canon they liked, and the former put off by the twists you had you make to get things to line up as well as they did.

          I think the best they could have done is take a timeline (I don’t care which one), roll forward a few decades, then start with something fresh, with at least a vague plan five-ish years of arcs to cover. If you want a traditional anchor, the Romulans have always been under explored.

          I also really liked the original idea of discovery as anthology series. Seemed like a really good way to take advantage of the medium to tell interesting stories that are too big and complex for a movie, but without the difficulty of trying to sustain those stories over multiple years. They could jump around, do different times, timelines and, places, and keep it up year after year.

          • Deiseach says:

            If you want a traditional anchor, the Romulans have always been under explored.

            Yeah – the Romulan War as mentioned in “Balance of Terror” where nobody knows what Romulans look like, since they manage to have all their defeated vessels so thoroughly self-destruct.

            How the heck did the Federation get into a shooting war with a race they hadn’t even had visual contact with? Give me a couple of episodes explaining that and I’ll be interested.

            I am not interested in “PTSD and other screwed-up military types in Starfleet and we get war episodes with the Klingons and it’s an excuse for Bryan Fuller to do his Hannibal thing once again where gore and evil-doing is okay as long as it’s done elegantly“.

            We’ve had the “war is hell” episodes from pretty much all of the Trek series to date and we’ve certainly had the “exploration of how your principles get worn down and even abandoned for pragmatism” in the Dominion War arc on DS9 (Sisko’s eventual acceptance of the murder of the Romulan senator as a necessary price in order to bring them into the war on the side of the Federation is as dark as I care to go).

            Harcourt Fenton Mudd as a recurring quasi-villain. OK, a guilty pleasure there.

            If they stick with original Harry Mudd, shady but not completely amoral space rogue, I’d be happy. I’m dubious though since (a) TNG tried to replicate Harry with a knockoff called “The Outrageous Okona” and it certainly WAS OUTRAGE how awful the character was (b) I strongly suspect they’re going to – God help us! – give him backstory where he has a Tortured Past and is more than just a space rogue turning a somewhat dishonest credit, he’s some kind of guerrilla war/underground rebellion/mixed up in La Résistance guy with a cover as a smuggler type.

            I don’t want Harry Mudd, Existential Anti-Hero; I want Harcourt Fenton Mudd who was a charming rogue and had some few stray moral principles floating around in there somewhere at the most inconvenient times.

          • albatross11 says:

            It strikes me that one problem with Star Trek doing an episode on the Burning Issue of the Day is that they’re too close in time and culture to the burning issue in question, and they’re likely to be strongly enough on one side of it (for standard culture war/blue tribe sorts of reasons) that they can’t really understand how anyone could see it differently. Probably an even bigger problem is that a 30-60 minute show in an SF series isn’t really well-equipped to deal with most kinds of subtle, hard questions. But anytime you watch someone in pop culture try to deal with some burning issue of the time, even if it seems pretty okay at the time it’s made, watching it 30+ years later is likely to involve a lot of wincing.

            Where I think the original ST and TNG did pretty well (at least sometimes) was dealing with hard questions that arose from the prime directive vs their values (which by wild coincidence happen to be our values, too), and clashes between Spock’s Vulcan no-emotions philosophy and the humans’ emotions-slathered-on-everything policy.

          • Jiro says:

            I think it did pretty poorly on the whole Vulcan emotions thing. Star Trek is the source of the Straw Vulcan trope, where “using logic” is done as a strawman caricature of rationality.

        • Wrong Species says:

          I definitely have some of the same reservations as you. But they are premiering the first episode on CBS so you can at least see if it is any good.

          • Matt M says:

            Show the first episode on free TV and then say “but to see the rest, gotta pay up?” That strikes me as even scummier than just having it entirely subscription…

          • Brad says:

            I don’t see what’s scummy about try before you buy. At least as long as it is disclosed up front.

        • Don P. says:

          Just to put down a marker: it seems possible that the claim that the lead character is not the Captain might be a lie, given the lack of previews. It might be a twist pilot, and the alleged captain doesn’t survive. This requires Jason Isaacs to be complete red herring, and he’s a pretty high-profile guy, but…

          • John Schilling says:

            Along those lines, we’ve also got Michelle Yeoh signed up to play the captain of the Shenzou, the ship our intrepid heroine served on before being assigned as the Discovery XO. As a regular cast member, for all 15 episodes of the first season if IMDB is to be believed. How that fits into the puzzle, without something or someone being a red herring, is hard to figure at this point.

          • cassander says:

            I’ve always wanted a space show where the noble captain figure gets killed off in the first episode and without him to act as the moral center the crew descends into a pit of tragedy, but not in god damned Star Trek.

          • Protagoras says:

            @cassander, It happens at the end of the second season (out of four) instead of after the first episode, but that kind of happens in Blake’s 7. The production quality is absolutely awful (late 70s BBC; think early Doctor Who, except actually worse for some reason) but if you can get past that a lot of interesting stuff in that series.

          • Deiseach says:

            I’d recommend Blake’s 7 as well, but you do need (a) to overlook the shoddy special effects – they did the opening titles in cross-stitch, not a word of a lie! And one of their model “spaceships” was a hair dryer cut in half! (b) tolerate a very down-beat ending. Hint: the Good Guys do not win and by the end, it’s very difficult to tell if there even are any Good Guys.

            The later seasons also went a little over the top with the fashion for Madame President, but then again if you are an evil totalitarian ruler (and the only competent politician and strategist in the galaxy) then I suppose you can afford to style it up however you want 🙂

    • dodrian says:

      I will not be watching. They’ve had enough delays, production changes and bizarre thematic choices to sour me off the idea.

      If it were premiering on Netflix, or a channel I (or a friend) had access too I’d probably see an episode or two. But they want me to pay to watch, and haven’t done anything to demonstrate it will be worth watching, and I try to avoid acquiring TV programs by nautical methods.

    • Loquat says:


      Good lord, what did they do to the Klingons? They look like bald rejects from a failed crossbreeding program with the Cardassians.

  9. scherzando says:

    Came across some good nominative determinism today: “We Need to Know More About Government Searches of Travelers’ Electronic Devices” by Carrie DeCell.

  10. HFARationalist says:

    One possible reason why societies require social bullshit for important positions

    One possible reason that sounds natural to me is that a society does not want someone potentially hostile to itself, its interests and values to control its resources. Not tolerating the social bullshit or not pretending to uphold its values and customs signals that this person has unusual ideas. These ideas might be great. However they might also be very awful. A person with unusual ideas are much more likely to be dangerous compared to kool-aid brainwashed people.

    For example my views expressed here do signal amorality, bitterness and danger if not seen from the literal point of view even though I’m actually neither amoral nor dangerous. A person who thinks about genocidal race wars enough to openly talk about is is much more likely to actually start one compared to someone sufficiently brainwashed so that this idea does not even come up regardless of whether they are actually racist. Similarly a person who actually thinks about elites exterminating all other humans enough to talk about it in public is much more likely to start a genocide or at least consider most humans genocidal. Such a person is at least very unlikely to trust other people or social fabrics and will discard all social rules under certain circumstances.

    Even though these ideas such as high-tech genocides may happen are themselves amoral and aren’t necessarily completely awful worries they may signal lack of virtue, hostility towards and distrust of any society, etc.

    I’m glad that SSC is anonymous. Hence I can discuss these dangerous ideas without people IRL considering me a monster.

    • Deiseach says:

      A person who thinks about genocidal race wars enough to openly talk about is is much more likely to actually start one compared to someone sufficiently brainwashed so that this idea does not even come up regardless of whether they are actually racist.

      I’d be rather more concerned that you seem to think not contemplating the possibility of genocide is down to brainwashing rather than “no, I’ve thought about this and decided it’s wrong” 🙂

      • HFARationalist says:

        I won’t commit a mass murder because I’m not an amoral person. However I consider most humans to be utterly amoral if not blinded and intoxicated by bullshit.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          However I consider most humans to be utterly amoral if not blinded and intoxicated by bullshit.

          That’s the worst thing possible for a politician to signal.

          No one wants to think their leader is going to lump them and all of their friends in with the “bad hombres”. And there are good existential reasons for not wanting that!

          They want a leader who subscribes to a morality which considers their (the people’s) desires to be moral.

        • Nick says:

          That sounds pretty dubious. Can you explain what you mean by “social bullshit”?

    • Jugemu says:

      >Similarly a person who actually thinks about elites exterminating all other humans

      I’ve considered this too. It’s common to see people justify higher taxes and more redistribution via saying or strongly implying that “rich people have to give us more of their stuff or else we’ll just rob/kill them”. Anti-capitalist sentiment seems to be increasing (at least on the internet) at the same time that technology is advancing in ways that could make it practical for a small private group of people to kill a very large number of others. And that technological capability is likely to land in the hands of the rich and powerful first.

      Anyway I’d agree that most people – even the intelligent – seem to have mental censors preventing them from seeing to the endgame of potential future escalations*. It’s the same kind of thing that makes people unable to grok the orthogonality thesis. As you say, this may be a good unconcious signalling strategy during normal times, but might abruptly fail when an endgame scenario actually arrives.

      * Though to be fair there are certainly people who are quick to jump to “kill ’em all”.

      • HFARationalist says:

        @Jugemu I don’t know whether money itself will be more important than programming skills in a new Hobbesian state of nature. I believe it’s possible that a small group of highly intelligent STEM people hostile to humanity or at least most humans will be able to start a genocidal Blitzkrieg against the rest of humanity. For example a small group of Nazi or Islamist STEM people may try to exterminate Jews in a sudden attack using biological weapons. A small group of STEM incels may try to occupy some weak country using robots to rape some women. Who knows?

        Societies will have to either regulate potentially dangerous STEM disciplines or buy people in these disciplines off to prevent all kinds of random putschs. Strong AI and robots may be considered some form of weapons and as a result one may need a license before they can create or own some.

        • albatross11 says:

          Reality isn’t an Ayn Rand novel, so we can be pretty sure that:

          a. You may be able to get a group of very smart people with substantial resources and a shared ideology to try to carry out some high-tech attack against their enemies.

          b. There will be other smart people with at least as many resources opposing them.

          The interesting question is whether changes in technology mean that attack gets a lot easier than defense, so that 30 smart people with a few million dollars can wreak massive damage that thousands of smart people with billions of dollars can’t prevent.

          The closest case I can think of to what you’re discussing is that Japanese cult that gassed the subway. They spent many years trying to use various scary chemical and biological weapons in terrorist attacks, without having much success. (They killed individual people, but nothing like they wanted to, as I understand it.) Similarly, the anthrax attacks after 9/11 were allegedly done by a US government biodefense researcher[1], and I think he could have racked up a higher body count by driving drunk on the Beltway some fine Saturday night.

          My guess is that it’s actually easier to kill lots of people with guns and bombs than with clever mad-scientist type plots involving cyber warfare and engineered plagues. But I don’t know that for sure, and it’s not clear that this will always be true.

          We are very lucky that that building nukes is something that’s really hard to do without being obvious about it. I can’t imagine what the world would look like if you could put together a 20 kT nuke in your garage on a $100K budget, with a couple smart people helping. I imagine there would be a lot fewer people in that world, and a lot less freedom for the ones who remained.

          [1] He committed suicide just before he was to be arrested by the FBI. I assume he was really the attacker, but who knows? And if he had any collaborators on the attacks, they had the strongest imaginable motive for bumping him off before the FBI started offering him the choice between telling them everything and the death penalty.

        • Deiseach says:

          A small group of STEM incels may try to occupy some weak country using robots to rape some women.

          Now we’re in the territory of pulp magazine covers and Z-list movie posters (warning: TV Tropes link).

          I know I’m going to regret asking this, but how on earth does an army of rapebots help anybody take over a weak country? If you’re only rounding up women to rape and not killing off the men, you’re not really effecting enough of a change to help you take over, and unless we’re now in Demon Seed territory, there won’t be any resulting pregnancies to replace the offspring of the conquered nation with your own. I know rape has been used as a psychological weapon in war, but that’s as part of conventional warring. A bunch of involuntary celibates raping women by proxy isn’t war so much as ordinary criminals.

          • Nornagest says:

            The rape part’s really beside the point. Once you’ve got an army of robots that can take and hold territory as opposed to flying overhead every now and then and blowing up random militants, you can do pretty much whatever you want to unless your opponents have an equally powerful army, and if that involves acting out some kind of weird Mars Needs Women fantasy, well, we’re already in science fiction territory and that doesn’t make it much less credible.

            But that’s an extremely low bar. Getting the army of robots is the hard part — it takes a nation-state’s level of money and military-industrial infrastructure (what are they armed with? where are they built? how are they maintained and resupplied?), and AI that’s far beyond what we can make right now. Not something that any believable pack of losers on 4Chan can come up with, in other words.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Nornagest I’m mostly talking about small nations in Oceania. If advanced nations can have really advanced technologies the coup thing can indeed be attempted by STEM incels. There will be enough STEM incels from the West, India and Northeast Asia for a relatively benevolent putsch to happen in a country no great powers care about.

            There is no need for rape to happen either. All it takes is to occupy the country in the name of restoring democracy or something. Then you can get some mistresses because you will have really high statuses and lots of money as well.

            If mass seduction continues I don’t think money will be a problem for STEM incel coup leaders. Mass seduction creates a scenario where you have some really smart and competent people with lots of money who can’t get sex.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t really want to dignify this scenario by responding to it, but what’s one more bad idea, really?

            Anyway, that doesn’t get you out of the woods. The AI thing should really sink this by itself — once you have AI capable of conducting infantry operations, you have way bigger problems than schwacking a few Terminators — but let’s talk logistics instead. The cost of an initial production run for any kind of unusual hardware, which military robots very much would be, is dominated by capital (factories, tooling) and R&D (software and hardware design). These costs scale poorly. Making 100 Terminators from scratch doesn’t cost 1/100 of what making 10,000 Terminators does, but rather a substantial fraction — maybe as much as half, if a lot of development work needs to be done. That means that small groups can’t afford to do substantial hardware development. We are dealing with a small group here, and with very poorly developed technology. If you’re setting this far enough in the future that it’s not poorly developed, then your small island nation will have it too, thanks to globalism. This ain’t the 16th century and you ain’t Francisco Pizarro.

            On top of that, if you’re invading, say, Fiji, then that means you’re doing power projection. That is really, really hard. Not even nation-state hard, great power hard: there are maybe half a dozen militaries in the world capable of supporting even a small ground war at the kind of distances we’re talking about. The British tried to take back some small crappy islands that no one cares about in the Eighties, and they almost lost.

            And on top of that, involuntarily celibate people aren’t involuntarily celibate because of their unusual courage, drive, and ambition. The qualities imputed to them by the scenario’s premises are exactly opposite those needed for running successful military operations, whether or not the trigger-pullers happen to be robots.

          • John Schilling says:

            On top of all of that, if you do this approximately the entire rest of the human race will hear about it and petition the United States Government (among others): “Would you please use your influence over the global financial and trade economy to cancel these people’s orders for killbot parts, and if that’s not enough, use your own vast arsenal of killbots and some of those vestigial human fighter pilots and SEALs to, maybe, kill every last one of these fuckers for us?”

            The United States Government (among others) will say, “We need the practice anyway, the fact that this petition includes a request from the target nation’s government makes it legal, and it would make us feel really really good to practice our killing skills on such despicable targets, so sure”. Thus endeth the lesson, with your hypothetical Team Incel even more thoroughly removed from the gene pool than they already are.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @John Schilling I agree. However Team Incel can actually disrupt the world even more using something that is cheaper, namely unfriendly AI. It is very hard to design a friendly AI. However Clippy should be much easier to design than a friendly AI. When superintelligent AI is already available it should be easy to design Clippy.

            If Team Incel can design Clippy it can also exterminate humanity which is something even Nazis and ISIS aren’t interested in which makes it a perfect blackmail tool to force humanity to stop mocking incels and legalize prostitution everywhere. As long as Clippy isn’t actually released, the demands are reasonable and no one is actually harmed humanity will probably give in.

          • Nornagest says:

            Hey, where’d the goalposts go?

            Anyway, I’m not really 100% sold on Yudkowskian UFAI, but if he’s right about it then it’s a problem that can only be solved by a lot of highly specific effort in the field of artificial ethics, for lack of a better word. AI safety is a lot more respectable now than it was when I started reading about this stuff, but that specific research program isn’t getting much attention. And by its nature it’s a winner-take-all thing: Yudkowskian AGI is only dangerous because it can recursively improve itself, leading to a hard-takeoff scenario. If someone invents FAI first, then it doesn’t matter if someone releases a UFAI later, the first-mover advantage means the first one wins.

            With that in mind, this scenario can only work if the prerequisites for strong AI are discovered and become widely known, but aren’t followed up on for fear of catastrophic failure. That is, until some 40-year-old virgin AI researcher (or group thereof) decides to devote months or years of effort to it, in full knowledge that it’s likely to destroy the world and him with it but without settling for just driving a Ford Aerostar into a crowd of sorority girls or something. Apparently nothing else will do for revenge on a world that won’t get his dick wet.

            I’m… skeptical.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Nornagest I agree that the first scenario of island invasion can be really hard to achieve. Hence I started a different one.

            It is much easier to destroy than to build. If there is already a self-improving FAI in existence a new UFAI designed to exterminate humanity if suddenly released may cause humanity so much damage that it is better to negotiate with whoever that wants to use such an UFAI to destroy humanity than attempting to arrest such people.

            However this scenario is very dangerous. If one or several incels can easily get this done and succeed in using this to gain concessions from humanity every single ethnic, racial, religious group, organized crime, etc will be able to do something that is much more dangerous. Eventually someone will release UFAI for real or humanity will be greatly hampered by all kinds of individuals and groups using UFAI to blackmail the entire humanity.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t think you really understand the implications of recursive self-improvement. An FAI that’s hit the elbow of its exponential growth curve, if such a thing is possible, if effectively a god; a nascent Clippy wouldn’t stand a chance, since it’d be using the same resources and exploiting the same loopholes as the friendly one.

          • bean says:

            On top of that, if you’re invading, say, Fiji, then that means you’re doing power projection. That is really, really hard. Not even nation-state hard, great power hard: there are maybe half a dozen militaries in the world capable of supporting even a small ground war at the kind of distances we’re talking about.

            This bears emphasizing. The demands of amphibious/power projection operations at this kind of range are very, very different from anything anyone does in civilian life. Either it will be a fiasco that makes the typical coup in Sub-Saharan Africa look well-organized and smooth, they’ll get arrested by the coast guard on the way out of the harbor, or they’ll be arrested by the FBI while planning.

            The British tried to take back some small crappy islands that no one cares about in the Eighties, and they almost lost.

            In fairness, Argentina had a lot stronger military around the Falklands than Fiji or whatever other target is going to. But that just drops the requirements to an LPD, some chartered ships and an escort for fire support. The first and last are not things you can get commercially.

          • albatross11 says:

            This is probably the goofiest revenge-on-the-world fantasy I’ve ever seen. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around the worldview in which this would make sense.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            It wouldn’t surprise the hell out of me if it’s goofy because it’s driven as much by the desire to annoy people as to be an actually satisfying revenge fantasy.

            And when I say “a desire to annoy people” I mean especially a desire to annoy women. Or hypothetical women. Or people who find rape more offensive than castration. Or something.

          • Nornagest says:

            This feels like ignorance to me, not malice. I don’t think he wants to annoy people. I think he’s seeing the quirks of his tiny, weird Internet tribe — one that probably does include a lot of people who’re genuinely bitter — and mistaking them for the kind of widespread social phenomena that you can hang a major class identity on.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz I never actually thought about implementing this rape bot scenario even hypothetically. That’s just an example.

            I didn’t try to annoy people either.

            However this “incel rage coup” thing is more serious. I was one of the more active members of a major incel forum several years ago. Don’t try to guess who I am though because my views have changed a lot. People there are very bitter and they turned me into an extremely bitter and cynical person.

            @Nornagest Yeah. I thought that many men are incel. Even though I’m an aromantic asexual who actually can not tolerate a relationship I’m still very mad at the fact that at least some smart STEM guys are incel.

          • Nornagest says:

            There are a fair number of guys who’re not getting laid and wish they were, although they’re still a minority. But only a very much smaller number handle this state of affairs badly enough to bring it on as part of their core identity: these are the ones who populate “incel” forums. They’re also the ones most likely to stay celibate five or ten or twenty years later.

            I am not generally very impressed with the trope wherein lonely guys are lonely because they habitually treat women as sex dispensers and thereby put them off. But there is a kernel of truth to it, and it is this: if you’ve constructed an entire identity for yourself around the idea that you aren’t getting laid like you deserve to be, you’re gonna look pretty desperate to others, and pretty bitter and entitled towards the people you least want to look that way for. It’s not a good look, and I have a hard time feeling much sympathy for those that adopt it.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Nornagest What incels should do is to visit legal prostitutes more. If I were incel I would fly to Nevada this weekend.

            Then there are also mail-order brides which can solve most incel problems in the West. The same applies to other countries as long as you always get mail-order brides from poorer ones.

          • quanta413 says:

            I thought that many men are incel. Even though I’m an aromantic asexual who actually can not tolerate a relationship I’m still very mad at the fact that at least some smart STEM guys are incel.

            Incel is a very small tribe. I had to look up what it meant. Most people eventually end up in some sort of relationship, and even of the people who don’t, the ones who have a whole schtick are pretty rare.

            There is probably some overlap with smart STEM guys, but smart STEM guys is like what? A couple percent of the population? And incels are what, 1/1000 or 1/10,000? Smart STEM guys who are involuntarily celibate for a half a decade to a decade are probably more common than Nazis, but that’s saying very little.

            Not having sex sucks, but if someone can’t get have sex once in 10 years even when trying, then I’d bet that >=95% of the time the problem is that the person very badly need to work on social skills or needs to lower their standards or both.

            Honestly, it seems like the a somewhat exaggerated version of the romance problems of many nerdy men, but then the person for whatever reason decides crazy things and makes it a whole identity (like people occasionally do).

          • BBA says:

            If you ask me (and you didn’t) I’d say anyone who’s “incel” deserves to be unloved.

            I say this as a 32-year-old man who’s never experienced romantic love, and probably never will. Just so you know where I’m coming from.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            It’s probably technologically more achievable to voluntarily convert incels to vcels through pharmaceuticals than it is for robot rape occupation.

            So why wouldn’t an incel pick the first option and go on to be satisfied with every other satisfaction in life?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            It’s probably technologically more achievable to voluntarily convert incels to vcels through pharmaceuticals than it is for robot rape occupation.

            Are vnuchs still fashionable?

          • Matt M says:

            If you ask me (and you didn’t) I’d say anyone who’s “incel” deserves to be unloved.

            This seems pretty damn harsh.

            Just out of curiosity, would you also agree with a statement like “anyone who can’t earn enough money through employment to afford food deserves to starve to death?”

          • Matt M says:

            So why wouldn’t an incel pick the first option and go on to be satisfied with every other satisfaction in life?

            Because they’d rather change the “cel” part than the “in” part, and they hold out hope that this is possible.

            As an analogy, consider someone sentenced to life in prison in horrible conditions. Their ordinal preference listing may be something like this:

            1. Freedom
            2. Death
            3. Life in horrible prison

            But this does not necessarily imply that a life in prison sentence means they should immediately kill themselves. Rather, they hold out hope of escape and continue to work towards it.

          • Nornagest says:

            Just out of curiosity, would you also agree with a statement like “anyone who can’t earn enough money through employment to afford food deserves to starve to death?”

            No, but I might say that someone who joins an unemployment support group dedicated to bemoaning their employment status rather than looking for jobs or developing job skills deserves to stay unemployed.

          • BBA says:

            @Matt M: No, just the ones who are unemployable because of personality defects they won’t acknowledge.

          • Aapje says:


            You are assuming that they have the capability to predict which actions give them a non-negligible chance to get work & that these actions actually exist. Neither may be true. To give the most extreme example, I cannot imagine any way that a quadriplegic person could get a legitimate job.

            If a society (socially) punishes a quadriplegic person for being jobless, I fully support that person if they seek out a support group to counteract that abuse, rather than engaging in a pointless and soul-destroying effort to get a job.

            IMHO, the ‘just work harder to seek a job’ crowd often ignores how their social pressure & policies cause psychological damage to people, who want to comply, but fail when doing their best to act as they’ve been told will give them a job.

            As for incels, from what I’ve seen, a common belief among incels is that they have traits which leaves them no reasonable way to improve enough to become attractive to women and that people without those traits give advice that only works for them, not for the incels.

            I think that the first part is false for many of them, but I’ve seen a lot of men complain about how they got counter-productive advice on how to attract women. This includes men who once struggled, then found out what works and still consider the common advice harmful to many men.

            So I can see why some men never manage to look beyond the advice and figure it out themselves and instead conclude that they can do nothing to change their fortunes (which can then result in a lot of bitterness, anger, etc). Ironically, your statement that incels deserve to be single because they are inherently defective and thus not suitable for a relationship is exactly what is wrong with incel beliefs.

          • Nornagest says:

            You are assuming that they have the capability to predict which actions give them a non-negligible chance to get work & that these actions actually exist. Neither may be true.

            I am assuming no such thing. I said nothing about actually getting a job; I just said they don’t deserve one if they aren’t working towards one. If they are putting in that work, and still don’t have a job, I have a lot more sympathy.

            Alternatively, there may be conditions which make it effectively impossible for someone to hold down a productive job. Support for those conditions is fine, which is why we have e.g. support groups for the disabled and I’m not complaining about them, but I don’t think it does these people any favors to define them as “involuntarily unemployed” and pretend that jobs for them will magically appear if they complain hard enough about their status. That doesn’t address their actual problems at all.

            The analogy to relationships is left as an exercise to the reader.

        • Nornagest says:

          For someone who claims to be asexual, you sure seem preoccupied with the plight of “incels”.

          How many of these scenarios do I have to shoot down before you stop coming up with them?

          • HFARationalist says:

            I’m asexual. However I’m still very mad at the fact sexual selection is against people of my kind (i.e. STEM nerds and autists) even if this doesn’t really affect me.

          • johan_larson says:


            … the fact sexual selection is against people of my kind (i.e. STEM nerds and autists) …

            What convinced you this is true?

            I work in software development, a profession hard to top for nerdiness, and in my experience software developers find spouses and have children with great consistency, despite the predictions of pop culture.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            I manage a team of software developers, in fact.

            There are 12 people on my team, including me. Ten men, two women. All as far as I know heterosexual or functionally heterosexual (ie, in a monogamous relationship with an opposite-sex partner).

            One person is a new hire and I don’t know what her romantic status is because we haven’t socialized much and obviously I didn’t ask her when she was hired.

            3 people are married with children.

            1 person is not married, with children.

            1 person is married without children, but plans for children.

            1 person is divorced without children and has a live-in SO.

            4 people are in long term, I believe live-in, non-married relationships.

            1 person had a breakup recently and is single.

            Barring the one person I don’t know about, it looks like a 0% celibacy rate, and a 9% “currently celibate” rate.

          • dodrian says:

            The data from the SSC Survey indicates 58% of those who listed their profession as ‘Engineering’ or one of the three ‘Computers’ options are married or in a relationship. This is not statistically different from those who listed any other profession (57%).

            With that we’ve reached the limit of my Excel pivot-table-foo and statistical chops. I’m sure someone else could come up with some more interesting analysis.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Programmers do just fine, after they grow up and get past the weird expectations that society has shoved into their head about how relationships are supposed to work.

          • quanta413 says:

            However I’m still very mad at the fact sexual selection is against people of my kind (i.e. STEM nerds and autists) even if this doesn’t really affect me.

            Everyone else already pointed out that STEM nerds probably aren’t very different from the general population. I’d bet autistic people (with a formal diagnosis as autistic) are somewhat distinguishable, but they shouldn’t be lumped together with STEM nerds too carelessly.

            So let me point out that if STEM nerds are doing poorly, it’s STEM nerds’ fault for not having enough children even when they are having sex. Although I’m not aware of them being different from other socioeconomically similar groups, but let’s just say you wished they reproduced more.

            Basically if you’re worried STEM people are going to be slowly outbred or something (which is… well, this is a very long term process that takes hundreds of years at least and more likely thousands so I’m unconvinced extrapolating from the past couple decades makes any sense at all), you should instead take a page out of Bryan Caplan’s book and just try to convince them having children is great and they should have more children. Not coming up with weird robot rape scenarios.

          • Basically if you’re worried STEM people are going to be slowly outbred or something (which is… well, this is a very long term process that takes hundreds of years at least and more likely thousands so I’m unconvinced extrapolating from the past couple decades makes any sense at all)

            Abstracting away from the specific issues of who is or is not outbred, you can get some idea of the time scales for the effect of differential fertility by looking at the Amish, who combine traditional birth rates with modern medicine. Their population doubling time is about twenty years, even allowing for the loss of about 10% of each generation who decide not to be Amish.

            Compare that to the moderately common pattern now of a couple having one child. If one population is doing that and another following the Amish pattern and they start with equal numbers, in a century the former will outnumber the latter about a thousand fold.

          • quanta413 says:

            @David Friedman

            I know the general case allows for fast timescales, but they aren’t likely to be relevant to the current fertility patterns of STEM vs non-STEM at hand so HFARationalist’s concern is very strange. Although they could hypothetically be relevant as you point out since nothing really prevents STEM people from behaving like the Amish except STEM people’s preferences.

            A couple problems occur for STEM as compared to the Amish though in our hypothetical STEM maximizing world. STEM people aren’t endogamous and many come from non-STEM parents since genetics presumably only affects capability for STEM. Even if STEM parents are more likely to have STEM children, they are a small subpopulation compared to the whole population that generates more STEM individuals. STEM adults child raising patterns aren’t unusual compared to the people around them.

            We know that U.S. fertility now is half of what it was in the late 50s even though we’re obviously nowhere near the biological limit. That’s why I say if he’s so worried he should try to convince STEM people to have more children than ~2 and worrying about a few incels somehow dragging down STEM fertility is totally missing the point. STEM people could have fertility like the Amish if they wanted, but they don’t.

      • qwints says:

        Are you familiar with Peter Frase’s Four Futures?. Frase explicitly discusses, from a left-wing perspective, the possibility that small private groups of people either kill off (actively or passively) the “unnecessariat” (not Frase’s phrase).

        • HFARationalist says:

          I haven’t yet. It sounds interesting though. I don’t want capitalism to be gone though. Capitalism is a reason why STEM autists and nerds can still earn income.

    • rahien.din says:

      A person who thinks about genocidal race wars enough to bring them up all the time is much more likely to actually start one compared to someone sufficiently kool-aid brainwashed that the idea of genocidal race wars does not even come up.

      First of all, it isn’t that you’re openly talking about it, as plenty of people here are openly talking about it, when you bring it up. It’s that you bring it up all the time.

      Secondly : of course they are more likely to do so. We could replace “genocidal race wars” in your paragraph with “arson” and people’s reasoning would be more clear :

      A person who thinks about arson enough to bring it up all the time is much more likely to actually start one compared to someone sufficiently kool-aid brainwashed that the idea of arson does not even come up.

      Consider Person A, who is worriedly fixating on arson, Person B, who would like to commit arson and is testing the waters, and Person C, who has no desire for nor fixation on arson. Almost everyone is Person C. Persons A and B are uncommon-to-rare. The only people who bring up arson are Persons A and B. There is a greater proportion of arsonists in A&B than in A&B&C. Therefore, to bring up arson all the time is to cause those around you to update their estimation that you want to commit arson. And this is reasonable.

      • HFARationalist says:

        I agree. There is a key difference though. Genocides aren’t very easy to start, unlike mass shooting or arson. I doubt anyone on this board actually has the ability to start a genocide especially since such extreme ideas are currently very unpopular.

        “Let’s kill them all in order to control their land” hasn’t been going on for years. “Let’s kill them all because we hate them.” is arguably more popular. “Let’s kill all humans other than us just because we can.” is something that has never actually happened.

    • . says:

      It would be good to be more precise about “social bullshit”. I think social norms are far less restrictive and far more rational than you believe.

      For example, you correctly point out that talking about race war all the time is socially bad. But it is not bad because it signals you want a race war, or because it is impolite for irrational nonsense reasons; it is bad for conventionally rational reasons:

      1) Most people who think about race war are privileging the hypothesis. Race war is very unlikely, but it is also very pleasant to think about. Humans like to form groups and squabble with other groups, so race war fascinates us. It is rational to have conversational norms that counteract this bias. One of these is to avoid fantasizing[*] about group violence out loud unless it is really plausible.

      2) There is a conversational gambit called ‘edgelording’, where you focus on unpleasant possibilities, not to discover the truth, but to display one’s seriousness and make one’s speech seem more consequential. It’s associated with adolescent males, who have a strong need to be taken seriously, but it happens throughout society: some speculate that democracies are irrationally bellicose because politicians can increase their stature by edgelording as foreign-policy hawks. Luckily we have strong norms against edgelording in daily life.

      [*] I am not using ‘fantasizing’ in the sense which implies that one desires thing that one imagines.

  11. Levantine says:

    To make more clear what’s the comment about, I’ll give it a ‘title’:

    From Titan to Kalahari: visions for contemplating, and for refining value systems

    Eric Weinstein, Sep 15:
    “This photo may be humanity’s high water mark and the most inspiring image I have ever seen.”

    Weinstein’s comment refers to a 2004 photo of Titan’s surface. I was thrilled by the Huygens-Cassini mission. But Weinstein’s comment made me sad, and somewhat disturbed, worried … overall, gloomy.

    Instead of criticizing a very brief claim written under special circumstances, I’ll try to show a contrasting vision of what could be humanity’s ‘high water mark,’ and what could be inspiring images. Science fiction and the technologically modern world showed humanity possibilities of flourishing that were hitherto unimagined. I was surprised, therefore, to read on the links bellow that the technologically primitive world can show flourishing possibilities that the technologically developed world seldom imagines:

    On the possibilities of reduction of stress:

    On the possible ranges of reliable social networks:

    Possibilities of nutrition / general living standards that are decent and secure:

    Note well: 1. I’m not suggesting lack of controversy over facts: views can produces illusions.
    2. I’m not suggesting any simple, direct transfer of a practice between different environments.

  12. Deiseach says:

    Am I being unduly pernickety about this?

    My workplace is advertising vacancies for two positions and I’m handing the preliminary queries and getting the applications sorted for the interview board. One applicant who has an MA also used the grocer’s apostrophe in their covering email.

    This is not going to affect their application; everyone will be sorted on qualifications and experience before short-listing for interview. But I can’t help feeling that it indicates a certain shakiness in their grasp of their subject.

    (1) It doesn’t matter a damn, they’re not being hired for their grammar skills. This has little to no bearing on their ability to do the job.


    (2) Allegedly educated to Masters level should indicate at a minimum the ability to write and speak correct, fluent English. This sort of sloppiness may indeed spill over into work-related matters.

    There is, of course, always option 3:

    Not their fault, if they’re of the generation where it was decided focusing on creativity and expression was more important for the little blossoms than correcting with red biro their spelling, punctuation and grammar in their compositions 🙂

    Any opinions from the employers/hiring related people out there? I mean, I know I’m being a fuss-budget but is this the kind of thing that would make you mark down an applicant?

    • albertborrow says:

      As someone who is tentatively a part of that generation, I ask you to forgive that applicant. It takes a special kind of soul to go out of their way to learn the specific rules of grammar after being taught on the “whole language” model. Most students my age stopped learning grammar rules after the second grade.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think I’m probably so fussy about it because I am of the generation that had good grammar, good spelling, and elocution lessons* beaten into us 🙂

        That and good posture; to this day, my back never touches the back of any chair I sit in. Which now is supposed to be bad posture and bad for the back, but we didn’t know any better back then.

        *Literally; in my day, corporal punishment was still legal in Irish schools

    • quanta413 says:

      Honestly, even at university most people my age (20-30) can’t spell as well as I would like, and their grammar is a little rusty. I know my grammar is rusty although I wouldn’t make that particular mistake. Spellcheck mostly solves the first problem. I’d say hopefully you can tell if they are sloppy about things more work related, but so many job applications don’t contain any component that actually measures job performance- like a work sample- so…

      Do as the young blossoms do and follow your heart?

    • onyomi says:

      All else equal, it would count against them slightly, but I’m also against the school of thought which says “a thoughtful applicant would never have a typo on their cover page,” because seemingly no matter how many times I read something I always find a typo after I send it off and there are typos in most published books I’ve read (one method I have found that works well for important things is to read the whole thing out loud). It also matters, of course, if one is applying for a job as an editor and brags about his attention to detail in the cover letter.

      If you think that this person didn’t just slip up but actually doesn’t understand how to use apostrophes, then that would be worse in my mind, but not a dealbreaker, necessarily, depending on the job. I don’t care if my auto mechanic knows how to spell, for example.

      • Nick says:

        I’m also against the school of thought which says “a thoughtful applicant would never have a typo on their cover page,” because seemingly no matter how many times I read something I always find a typo after I send it off and there are typos in most published books I’ve read (one method I have found that works well for important things is to read the whole thing out loud).

        This. When I put together my resume, I looked it over several times, over the course of a few days, with a fine-tooth comb. I had friends read it over. I had a professor look it over. And I still found a typo after all of that, only after I began applying.

        The grocer’s apostrophe is far from the worst mistake I’ve ever seen on a resume. The worst I’ve ever seen was when a friend asked me for a version of own resume, because he liked the formatting of it*, so I gave him the Word doc without any of the skills, education, etc in it. He added his own in, but didn’t switch out my email address with his in the header, so I received the job offer.

        *Nothing special to be honest. And of course I forwarded him on to my friend.

    • andrewflicker says:

      I’d treat it as a small mark against them, but it depends on the position and the format- there’s a decent chance it’s a typo or autocorrection, not an mistake of deliberate writing. If that’s so, it’s still a mark against them for haste or poor editing, but that might be a lesser crime depending on the position.

      If I disqualified poor spellers, for example, I’d probably never hire another programmer- most seem positively allergic to careful spelling. (EDIT: Possibly due to the overuse of tab-complete or other such matching techniques when coding? I’m open to suggestion.)

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      If they’re short listed verify their degree.

    • rahien.din says:

      grocer’s apostrophe

      Should it be written “grocers’ apostrophe”?

      • Nornagest says:

        Nah, you want the possessive in this case, so it’s impossible to make it self-demonstrating. The grocer’s apostrophe would be something like “Five grocer’s said today that…”

        • rahien.din says:

          Of course of course – but is it the singular possessive form of grocer (grocer’s) or the plural possessive form of grocer (grocers’)?

          I personally can’t tell if I’m being pedantic or facetious.

          • Matt M says:

            Bob, who was a grocer’s grocer, met with other grocers to discuss the grocers’ position on groceries.

          • beleester says:

            I think it’s the singular possessive (grocer’s). When you’re using a possessive to talk about something belonging to a particular class of person, you generally use the singular (e.g. a fireman’s axe). It’s “the sort of apostrophe that a grocer (singular) would use.”

          • Alejandro says:


            Vegans think that people who sell meat are gross. But personally, I think that people who sell fruits and vegetables are grocer.

          • Charles F says:

            Vegans tend to get stereotyped as effete/wimpy maybe a bit more than is reasonable. But to be fair, there’s not much that’s butcher than preparing meat.

          • rahien.din says:


            I, yankee, might say, “In contrast to American grocers, British grocers’ apostrophes are each a grocer’s apostrophe.”

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            So, if a dozen grocers run a dozen groceries, and each grocery grows into a dozen more groceries that both vegans and a dozen grocers can go for, but each of those dozen groceries’ grocers go for another grocery that goes for gopher, do the vegans think the gross of grocers’ grocers’ grocer is grosser?

          • Vegans think that people who sell meat are gross. But personally, I think that people who sell fruits and vegetables are grocer.

            I laughed out loud at this one. I’m not usually a fan of puns, but this one caught me by surprise.

          • beleester says:

            @rahien.din: Exactly.

            It’s good to avoid the grocer’s apostrophe. So one should avoid following the example of British grocers, because the British grocers’ apostrophes are grocer’s apostrophes. But the American grocers’ apostrophes are not grocer’s apostrophes.

  13. purplepeople says:

    In my opinion, that should not change the decision. If there were grocer’s commas all over the page, maybe, but due to the “Paris in the the spring” effect it’s very hard to catch one’s typos.

  14. rahien.din says:

    Thanks to everyone who replied to my request in Classifieds III, either to the post itself or via email.

    Within hours I had multiple responses, approaching the problem from multiple angles, including:
    – An offer to write a custom SQL query, documented to the degree that it is a tiny SQL tutorial (which is what I went for)
    – A free Python script and instructions on how to execute it
    – VBA code to install into Excel, written on-the-fly with the offer of support in making it work
    – A proposed general solution in SQLite
    – A link to the necessary tools and tutorials to start learning R, which I have wanted to learn for a long time
    – Multiple emails just indicating interest in helping, which I have not been able to adequately respond to

    Y’all are fantastic. Thanks again!

  15. blame says:

    Has anyone here ever tried to create a Tulpa (maybe even successfully) and wants to share some stories?

    I find the concept interesting but kind of hard to believe.

    • rlms says:

      I’ve been tempted to try, but it contravenes my personal rule against inducing mental disorders.

      • Evan Þ says:

        I agree – even though it sounds like it might be fun in some ways, I’m concerned about what side effects it might have on my mind.

        Plus, as a Christian who believes demons really exist, I can’t help noticing similarities between tulpas and tales of demonic influence. What if it really isn’t all in the human’s mind?

        • Jaskologist says:

          Does one even need to believe in demons here? It’s hard to look at this and not think “ok, even though demons don’t literally exist, this is still literally demonic possession.” If you’ve got another consciousness inside your brain, the rest is just implementation details.

          “Don’t call up what you can’t put down” seems apropos.

          • Deiseach says:

            Chance for a G.K. Chesterton quote, when he was a young man and fooling around with the planchette:

            What I may call my period of madness coincided with a period of drifting and doing nothing; in which I could not settle down to any regular work. I dabbled in a number of things; and some of them may have had something to do with the psychology of the affair. I would not for a moment suggest it as a cause, far less as an excuse, but it is a contributory fact that among these dabblings in this dubious time, I dabbled in Spiritualism without having even the decision to be a Spiritualist. Indeed I was, in a rather unusual manner, not only detached but indifferent. My brother and I used to play with planchette, or what the Americans call the ouija board; but we were among the few, I imagine, who played in a mere spirit of play. Nevertheless I would not altogether rule out the suggestion of some that we were playing with fire; or even with hell-fire. In the words that were written for us there was nothing ostensibly degrading, but any amount that was deceiving. I saw quite enough of the thing to be able to testify, with complete certainty, that something happens which is not in the ordinary sense natural, or produced by the normal and conscious human will. Whether it is produced by some subconscious but still human force, or by some powers, good, bad or indifferent, which are external to humanity, I would not myself attempt to decide. The only thing I will say with complete confidence, about that mystic and invisible power, is that it tells lies. The lies may be larks or they may be lures to the imperilled soul or they may be a thousand other things; but whatever they are, they are not truths about the other world; or for that matter about this world.

            …But I have sometimes fancied since that this practice, of the true psychology of which we really know so little, may possibly have contributed towards the disturbed or even diseased state of brooding and idling through which I passed at the time. I would not dogmatise either way; it is possible that it had nothing to do with it; it is possible that the whole thing was merely mechanical or accidental. I would leave planchette with a playful farewell, giving her the benefit of the doubt; I would allow that she may have been a joke or a fancy or a fairy or anything else; with the proviso that I would not touch her again with a barge-pole. There are other aspects, concerning things much more my own fault, in which a barge-pole would have been useful; but I may as well finish here the trail of my merely trivial and accidental relations to psychical research; as there will be no need to return to that aspect of it; and I should never think of judging it seriously by such trifles.

            …Most of this happened when I was at the art school; but even when I had left it, this very casual connection was continued, in a queer way, by the coincidence that I worked for a short time in the office of a publisher who rather specialised in spiritualistic and theosophical literature, known under the general title of the occult. It was not entirely my fault, if it was not the fault of the real spiritualists or other real spirits, if I blundered into rather queer and uncomfortable corners of Spiritualism. On my first day in the office I had my first insight into the occult; for I was very vague about the business, as about most other businesses. I knew we had just published a big and vigorously boomed book of the Life and Letters of the late Dr. Anna Kingsford, of whom I had never heard, though many of our customers seemed to have heard of hardly anybody else. My full enlightenment came when a distraught lady darted into the office and began to describe her most complex spiritual symptoms and to demand the books most suited to her complaint, which I was quite incompetent to select. I timidly offered the monumental Life and Letters; but she shrank away with something like a faint shriek. “No, no,” she cried, “I mustn’t! Anna Kingsford says I mustn’t.” Then, with more control, “Anna Kingsford told me this morning that I must not read her Life; it would be very bad for me, she said, to read her Life.” I ventured to say, or stammer, with all the crudity of common speech, “But Anna Kingsford is dead.” “She told me this morning,” repeated the lady, “that I must not read the book.” “Well,” I said, “I hope Dr. Kingsford hasn’t been giving that advice to many people; it would be rather bad for the business. It seems rather malicious of Dr. Kingsford.”

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Yes but it’s been a very frustrating experience. No matter how much electricity I use, the little golden ball isn’t turning into a copy of Kyle MacLachlan.

    • Lillian says:

      The notion of Tulpas intrigued me when i first learned of them, i think spring of last year. The inside of my mind often feels like a vast lonely void, and it sounded nice to have someone to keep me company in there, even if they were but a particularly convincing self-inflicted illusion. So i put in some effort into creating one, though not earnestly nor long enough for it to really go anywhere, and the project has since been twice abandoned.

      The first time was due to simply trying too hard. Mental overexertion caused the head pressure to become full blown headaches accompanied by dizziness and anxiety. It scared me off it for a while, but after a month or two i decided to try again. The second time i paced myself more and was doing better, until further reading on the subject found a detailed and disturbing description of it going horribly wrong for someone. Regardless of whether it was true or not (others expressed disbelief on that point), the narrative became a sort of memetic virus, infecting all my mental projections with unpleasant visions inspired by the horrid tale.

      Intrusive thoughts of disturbing imagery have plagued me all my life, and i am no more able to deal with them now than when i was as a child. This is worse still, since rather than random intrusions, merely thinking of Tulpas immediately brings up thoughts of their being corrupted and wrong, strengthening the connection between the two ideas. Since there appears to be no way to disentangle the association, there is no hope that i may come to forget the viral meme. There would have to be some way to selectively edit my memories, and also to keep me from abusing it to the point of blissful insanity.

      So the project had to be abandoned again, and this time permanently. Sadly the whole effort appears to be a total loss, and in a way that is much more frustrating than if i had simply been unable to get any results. It’s a terrible pity, but i see nothing that i can do about it.

  16. dodrian says:

    Last week we discussed Seth MacFarlane’s new sci-fi/comedy show on Fox, The Orville.

    I watched the second episode last night and was pleased with the direction it took. They took on a more dramatic storyline, with proper sci-fi idea (the nature of orders/command, alien cultural & technological differences). Unfortunately the execution missed the mark. Much of the humor was too colonoscopy-themed for my taste, and the dramatic dialog was a bit wooden. Alara’s character development was interesting but rather heavy-handed.

    The ending, however, was perfect. It showed that you can mix drama and comedy in a way that works. It was just the right amount of silly to match the serious plot and keep the show on an even keel.

    I’m an eternal optimist, and last night saw a lot more of what I had hoped for in the series. It didn’t feel like it was reliant on Star Trek jokes to keep going, though I’m hoping for less fart jokes (that’s probably too much to ask from MacFarlane). It showed a willingness to engage serious topics in a thoughtful but light-hearted way. There’s still a lot too improve, and the show’s niche enough that it’s never going to please everyone, but it was a step in the right direction. In any case, it’s not like the original Star Trek was a well-spring of believable characters or acting talent. Even TNG took a whole season to grow a beard (literally), I just hope Fox gives this one a chance.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I had mixed feelings about the first show. I liked the music, though if people are going goshwowoboyoboy over the music, the state of (sf? tv? sf tv?) music must be dire.

      I liked the look– the ships (both interior and exterior) were very pleasing.

      However, the pacing was slow and the humor was mostly awful.

      Also, the solution to the problem was just painful. It seemed clever, but where the the matter come from?

      In the second episode, the humor was too painful for me.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’m with dodrian on this one, except that I saw the ending as just more of the same unfunny humor + bad drama. It definitely does seem like an attempt to do Classic Trek, complete with a strange new world with new life and a new civilization and boldly going where no bickering ex-couple had gone before, but the execution was as clumsy and unimaginative as any third-rate third-season TOS episode.

      Well, OK, maybe not as clumsy as “Spock’s Brain”. MacFarlane can do better that that, at least. But that’s the best praise I can give this one. Slightly better than “Spock’s Brain”, with colonoscopy jokes to paper over the dramatic inadequacies.

      • Deiseach says:

        colonoscopy jokes

        It’s Seth MacFarlane so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised but can anyone explain to me why anybody over the age of six finds toilet humour funny?

        Actually, if they re-did “Spock’s Brain” as the War of the Sexes episode it set out to be, with the bickering ex-couple as the leads of the opposite camps, it might be funny. Anything other than fart/poo/sticking something up your bottom jokes.

    • BBA says:

      I saw the first episode and…maaan. It doesn’t know whether it’s trying to be a generic Star Trek pastiche or a silly Airplane!-style spoof, so it splits the difference and comes off as a TNG episode with Family Guy gags randomly sprinkled throughout.

      I saw some potential for good bits (they really good have done more with the scientist taking forever to get to the point, and the crew getting increasingly annoyed) but overall I don’t think I’ll be sticking around. But it leaves me wondering how the Star Trek universe would handle a “fun” show in this vein.

    • cassander says:

      I felt the same way, actually. My friends felt like John, despite us having very similar preferences. I don’t think it’s amazing, but I’ll be it’s better than discovery!

      • Wrong Species says:

        My attitude is basically that it doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be better than Discovery. I’m tired of every drama trying to one up each other in being GRIMDARK. Being optimistic is actually subversive.

        • John Schilling says:

          Be fair; we haven’t seen Discovery yet, and as noted crossthread there are positive as well as negative signs. It could turn out OK.

          But regardless, I don’t see how the anticipated Discovery of an exceptionally bad imitation of “Star Trek” makes the present moderately bad imitation of “Star Trek”, anything more or less than simply bad. “Orville” doesn’t have to be better than “Discovery”; “Discovery” has to be better than “Orville” or there will just be two imitations of “Star Trek” I’m not watching.

          For most of my life, there’s been no “Star Trek” worth watching on television, and I can live with that. At least now we have “The Expanse”.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I’m fairly agnostic on what Discovery will be like. But if it is as bad as I fear, then I’m going to want my Star Trek fix. The Orville isn’t perfect but it does have the spirit of Star Trek and can improve. It might not be as good as season 4 of TNG but it’s certainly superior to season 1. If Discovery insists on trying to be Game of Thrones in space, then I have much less hope in it getting better.

          • John Schilling says:

            Why not just keep doing whatever it is you have been doing the past twelve years, and save the time you would have spent watching an at best mediocre television series?

        • cassander says:

          I actually like grim dark. Well, that’s not quite right, I like tragedy and, for lack of a better term, adult themes. But tragedy isn’t just everything is always shitty all the time. Good tragedy requires enough hope and optimism mixed in that the failure to obtain it has meaning and impact. It’s striving for a goal and falling just short due to your own failings.

          I think this was one of the problems with battlestar. I’ve often said almost every individual episode is good but the show as a whole adds up to less than the sum of its parts, and this is one of the reason why. A messy struggle for survival isn’t tragic, it’s sad. The characters succeed in spite of themselves, they don’t fail because of themselves. And that leaves the whole thing feeling small, directionless, and unsatisfying.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Not sure if the anvil drop about the morality of zoos was a real anvil drop or an attempt to parody some of the over the top anvil drops of original Trek.

      Unforgiveable: They had a couple forced into a cage and missed the chance at the obvious pun on _Command Performance_.

      The solution was indeed hilarious.

      The whole episode was a reference to the original Star Trek pilot in its recut form as “The Menagerie”.

      • CatCube says:

        The other missed opportunity (though maybe they played with it but I was distracted by some plumbing work I was doing) was they never did anything with the weed brownie Kelly got in anticipation of spending time with her in-laws.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          It was called back to to prompt a discussion of an escapade from married life that also involved pot and a trip to the opera. I agree the gun felt unfired, though.

          • CatCube says:

            I saw that part (and actually thought it was pretty good), but like you didn’t feel that it actually did something worthy of inclusion earlier in the episode. Like you said, Chekov’s Gun was unfired.

      • johan_larson says:

        I thought the second episode was well worth watching. Lt. Kitan’s reaction to being placed in command of the ship and her trouble making it work seemed very plausible to me. Poignant, even. Not much humor in this episode, though.

        Still, this habit of sending both the captain and the XO off the ship at the same time is just ridiculous. I wish they’d at least hang a lampshade on it.

        This series deserves a chance. I’ll give it at least another couple of episodes.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          . Lt. Kitan’s reaction to being placed in command of the ship and her trouble making it work seemed very plausible to me. Poignant, even.

          I sort of agree…except for two major points true in any vaguely competent vaguely military organization, as I understand them (note that I have never served, I just read a lot of naval fiction and non-fiction.)

          1) You do not get to the position of fourth in command of a vessel having never stood a watch or otherwise been in an authority person, because we explicitly want to find the people who will freeze up on their first time before, you know, this episode happens. (TNG had a sane solution to this even coming up, which other Treks seem to abandon: the captain and all senior officers didn’t lead the same fucking away team.) I know the command team is short a member (for equally unreasonable reasons), but…there is no way Kitan hasn’t led *something* before, and even if she hadn’t, there is no way Ed and his wife would both leave the ship.

          2) When she runs off the bridge while in command, out of sheer panic, she now faces a court martial for dereliction of duty and will be lucky to be cashiered. (Confer what happens, hat tip Starship Troopers, if you move a wounded superior while not even knowing you’re in command.) Like, seriously, this ruins the whole plotline for me a bit. Terrified new leader making mistakes and needing guidance, fine. Abandoning her post isn’t. The medal at the end is just a cruel joke.

          Maybe the not-Federation is incompetent as well as funny but I don’t think that’s the read we’re supposed to get.

          • Matt M says:

            TNG had a sane solution to this even coming up, which other Treks seem to abandon

            And a nice little subversion in an episode where due to a random anomaly, Troi ends up in command of the bridge, is overwhelmed by it, and faces a lot of criticism from a technically junior but command-line subordinate.

          • johan_larson says:

            I agree with you that Lt. Kitan’s behavior would probably have ended her career in a real military. But a certain amount of exaggeration is useful for dramatic purposes, and the writers did tell us in the first episode that she is very inexperienced for her rank.

            The medal, yes, that was going too far. She should have faced some sort of disciplinary review. But it’s not crazy to think she would have been vindicated by it. After some wobbles, she did manage to secure the return of two high-ranking officers of the Union, and she did it without firing a shot.

          • John Schilling says:

            They did say in the pilot that Kitan had been fast-tracked as an affirmative-action candidate, and I’m willing to fanwank “never been in command before” as, roughly, OOD-qualified and has stood a few watches but never when anything serious was going on and never without the actual captain within shouting distance. It’s a clumsy way of setting up the unconfident-newbie-in-command storyline that was otherwise the best part of the episode, and it particularly grates for those of us who remember when TNG was doing it right, but it wasn’t quite beyond the limit for me.

            Having the nominal second officer unavailable because he just up and “requested” a leave of absence to spend three weeks in his cabin incubating the egg he already laid, OK, that’s plausible in a disturbingly relevant political commentary sort of way, but it pushes me over the edge of not caring for any of these people (except Lt. Kitan, for this episode only).

            The alien zoo plot was strictly paint-by-the-numbers, and squandered the bit where it briefly had me caring about the captain and XO.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Kitan running off to Bortan and then getting a shot of tequila (which she can’t hold) is a _joke_. You’re supposed to laugh. I guess that’s a problem with a half-serious show; it’s hard to get the audience to switch from serious to comedy mode and vice-versa.

            Also based on the first episode, they’re using the “ship of misfits” trope. The captain who has been a screwup for a year, the android who holds humans in disdain, the navigator whose first question is about drinking soda on the bridge, the XO who the captain has personal issues with, the handpicked drunk pilot, and the doctor who throws a lampshade over it all: “Well, this is your first command, and I think you could use my help.” Kitan, who has been fast-tracked apparently on some sort of “affirmative action for Xelayans” (uh, sorry .5 thread) grounds, fits right in.

            The captain and XO leaving the ship is probably another nod to TOS, since Kirk and Spock did it all the time.

          • Wrong Species says:

            When she runs off the bridge while in command, out of sheer panic, she now faces a court martial for dereliction of duty and will be lucky to be cashiered.

            That seems like an extreme overreaction. She went to talk to someone and came back. Adding that she was pretty green, it hardly seems the appropriate response.

  17. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    So I’m extremely late to the party, but I recently discovered the RPG Monsterhearts and it looks promising. I’m planning on running a session of the second edition with my players and was wondering if anyone who has played it had any thoughts or suggestions.

    Random thoughts after having read the booklet:

    1. The author is in-your-face SJ, to the point that there’s an entire chapter on triggers and white guilt, but despite her claims the ideology seems more tacked on than baked into the mechanics. The only game mechanic which you could argue “challenges heterosexism” is the Turn Someone On mechanic, and she helpfully included a fix for that in the page on asexuality. Yes, there’s a page on asexuality. Did I mention that the author is an SJW?

    2. I LOVE the Mortal and Queen classes. This game actually has mechanics for playing Bella Swan or Cordelia Chase! The author definitely gets how silly the genre is and isn’t sticking to the World of Darkness trenchcoat-and-katana school of vampires.

    3. Compared to Dungeon World, I feel like the GM moves are underdeveloped. She could spare dozens of pages to talk about critical theory but can’t fit in a less vague set of mechanics? It seems simple to run but I also have a decade of RPG experience by now. A newbie GM is probably going to be confused as to what he’s actually supposed to be doing.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      You’ve gotta understand that built into the DNA of Forge-diaspora games is that they have to claim that whatever issue or theme they address is built deeply into the rules of the game. It’s not actually true in a lot of cases — and I think that there’s a pretty colorable argument that it’s not true of the more successful games in the Forge-diaspora — but the RPG ideology that Ron Edwards created was about tying mechanics to themes. So they all claim it.

      I’ve played the first edition of Monsterhearts a couple of times. Not sure I’ve ever played the second edition, or how much they differ. My sense is… it’s a very PbtA game of Buffy, all right. You pretty much get what it says on the tin.

      Are GM moves ever actually useful for any PbtA game?

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Ah ok. Thanks, that bit of background explains a lot.

        Are GM moves ever actually useful for any PbtA game?

        I thought they were helpful when I ran Dungeon World, which is the only one I’ve really played.

        I’ll have to go back and take another look tonight but my memory was that I had a much larger toolbox there.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          I mean, Dungeon World is also based around dungeon crawling to a great degree, right? It’s a significantly more categorized challenge set. But anyway, of my not-exactly-comprehensive experience of Apocalypse World hacks, I’ve never seen one that has useful GM moves.

  18. lieronet says:

    Serious question: should we use the brain-dead as blood factories? Estimates (aka some quick Googling) put the cost of 1L of blood in the $300-500 range, and some random Quora user writes that humans replenish 1-4% of their blood per day (depending on iron intake). So, assuming a hypothetical blood farm optimizes for blood production, some quick math:

    Humans contain roughly 5L of blood. 4%/day of 5L gives us .2L/day, or 1L/5 days. This gives us $60-100 per day of blood production – probably higher if our blood bag is Type-O.

    With that done, there are still some pieces of information needed to run a cost analysis. How much would it cost to keep their bodies functioning? To pay orderlies to keep pressure sores from forming? Would this have the potential to drive the cost of blood low enough to stop this from being profitable? What ethical concerns do you have?

    Thank you for your consideration, SSC readership. This thought occurred to me at work, and I wanted an audience to bounce it off of. I look forward to any responses.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      There is no conceivable way it costs less than $100/day to keep a brain dead person alive long term.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Why do you say that?

        It’s unsavory, but if you had 100 people in a row of beds, each getting a feeding tube, what are the upfront and ongoing labor and capital costs? Particularly if you can make a decision to cut off each donor if they get too many complications.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          You could probably tend to vegetative state people for about a week at very low cost. After two months, you’d have antibiotic-resistant staph infections running wild through your body farm.

          You need to keep IV tubes in them, monitor their vitals, dispose of their wastes, actually harvest the blood, dispose of dead ones in a timely manner, keep the place clean, avoid infections. You’ll need trained medical personnel and, god, metrics tons of shit.

          Look, just let’s reset the patent counter on an artificial blood product so that someone can make a profit off one of them if we want blood so bad.

          • Matt M says:

            You also have to compare the cost of blood vs the cost of *all other organs in the person’s body*, many of which I assume would deteriorate or become infected after a large amount of time as a blood farm.

            Basically gotta find the break-even point where it’s more profitable to keep someone alive for blood than to immediately harvest their other organs.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      should we use the brain-dead as blood factories?


      The reasons why I think we (who’s we anyway?) shouldn’t do it aren’t utilitarian, so they’re not going to be convincing to you. I don’t really care how the math adds up, it’s wrong and shouldn’t be permitted.

      As for the math, cursory search suggests that you’re wrong. It looks like caring for patients in persistent vegetative states runs from hundreds to thousands of dollars per day. You can double check yourself: as I said, the math can come out either way and it won’t change my answer.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        I think there’s actually a rational argument for your position, even if you suggest your personal motive is not. Namely, if it’s profitable to farm the brain-dead for blood, it becomes economically attractive to arrange for there to be more brain-dead.

        Obviously, someone will notice if you implement this by kidnapping people and drugging them with zombie mushrooms. If you stick to kidnapping only homeless people, it might take a while, and no less a violation of human rights. Alternately, if you’re a doctor authorized to make judgment calls on whether a patient is brain-dead, it might take a while. If you’re being paid by a body snatcher to lean a certain way, it might take a while.

        Even if the blood sales are automatically given to the brain-dead’s estate, it could be a problem, given who’s likely to inherit it.

        Now I’m reminded of Tigole’s anecdote of Ultima Online, where if someone had been PKed (player-killed – their avatar was slain by another), everyone in the vicinity would suddenly swarm the corpse, and you’d see icons furiously blipping off it as everyone tried to loot their stuff.

      • . says:

        What about if it was understood as “mortification of the flesh”, like sky burial is today? (Of course you can’t flip a switch and get a new cultural understanding, so this isn’t a practical question, but I’m still curious.)

    • qwints says:

      Seems like opt-out or mandatory organ donation is a much more real world discussion of the same ethical issue. In the US, thousands of people are dying annually while waiting for transplants, but only about 45% of Americans are registered donors.

      I am unsure if this issue can be discussed meaningfully without running into the culture war ban.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I’d totally sign a release to allow this in the event of my becoming brain dead.

    • John Schilling says:

      As others have pointed out, the business case for this isn’t going to close on blood alone. But think positive! We’ve got lots of pharmaceutical companies desperate for test subjects for their new drugs, particularly test subjects that don’t come with pesky IRB requirements. For most new drugs, we can probably do most of the testing without higher brain function, so by all means rent the bodies out to the drug companies. Except for the comely female ones – presumably most of the people currently having sex with blow-up dolls would rather have insensate but warm flesh and blood, and Uma Thurman is I believe too busy for that these days, so we should be able to make a quick Buck or two that way. Also we can claim, by analogy with pornography, that we’re protecting actual women from rape. And these, unlike the drug-testing units, we can harvest blood from on the side. And all of them, except for the worst of the drug-testing units, when we’re done with them we can harvest all the organs for sale. What else am I missing? I’m certain properly clever capitalists will be able to come up with ideas.

      Also, what definition of “brain-dead” are you using, and can we induce it artificially in criminals who have been sentenced to death? If it turns out that squeamish and insufficiently utilitarian Americans and Europeans won’t go along with this sort of thing, can we offshore it to more ethically flexible nations?

      There’s a reason for having an ironclad rule that if a thing has a heartbeat and an h. sapiens genome, we treat it as a person and not a resource. Coming up with a clever excuse for why it would be neat to bend that rule, just this once and with the best of motives, risks setting the sort of example that leads to nightmarish atrocity, and even my expanded list of potential benefits wouldn’t justify that.

    • JayT says:

      Different, but related. Once the doctor’s have harvested everything of value from an organ donor, do they drain the body of blood, or does it just go to waste?

      • rahien.din says:

        It’s not transplanted.

        In the interval between the diagnosis of brain death and the surgery to explant their organs, patients get a number of medications to keep their organs in good enough condition. After removal of the liver, there would be no physiologic mechanism for removing those medications. You could dialyze them off, but that makes such a harvest even less economical.

        So from a practical standpoint, the blood is irrevocably contaminated.

        In some sense, though, it has not gone to waste. It has done its job of protecting and nourishing the organs so that they can be explanted.

        • JayT says:

          Interesting. I didn’t know that. I tried looking a little bit online yesterday, but was surprised to find that it was fairly difficult to find a step by step process of how organs are harvested.

  19. rlms says:

    Music theory effortpost 3: rhythm and structure (previous part here.)

    The two previous parts in this series were about harmony, but I’ve decided to temporarily switch themes and write a post about non-harmonic things (specifically, rhythm and structure). These topics should be more accessible, so if the previous posts went over your head you might like this one more.

    Harmony comes from pitch, which physically happens at timescales of 10^-2 seconds or less. Rhythm covers timescales starting where pitch ends and ending at tens of seconds; structure covers the longer timescales. The basic unit of rhythm is the beat: the thing that humans (and the occasional parrot) tap their feet to. The period of a beat is invariably divided into two (simple metre) or less commonly three (compound metre). Beats are usually grouped into bars or measures. If you count 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4 while listening to some music, you are counting the beats in the bars. Typically, bars contain four beats (quadruple metre), less frequently they have two or three, and occasionally they have other amounts. The length of a bar generally stays the same throughout a piece, but not always.

    Rhythms (patterns of notes in time) is described using names for different note lengths. One important note length is the subdivision of the beat. This unit is usually called/written as the eighth note (quaver in British English), as it is one eighth the duration of a whole note (so-called because it lasts a whole bar of the ubiquitous simple quadruple metre). Two eighth notes make a quarter note, four make a half note, 1/4 of an eighth note is a thirty second note and so on[1]. A note that is 1.5 times the length of an `x` note is called a dotted `x` note because it is written as an `x` note with a dot. A note that is 2/3 the length of an `x` note is an `x` note triplet. This naming system can be used to name metres. Simple metres are written x/4, where `x` is the number of beats in a bar (the 4 means that each beat is a quarter note, i.e. has two eighth notes). Somewhat confusingly, compound metres are written
    3x/8 (the 8 meaning that there are `3x` eighth notes, and hence `x` beats, in each bar).

    One important rhythmic concept is the idea of strong and weak beats and points in a bar. Notes played at stronger positions in the bar are more noticeable and more important; they’re often the ones you look at when analysing music harmonically. The strongest point in any bar is its start; the first beat. The next strongest positions are the start of each beat, and in the case of quadruple metre the third beat is stronger than the second and fourth (because it is halfway through). More granularity (in terms of whether you have to use eighth notes, sixteenth notes, and so on, to specify the distance of a note from the start of a bar) means increased weakness.

    This concept is the basis for the idea of syncopation, which means putting emphasis on notes at weak positions and/or not putting notes in strong positions. For some reason, music theory books often imply syncopation was invented by 20th century popular music. That isn’t true at all, although it’s more common in modern genres, it has been featured in Western classical music pretty much since records began[2]. One incredibly common form of syncopation is an emphasis on beats 2 and 4 (usually in the form of a snare or hi-hat hit); you would be hard-pressed to find a non-ballad pop song from the last century that doesn’t feature it. Sometimes audiences don’t pick up on this and decide to inappropriately clap on beats 1 and 3. The best response to this is to sneakily add in an extra beat to move them onto 2 and 4 (at 40 seconds here). Several other forms common forms of syncopation come from grouping notes into three: if you play sets of three eighth notes in 4/4 time, you will alternate between starting each set on and off the beat until you get back to where you started. Examples of this include the tresillo pattern in Latin American music and the chorus of ABBA’s Money, Money, Money.

    If individual notes are letters[3], and bars are words, structure is concerned with sentences, paragraphs, entire blog posts and so on. The next unit up from the bar is the phrase, above that the names get a bit vague. If you are a programmer, you will find the numbers of bars in phrases and longer structures very familiar; they are usually either powers of two or three times such. Two well-known popular music structures are the 12 bar blues and the 32 bar form. Almost all jazz standards have one of those two structures. More modern popular music largely favours verse-chorus structures instead (the verse, chorus and bridge generally being 8 or 16 bars long). Classic classical forms include binary (AB), ternary (ABA), rondo (ABACAD…A), and sonata (???).

    That concludes part 3 of this series! Questions are welcome. Unrelated to music theory: check out my username link!

    [1] In British English, two quavers make a crotchet, two crotchets make a minim, and two minims make a semibreve. Half a quaver is a semiquaver; further halving gets demisemiquavers and hemidemisemiquavers.
    [2] I don’t think it was used in Gregorian chanting, but everything after that has it.
    [3] or more accurately, morphemes

    • Well... says:

      I have a post on my blog that happens to deal with the matter of syncopation and odd meter in different types of music. (Warning: it’s culture warry.) [link]

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I’m shocked about a course being so bigoted about music, and I hope it’s not typical.

        This being said, have an unverified claim– that white American audiences will clap properly to “When the Saints Come Marching In” with 2 and 4, but white European audiences will clap 1 and 3 unless they’re taught 2 and 4.

        • johnjohn says:

          Can vouch that Danish people, at least, will obliviously clap on 1 and 3 no matter the song. Ignoring beat, time signature, visual cues… Hell, they’ll even often ignore tempo and happily clap along on 1 and 3 at 120 bpm while someone on stage (in this particular instance, Bon Iver, playing a soft ballad, solo, on an acoustic guitar) is somehow keeping his 110 bpm pace creating the most infuriatingly polyrhythmic cacophonic hellscape I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

          So in my personal experience (400+ concerts over the past 15 years), Danes are rhythmically stunted barbarians and deserve any scorn they could possibly get

    • dodrian says:

      Can you explain more about what’s happening in the Aretha Franklin song? I think it’s 4/4…. mostly… there are definitely some bits where it’s not, but I can’t figure out where or what they are instead. Is it an occasional measure of 2/4 thrown in?

      • rlms says:

        Yes, it’s mostly 4/4. There are bars of 2/4 in the verse (when the backing vocals sing “make up”, “wear now” etc.) and bars of 3/4 in the chorus (“will love you”, “I love you”, “without you”).

        • dodrian says:

          Thanks – I could follow it then. As someone who needs to count or tap when sight-singing those bars always throw me (when performing I have to stop counting briefly and sing those from memory). Is there a technical name for measures which have this different time signature?

          As far as I’m concerned, the guy who snuck in an extra beat to get the crowd to clap correctly is invoking black magic.

    • bean says:

      Wow. I actually understood most of that. Thanks.
      (Just to be clear, this is no slight to you. I am totally lacking the genes that give an appreciation/understanding of music. I can’t follow the first two posts at all, but that’s pretty typical when I try to get music.)

  20. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Lecture by Bob Laughlin


    He’s got a theory which might help explain stagnation– that people keep the information they need to make a living secret. Useful information will never be free and generally available. He pretty much talks about the information people use to make a living, but it would follow that the information people use to get status is also limited to subgroups.

    He claims that if there were no secrets, there would be no capitalism, and the infrastructure needed for the current population to survive would collapse. It doesn’t seem likely to me that the lack of secrets would end large-scale business, but I might be missing something.

    He claims specifically that genetic research has stalled because the government has locked it down. And a lot of it isn’t keeping secrets, it’s just not funding research which is unwelcome.

    The cold war was a great era for research, but it’s over. He doesn’t speculate about whether there might be another period of superpower competition leading to research, but I can’t see why that wouldn’t happen.

    CERN and such were actually an effort to find out whether there was another category of superweapons to be found beyond the nuclear bomb. The good news is no. The bad news is that more research of that sort is unlikely to be funded.

    • Nornagest says:

      Sounds a little, uh, conspiratorial.

    • The Nybbler says:

      For me that link goes to something on nuclear safety.

    • JayT says:

      That sounds like a person that has no experience outside of an academic setting, where I’m sure it can be annoying getting information out of people. In the rest of the world though, there are very few jobs where it would benefit someone to keep the information needed to make a living secret. I’m a computer programmer, which is a fairly high-status, high-pay job, and I don’t think I have a single secret that is stopping anyone else from doing my job. The closest thing would just be my institutional knowledge of the company I work for, but that’s just experience, not some big secret. When I’m training new hires I try to impart as much of that knowledge over as possible. Furthermore, the entire company I work for doesn’t even have any particularly useful secrets, even though the company is the leader in its field.

      That’s not even touching on stuff like burger flippers. There are so many companies that don’t really have secrets that I can’t see any way a secret-less society would lead to the downfall of capitalism.

      I haven’t watched the lecture though, so maybe I am not understanding the real argument.

      • beleester says:

        Programming does ask you to keep secrets at the company level. Yes, they want you to train other employees of the same company, but they don’t want you to take their source code to a competitor and steal all their customers.

        And you could argue (as Richard Stallman does) that this is an impediment to innovation, stopping other people from improving your software or customizing it to their needs, or requiring them to reinvent the wheel before they can create new things.

        But I don’t see how you go from there to “If everything was public, capitalism would collapse completely.” Even Stallman doesn’t think this – he argues that developers would instead make a living by selling support and maintenance to people who use their free software, like Red Hat does.

        Is there a transcript of this lecture? It’s an hour long and I’m not feeling up to that right now.

        • JayT says:

          I should have mentioned that my company is almost all open source. Not just that though, I was also making the point that the few secrets my company does have (non-open source code, for example), they really don’t stop anyone else from doing the same thing we do. A decent group of programmers could get up and running with what we do from scratch in probably six months or less. I couldn’t steal the source code and go to another company with it because we aren’t really doing anything all that amazing. We are an industry leader largely because of reputation and contacts.

          The company did hold some patents that helped get them to the top, but I feel like that is different from a secret. Everyone in the industry knew what we were doing, they just weren’t allowed to copy it due to government regulation.

          So yes, there are definitely companies that have programmers keeping secrets that are vital to the company, but I would wager that the vast majority of programmers really don’t have any secrets that would help another company succeed in the same industry, and that the vast majority of companies don’t rely on their industry secrets. None of the ones I’ve ever worked for have, at least.

        • Aapje says:


          Yes, they want you to train other employees of the same company, but they don’t want you to take their source code to a competitor and steal all their customers.

          Lots of software is strongly linked to a specific business process. It’s not going to be very appealing to competitors who have and want to have a different business process.

          I think you underestimate how much ‘special snowflake’ mentality there is. The company that I currently work for even have their own (horrible) issue tracking software based on Microsoft Access (and no, it does not cope with a large number of issues, so they are using hacks to keep it up).

          I’d fully expect that if you’d flip the magic switch to make all code open source tomorrow, the 80/20 or 90/10 rule will hold where most code will be utterly ignored and a small percentage will get all the attention.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      My bet is that keeping useful information secret and status-conferring information more secret isn’t a complete explanation, but it’s a plausible influence that explains part of what’s going on.

  21. johan_larson says:

    I have a sneaking suspicion that Ixalan, the latest release of Magic:The Gathering, was designed by drawing lots from an idea jar. How else could they have ended up with pirates, dinosaurs, vampires, merfolk, and a lost city?

    For the next iteration, I want Aztecs, alien flying saucers, the industrial revolution, Homo Habilis, and football played with human heads.

    • The Red Foliot says:

      Idk, to me, they all seem properly associated with one another by virtue of the setting they co-inhabit. Pirates travel to the lost world searching for the lost city. They find dinosaurs in the jungle about the city, vampires in the ancient ruins of the city itself, and merfolk in the rivers which network the jungle. The concepts all seem, if not appropriate, permissible for the setting. The Dark Tower series had a bunch of disparate concepts such as cowboys, robots and Tolkienesque high fantasy thrown brazenly together, but it still worked. I think the setting’s more disconcerting aspect is that most of the concepts are individually susceptible to campiness, so that when they are combined they just become unworkable, the campyness having become too extreme. Vampires alone can be done sensibly. Dinosaurs alone can be done sensibly. But pirates and dinosaurs together result in camp overload. They cannot then be taken seriously.

    • ManyCookies says:

      Maro went over how the tribes came to be in his first design article ([1]), which was surprisingly not that gimmicky. Timeline goes something like:

      1. Design starts with Conquistador Vampires vs Mesopotamian Lost City Natives.
      2. Design wanted to try a three-sided conflict, and Pirates are a natural third party for an “Age of Exploration”-esque flavored block.
      3. Design goes to four factions for gameplay reasons, so they have Pirates+Conquistadors invaders vs. Lost City+Jungle Dweller natives.
      4. Dinosaurs are added as mounts to the Lost City faction, but they gradually take over the faction because Dinosaurs are kickass.
      5. Design realizes they’re making a tribal block at this point, so they make the Jungle Dweller faction Merfolk because they’re a popular and established tribe.


      More interesting is how hectic the rest of Design was (talked about here and here). Their big overarching conflict mechanic got poached by Conspiracy 2, which I imagine would be like telling Kaledash’s Design team they can’t use Energy anymore because the next Un-set needed it. Their next stab at an overarching mechanic ended up an unworkable mess, then their attempt at more individual faction mechanics also failed. So Design passed to Development with basically nothing; they had no Pirate mechanic, no Dinosaur mechanic, and the most generic themes for the BW and UB factions in the universe. I hope Development got a fat bonus for this set, cause they ended up doing most of Design’s work!

  22. HFARationalist says:

    Testing modern supernatural and paranormal claims

    (No this is not an anti-religous thread)

    There are many modern supernatural and paranormal claims. I believe they should be properly examined for factual accuracy.

    For example supposed prophecies, supernatural healings, etc should all be documented and examined. We should start a database that objectively documents all such claims, whether they are factually correct and whether they are actually unusual. If a supernatural or paranormal claim is of a particular religion then the claim has to both be factually correct and be compatible with scriptures of the religion.

    If certain supernatural or paranormal claims are actually factually accurate we will know that. If all current claims are unlikely to be factually correct we will also know that.

    • The Red Foliot says:

      Jack Vance wrote a novella about that, it was called Parapsyche. It was about the son of a hillbilly who became a bigoted religious leader who wanted to shut down research into paranormal activity, despite claims that such areas of research, just like all other areas, were worth looking into. Jack Vance sold it to the formidable editor of the Analog magazine, a certain John W. Campbell. Campbell was known at the time for purchasing any story concerning psychic activity which came his way, no matter how bad it was.

    • johnjohn says:

      I believe they should be properly examined for factual accuracy.


      • HFARationalist says:

        Why not? This is a project both theists and non-theists should support because it provides a means to show evidence of theism if such solid evidence does exist along the lines of President Trump being a real person and exposes charlatans who pretend to have something supernatural in them.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Perhaps watch the just-completed The Devil and Father Amorth and report back. Let us know your thoughts going into the movie, and to what extent you do or do not change your opinion on the topic of demonic possession afterwards.

      “Making of” piece from Vanity Fair last year.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        History of Exorcism 1 hour podcast

        Substantial article

        Do people ever get possessed by entities that don’t match the beliefs they hold and/or grew up with?

        Jews possessed by Christian demons? Non-Jews possessed by dybbuks?

        • HFARationalist says:

          This is interesting. If you are only “possessed” by “demons” you have heard of then there is something weird here.

          If demons do exist they should probably be universal. Whether you recognize them as demons or not changes nothing.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Do people ever get possessed by entities that don’t match the beliefs they hold and/or grew up with?

          I don’t know, but I don’t know if it would matter if they don’t. Possible explanations for only Catholics getting possessed by demons:

          1) Catholicism is the One True Religion, so Satan only bothers mucking with Catholics. Why waste effort tormenting people who, by not being Catholics, are already under your sway?

          2) Scott said in Unsong that “everything is a metaphor for God except God.” I think this is almost true. Every description we have of God is a metaphor. I do not have the language or understanding to describe God, and can only perceive the metaphysical as a dim view of a more perfect geometry. For instance, I pray “Our Father, who art in heaven.” But God is not literally my father. My father is a very nice man, but he is not God. That’s a metaphor. I say “in heaven,” but God exists outside of space and time. What does it mean to be “in” a “place” that is outside space and time? These are metaphors. Note, this does not mean God or Satan or angels or demons are metaphors. They literally exist. But our descriptions of them are metaphors. Ergo, any possession is described using culturally relevant approximations of the literal demon.

          • Nick says:

            Every description we have of God is a metaphor.

            If you want the Thomist’s input, this is almost but not quite right. All metaphorical language is analogical—viz., is a kind of middle way between terms being used in exactly the same way (univocally) and terms being used in an unrelated way (equivocally)—but not all analogical language is metaphorical. In particular, claims about God like that he is all-knowing or loving are literally true and not metaphorically true, but their literal meaning is only analogous to the meaning we employ in commoner uses of knowing or loving.

            I think this is pretty much exactly what you mean, but it’s worth being more precise in our language where we can.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Thank you Nick, I appreciate the clarification.

    • Carolus says:

      Check out Charles Fort (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Fort) and the Fortean Times. It attempts to do what you want, although it has a bit of a 19th Century amateur scientist feel about it. But, that is what you get when you are focused on paranormal events and Forteana.

  23. dodrian says:

    Recently Terry Pratchett’s unfinished work was steamrollered, as per his wishes, and by a proper steam-powered flattening machine. Considering how gaga fandoms can go over even a page of unpublished material, taking things a bit too seriously and obsessing over every word, most of which the author would probably have cut from the final draft, this action will probably go a long way to protect his legacy.

    Nevertheless, in the interests of taking discussion of an author’s works a bit too over the top, I present a ranking of my top 5 Discworld novels:

    5) Jingo
    4) Going Postal
    3) The Truth
    2) The Thief of Time
    1) The Last Continent

    Of the 40½ full length novels (I’m looking at you The Last Hero), the only one I considered bad was Raising Steam. It felt like it stretched the medieval fantasy world just a little too far, had annoying characters and the subtly of, well, a steamroller. Snuff would also be near the bottom of my list, and the first few books of the series, though not bad, were definitely sub-standard (Wyrd Sisters is where I think it really got going). The Shepherd’s Crown, while unpolished, was at least a good send-off for the series.

    • quaelegit says:

      I’ve only read the first half of discworld (up to The Last Continent), and I don’t remember my impressions of individual books too well, but:

      Favorites definitely invlude Mort and Small Gods. I’m very fond of the night watch, the witches, and Death, but I don’t remember which specific books (and my preferences might be mostly influenced by which I’ve reread most recently).

      But now I want to add that I adore Rincewind and Susan Stop Helit as well– Honestly its easier to remember which I thought were weaker, because I have a very high regard for the series in general. Particularly Moving Pictures. Didn’t like Eric or Sourcery that much, but I’m not sure that they were subpar or just not to my taste.

      Agree that the early books are different and I think the Disc became a lot more coherent with Wyrd Sisters — although I really like the first four, I feel like Sir Terry was still solidifying his conception of Discworld.

      • DavidS says:

        Mort’s a weird one: various people online say they particularly like it, but for me and people I know in real life it’s always very far down the list.

        Agreed that Wyrd Sisters is where it takes off – I always think of it as the first Witches book because earlier ones hadn’t bedded down properly. Around Reaper Man (10th) it’s fully established in its golden age. In terms of the different groups, I probably like Rincewind less than Witches/Death/Watch but less because of enjoyment per se and more because all of the others have images/moments or raise issues in ways that I remember and which are part of my personal frame of reference.

        For me they then start to go downhill towards the end. Whereas Night Watch is one of the best (not really funny but moving and powerful) Monstrous Regiment isn’t great, Moist books are OK but lacks the sweep or charm of the other sets, and Unseen Academicals and Raising Steam are slightly embarassing, like someone else copying his style (not sure if this is around the time he started dictating and his way of writing changed?) Oddly Snuff is still OK, but still weaker than that middle group starting with Reaper Man, which is hit after hit after hit.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I really liked Going Postal but Making Money wasn’t as good. By that point, Ankh-Morpork really felt “lived in.” I found Unseen Academicals forgettable, but Snuff I started reading in 2011 or 12, and then put down halfway through for three years or so. His period from the mid to early 90s to mid 2000s was great.

    • dndnrsn says:

      The Truth, Going Postal, and Night Watch were probably the three where he was at the height of his powers. Small Gods is truly fantastic, but is less polished than those. I thought Unseen Academicals and Snuff were very weak, with the latter being so weak I didn’t even bother to read his last couple of books. Near the end, he just lost all subtlety. His earliest books are very “loose” but that might just be that they are very Rincewind-heavy, and the Rincewind books are far more picaresque novels than the rest. Mort feels a lot more like the later stuff; the early non-Rincewind stuff is different from his later stuff mostly in the form of some major supporting characters not being there (eg, the pre-Vetinari patricians) and some characters behaving rather differently (eg, Weatherwax in Equal Rites is a very different character than in Wyrd Sisters, just a few books later).

      • dodrian says:

        I enjoyed Unseen Academicals, though perhaps I’m just more partial to Rincewind and the Wizards. Their characters have tended to be more slapstick and silly, though that also means less depth to the books which I acknowledge is probably why others don’t like Rincewind as much. I guess I just enjoy the silly more than I enjoy the societal commentary (which, as you say, got far less subtle and much too heavy handed at the end).

        • dndnrsn says:

          I think it’s less the characters and more that the picaresque nature means there’s less of a plot, by and large. The Rincewind novels feature him sort of bouncing from one thing to another. I liked the Discworld books for their worldbuilding – which, even when silly, is better than 95% of sci-fi/fantasy worldbuilding – and regardless of whether it’s the first two books in the series or The Last Continent most of what Rincewind interacts with is going to be forgotten as he flees to the next scene.

          The wizards are pretty good, but their worldbuilding is, well, existent: UU feels like a magic university and the stereotype of pompous old professors who are barely aware of students is not an entirely unfair one.

          I don’t know that anybody came for the social commentary, but Pratchett at his best was able to do social commentary without it being heavy-handed. As soon as it got heavy-handed, it became boring. The shift was really dramatic too. Thud! was a little heavy-handed (compare to Night Watch) and Making Money wasn’t as good as Going Postal and then it kind of goes downhill.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            What are your thoughts on The Monstrous Regiment in terms of heavy-handed social commentary?

          • dndnrsn says:

            A bit heavy-handed, certainly, but at least it pulled it off a bit more interestingly. The characters still felt like there was something going on with all of them – by Snuff, characters (even Vimes!) seem mostly defined by their role in the plot. Having the Watch show up and see them from the outside is a nice trick the 2 or 3 times it appears. One of his weaker books from that period, overall, but still decent enough to be worth rereading.

          • dodrian says:

            I would say that Pratchett’s world building is pretty poor, and it’s the characters that make the books. The Disc and its environment are pretty inconsistent book-to-book, and very malleable to the needs of the plot.

            His plotting started to develop properly in Wyrd Sisters, is by far the strongest in the Watch series (Night Watch especially)

            I think the social commentary is an important part of what moves the series into literary fantasy (as opposed to pulp). But I’d agree with your assessment, it was too much at the end. I was able to laugh along with Small Gods even as it poked fun at my faith, Carpe Jugulum is still among my favorites, though Granny Weatherwax takes some more aggressive pot-shots, but one of the reasons I really didn’t like Raising Steam was how Pratchett used the characters as unveiled mouthpieces for his anti-religious views. Ironically those passages read like bad sermons.

          • Nornagest says:

            Pratchett’s worldbuilding gets way better as the series goes on. Until Wyrd Sisters at the earliest, the Disk’s first and foremost a vehicle for broad parodies of fantasy tropes. Although traces of that remain maybe as late as Soul Music, it really starts to pick up an identity of its own over the middle Witches and early Watch books, and by Hogfather it’s quite consistent and in clear focus. Towards the end of the series, it’s usually taking center stage, arguably to the detriment of its characters and plot.

          • dndnrsn says:


            His worldbuilding is never impeccable, but it is better than most fantasy and sci fi. He doesn’t just plunk down magic into a Europe circa 1xth century standin and figure “well, guess that’s done.”

            And, yeah, it’s malleable, but compare him to GRRM, who is a “serious” author – did he do a significantly better job of sitting down and working things out?

          • dodrian says:

            Perhaps we’re desiring different things in worldbuilding, but what I find lacking is that I can imagine any of the individual places in the Discworld fairly well, but struggle to see it as a coherent whole (even when ignoring pre-Wyrd books). He frequently makes the joke that the Disc runs on Narrativium, ie, the story makes the world go round. The individual books are good enough that it doesn’t matter overall, especially in a fantasy-parody setting.

            In particular though, how magic works (and how important it is) changes wildly from book to book, the distance between places seems to be variable, and big Disc-altering events will ocassionally get a reference in another book, but don’t seem to actually alter much (there’s a bit more consistency towards the end, with the clacks spreading across the disc, William de Worde’s paper, etc). The big story arcs (Rincewind, the Witches, Death, the Watch) don’t feel to me like they belong together, and the standalones (Small Gods, Pyramids, Moving Pictures) feel even more separate.

            I haven’t read GRRM, but I’ll make the comparison with Pratchett’s Long Earth collaboration with Stephen Baxter. Baxter is one of my favorite world builders (though he tends to stick to only two or three books per series, and leaning towards hard sci-fi is probably easier than fantasy even when playing with other planets & dimensions), and Pratchett is my favorite character author. Unfortunately The Long Earth ended up rather mediocre because it had Baxter’s wooden characters and Pratchett’s imaginative-but-doesn’t-quite-all-fit-together world.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I agree with you there. I’m not saying “the worldbuilding is impeccable” but rather “by the standards of fantasy, the world is believable.” It feels real – the fantasy elements don’t feel bolted on, which is a major complaint I have with a lot of fantasy. Perhaps worldbuilding was the wrong term. But even though the Disc is a profoundly silly place, it still feels more believable than Generic Fantasy World where the presence of magic and monsters hasn’t really made it not-14th-century-Europe or whatever.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’d say Night Watch was about where it peaked. The next few books after that are technically just as good but suffer from heavy-handed messaging, although Monstrous Regiment is the only one that’s really ruined by it until you hit Making Money or Snuff, which is about when the writing starts to decline too.

        The Watch books have consistently been the most compelling line, I think because that’s where his worldbuilding and characterization shines the most. Rincewind might see more stuff but his books feel disconnected, heavier on throwaway gags, and he doesn’t have any significant relationships. Death and the Witches have relationships and consistency, but the formula tends to isolate both of them. Moist van Lipwig felt like an attempt to pick up on the Watch formula that almost, but not quite, worked.

        • dndnrsn says:

          It seems that there’s general agreement that Night Watch was either his best book or at least top 3.

          I think the messaging got more heavy-handed with Snuff. Really violated “show, don’t tell” a lot.

          • Rob K says:

            Night Watch is one of those rare “you made me laugh enough that you earned the right to make me cry” works. Page to page Pratchett brilliance out of which slowly emerges a much deeper and sadder story slowly crystallizes.

    • Incurian says:

      See how they rise up, rise up, rise up…

    • moonfirestorm says:

      I’ll still never understand what people see in The Last Continent. Even if you like Rincewind, Interesting Times is far better. The Last Continent drags on for far too long with the wizards, for really no point. Maybe getting the Australia references is really important?

      I dislike the Tiffany Aching books in general: it’s a worse version of the Witches books, which were relying very heavily on the interactions between Weatherwax, Ogg, and whichever young witch they were using at the moment. Magrat Garlick or Agnes Nitt wouldn’t have been able to carry a book on their own as the only main character, and Tiffany is less interesting than that. I get that they’re written for a younger audience, and maybe they do all right with that handicap, but that doesn’t make them good.

      Top 5:
      5. The Monstrous Regiment
      4. The Truth
      3. Carpe Jugulum
      2. Making Money
      1. Night Watch

      • dodrian says:

        As I mentioned above, I prefer the style of humor in the Rincewind books. Interesting Times would be my second favorite Rincewind book, and I may have bumped it down lightly to give more variety in my favorites list.

        Monstrous Regiment is excellent, only missing my top five by the slimmest of margins, and Carpe Jugulum is my favorite of the Witches books. I do like Night Watch and it’s probably got the best plot and execution of Pratchett’s books, but it’s not one of the ones I’ve enjoyed the most.

        I wonder if there’s a difference in which books are preferred on which side of the Atlantic?
        I’ve lived on both sides, but am certainly more British in my humor – would that explain my love of Rincewind?

        • dndnrsn says:

          What do you like about Monstrous Regiment? I thought it was among the weaker of the books from that period.

          • Incurian says:

            The Vietnam flashbacks were pretty funny.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            I think the characters were just all soundly written and interesting to follow, the cultural references were great (as Incurian said, the Vietnam flash-sideways thing Maladict does is fantastic), they fit a few clever puns in (“Men! Spruce up!”), and it was refreshing to have a solid mostly-standalone book with just a few Ankh-Morpork references.

            It was a nice transitional piece in the greater story of Ankh-Morkpork too, showing how they’re struggling to come up with a semi-peaceful foreign policy, in contrast to the “get ’em at the slightest excuse” approach we saw in Jingo

            I also like the running narrative of how their actions are being interpreted, occasionally delivered to us by War Correspondent William de Worde. Every time the interpretation isn’t completely unreasonable, but at the same time it looks ridiculous when you’re following the characters as the reader.

            It reminds me of one of my favorite Star Wars novels, Timothy Zahn’s Allegiance, where the characters respond normally to situations but their reactions look like something else entirely to the other factions involved (example: rogue stormtroopers happen to run into a pirate attack, obliterate pirates, pirate leaders freak out that the Empire has discovered their operation and is systematically wiping out their forces).

          • dodrian says:

            I’ll echo moonfirestorm’s comments: it was Pratchett’s writing at its peak but with a fresh setting and characters, letting him focus on a clean, unique story.

            He also plays heavily with British war farce and pantomime gender-bending tropes.

      • Nornagest says:

        I liked the Chalk better as a setting than Lancre, although I do think the characters are generally weaker in the Aching line.

    • rlms says:

      In terms of categories, my preferences more or less go witches > Moist von Lipwig (excl. Raising Steam) > Night Watch = Death > Rincewind (with the last > representing a bigger difference than the first two). I generally also prefer the ones with more parody.

    • keranih says:

      I have read and really enjoyed Night Watch and Small Gods, based on the recommendations of others.

      I am really hesitant to try any others, due to how many people say that those two are far superior to all others.

      • quaelegit says:

        Well I’m just another opinion, but I don’t think the quality is that different between the two you mentioned and the others I’ve read (with the exceptions I mentioned elsewhere). Like I see why people pick out these (err, Small Gods*) as the best, but I enjoy Small Gods about as much as most of the others. I certainly don’t think the difference in my enjoyment is big enough that I disliked reading any or regretted reading them.

        If you want to optimize: I tried to collect titles that people in this thread said they liked, but there’s actually a pretty wide spread. I just collected declarations of people’s favorites (and not replies agreeing with them) and the only one that overlapped was Night Watch. Quickly glancing at replies, the only ones I see disagreement on are Mort, The Last Continent, and Monstrous Regiment (and for most of the others someone said “yeah I like this one too”). So if you want to explore Discworld further and don’t mind plot spoilers (which aren’t as big a deal in Discworld as they are in other series), taking titles from this thread may help avoid clunkers.

        *In the process of writing this I realized I was confusing Night Watch (the book) with the City Watch sub-series. I haven’t read Nightwatch, but I love the first couple books of the City Watch sub-series (especially “Guards! Guards!”, “Men at Arms”, and “Jingo”)

      • hlynkacg says:

        I’m reasonably confident from prior conversations that that we have similar tastes in fiction. To that end I’d add Going Postal to the list.

      • dndnrsn says:


        If you leave out Equal Rites and start with Wyrd Sisters for the Witch books, and stop before Snuff for the Watch books, there’s no bad books there. Night Watch is the high point of the Watch series, which in my view were his strongest books overall, but the other ones are still really good. The Witch books are a close second for overall quality.

      • keranih says:

        Thank you all, I appreciate the encouragement. Will try Going Postal and one of the other Watch series.

        (God, I *really* liked Night Watch.)

        • dndnrsn says:

          Honestly, for the Watch series, Guards! Guards! is probably the best place to start. Sam Vimes’ character arc is great.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            I started with Night Watch, mistakenly thinking that a series about the Night Watch would start with the book named exactly that. Kind of neat having my understanding of the characters start at the earliest book in the timeline.

            You can pretty much do it in any order you want: I recently learned that I had mixed up a lot of the early books, putting Feet of Clay and Jingo way too late in the series and The Fifth Elephant too early, and am now going through in release order. Every character works fine at every stage in the story (although Vimes’ “noble sergeant” thing might be a bit confusing if you didn’t read Guards! Guards!, I hand-waved it personally, and then went “ohh that’s why that happened” when I got to the appropriate place.)

    • Thegnskald says:

      Raising Steam wasn’t a fantasy story, it was the end of the fantasy era and the beginning of another. I can see why a fantasy fan would find it annoying, but if you are evaluating it as a fantasy book, you are evaluating it by the wrong metric. (Indeed, this is the general theme of the last third of the Discworld books – the gentle phasing out of fantasy, magic, heroes, and kings.)

      It was also distinctly a farewell to a lot of the characters, feeling more like an epilogue than a story in itself. (It had a similar tone to The Last Hero in this regard, except significantly more expansive)

  24. johan_larson says:

    I’ve been thinking about cryogenic preservation of human bodies, with the goal of eventual reanimation once technology improves, presumably in the distant future.

    Does anyone here have an educated estimate of a participant’s probability of actually being revived?

    Obviously this is going to be very fuzzy, but anything better than a wild guess would be welcome.

    • Nornagest says:

      This was a question on a couple of the SSC surveys. You could dig up the actual values, but IIRC the median was about 10%.

      • johan_larson says:

        Well, here’s one calculation of the chance of success with some estimated probabilities: 1 in 567

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          That’s a good link.

          It made me realize that, if you wave away the stuff that is required to even remotely consider cryonics (eg, do we have a dualistic soul, is the world going to descend into destruction in the next 15 years, is technology going to keep advancing), there are three fundamental questions:

          1. What do you think the likelihood is that you will make it into cryonics, if you care about that and aren’t just considering the chance that someone who is already preserved will eventually be revived.

          2. Do you think that the information necessary to reconstitute you is preserved by cryonics.

          3. How long do you think it will take to get to the point where we have near-molecular-resolution scanners + AI.

          I’d bet that fundamentally almost all of the difference between “20%!” and “0.01%” can be explained by timescales of #3.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I think items 0 and 2 are far more fundamental than item 3.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Item 0 is more fundamental, but it’s also boring. Nobody who is strongly invested in the idea that we have a soul is interested in cryonics. Nobody who isn’t strongly invested in the idea that we have a soul thinks it’s all that likely that we have a soul.

            Item 2 probably admits to far less variance than item 3.

            Like, look, if you think it’s even 10% likely that cryonics preserves the mind state to a reasonable fidelity (and that strikes me as pretty pessimistic if you don’t believe in a soul), and also you think that we’re on an exponential tech curve and we’ll have godlike technology in 30 years, then you probably think that cryonics is at least a plausible bet.

            If on the other hand you think it’s 100% likely that cryonics preserves the mind state to a reasonable fidelity, but it will be 500 years before we could do anything with that mind state, then there are essentially negligible odds that cryonics will be useful. Your body will not be carefully, faithfully tended, without even an hour or two’s interruption of service, over a timescale in which nations rise and fall.

          • hlynkacg says:

            It’s a lot more basic than that. The question of souls is adequately covered by item 2, item 0 is everything else.

            Edit to elaborate:
            Leaving aside the fact that the answer to 2 given today’s preservation technology is unequivocally “no”, what makes you think that revival is possible or even desirable? What makes you think you will be revived if it is?

          • One more issue is whether, if it is possible to revive you, anyone will bother to.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            One more issue is whether, if it is possible to revive you, anyone will bother to.

            Or for the right reasons…

        • hyperboloid says:

          I’d like to hear what actual neurologists, preferably ones who are not in the employ of a cryonics company, have to say about brain death. Wasn’t Terri Schiavo only without oxygen for about five minutes before she suffered enough damage to leave her brain looking like this?

      • hlynkacg says:

        Even 10% strikes as ludicrously optimistic. We’re still in the early stages of trying to solve the preservation problem, never mind the rest. Barring major breakthroughs in chemical vitrification and/or our understanding of meat-based computing Cryonics will remain the purview of scam artists and rationalists (who really should know better) rationalizing themselves into false hope.

        • Well... says:

          I agree. I would consider even 0.01% ludicrously optimistic, and agree with everything else you wrote. Successful cryogenic preservation and revival is in the same category to me as time machines and zombie outbreaks.

          The only way the technology to revive someone from cryogenics might plausibly be developed, bringing the chances from 0 to 0.00…1 (so far as I can fathom) is if a lot of time and energy is spent deliberately attacking that specific problem.

          Playing the devil’s advocate, then: this is an argument for more people being cryogenically preserved now: it creates the incentive for future generations to work on that revival technology.

          (Note: my actual belief is that people should NOT try to cryogenically preserve themselves because something something transhumanism is an abomination something something our mortality has enormous value that we can’t fully appreciate something something I’m on 5 hours of sleep.)

          • I don’t think it has to be spent on that specific problem. Preserving organs is a more immediately useful application of the same technology, and progress in it will make cryogenic preservation of people more practical.

          • Brad says:

            I agree 10% is ludicrously optimistic. I’m not sure about 0.01%. I don’t think I’m calibrated well enough to say.

            My biggest concern is sandoratthezoo’s #2 above. I don’t think a 10% likelihood that the ad hoc cryonics procedures used today actually preserve sufficient relevant information, even theoretically, is pessimistic, on the contrary it seems quite optimistic.

            Even ascribing near magical powers to future civilizations, they aren’t going to be able to recover what’s not there.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            I admit I don’t know a ton about cryonics. But if intelligence fundamentally resides in the neural layer of the brain, doesn’t freezing preserve it, you know, reasonably well?

            If you aren’t advocating for straight up dualism, having a more than 90% certainty that intelligence exists at a smaller-than-neural layer of the brain strikes me as deeply unsupported by the evidence.

            Like, I’m pretty enchanted by the idea that intelligence isn’t neural! It’d be cool! But we have no real strong candidates for where it even would be if it’s not neural. How can you be near-certain that there exists some smaller structure that is essential to intelligence?

            (Btw: I think that the odds that anyone who is frozen today will be revived is sub-1%, so this is not an argument from the basis of “cryonics is a good bet.”)

          • Brad says:

            Wouldn’t you expect freezing or vitrification to snap synapses and change the geometries of cells with respect to each other (thus making it difficult or impossible to reconstruct the connections that snapped)?

            Note, I don’t say it can’t be done in principle, but I am saying I don’t think the current procedures preserve enough state to do it. I’m open to being convinced otherwise and I am also not a neurobiologist.

          • johnjohn says:

            If you aren’t advocating for straight up dualism, having a more than 90% certainty that intelligence exists at a smaller-than-neural layer of the brain strikes me as deeply unsupported by the evidence.

            You don’t have to advocate for dualism to be convinced that the current level of cryonics does not in fact preserve the brain on a neural scale.
            In fact, believing that it does, seems deeply unsupported by the evidence

          • sandoratthezoo says:


            I’d assume that there would be damage to synapses and that perfect reconstruction would be impossible, but that it wouldn’t be too hard to get a pretty good copy, assuming arbitrarily advanced scanning technology and a nuanced understanding of how healthy brains work.

            I am open to someone who has any actual data about how freezing affects neural tissue to tell me, “Well, actually…”

          • hlynkacg says:

            We already know that freezing effectively destroys synaptic connections through dehydration/sublimation and the associated changes in cell geometry. That’s why there is so much medical research dedicated to maintaining functionality ex situ or otherwise finding ways of preserving tissue without freezing it (IE Vitrification).

            Customers of Alcor, the Cryonics Institute, et al… better pray that we’re wrong about intelligence residing in the neural layer of the brain because they’re SOL otherwise. As brad says above, even if we do ascribe near magical powers to future civilizations, they aren’t going to be able to recover what’s not there.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Slightly tangentially, but related: Anybody watch “It’s Such A Beautiful Day”?

      Gur raqvat, V guvax, avpryl fhzf hc n trahvar naq rssrpgvir erwrpgvba bs vzzbegnyvgl, nyorvg n erwrpgvba gung vf qvssvphyg gb chg vagb jbeqf. Vg vf n erwrpgvba bs gur shaqnzragnyyl hafngvfslvat angher bs nggnpuzrag.

  25. johan_larson says:

    They’re planning to make another Terminator movie. This time Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron are all involved.


    I don’t know. Reviving a franchise after three distinctly disappointing sequels is a tall order. Still, if anyone can do it, it’s these folks.

  26. Thegnskald says:

    Has anybody here done any research on chromium as a nutrient?

    The internet is full of information that looks pseudoscientific, but descriptions of deficiency (particularly hypoglycemia, which I have already looked into some potential glandular causes of without much luck) look promising.

    It doesn’t look like a personal experiment would be harmful – certainly less harmful than the other nutrients I have experimented with, and less dangerous than trying dessicated thyroid, as one Less Wrong poster suggested might be helpful to a lot of people – but I am wondering if there is better evidence than I have found so far that it will actually be helpful.

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