535 thoughts on “Open Thread 85.5

  1. lucarade

    Hi everyone. There’s a conference happening at Princeton University Dec 1-3 that overlaps quite heavily with the topics SSS covers – I recommend checking it out and applying if you’re interested. Here’s the tldr:

    Envision Conference 2017 at Princeton University focuses on four areas of technology: artificial intelligence, enhanced interfaces, nanoscale technology, and synthetic biology. It also focuses on the implications of these technologies: catastrophic and existential risk, material advancement, space development, economic and social change, and human enhancement.

    Envision Conference investigates how to pioneer a brighter future through the prudent advancement of these technologies. That’s why the theme of Envision Conference 2017 is action. Throughout the conference, there will be panels, debates, and other events that will engage participants and provide strategies on the best way forward.

    Applications close October 7th – find out more and apply at envision-conference.com.

  2. Scott

    Website bug (or maybe I’m caught in some filter?): when I tried to report a comment on the most recent thread, I got a pop up that said “cheating, huh?”, and I don’t think the report went through. What’s going on?

    1. Nornagest

      Known issue. You can temporarily work around it by logging out and back in, but no one’s been able to find a root cause yet. I took a whack at it myself once, but my WordPress-fu is not particularly strong.

  3. Conrad Honcho

    Up in the recipes thread we mentioned the Instant Pot, and I brought up garlic peelers as one of those cheap, handy kitchen gadgets that make life easier.

    Anyone else have any favorite kitchen gadgets? Might as well start my Christmas shopping…

    I’ll go first. Get a Food Saver vacuum sealer. Keeps food as fresh as the day you made it. Very handy.

      1. gbdub

        I’ve got one, it’s great. It’s main use is that it makes things hold up to freezing a lot better, meat in particular, compared to non-vacuum freezer bags. Now I can go pick up big packs of steaks or whatever at Costco, toss them in convenient serving sized vacuum bags, freeze, and pull out only what I need. Saves a lot of money and the final product is better.

        It’s also good for things that go bad quickly once opened, but last a long time in their original packages, e.g. certain cheeses dry out or get moldy if you don’t finish them quickly, but if you reseal them with the food saver they last much longer.

        Also, if you have a sous-vide machine it’s even better, vacuum sealing being a key step in that cooking method.

        Finally, I’ve used it to test the functionality of a barometric altimeter based rocket recovery device, but that might be a niche use.

      2. Conrad Honcho

        Seconding what gbdub says. Buy in bulk, individually vacuum seal and freeze.

        But really the killer app is the ability to keep cooked meals from getting any sort of freezer burn. For instance, every 6 months or so I’ll buy 3 racks of baby back ribs, slow cook them for 12 hours each over a weekend (I put the crock pot in the garage though or else the entire house smells like barbecue at 3AM which is kind of awful) and then slice them into serving portions, vacuum seal and freeze them. Then I have ready-made ribs any time I want them, lunch or dinner, and six months later they taste exactly the same as if I just pulled them out of the pot.

        Apply to basically any other dish, also.

        1. JayT

          That reminds me of another sous vide use! I’ll do a dry rub on a few racks of ribs, vacuum seal them, and sous vide them for 12 hours or so. After that, toss them on the grill for a few minutes, add barbecue sauce, and grill a few more minutes. However, you don’t have to grill them all. Make a few extra slabs, and toss them in the freezer. Then, when you have a hankering for ribs, defrost them, and then toss them on the barbecue. If you’re in a rush, you can toss them into the sous vide to defrost them pretty quickly.

          1. dodrian

            Yours and Conrad’s are excellent suggestions. I’ve just started experimenting with Sous Vide (the ziplock method), so I have been eyeing a vacuum sealer for that reason.

            My wife prefers eating soups & stews, can it work on those, any better than using plastic tubs?

            What about breakfast burritos/sandwiches, any experience? I’ve tried making my own (so much cheaper than store-bought), but usually they’re pretty tough after a few weeks wrapped in the freezer.

          2. JayT

            It’s difficult to vacuum seal things with a lot of liquid. So if you have a hearty stew it will work really well, but soups are hard.

    1. Nornagest

      Immersion blenders are so much better than regular blenders it’s not even funny. More controllable, more versatile, easier to clean, take up less storage space.

      1. Conrad Honcho

        True. Already have one, though. And my wife sliced her thumb almost to the bone with it a month back 🙁 So, careful with those things.

    2. gbdub

      Get a mandoline if you don’t already have one.

      Or an electric cabinet smoker (assuming you have a backyard/patio)

      Or a Cuisinart “Griddler” (great for paninis and pancakes, particularly if your household is two or fewer)

      1. Rick Hull

        Mandolines are fantastic for slicing productivity and regularity, and very underrated or unknown from the various nonprofessional kitchens I’ve sampled. Likewise, I’ve been interested in taking up smoking, and electric definitely seems to be the way to go, in terms of maintaining a critical temperature range for 8+ hours without babysitting.

    3. JayT

      You’ve already got the vacuum sealer, so I suggest getting a sous vide. They are super cheap, and make cooking things like steaks and chops almost fool proof. They are also great for cooking large amounts of food if you ever have a big party.

      I’ve done several 50+ person barbecues where I sous vide all of my hamburgers ahead of time, so that when I toss them on the grill it’s just to add the grill flavor and melt the cheese. Since the meat is already cooked through, you don’t have to worry about handing out half cooked hamburgers, and you can serve a lot of people, really fast.

      I’ll also do large cuts of meat like brisket or ribs in it to tenderize and infuse flavor into the meat before barbecuing.

      1. JayT

        Another item, if you don’t already have it, is a cast iron grill/griddle. I got a Lodge brand one for like $40, and I use it all the time. It’s great for searing off meat (I’ve never been able to git such nice grill marks on a bbq), and it’s perfect for things like pancakes.

        1. hlynkacg

          Second the recommendation for the lodge brand griddle. Mine is probably the best 30 – 40$ I ever spent.

        2. Conrad Honcho

          The sous vide thing sounds really neat.

          As for cast iron…kind of stocked up. I’ve been collecting antique Griswold cast iron since I was a kid. I have about 70 pieces at this point.

          Cast iron gets better with use (blacker, slicker) and they just don’t make it like they used to. The old stuff is lighter than any of the modern castings. And when it’s 100+ years old…I mean the stuff is just amazing. Investing in a #5 and #8 skillet, lids, and maybe a #8 dutch oven will do 90% of your cast iron cooking. I also get a lot of use out of my #12 skillet for cooking steaks in the oven.

          If I want to get fancy I bring out the hearts and stars waffle iron a few times a year.

          So, yeah, another Christmas idea for the cook in your life: antique cast iron cookware off ebay. Screw Wagner; Griswold Master Race.

          1. JayT

            The Anova sous vide is pretty much the gold standard right now. I’ve had mine for about four years and have never had a problem of any kind with it.


            If you are doing something small like a steak I just put it in a big stock pot since I’m not too worried about heat loss, as it will only be in the sous vide for an hour or two. When I’m doing something big like a brisket that will cook for 24+ hours, I use a cooler to keep the heat in so it doesn’t have to work as hard.

    4. SamChevre

      Kitchen gadgets I really miss at other people’s houses:

      A mortar and pestle for grinding spices.

      A jar with a tight-sealing lid (like a Mason jar) for shaking drinks in.

      Silicon spatulas for scraping hot pans.

      A Pyrex measuring cup for melting butter and chocolate and measuring liquids.

      A wire whisk with a thin handle, so you can twirl it in a cup with one hand while pouring hot liquid from the Pyrex measuring cup in with the other.

    5. DavidFriedman

      One of my favorite kitchen gadgets is a thermometer with a cable. You put the probe into a loaf of bread or a chicken in the oven. The cable runs to the body of the device, which is outside the oven and shows the temperature. For bread, it’s set to signal when the internal temperature reaches 200°. For other things, different temperatures.

      I’m also fond of a pastry pin, which is a tapered rolling pin and, in my experience, works much better than the standard cylindrical rolling pin.

  4. Mark

    Do confident (non-shy) aspergery people have social problems?

    Surely it only matters if people find you weird or stand-offish to the extent that you care what people think.

    And confident aspergery people always seem to do reasonably well socially, to me.

    1. AutisticThinker

      I’m not sure. I’m a fairly social and confident autist. I got ENTP (debater) on the MBTI test which isn’t very common for autists. I enjoy learning and working but I enjoy debating other people more. 🙂 I can certainly function well enough to teach and work with people even though I don’t actually keep close relations with anyone.

      Don’t worry I don’t talk about too many controversial ideas in real life. I’m actually a fairly pleasant person. 🙂

    2. Nabil ad Dajjal

      Emphatically yes.

      “I don’t care what people think” only works when you have either Fuck You Money or absolutely nothing to lose. If neither of those are true of you, it’s very important what certain people think of you.

      My father and younger brother have Asperger’s syndrome / high functioning autism. They’re both fairly confident, but that also means that they confidently blunder into saying things which one absolutely does not say.

      In my dad’s case, he ended up alienated at his job of 25 years. That meant he had no realistic shot at promotion, consistently got the worst hours, and nobody to vouch for him when an excuse came to fire him. My brother is doing much better now but almost got himself kicked out of school by running afoul of Zero Tolerance.

      That said, they’re very endearing.

    3. All I Do Is Win

      Do confident (non-shy) aspergery people have social problems?

      Depends what you mean by “problems”. My wife is a normal, high-IQ, easy to get along with woman and can certainly land deals that I can’t (or more accurately, wouldn’t). In some cases, those deals have really benefited us. OTOH, I can land deals she can’t due to not being normal. So who has the problem?

      I think the better question is: Are there any social areas that Aspies are better at than normals?

      I think the answer to that question is definitely “Yes!”

      One major problem normals have is a seeming inability to systematize social situations. Because it’s so intuitive to them (essentially, an expert system), normals rarely know why what they do works. They just do it.

      A corollary is, normals seem unable to separate personal experience from universal truths. For example, normals (in my experience) are rather poor at writing stories that work for a lot of people, because they can’t separate what they, personally like and what their audience will like. So they think this “totally true” story from their life will be interesting to a lot of people—even though it won’t be, and is only interesting to the individual because it’s from their own life.

      This flaw is so common that every book on story mentions it as something to avoid.

      Aspies, by virtue of not having as well-developed expert system, get good (if they do, in fact, get good) at understanding universal human truths. So you get someone like James Cameron, who at one time had the two highest grossing films of all time (which he both wrote and directed). Cameron only understands and writes about universal truths, and thus his films are widely meaningful to large groups of people. (In person, he’s an asshole.)

      Of course, not all Aspies are able to systematize social situations to the point that they become universal. But those that are, in my opinion, have a significant advantage over normals.

      (Also: some normals can, of course, do this—and do it very well. I do believe Aspies ultimately have an easier time at it, and thus it’s an advantage.)

  5. Nancy Lebovitz

    I believe without evidence that everyone is at least moderately rational about something– sports statistics, (their own) genealogy, knitting…. I mean that they’re interested in facts and at least short chains of deduction from those facts.

    Am I on to something, or are there people (not obviously generally impaired) who don’t care about logic for anything?

    1. Conrad Honcho

      I think an awful lot of people do an awful lot of things out of tradition or habit or upbringing and don’t really give it much thought. Not everyone thinks about the most rational or optimal ways to knit. They just knit like they were taught to knit.

    2. AutisticThinker

      I know a nice lady who seems to have a personality the opposite of mine. She couldn’t care less about facts and reasoning. Instead she cares about emotions and feelings a lot. Once when I ask her why she does stuff in a certain way she simply responded that that’s what she liked and there was no other reason behind that! I was completely puzzled. I screamed in my mind about how the heck is that a reason to do anything. Then I learned that not everyone thinks like me. LOL humanity is truly diverse!

      1. Nornagest

        I’ve told you this before, but I’m going to tell you it again.

        Emotions and feelings are the front-end to an inference engine. It’s not exactly the same inference engine as the one you’re accessing when you sit down and think about something really hard for a while, but it’s there, it works, and in some ways it works better than the analytical mode. It does have its disadvantages — in particular, it’s a lot harder to check its work — but dismissing it does you no favors.

        1. AutisticThinker

          I don’t understand what you said. However I trust that you are a nice guy/gal and what you said is probably factually correct. Thanks for letting me know that! Maybe that works for you. For me my emotions appear to be random noise that interferes with rationality.

          I assume that this does not cover intuitive behaviors such as braking when I see danger while I drive, right? That certainly makes sense. I brake intuitively and do not need to think about it first or it would have been very dangerous.

          1. Nornagest

            More crudely: you can think using emotions just like you can think using logic. System 1 — the heuristic mode, which expresses itself in emotions and in instinctive reactions — is faster, harder to verify, and does better with concrete problems and in scenarios closer to our ancestral environment, which these days mostly means dealing with other people individually or in small groups. Braking when you see red lights ahead is an example of a System 1 reaction, but other intuitive reactions are no less valid.

            I understand you’re autistic, but this applies to autistic people just as much as to normies like me. You’re going to have more trouble reading other people’s reactions, but I’m not talking about other people’s, I’m talking about yours.

    3. JayT

      Would you count someone that thinks they are being rational about something, but just don’t actually know the truth? I constantly meet people that say they are afraid to go to the city because of all the crime, and how they wish things were safer, like when they were kids. That would be a rational response to a higher crime rate, but in every case I’ve ever encountered, the person doesn’t know that there is less crime today than there was when they were kids.

      1. Nancy Lebovitz

        No, I’m just counting people who have at least one area where they actually know something and make accurate deductions. For example, their political views might be a mess, but they know a lot about their family tree and will spend time figuring out exactly how two people are related to each other.

    4. shakeddown

      I can think of models under which that would make sense. For example, if you assume people are rational about areas where they routinely have to solve medium problems (e.g. which groceries to buy), then everyone with agency over some part of their lives (so people not in solitary confinement or really harsh mental institutions) is probably rational about some things, at least within a limited scope..

    5. All I Do Is Win

      Well, I think so-called “Rationalists” are some of the least rational people I know (/hyperbole). In part, it’s easy to demonstrate because they are unsuccessful at things “normal” people have no difficulty with—like attracting a sexual partner, or carrying on a “normal” conversation.

      This is how they are irrational: they abandon expert systems because they don’t understand them.

      We’re all born with expert systems in our brains—things that are either “pre-trained”, or might as well be when given a typical upbringing. “Rationalists” are typically overly-intelligent people who are able to solve many—thought not all!—problems via reason.

      However, not all problems can be solved effectively with reason! Such as…attracting a sexual partner. A supposed “Rationalist” has convinced him- or herself that reason is the only method that works, and abandons their expert systems. Again, because they don’t understand them and thus, don’t trust them.

      The result is hilarity. A supposedly intelligent person can’t figure out a woman, for instance. Even though your expert system, if you’d just f’ing use it!, can attract her almost automatically.

      I like reason as much as the next guy, but it’s not a panacea. And crucially, it’ll lose to even the simplest of expert systems that are designed specifically for the task at hand. Your brain has a lot of them, and you ignore them at your peril.

      The main advantage normals have over an intelligent rationalist is they are not afraid of using their expert systems. Rationalists have the advantage any time you’re dealing with something where expert systems don’t apply. The best approach is to use the right hardware for each problem area. 🙂

      1. Paul Brinkley

        A supposedly intelligent person can’t figure out a woman, for instance. Even though your expert system, if you’d just f’ing use it!, can attract her almost automatically.

        Can you give an example of this? In my experience, the problem with rationalists who have trouble figuring out women appear to literally have no such expert system to “f’ing use”.

        1. Wrong Species

          I think he has his causality mixed up. Most people have a good “expert” system that helps them throughout life. But people attracted to the Rationalist community usually don’t, which means they have to learn the hard way.

          1. AutisticThinker

            Are you implying that the rationalist movement is inherently autistic or something? I doubt it. In fact if it is really inherently autistic I would have been one of the pretty popular people here because many of my “controversial” behaviors such as picking and choosing ideas from many different groups make perfect sense to other autists.

            My hypothesis is that there are at least two ways of processing certain information, the autistic way (System 2?) and the neurotypical way (System 1?). Most people are inherently equipped with the neurotypical way of processing information while the autistic way needs to be taught in STEM courses. On the other hand the autistic way of processing information is native to both autists and computers while the neurotypical way of processing information is relatively absent in both.

            Hence most people can be divided into three classes:
            Neurotypical only: Non-autists who do not like rationality or STEM
            Autistic only: Autists
            Both: Neurotypicals in STEM and neurotypical rationalists

            To me the neurotypical way looks like random noise or woo. I assume that it does contain information though.

          2. Charles F

            In fact if it is really inherently autistic I would have been one of the pretty popular people here

            I’d be willing to bet you’re more popular here than you would be sharing similar views in a similar style with a more representative sample of the population. We’re certainly not all autistic, but most of us are at least used to hearing weird ideas stated in weird ways.

            But aside from that, I’m not sure that assumption is even correct. Sure, autists wouldn’t pick up all the same status signals as neurotypicals, but I don’t think your behavior being typical of autists will necessarily make you popular with them either. In my experience, even the autistic people I’ve met gravitate towards people with some social graces, even if they don’t really understand how those work.

      2. Trofim_Lysenko

        Exactly. I have constructed my own expert system, and spent the past 25 or so of my 36 years programming and re-programming it, then training it, but it sure as hell didn’t come pre-loaded, and I doubt I’m particularly far along the autism spectrum.

    6. Paul Brinkley

      I can think of examples, mostly along the lines of people with beliefs that seem silly to my rationalist side, but who are really good at whatever they do for a living. They don’t think of it as facts + deduction, though. They just speak in a sort of tinker’s / pragmatist’s style, such as “if you do it this way, then you only have to make one trip” or “if you put the needle in that way, then it’s got no place to go after that and then you’ve got a mess”.

      Their thinking is pretty solid. It might be applicable to other things, but they might rarely try. I.e., they tend not to think in analogies (possibly because when they try, they’ve happened upon bad analogies and thus learned not to do that – another rational principle). They also tend to think in terms of concrete objects, like needles and loops, or nails and wooden beams, or cattle, or car engines. Abstract things like do-while loops or stock derivatives are harder to play with. (Mental note for the proposed math effort post: describe how one might play around with specific mathematical structures.)

      In the limit, however, it would be impossible to prove that there exist people that use no logic at all (aside from trivial cases like babies). You might run across someone who appears to operate totally on stimulus-response, but in fact you simply haven’t yet found the thing they’re rational about. It might take years to find it. You might even fail to recognize when they’re being rational about something, simply because you don’t understand the domain well enough yourself.

    7. Wrong Species

      Everyone has to be rational about something. Otherwise, they would never do anything that satisfisies their preferences. Imagine someone who wanted to relax after a long day of work and instead, they start digging ditches and filling them up again. That’s the kind of world we would have if people weren’t in any sense rational.

  6. Nancy Lebovitz

    Assume advanced bio-tech– is there anything which could be done to make brains less vulnerable to concussion?

    Maybe a distributed brain like an octopus?

    1. Gobbobobble

      “Intracranial microairbags” sounds like the sort of ridiculousness that I’d expect to come out of goofy sci-fi and/or transhumanist whackadoodles.

      1. Nancy Lebovitz

        Football players still take a lot of damage. Helmets have their limits.

        On the other hand, a crumple zone around the upper skull– something that regrows– might be interesting.

      2. HeelBearCub

        Wearing a helmet (and pads) may actually be (part of) the problem.

        As a data point, we would have expected these kinds of long term concussion risks to have been made obvious first in Rugby or Footie first if wearing a helmet was the “solution”.

        1. JayT

          I believe they’ve started seeing high rates of CTE in soccer players . The main times soccer players hit their heads are from heading the ball and the occasional knocking of heads together. Since it’s generally not a full contact sport, I’d guess that the more frequent heading of the ball is the major issue, and in that case it’s not a single big hit that’s causing the problem, but the constant small hits. I would assume that helmet would actually do quite a bit to protect the players against this, if it were the actual issue.

          1. HeelBearCub

            Yes, CTE in soccer is related to heading the ball, AFAIK.

            Helmets encourage small amounts of head contact. Rather than keeping your head away from contact, you can take contact to the head on literally every single play and keep going.

          2. Nancy Lebovitz

            Yes, small hits make a difference.

            I assume the problem with heading the ball in soccer isn’t just that it happens in official games, it’s that players have to practice it.

          3. JayT

            My point is that, in soccer, players are already encouraged to head the ball, and (as far as I know, I am not a soccer expert by any stretch) they don’t avoid it. So, I don’t think adding a helmet would increase the number of headers, but it would add some level of safety.

            One of the commonly cited reasons that helmets are questioned in football is that it encourages players to hit with their heads, which would be too painful to do without the helmet.

          4. Brad

            The obvious solution in soccer seems to just eliminate headers. At least from my outsider perspective it doesn’t seem especially crucial to the nature of the game.

          5. HeelBearCub


            I think that probably greatly reduces the advantage gained by getting a corner kick. It would be a fairly fundamental change to the game.

          6. CatCube


            There may be some encouragement effect in football, but I doubt that it’s significant compared to the fact that the basic play of the game is very, very fast paced. Helmets came about in the early 1900s after a bunch of people died on the field. The helmetless players weren’t discouraged from giving or receiving heavy hits.

        2. Aapje

          Helmets are usually designed to protect from straight on hits and not from rotational forces, but those are probably a major cause of concussions. A helmet increases the size of the head and thus creates a bigger lever.

          However, some Swedes came up with a design to add a slip plane to helmets, called MIPS. These helmets are moderately popular in cycling and also available for motorbikes, snow sports, and horse riding.

          There has also been an attempt to create a MIPS football helmet, but I think that it has been abandoned.

    2. johan_larson

      Assuming we can’t change the brain itself, I’d try enlarging the gap between the brain and the skull, and making the intracranial fluid slightly more viscous.

      1. Nancy Lebovitz

        Let’s assume we can change the brain itself.

        Maybe instead of having the brain be less easily damaged, we should be looking at a brain which is better at healing.

    3. Orpheus

      Wouldn’t the obvious solution be to not use your head like a battering ram? I don’t think that is what it is for.

    4. All I Do Is Win

      I assume you’re talking about football players, in which case the solution is to remove the helmets or make them far less protective.

      Yes, seriously.

      I’m a huge football fan. Football players need to tackle like rugby players. They won’t as long as they have extra protection (like the gloves of a boxer actually) from injury. As long as they do, they’ll keep doing things that cause concussions.

      1. CatCube

        I keep hearing this statement about how removing protection would make the game safer because players wouldn’t hit as hard. However, before the introduction of safety equipment players used to die all the time (19 in 1905, according to Wikipedia). Why didn’t those players “naturally” tackle like rugby players to avoid the carnage?

        I think the extremely fast pace of the game means that you’ve got huge guys with a relatively small 40-yard-dash time sprinting at each other. Given that, there’s going to be at least incidental head-to-head, head-to-body, or head-to-ground contact regardless of the tackle rules. If you try to slow the action at the line of scrimmage down, the forward pass might become OP, because then the quarterback will have all the time in the world to find and hit the receivers.

        1. dodrian

          I too doubt that an equipment change would reduce injuries.

          In rugby, the defensive team can only tackle the person holding the ball, and the offensive team can’t block any defenders. That probably makes more difference than tackling style or equipment. Both games have rules about safe tackling, but as you point out, there’s only so much ‘safety’ you can introduce when two 200lb guys are running full tilt at each other.

          It seems like a fundamental problem with the rules of American Football, compounded with the professionalization of the game (where even high schoolers are encouraged to bulk up and run each other down full speed). I doubt anything less than a full overhaul of the sport (making it almost unrecognizable from the current form) will be successful in significantly reducing injuries.

          1. Whatever Happened To Anonymous

            >In rugby, the defensive team can only tackle the person holding the ball, and the offensive team can’t block any defenders. That probably makes more difference than tackling style or equipment.

            I think a big difference is also that there’s no such thing as an “offensive” and “defensive” team in rugby (I understand you meant it as in, who’s currently in possession of the ball): While there are substitutions, all players attack and defend, so they can’t go at full throttle all the time.

          2. keranih

            I’d quibble a bit on the “no offense vs defense” bit – rugby has clearly differentiated pack (main job: physically shove other people from the ball) and back (main job: grab the ball and run like hell) but the differences between the two jobs are not as clear, in that everyone is expected to run like hell after the ball. Also rugby doesn’t stop play nearly at all, and tends to have long “halves” to the point where a game can last over ninety minutes in actual on-the-ground action inside of a two hour long game.

            The practical effect is that the huge-vs-fast tradeoffs aren’t as extreme, and so there is a limit as to how big the pack can get.

        2. Jaskologist

          I think the real problem is probably not solvable. We’re taking games that were built to be played by normal human beings some of the time. They work fine in that context. A normal human being can handle the occasional collision with another normal human in the course of play, and has much more opportunity to rest up.

          But in the professional leagues, we’re dealing with the top 0.01% of people in that field. The players are all much faster, larger, and stronger than normies. They’ll be applying much, much more force to each other, and since they’re doing it professionally, those hits will come more frequently as well. There’s no reason to think that the human body’s ability to take those blows is going to scale up the same way their strength has.

          Basically, any physically intensive sport that can be enjoyably played by normal humans is going to be physically harmful once you try to play it at the extreme right end of the bell curve.

          1. dodrian

            Actually I think American sports were designed for the spectacle, rather than to be played. The big three – football, basketball & baseball are all set up for ‘plays’, it’s explicit in football and baseball where the ball is controlled in a way that starts and stops play, and though basketball is more fluid it still tends to break up into teams making a play on the opponent’s basket. Compare these with soccer, which only stops if there’s a foul or the ball goes out of play (you could conceivably have a whole half that doesn’t stop at all).

            But I’d agree with you that while normal people could play football recreationally and only rarely get hurt, professionalism (and that includes at college, and increasingly high school) makes it a big problem.

  7. johan_larson

    I’m seeing a lot of ads around Toronto by an organization called Alpha. It seems to be some sort of Christian proselytization effort. The ads are well produced, so there must be some real money behind this. Some of the ads feature Bear Gryllis.

    1. gbdub

      Not sure I want to go to Bear Grylls church. I’m guessing the communion would be raw bat and my own pee.

    2. The original Mr. X

      It’ll be these people, I suppose:

      The Alpha course is an evangelistic course which seeks to introduce the basics of the Christian faith through a series of talks and discussions. It is described by its organisers as “an opportunity to explore the meaning of life”.[1] Alpha courses are being run in churches, homes, workplaces, prisons, universities and a wide variety of other locations. The course began in the UK and is being run around the world by various Christian denominations.[2][3]

        1. Nick

          Thanks for the link; I was actually curious when I saw the original post whether any Catholics were using it.

  8. AutisticThinker

    Math Topics on SSC

    Are there people who would like to hear something about mathematics here?

    I’m willing to gently introduce both mathematics many non-mathematicians learn such as calculus and linear algebra as well as some mathematics for mathematicians.

    Hope this will be cool! 🙂

    1. hyperboloid

      Is this really the place to try and learn calculus?

      For one thing the comment section does not support displaying equations in any convenient way, and for another it would take a lot of time to teach anything useful. I suppose you could give some general introduction to the basic concepts, but maybe people would just be better off going to MIT Open Courseware, or Khan Academy.

      1. Charles F

        I think this isn’t the most effective place for somebody to try to learn calculus, but I don’t see why it needs to be for a couple math effortposts to be worthwhile. Having a thread to talk about math will be nice even if you could get more from a textbook than from the top-level post. The equation thing could be a bit of an issue but there’s an extension for that.

        Also I’m curious to see how HFA’s style applies to math pedagogy.

      2. Paul Brinkley

        I agree that this is not the place for a straight up plain math lesson. But then, this wasn’t really the place for battleship history or accounts receivable or the election process, but commenters made it work.

        The trick here is to make it interesting. I even have a few bits I might attempt to flesh out myself.

        1. bean

          But then, this wasn’t really the place for battleship history or accounts receivable or the election process, but commenters made it work.

          I do think there’s a difference between the topics you mention and trying to teach math here. Math education is a well-covered topic, and I doubt that you could manage to revolutionize it in the format available here. There’s a surprising lack of good Battleships 101 online, so I set out to fill the void, and in the rare cases where there’s someone who says what I want to say better than I can, I link to them instead of trying to duplicate their work. I’ve been thinking about doing a post on the basic design process, but haven’t managed to come up with a better angle than Stuart Slade’s essay on designing a warship. I may give it another try soon.
          I’m not saying that everyone should be this neurotic, but the actual nuts and bolts of math are not things that seem like a good fit for the format and audience. Andrew’s post on derivatives is a good example of a math effort post, but it’s also not an attempt to re-teach Calc I.

          1. Charles F

            There’s no shortage of music theory lessons available, but those threads went pretty well anyway.

          2. Nick

            This is even setting aside what I take to be the primary issues hyperboloid raises, which are that we don’t support MathJax or whatever else, and actually teaching substantial topics require a lot of space (think John Baez’s blog and its multiple many post series). But as a counterpoint, I think this blog has lots of interest in math-adjacent topics, like history of mathematics, biographical material about mathematicians, or the sorts of why-this-is-cool material you find about a lot of pop science. And that’s stuff I’d personally like to see.

          3. bean

            As I said, that was not meant as a criticism of anyone who isn’t as neurotic as I am. I think my larger point is that good effort posts are the ones that expose you to something you didn’t know you wanted to know about, or at the very least make more accessible something you don’t want enough to seek out elsewhere. I’m going to point to Against Anton-Wilsonism here. Learning to do math is complex and difficult, and doesn’t fit well with the effort-post format. Learning about math can be fun and can be done well in the format. I was trying to point out this dichotomy before I realized that Scott had already described it well.

          4. Nick

            I really need to go back and reread some of Scott’s earlier essays—Against Anton-Wilsonism is way better than I remember. Thanks for bringing that up.

      3. nimim.k.m.

        Is this really the place to try and learn calculus?

        Yeah, a rehash of the standard calculus lessons might be a bit boring. Also, in addition to the lack of MathJax support, many interesting higher-level concepts in analysis and linear algebra benefit from visual aids in a way, say, battleship history does not, and such visuals are extra cumbersome to implement and enjoy in SSC comment form. See for example 3Blue1Brown’s many excellent videos on YouTube [1].

        However, I agree that such limitations do not imply that effort posts on mathy topics would be unwelcome. [2] Just that, for the series to be successful, the choice of topic and method of presentation needs slightly more consideration than “it would be fun to repeat content of Honors Linear Algebra”. (What insights on linear algebra one can provide in an effort-comment here that would not better conveyed by writing and linking to an appropriate textbook?)

        But this is only a recommendation; it will not hurt much if you do the series anyway. Server space is free and the worst thing that can happen is that people will skip the posts and not participate.

        [1] YouTube channel. Though I’ve also heard claims that instead of watching visualization videos it’s even better try to reason about them by yourself with judicious use of e.g. pen and

        [2] Going off on a tangent: Speaking of mathy topics, I’d love to hear if someone could say what would be the articles / textbooks to learn about this kind of simulation https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2002/04/seeing-around-corners/302471/

    2. bean

      As others have said, this is probably not the best place if you’re just going to try and teach Calc 1 (or any other math class), for a lot of different reasons. That said, there are quite a few math-related things you could do which would be interesting and valuable. History, vernacular introductions to complex topics, or interesting applications all spring to mind.
      To clarify, ‘Concepts of Calc I in 1000 words’ would be a potentially good post, even if a majority here knows the material. What is a derivative (in plain English), and why should we care? Apply to any math class/concept as you choose. ‘How to solve derivatives’ is not a good topic. The format here is bad, and it’s something people are not likely to want to pick up in a casual manner. The best effort posts are the ones that make you go ‘Thanks for telling me about something I didn’t know I wanted to know about’. (A Definite Beta Guy holds the trophy for this.) Any actual math is not going to satisfy this criteria.

      1. Andrew Hunter

        What is a derivative (in plain English), and why should we care?

        Oh, I can do this one, and it’s something that is missed by a *lot* of math education.

        A differentiable function [1] is one where if you zoom in enough towards one small section, becomes (arbitrarily close to) a straight line. That’s it. Since basic algebra tells you straight lines have the form f(x) = ax + b, what this means is that for differentiable f and very small neighborhoods,

        f(x) ~= ax + b + .

        So when you say a function is differentiable somewhere, what you mean is “I can take it as linear, so long as I stay very near there, and am OK with some arbitrarily small error.” From this you can derive just about all of numerical PDE solutions [2]. 🙂 In addition, it very nicely explains why the Weierstrass function is so weird, which neither the Wikipedia page nor any of my textbooks did. In particular, suppose a function isn’t differentiable (anywhere). This means that as I zoom in, one of two things must happen.

        1) The nearby in x points aren’t nearby in y; that is, the function is discontinuous, jumping back and forth constantly. (Take the function that’s the indicator for the rationals: f(x) = 1 iff x is rational, 0 otherwise. In any arbitrarily small region you’ll see it jump from 1 to 0 and back.)

        2) It is continuous–there’s a line I can draw with one stroke, so to speak–but as I zoom in on any section of that line, it doesn’t get straight–smaller-scale curviness reveals itself, and if I zoom in on those small parts of the curve, they get curvier in turn.

        Therefore, the Weierstrass function–continuous everywhere, differentiable nowhere–basically has to be a fractal-like shape.

        I think this is pretty cool, and undertaught.

        [1] Insert a lot of mumbling about “at a point” to formalize.

        [2] I didn’t really understand this characterization of derivatives until I saw the derivation of finite difference methods in Randy LeVeque’s book, which is explicitly about representing smal lchunks of functions as linear (or quadratic, or cubic, etc) with careful bounds on exactly how large those “small” error terms are.

        1. bean

          Oh, I can do this one, and it’s something that is missed by a *lot* of math education.

          While your take was interesting, that wasn’t a question I was asking for myself so much as a suggestion for him to talk about. (Although I do now understand how nowhere-differentiable, everywhere-continuous works, so thanks.)
          HFA, this is a good example of the sort of thing you should try to do.

        2. HeelBearCub

          That was very cogent. Even as a math major (that was how I had to get a comp. sci. degree back then) many years ago, I may not have ever fully understood this. Thanks.

        3. Nancy Lebovitz

          Also, the reason we should care about derivatives in general is that a lot of things do change according to smooth curves (at least until they break), and it’s good to have a formal way of characterizing those curves.

          1. AutisticThinker

            Most stuff in real life aren’t smooth (i.e. can be written using a Taylor series which is a REALLY strong condition) at all. However this is a good approximation in many cases.

          2. quanta413

            Most stuff in real life aren’t smooth (i.e. can be written using a Taylor series which is a REALLY strong condition) at all. However this is a good approximation in many cases.

            Smooth doesn’t require the full taylor series of a function at one point be equal to the function everywhere. Those are analytic functions. Smooth just means infinitely differentiable. There are smooth but not analytic functions, although I can’t think of or construct an example off the top of my head.

          3. AutisticThinker

            @quanta413 Never mind. You are right. I don’t work in analysis and didn’t consult Wikipedia before the post above. “Smooth” really only means C-infinity (i.e. having all kinds of higher derivatives).

            Being analytic is stronger than being smooth. Here is a smooth function that isn’t analytic according to Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bump_function

          4. littskad

            In practice, “smooth” generally means “having enough derivatives to do what I need to do, but I’m feeling too lazy to determine exactly how many that is, and the exact number isn’t super important anyway”.

        4. AutisticThinker

          AndrewHunter, thanks for your nice introduction to the idea of derivatives! This one is excellent! 🙂
          I will do one of the following this week:
          1.The basic idea behind integration
          2.Formal mathematics vs Informal mathematics
          3.What is an algebraic structure and why do people care about it (no background assumed, I will just play around with the spirit of abstract algebra which is elegant without getting my hands dirty on too many details)

          1. Brad

            > What is an algebraic structure and why do people care about it

            This one never really clicked for me until I stared learning about encryption techniques translated to work over elliptic fields.

          2. Evan Þ

            I’m looking forward to that – especially (2) and (3), since my high school / college math classes never really covered those!

          3. Charles F

            One thing I think you’ve mentioned offhand before which is kind of related to (2), that I’d like to see a post about is Interactive/Automatic Theorem Provers. How they work, a sense of the frequency of cases like this one where nobody can even begin to judge whether something is right (as well as the presumably much more frequent retractions which could have been avoided), and how bad the downsides of using current available products are.

        5. Anatoly

          Thurston offers 7 different ways (see page 3 of this article) to think about what a derivative is; and hints, tongue-at-cheek, at having at least another 30 at his disposal.

    3. gbdub

      Teaching math? No, poor format for it. Stories about the history of math, famous proofs, etc? Go for it!

    4. Rick Hull

      If you need some fodder for examples, I’ve got some problems that I’ve been wrestling with that I *know* have elegant or expedient mathematical solutions, for which I lack the background to tackle from the appropriate angle. Often, there is a whole lot of insight to be mined by starting with a very real problem, enumerating some common approaches, choosing at least one, and showing how it works.

      As opposed to problems like: John is leaving NYC on a train going 32 mph…

      In particular, I’ve been investigating the implementation of ballistic calculators — e.g. how much does a bullet drop at 100 yards. The simplest approach is generally known as 3DOF, or 3 degrees of freedom, where the projectile is modeled as a point mass with a position in space (x,y,z). 6DOF models are much harder to solve but include yaw, pitch, and spin. Some background

      One critical input to all models is v0, the initial velocity of the projectile, also known as muzzle velocity. This is tricky for a shooter to estimate. Many shooters make use of chronographs to determine this empirically for a given rifle and cartridge, with some inherent error and stochastic variation, or it can be estimated from published data with adjustments made to somehow account for the shooter’s situation relative to the published situation. For a given cartridge, it’s very useful to think of muzzle velocity as a function of barrel length. There are linear rules of thumb, like subtract 25 feet-per-second per barrel inch, but this is very rough.

      1. blame

        From the Wikipedia link:

        In super gun artillery cases, like the Paris gun, very subtle relativistic effects that are not covered in this article can further refine aiming solutions.

        Well, that’s impressive. I didn’t expect relativistic effects to be noticable in these cases.

        1. bean

          I have doubts. I don’t know that much about Paris Gun scales, but I don’t think that to relativistic effects can be separated from noise there. We didn’t consider relatively in normal satellite orbits.

        2. quanta413

          I agree with bean. Relativistic corrections being relevant seems highly improbable. Wikipedia gives a muzzle velocity of 1.5*10^3 m/s which is only about 1/(2*10^5) of the speed of light. It’s extremely hard for me to believe that other factors like variance in weather between the gun and target, etc. are not more important (keeping in mind the gun fired from ~100 kilometers away).

      2. bean

        Hey! Effort posts on long-range ballistic computers are my job!
        (And yes, I just finished rewriting my fire control post. Up next, on Naval Gazing.)

        1. Rick Hull

          Excellent! My focus right now is small arms, mainly rifles, though handgun ballistics are interesting as a point of comparison. I have some work here: https://github.com/rickhull/ballistics

          N.B. I’m starting to fumble around with the C portions and will almost certainly replace or substantially revamp the underlying C basis. The outer Ruby layer is now reasonably polished.

          1. bean

            In fairness, I spend about 90% of it talking about everything except conventional external ballistics. I find that much less interesting than all of the stuff they had to go through to get guns to perform on ships like they do on land. (Also, just to be clear, the first part is slated for OT 86. I have an aviation post for 85.75.)

    5. Garrett

      I challenge:

      Explain WTF LaPlace transforms are. I have an engineering degree and suffered took many semesters of math which involved solving problems with LaPlace transforms. However, I never developed an intuitive feel for them. It was my first real experience of crashing into a wall and going “this makes no sense to me”, like most of my cohort did with high school math. I managed to do well enough to pass the courses and develop an appreciation for the transform’s usefulness, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a mystical set of steps you go through to solve differential equations.

      1. littskad

        Laplace transforms are continuous versions of power series (with a change of variables to make calculations easier).
        Consider the power series
        A(x) = Σ_0^∞ a(n) x^n.
        The continuous version of this would be something like
        A(x) = ∫_0^∞ a(t) x^t dt.
        However, integrals involving x^t like this are messy, so we note that x = e^(log x) so that we can write the integral as
        A(x) = ∫_0^∞ a(t) e^(t log x) dt.
        Finally, in order for the integral to converge for most common functions a(t), we’ll need 0<x<1, so that log x is negative. We therefore change variables to s = -log x, and get
        A(s) = ∫_0^∞ a(t) e^(-st) dt.
        This is the Laplace transform.

  9. Atlas

    Reading recommendation solicitation:

    Does anyone have reading recommendations (of any format) on Mormonism, Mormons, the LDS Church, etc.? I’m particularly interested in “ethnic history” of Mormons post-WW2 to the present, in the style of Albion’s Seed and Thomas Sowell’s books like Ethnic America. I’m less interested in Mormon theology and 19th century history, though certainly willing to learn a little about that incidentally.

    (Thank you all kindly in advance.)

    1. keranih

      Emmm. Time period’s not right (at all) but consider Orson Scott Card’s Saints.

      I myself wonder if it’s possible to have any true “factual” grasp of history that close in time, esp in terms of loose social groups. Too much contamination of particular perspectives.

    2. yodelyak

      “The Triple Package” has a… well, maybe it’s Gladwell-esque… look at Mormonism (as well as American Judaism and other groups that seem to outperform the American mainstream.) You might find the book offers a lot of helpful tidbits, and/or is helpful for narrowing down the period you are interested in, and/or points to sources that might be more useful. (It offers endnote cites about as well as a lot of pop history books.) Actually, it has made me interested in learning more about the social history of Mormonism, although I may be more keen in looking a little earlier than WWII. Something changed, at some point, in a way that is interesting, but I don’t know when. In particular, the book offers the contrast between FLDS and LDS, in terms of one seeming to have outcomes indicative of a culture of success, and the other less so. The FLDS split off in 1904, if “The Triple Package” has it correctly, when LDS ended the practice of polygamy and FLDS refused to go along. The book also offers this indication of the level of fervor among Mormons over time:

      Missionary work increased stunningly as the century wore on. From 1830 to 1900, the Church estimates that roughly 13,000 Mormons went on mission; from 1900 to 1950, 50,000; from 1950 to 1990, 400,000; since 1990, well over 650,000.

      1. CatCube

        I feel like there should be some sort of bird exclusion on that grain storage area.

        “In the Hall of the Mountain King” was a nice touch on the video, though.

      2. johan_larson

        It’s a weird bit of video. Pigeons are happily eating grain while not 12 inches away their fellows are being dragged under. Do they not notice? Is the prospect of a mountain of food so tempting they don’t care?

        And to step back a bit, are there similar situations for humans, times when we blithely ignore obvious danger because we are too busy reaching for the brass ring?

        1. Aapje

          I think that this is a very atypical threat for pigeons. It requires pretty extensive reasoning to realize that this instance of ‘out of sight’ has a fundamentally different cause than most other instances (like losing sight of a pigeon because you turn your back to it, because it walks away, etc). I think that they would react more as you expect if a cat would kill one of them.

          I consider your last question unanswerable because I think it is based on a false assumption (that the danger is obvious).

    1. CatCube

      A similar worry where I grew up was kids playing on the sand and salt piles used for road treatments. Slope failures could potentially bury children (or adults, but that was less of a problem).

  10. Nancy Lebovitz


    Big critical analysis by Farah Mendlesohn.

    “The book is a close reading of Heinlein’s work, including unpublished stories, essays, and speeches. It sets out not to interpret a single book, but to think through the arguments Heinlein made over a life time about the nature of science fiction, about American politics, and about himself. Although not a biography it tries to understand Heinlein’s work both as product and insight into the man. The key thesis of the book is a challenge to the idea of Heinlein as a libertarian and resituating him as a classical Liberal in the terms he understood; a man who prized the individual highly but understood the individual as at their best when enmeshed in the complex structure of a nurturing society.”

    I’m looking forward to it a lot.

  11. Paul Brinkley

    In a deeply nested thread above, Larry Kestenbaum wrote:

    I don’t know what the threshold for seriousness is in this race (admittedly a slippery concept to begin with)

    I get the sharp impression that you have done a sizeable amount of thinking on this, even if it turns out you have no strong conclusions to bring. Care to share your notes?

    Specifically, how might one determine what the seriousness threshold is? What are the input factors? If I were put on the spot about it, I’d say a candidate looks serious if and only if (iff) the candidate looks like they could win. But that only counts for donors looking specifically for a candidate that they actually see holding the office; it doesn’t include donors backing a candidate who won’t realistically win, but still has an important message they want to push into public view. Although in this case, I think you’re really only talking about winning.

    So, serious contender seems to involve being known to enough voters at an absolute minimum. (I sometimes posit that “hey everybody: this thing exists” is 80% of the use of any advertising.) That’s cheap to do in a village with a lot of word-of-mouth. In a city, I guess you’d need to know who the major mouthpieces are. Efficiency matters; you could spend $10M finding 100,000 local leaders and scheduling face time with them, or $250K on a TV ad that reaches the same number and another $250K reaching 100 more local leaders (specifically, the ones with communities that don’t watch TV).

    Once everyone knows you exist, I guess you’d then work on convincing everyone you’re the best for the job. More ads, more face time. And now the content matters. Which I suppose means polling matters (what makes the most people think you’re the best?).

    Assuming I’m not totally off the mark here, this all feels very case-by-case – I don’t know how a candidate can appear serious to a voter in general, beyond polling and then doing what the polls suggest, or worse, being lucky enough to have already done or been what the polls suggest. I don’t even trust polls much to begin with; I feel as if they never ask the questions voters really care about, or ask in a way that is inconclusive. Indeed, I’m not sure most people even care how much $$$ a candidate spent (and I suspect they often consider all that money wasted anyway).

    1. andrewflicker

      I think you’re trying to come up with this theoretically, where it might be more productive to approach it empirically. Call a candidate serious if they win, or lose by less than 10 points. (There are serious candidates below this, of course, but we’re devising a sample space)

      Of these candidates, how much money did they spend, what was the population relevant to the seat they were attempting to acquire, and what was the “level of authority” inherent in the position? So, for Gov of Virginia, that’s around 4.4 million registered voters, and authority is the highest relevant to that subset and not to any realistic superset. Take the money spent and divide it by 4.4 million for a spend-per-capita.

      Then maybe say the 10th percentile of SPC among governor’s races is our cut-off for a “seriousness” threshold- after all, the vast majority of serious candidates will spend far more than the threshold amount. You’d need a lot of data, but seems like a straightforward result that way- as opposed to a complicated theoretical thought experiment that isn’t sufficiently grounded to real-world events.

    2. yodelyak

      One starting point, rather than asking how much it costs to win, is to simply ask “how much does it cost to teach 50% of the likely voters your name?”

      In a Presidential race, for a major party candidate, this work is done for you. (But in an early-primary state with a contested primary, you probably have some work to do, which won’t be free.)

      Look at Maricopa county, AZ with its 2.2 million registered voters. A candidate for county recorder who wants to teach 1 million voters his/her name will almost certainly need to spend >$1 per voter, and likely more like $10/voter, to make that happen. ($.50 or $1 might be a good estimate for the minimum cost-per-piece of a mailed flyer. You can do cheaper if volunteers hand distribute your flyers, if you don’t spend too much on organizers recruiting your volunteers… which is reasonably hard.) Ergo, the seat probably never has a competitive general election where money makes a lick of difference; rather, the candidate’s political party is all that matters. So the race is decided by the primary in that party.

  12. Winter Shaker

    So, my apologies if this is spammy, but the guy who wrote the book that enabled me to get to a surprisingly (for me) high level in Portuguese (I wouldn’t call myself fluent, but I’m certainly a lot better relative to the same time investment in French and German when at school) is trying to raise funds for his language learning app. His Fluent Forever system is based on using memorable visual content that you find yourself on Google Images – i.e. you decide what images will best help you remember the meaning of a word, phrase or grammatical construction – and making flashcards in Anki, which works, but the process of actually building the flashcards is an annoying faff. The new app is intended to take the drudge work out of that part of the process, so that one can spend more of one’s mental energy actually doing the reviewing that cements things into your long-term memory, and if they meet enough of their their stretch goals on Kickstarter, they will have enough funds to create a version of the app not only the ‘usual suspects’ list of major world languages, but also support for any other language, with curated contributions from the community of users.

    I’m keen for that to happen, so I thought it was worth sharing here in case anyone else is interested and might want to pledge.

    1. rlms

      I started hacking together something similar to make Anki cards a few months ago. If I’d known it might have been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars on Kickstarter, maybe I’d have persevered! I don’t quite understand how their subscription model works. Free users can review cards but not create them (which makes sense given that Google Images API isn’t free), but how do they get the cards to review in the first place? If I were them, I’d be inclined to store the most commonly chosen image for each word and suggest the prebuilt card using it before getting a user to pick their own image. That would save both user time and API costs.

      On the same subject: someone on an SSC classifieds post recommended Language Transfer’s courses, and having gone through half their Spanish course I would definitely second that recommendation.

    2. Winter Shaker

      I think the idea is that you subscribe as a paying member for long enough to create a bunch of cards in the first place, but if you’re not making them on an intensive schedule, you can de-subscribe while you take your time reviewing the cards for free. I guess you probably also *can* download someone else’s, but this is dis-recommended, since the process of creating the card is a large part of what gets the info to stick in your brain in the first place.

      Also, yes, Language Transfer helped me when I needed to learn a bit of Italian. It seems to be basically Pimsleur / Michel Thomas except not outrageously expensive. Though from my experience it’s only really good for learning to speak the basics, not so much for understanding what the other person says back to you (for that, you’re probably looking for something like LingQ, which I’ve been using for Dutch, to how good an effect I’ll find out later this month when I visit the Netherlands).

      1. Wrong Species

        Out of all the language learning software, which do you think is the best? I’ve been using Duolingo which is obviously imperfect but it does have the advantage of being free and the gamification elements make it easier to stick around.

        1. Winter Shaker

          Duolingo seems to be not highly recommended in the ‘nerdy people talking on the internet about learning languages’ community, and I can see why. It basically just trains you to translate pre-determined (or procedurally generated) sentences. It neither trains you in listening comprehension, nor in generating your own spoken or written output. And the gamification isn’t even that fun – it’s just a ‘fake money to buy your owl a tracksuit’ thing, plus a streak counter. Flash Academy at least manages to include word games that feel like games.
          (That said, I am currently maintaining a several-weeks’ Duolingo streak in Hungarian; it is better than nothing…)

          For comprehension, I think LingQ is pretty good, though it is a paid subscription service. Onyomi from these threads recommended it, so he may have something to say. I have mostly used LingQ for Dutch and, while I’m not great, I find that I can understand a fair bit of what people say, at least at a not-discussing-complicated-academic-subjects level, and get the gist of most of the written texts I come across.

          And for generating output … well, the way I was working on Portuguese was basically talking with the other person over Skype (who did not really speak English herself), using Google Translate to bring up any words I wanted to say to her, and she would also text-message me any thing she said that I didn’t understand, and then making Anki flashcards of those words and phrases. (You can probably find a language partner on iTalki for free, and you may want to pay a tutor to avoid the time cost of talking with them in your language as much as in the one you’re learning.) It is a haphazard way of building your vocabulary, but at least you end up with flashcards of things you have wanted to say, or needed to understand, at least once. But the process of creating the flashcards is, like I said above, a tedious slog, so I am hopeful about Gabriel Wyner’s new app.

        2. onyomi

          I still like LingQ, but I have a new (slightly tongue-in-cheek, slightly serious) recommendation for “best language learning software”: Skype.

          There’s a site called iTalki where you can find Skype tutors for any major language. You can have live, one-on-language lessons from home, often for surprisingly cheap, especially if you hire the “community tutors” rather than the professionals.

          Now here’s the key point: don’t let them do the usual “classroom” activities with you. Instead, just struggle to communicate with them in the target language, using as little English or other languages as possible.

          Of course, to do that, you need to be past the most basic level; for that, programs like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone can help. LingQ is also aimed slightly higher than pure beginner, though you can use it to get past the pure beginner level quite quickly if you download and listen to a lot of their material on the subway, etc.

          1. Winter Shaker

            Instead, just struggle to communicate with them in the target language, using as little English or other languages as possible

            And, if possible, get them to write down their corrections of the things you’re trying to say, so that you can make Anki flashcards for later.

  13. Well...

    SSC commentariat, please point me to sources where I can do a crash course on “value alignment” (the subtopic of AI) in one week. Assume I have no technical knowledge. I need to learn enough about it to mention some of its core challenges in an academic paper about a tangential topic without feeling like I have no business doing so.

    (IRL I know a little about it but I’m not confident to say how much I know or don’t know.)

  14. sandoratthezoo

    Spoilers for Star Trek Discovery will come in this thread. So here’s how I’ll handle it: I’ll put the actual content in the next post, with some spoiler space at the top of the next post. So you can click the “hide” link for this thread, right below here, and won’t have any chance of seeing the spoilers. Copacetic?

    1. sandoratthezoo

      And here’s the spoiler space.





      Okay. Now, I haven’t actually seen Star Trek Discovery. But I read a summary, and it looks like the main character is sentenced to life in prison due to her mutiny and then Hijinks Ensue and, she ends up on the ship of a rule-breaking captain who’s going to blah-blah-blah eventually she’ll be the first officer, right?

      So there was a lot of weeping and wailing in these quarters about how it was impossible to take the show seriously after the protagonist mutinied and there would be no consequences for it. Did the whole “she gets sentenced to life in prison” deal change any minds?

      1. John Schilling

        If it is obvious that “life in prison” really means “in the brig until no later than the end of the next episode”, why would that change anything? Fake consequences = Fake drama.

        1. sandoratthezoo

          I don’t think that fictional characters can be punished, John. All of her consequences will forever be fake.

          To the extent that it was a “how can I take Starfleet seriously if they’re going to ignore a mutiny” question, the answer appears to be “Starfleet sends her to prison for life, but circumstances conspire to foil Starfleet’s punishment.”

          To the extent that it’s “I don’t like the character because she’s a mutineer,” then I suppose one would have to see if she seems like she grew or developed as a result.

          1. Jiro

            To the extent that it was a “how can I take Starfleet seriously if they’re going to ignore a mutiny” question, the answer appears to be “Starfleet sends her to prison for life, but circumstances conspire to foil Starfleet’s punishment.”

            I think it’s more like “the story is treating mutiny like it’s nothing”. The fact that she gets out of prison is a symptom of this problem, not the whole problem.

          2. John Schilling

            I think it’s more like “the story is treating mutiny like it’s nothing”.

            From what I have seen, including some fairly detailed synopses of Episode 3, it is treating mutiny like it is a positive thing. Part of the dark and gritty / rebelliously anti-authoritarian ethic that, while it has some appeal in the right context, really isn’t a good fit for Star Trek.

          3. Trofim_Lysenko

            I think it’s more like “the story is treating mutiny like it’s nothing”. The fact that she gets out of prison is a symptom of this problem, not the whole problem.

            Exactly. I think there might be a values disconnect here, so let me use an analogy:

            How would you feel about a military adventure story where a character disobeys orders and opens fire on a village full of innocent civilians during a guerrilla war, are put on trial by weak, bleeding heart civilians who just don’t understand that sometimes a firm hand is needed when dealing with such an unscrupulous enemy, and is later busted out of prison to lead the military to victory against that same enemy, proving that they’re a hero after all?

            Would you be at all troubled by the fact that the story treated a pre-meditated war crime as either “not really all that bad” or as an actively good thing?

          4. sandoratthezoo


            Are you asking me?

            I’m pretty sure I’ve read stories like that. I can’t immediately think of an example, but I’ve read a bunch of kind of right wing military sci-fi where the goddamn civilians are always getting in the way of the heroic military.

            They’re fine, given other decent qualities. I can even agree that in certain situations it might be the correct thing to do, given a carefully set up, kind of implausible situation.

            (I’ve also read a bunch of communist stories, and I’ve enjoyed those, too, despite thinking that communism leads inevitably to horrifying human rights abuses in the real world.)

          5. John Schilling

            I’ve read at least three SFnal retellings of the bit where Bellisarius and Mundus slaughter thirty thousand angry football chariot-racing hooligans. A sufficiently talented storyteller can sell that story as one of a necessary, lesser evil, and even make the crowd sufficiently unpleasant that their fictional deaths are a guilty pleasure to enjoy. But I really, really don’t need that sort of story mixed in with my Star Trek.

            I also think that particular bit of history has now been thoroughly mined out for at least a generation as far as its storytelling potential is concerned. But I now find myself wondering what would happen if I pointed the Discovery writing team in that direction and saying “This is the sort of moral dilemma a really hard-hitting Star Trek would be willing to address, and I don’t think it has ever been done before…”

            No, better not.

          6. Nancy Lebovitz

            How about a story which sets up that slaughter as the lesser evil, and then goes on to show it as a crime? Or maybe it was the least evil, but still show bad consequences?

          7. Trofim_Lysenko


            Yes, you, but also generally anyone wondering why the “Heroic Mutineer” trope can stick in people’s craws in a military context.

            I’m not sure you grasped the thrust of the hypothetical I am asking you to engage with. I am not talking about “ those pesky civilians getting in the way of our heroic military” tropes in general. I’m talking very specifically about a story in which the main character is an outright war criminal, someone who has engaged in the cold-blooded killing of non-combatants, and in which this is treated as merely a way to make the character more gritty and real, or even as an aspect of their heroic nature (“making the tough decisions”).

            That specificity was chosen to match the severity of the sort of mutiny we’re discussing here. It’s right up there with “Treason” and “Desertion/Cowardice In The Face Of The Enemy” as malfeasance so serious that for most of recorded history the agreed-upon response was “Execution”, often summary and on-the-spot. It is up there with “War Crimes” on the list of The Very Worst Things You Can Do While In Uniform.

            That is not to say that it’s impossible to have a heroic mutineer. But the bar for it is very, VERY high, and the circumstances in which mutiny is a “lesser evil” have to be very, VERY extreme.

            @John Schilling

            Ok, I have to admit I am now wondering if it was the same three: Pournelle’s Mercenary, Cook’s The Black Company, and Flint & Drake’s Belisarius books?

          8. John Schilling

            Never read “Black Company”, but one of Drake’s “Hammer’s Slammers” series was a straight-up retelling to the Nika riots story. Now I’m wondering how many more there are…

          9. Trofim_Lysenko

            Probably about half as many as there are Anabasis-inspired storylines. It was actually military SF that got me back into reading the old Greek and Roman histories.

        2. hyperboloid

          Fake consequences = Fake drama.

          Is this really a new problem for Star Trek uh.. STD?

          I seem to remember a lot of episodes in the earlier series that introduced major, plot, and character changes that got conveniently forgotten by next week’s episode. Didn’t Kirk mutiny, or disobey orders in like every second movie?

          1. John Schilling

            Stealing the Enterprise in Star Trek III would presumably count, but that was a unique incident in a series that had earned some measure of tolerance in that area. Other than that, and excluding instances of actual Alien Mind Control, I don’t recall much in the way of mutiny or otherwise disobeying the direct orders of an officer physically present. And several instances of their conspicuously not doing so even though the orders in question were far more clearly disastrous than Capt. Georgiou’s.

            Disobeying the orders of a superior officer not physically present, or general regulations, is a different matter and usually accepted where both the intent and effect is to disobey the letter of the order in order to better accomplish its intent in the face of new information.

      2. Randy M

        I can’t speak to Discovery, but that’s kind of similar to the old Anime Exosquad, in which mid-season 1 the main character, a Lt. in a space navy, was arrested for insubordination or mutiny for countermanding an order of the acting fleet commander–and then, after his court-marshall, breaking out of the brig to join the fight (that he had advised avoiding for strategic reasons).
        The consequences were he and his squad were imprisoned for 1 year and then sent on basically a suicide mission.
        The extenuating circumstances were that the officer who he disrespected was only in command because of an injury to the actual Admiral, the order he wanted to over-ride did turn out to be terrible, and he squad’s combat prowess allowed them to escape with fewer losses.

        I don’t know if there’s any real world military branch where you can fight your way out of the brig during war time and not end up executed, but it made a good excuse for the time-skip.

      3. dodrian

        I only watched the first episode, but the ‘solution’ seems iffy to me. Has the rule-breaking captain stolen his ship? Are they fugitives of the UnionFederation? Or does an imminent war with the Klingons force the Admirals to drop the issue (it’s the Captain’s problem now) in lieu of frying bigger fish?**

        The latter seems most likely to me, though the formers would make better premises. But all of these are against the spirit of Star Trek – portraying a positive future of exploration and discovery, where people talk through their problems and the audience can reflect upon social issues and moral dilemmas.

        Perhaps I’m just a whinging fanboi. If modern audiences want dark, morally-ambiguous against-all-odds space shoot-em-ups I guess that’s what we’ll get.

        **ETA: Maybe this is all a radiation induced hallucination after Michael’s suit was nearly destroyed by that Klingon in the first episode.

        1. Wrong Species

          In addition to the mutiny and the Captain being shady, there were so many unnecessary elements added just to make the show Grimdark. Almost every character was unlikable. The security chief referred to the prisoners as animals. The lighting is still too dark. And for some inexplicable reason, they decided to play horror movie music throughout the whole episode, even when they were aboard the Discovery and not in any imminent danger. It really takes away from the levity they were going for in the scenes that weren’t supposed to be dark.

          Still, if you forget that it’s Star Trek, it was decently interesting.

      4. cassander

        I will say that, along with John, I thought there was at least a 50/50 shot she’d be first officer again by the end of one episode, 90% chance by 2. That’s not exactly what happened, she’s back but it doesn’t look like she’ll be first officer any time soon. We’ll see if she puts the uniform back on next week, I think she will. I like Saru and the idea of Michael being subordinated to him, but I doubt she’ll stay there. I liked that they’re on a science ship that’s not going to be running around the front lines doing war story stuff.

        All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by the episode, but that’s because expectations were so low, and there are clearly some warning signs. There’s a difference between making star trek darker and grittier, which is bad, and intelligently challenging its premises, which is good. I love tragedy and I love dark and gritty, but that’s just not what star trek is.

    2. Montfort

      I’m not saying you have a lot of better options (nor do I particularly care about star trek spoilers), but let me make explicit the work flow you’re creating for people who want to avoid them:
      1. First time in this OT, presumably they’re reading posts in order. They see your warning, hide the whole thread, everyone’s happy.
      2. They refresh to see if anyone’s posted anything new. Your thread unhides. Now they must remember to ctrl-f for spoilers or star trek or something so they can rehide your thread. They must do this because, crucially, the two popular ways of finding new comments (using the dropdown in the upper right-hand corner or ctrl-f ing for new plus the tildes) do not take you to the parent post, they take you directly to the child, which (if it’s a child of your post) presumably has plaintext spoilers. They must remember to do this each time they refresh this page or visit it in another browser.

      Alternatively, they could:
      1. killfile you, if they have that userscript (and it still works, and they even know it exists), making reading other comments by you a hassle
      2. killfile the thread using the ublock workaround someone recently posted about (again, if they know about it and have ublock or a similar plugin/extension installed).
      3. do something else which probably involves above-average familiarity with web browsers.

      1. gbdub

        Strong vote in the opposite direction – these spoilers are easy to find and hide in this thread (ctrl+F “star trek”, click “hide”). On the other hand, ROT13 is the devil, at least until there is functionality for it built into this site.

        I’d rather scroll past / hide 10 threads marked “spoiler” than try to participate in a single thread where I have to ROT13 every comment.

        1. Montfort

          Fair enough, but I would just clarify the difficulty is not in the act of finding and hiding the thread, it’s in consistently doing so every time the thread might unhide (including each time you post). This is similar to the difficulty of ROT13; it’s not in encoding your comment or decoding a comment, but in decoding/encoding each comment in the thread you want to read/post.

      2. sandoratthezoo

        Yup! But rot13 is the devil.

        Sticky thread-hiding or a “spoiler” tag would be nice additions. The javascript thingie that someone wrote that added the hide and so forth: is that open source? I could take a stab at writing some additional spoiler tools if someone can point me at a repo.

        1. Montfort

          Bakkot, Bakkot, Bakkot (courtesy summon).
          The repo can be found here. It’s been integrated into the site, so no one uses the userscript now, but still useful as an example, I suppose.

          I forget where the user block script is. You can find a chrome plugin by searching ssc-block, but I think the original version was just a few lines intended to be used with greasemonkey.

          Only partially related, over the course of time here, I’ve changed my opinion on the hide option – I think on balance I’d like it better if it were permanent (until undone). But a change now would probably cause much confusion and hubbub. And besides all that, spoiler functionality of some kind would be nice but not critical.

  15. JohnofSalisbury

    Effective altruists should make reuniting ABBA a priority. They’ve admitted to turning down a billion dollars for a reunion tour. An open letter from Peter Singer and other EA heavyweight might well make think more carefully about the good they could do with that sort of money. In addition, ABBA are awesome, and a reunion would make the world a better place irrespective of how the money is used.

    1. hyperboloid

      Weren’t you just arguing for the obvious superiority of nineteenth century classical music over the modernist oeuvre of the twentieth? And now I find out you’re an ABBA fan. Really?

      They play this stuff to people in Guantanamo bay to make them talk.

      1. JohnofSalisbury

        Yes, these are two entirely consistent positions. I think ABBA is great, but that the best 19th century classical music is better than any 20th century music, ABBA included. I’m also evaluating by different standards: the best 19th century music scores highly on all things considered aesthetic merit, whereas ABBA scores highly on brute auditory pleasure-inducement. I have a maxim on the matter: there only two kinds of secular vocal music, Wagnerian music-drama and ABBA belter. The rest is noise. (Ie, there two main ways to evaluate secular vocal music, on all things considered aesthetic merit and on brute auditory pleasure-inducement, and the Wagnerian music-drama is most optimised for the one and the ABBA belter is most optimised for the other).

        Yes, play a song once at an appropriate volume, it induces pleasure, play it repeatedly at a loud volume it becomes torture. Adopt a yoga position for an appropriate period of time, it’s relaxing and invigorating, be forced to hold it for hours on and end, and it too becomes torture. Finally, Pierce Brosnan is not a member of ABBA.

    2. Matt M

      An open letter from Peter Singer and other EA heavyweight might well make think more carefully about the good they could do with that sort of money.

      On the one hand, this is an interesting point.

      On the other, I feel like using EA to frame an argument like this could pretty quickly escalate into a moral justification for enslaving people of exceptionally high incomes.

      1. JohnofSalisbury

        Yes, that’s a fair point, but I don’t think this is a drastically more serious problem for the open letter than the sort of career advice 80,000 hours is already giving.

  16. Nancy Lebovitz

    What recipes give the best results for the least effort and/or cost?

    Tuna-Tomato Thing

    About a pound of tuna
    A medium large tomato
    Olive oil
    Penzey’s Ozark Seasoning (salt, Tellicherry black pepper, spices and herbs, granulated garlic and paprika)

    Optional: Sour cream, fresh dill, parmesan chesse

    I cooked a thing I’m happy with.

    I started with olive oil and a some Penzy’s Ozark seasoning cooked the tomato part way, added the tuna and cooked (with some stirring) till it was cooked through.

    I mixed up some Mexican sour cream (not that much different from the usual, maybe milder) and fresh dill, and kept it on the side so there’d be some contrast of temperature.

    I thought the sour cream and dill would be a big deal, but not so much. The tuna/tomato thing was really nice– it would be plausible as a restaurant dish. (Go ahead, tell me this is a completely standard recipe I didn’t know about.)

    There are a couple of drawbacks on the restaurant side– it isn’t very pretty, with the rather beige tuna and the squelched tomato. On the other hand, there’s an orange broth that looks pretty good.

    It’s also sort of intermediate between a plate entree and a soup. It might made sense to have a higher proportion of tomato and serve it as a soup. Or possibly add some dark mushrooms for the contrast, and I think the taste would work.

    Anyway, it’s tasty and quick. It’s low carb, should you be doing that. I actually tried to figure out a starch to go with it, and nothing was obvious. I think any of the usual things– potatoes, pasta, or rice– would go with it well enough.
    As stated, the sour cream with dill wasn’t that important if you want it to be dairy-free. You could garnish it with dill. I’d also put some parmesan cheese in, but it didn’t seem to make much difference. Possibly a version with a lot of parmesan (baked?) would work.

    1. dodrian

      Slow cooker recipes are best for balancing taste, cost, and ease of preperation. Here’s one for a filling black bean soup I’ve enjoyed recently (as long as you can handle mild-to-medium spice & the effects that come from having a bean-based meal):

      1 lb dried black (turtle) beans
      1 large diced yellow onion
      2 diced red bell peppers
      2 quarts broth (I use chicken because it’s cheaper, but veggie would be fine if you want to keep the recipe veggie/vegan)
      1/3 cup cayenne pepper sauce (Frank’s is my preference)
      6 minced cloves garlic
      2 bay leaves
      1Tbsp ground cumin
      salt and pepper to taste (about 1 tsp each)

      Place all ingredients in a slow cooker, cook for 10+ hours on medium (if you pre-soak or use canned beans you can cook for much less time). Before serving remove the bay leaves and puree. I garnish with lime wedges, but sour cream, chopped onions/jalapenos, cheese or coriander would all work well.

      The only preparation is chopping the onions and peppers (you can buy pre-diced fresh or frozen in many places, it’s usually more expensive). I suppose blending at the end is optional, but it’s easy and quick if you have an immersion blender. I don’t think it’s interesting enough to see in a restaurant, but the taste:preparation ratio is pretty high, and the ingredients are dirt cheap (except the peppers, but those can be if they’re local and in season).

      1. A Definite Beta Guy

        I’m not against slow cookers, but they have serious limitations. Most slow-cooker recipe books reduce everything to the same bland stew mixture.

        If you aren’t away from the house all day and can stand to leave the stove on, braising in a Dutch Oven is superior to slow-cooking, IMO. Especially since you can sear easily in a dutch oven.

        But I might be picky about my seared meats. It’s something I pick out in virtually every single dish. Might as well just boil the goddam chicken if you aren’t searing it. >:/

        1. Eric Rall

          You can also stick it in the oven at a low temperature (225 to 275, depending on your oven’s calibration and how strongly you want it simmering) after bringing it to a boil on the stove. This is a bit more energy-efficient, and it doesn’t need to be monitored as much because the oven’s not hot enough to burn your food even if too much water cooks off.

      2. Andrew Hunter

        I’m with ADBG: get a pressure cooker and/or a dutch oven. But don’t take my word for it, take Kenji’s: http://www.seriouseats.com/2016/10/why-pressure-cookers-are-better-than-slow-cookers.html

        Hell, the Instant Pot–a crock pot/pressure cooker hybrid that’s highly useful–is on sale on Amazon today. https://smile.amazon.com/Instant-Pot-Multi-Use-Programmable-Pressure/dp/B00FLYWNYQ/?tag=kenjilopezalt-20&sa-no-redirect=1 Comes highly recommended by tons of experts.

        (I swear I’m not a shill.)

        1. Nancy Lebovitz

          Aside from liking the Instant Pot to cook with, I’m impressed that people figured out that it was possible to improve the pressure cooker that much. I think just about anyone would have thought pressure cookers were a mature technology.

          1. Andrew Hunter

            They are not a strict upgrade on traditional pressure cookers. My Kuhn Rikon does 15psi, and my instant pot only 11psi (iirc?) which means the Kuhn cooks faster and more aggressively where such things are needed.

            I don’t know why this is, actually. The best guess I have is that the higher temperatures of a 15psi pressure cooker would damage the electronics, which necessarily have to be nearby?

            It is nevertheless a very convenient device. (I have to sit near my Kuhn Rikon and tweak the heat input every 5m or so to kee pit at optimal temperature, which…sucks.)

          2. Eltargrim


            From the Instantpot FAQ:

            The choice of a lower working pressure in Instant Pot is a trade-off of function and cost. The pressure cooker industry safety standard ANSI/UL-136 has a stress test case which requires no leaking at 5 times the working pressure. For 15psi cookers, this is 75psi; for 11.6psi Instant Pot, this is 58psi. The differences in material and construction are huge. We could build an Instant Pot that operates at 15psi, but not at under $150 level. It would be more like $300~500 level and our research indicates that most people are not willing to buy in that price range.

            So economics, not technology.

          3. Andrew Hunter

            @Eltargrim: my other pressure cooker is a boutique Swiss brand overengineered to hell and a favorite of the kind of people who buy on-brand All Clad; in other words, it certainly hits those safety standards and is not discounted by any measure. It cost me $150.

            Unless there’s some particular difficulty in safing *electrics*, I don’t understand their claim at all.

        2. dodrian

          I’ve been eyeing the Instant Pot for a bit now, having heard great things about it. And thanks for that link, I always enjoy learning about cooking!

        3. Conrad Honcho

          My wife got an Instant Pot for Christmas last year. We use it at least once a week. The food is amazing. My wife is over the moon about the thing and has gone a little nutso with it, getting into flame wars with people on the internet about the best recipes for it. Highly highly recommended.

          Also not a shill. But that sounds just like the sort of thing a shill might say…

          1. A Definite Beta Guy

            I’m actually thinking of buying one of these instant pots today for my wife. Will be a Christmas present.

            Getting kind of tired of the same slow cooked meals…

      3. Dog

        Careful slow cooking beans. Many beans have a toxin, phytohenagglutinin, that is only degraded at a full boil. Slow cooked kidney beans in particular are quite poisonous – 5 or 6 beans will make you ill. Other beans have lower amounts, but in general I would consider slow cooking beans without first boiling them a bad idea / potentially unhealthy.

    2. SamChevre

      My top contender: greens, beans, and sausage soup

      1 pound collards/kale/turnip greens/mustard greens–frozen is fine
      1 pound sausage–hot italian or southern-style breakfast
      1 cup white beans, soaked or two cans white beans, drained

      Add water to cover and cook together until thoroughly done. Add salt and pepper vinegar to taste.

    3. Nabil ad Dajjal

      Depending on your spice tolerance, there are a lot of Sichuan recipes that are deceptively simple.

      The basic formula is [protein and/or veggies cooked in málà sauce] + rice. Maybe add ginger and a garnish if you’re really feeling fancy.

      Mápó tofu is a good example:

      1/2 lb ground pork
      1/2 package silken tofu
      1/2 cup rice + 1 cup water
      1 tbsp málà sauce
      1 tbsp tapioca starch + 1/4 cup water
      Sliced ginger root to taste
      1-3 chopped green onions

      Put rice and water into rice cooker.
      Cut tofu into 1″ cubes and rinse in a colander.
      Heat lightly oiled pan.
      Cook pork with málà sauce and ginger on medium-high heat, stirring until no pink remains.
      Mix tapioca starch and water, then add to pan and stir.
      Add tofu and green onions and stir briefly.
      Serve over rice.

      If you have a good amount of sauce and rice you can essentially make anything this way. Beef, chicken, pork, tofu, frozen vegetables, whatever. It all comes out tasting good and it doesn’t take very long.

        1. Nabil ad Dajjal

          So here’s what my girlfriend said about the sauce:

          So the Málà sauce I use is technically salty and spicy bean paste which in Chinese is 郫县辣豆瓣 (Pí xiàn là dòubàn). I don’t know the brand because my mom always gave me some when I ran out lol, and I think she makes it herself. But a good substitute that people can use and it’s easier to find is hot pot seasoning. You can easily buy it in Asian supermarkets and it comes in packets in solid chunks. You can just break off a small piece and add it to the pork, though you have to wait for it to melt. But it’s essentially the same ingredients.

          I had thought we were using a brand of sauce ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          Also I messed up the recipe a bit, see below for the real version.

      1. Nabil ad Dajjal

        Actually my girlfriend just informed me that I messed up the recipe. I was going by memory and forgot some steps.

        Here’s the modified recipe:
        1/2 lb ground pork
        1 box of silken tofu
        1/2 cup rice + 1 cup water
        1 tbsp málà sauce
        1 tbsp tapioca starch + 1/4 cup water
        Ginger root
        1-2 stalks of green onion
        Soy sauce, vinegar or cooking wine, salt and pepper to taste

        1. Put rice and water into rice cooker.
        2. Cut tofu into 1″ cubes and rinse in a colander. 3. Slice 4-5 round, coin-size pieces of ginger.
        4. Heat up pan. Optional: lightly oil pan, but the pork will naturally secrete its own oil while cooking.
        5. Add pork with málà sauce and chopped ginger on medium-high heat, stirring until no pink remains.
        6. Add tofu cubes on top of pork. Add salt, pepper, soy sauce, and vinegar on top of tofu. Mix with pork and cook 3-4 additional minutes.
        7. Mix tapioca starch and water until achieve a cloudy solution. (I like to mix them in a small saucer or bowl. Note: The tapicoa starch will settle to the bottom if left undisturbed; if this happens, just mix again) then immediately add to pan and stir.
        8. Add green onions and stir briefly.
        9. Serve with rice.

        Here’s the real version.

      2. gbdub

        Not to knock your recipe, which sounds delicious, but isn’t it kind of cheating to call something “deceptively simple” when it relies on a premade version of a highly complex sauce (mala)? It would be like saying, “I don’t get why Rick Bayless says chicken mole is so complicated, it’s super simple! Start with 1 can mole…”

        That said, I think “Simmer protein and maybe some veggies in a flavorful store-bought sauce, serve over rice or noodles with some fresh seasonings on top” is a very successful template for quick weeknight meals that covers things as diverse as curry and spaghetti Bolognese.

        1. Nabil ad Dajjal

          I don’t think it’s cheating any more than using store-bought spaghetti rather than making your own noodles from scratch.

          If you’re a purist and want to make all of the ingredients from scratch it’s not an ideal recipe. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to put “buy hotpot seasoning” down as one step.

          1. SamChevre

            Tigers and Strawberries has a (slightly more involved) version, here: you should read it mostly for the hilarious story about her nickname.

            But the reason I looked it up is here: a description of the málà sauce/”Chili Bean Paste” that will make it possible to find in a grocery store.

          2. gbdub

            I’m not saying it’s cheating as a manner of cooking, I highly recommend it actually. But it’s sort of cheating to call it a simple recipe when it is in fact of very complex one, you’ve just outsourced the complex part. Mala sauce seems complex in a way that pasta is not, I guess. Maybe it’s enough of a staple in Sichuan to treat it as a simple ingredient (i.e. everybody has a pack in their pantry)?

            Though I suppose it’s no more cheating than Nancy’s original, which called specifically for “Penzey’s Ozark Seasoning”, itself a proprietary blend of multiple seasonings.

            So objection withdrawn, but I still think “things that taste really good despite consisting of a very limited ingredient set (where all of the subcomponents themselves are limited ingredient)” is an interesting category of its own.

          3. Nancy Lebovitz

            I’m not sure what a good equivalent for the Ozark Seasoning would be. Maybe salt, pepper, paprika, and celery seed/celery powder. I’m wondering whether it would be good to include celery in the dish.

          4. Aapje


            Sure, but unless you take all ingredients from your own garden, you are outsourcing huge parts anyway.

    4. andrewflicker

      Not cheap, but learning how to make a truly excellent sandwich is worth it on the “effort-to-results” ratio. Different people have different tastes on the subject, so the thing is to try a bunch of things, practice various combinations / amounts / intensities without assuming that you’ve already hit a maximum. Most people learn a local maximum in childhood that’s quite low and don’t venture from it!

      1. Nancy Lebovitz

        Good idea! Would you care to talk about your favorite sandwiches?

        More generally, I’ve wondered why people who don’t cook aren’t encouraged to make sandwiches. I’m not saying they should live on sandwiches, but they could presumably save some money. (Make allowances for executive function, though.)

        1. johan_larson

          Toast with cheese has an excellent taste-to-effort ratio. Whole wheat toast with slices of medium-sharp cheddar is maybe a 4/10 on taste, but it’s a 1.5/10 on effort.

        2. dodrian

          I think part of the reason is that many people don’t realise how much sandwich quality depends directly on the quality of ingredients. In the US especially there’s a focus on cheap, low quality salty meats and plastic cheese. Cheap bread has way too much sugar and preservatives. Ultimately most sandwich creations with these ingredients will not be very filling (though they can be enjoyable, especially if they bring back childhood memories of PB&J!).

          It may seem silly, but making a good sandwich isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. As a senior in high school I was surprised when I visited a friend’s house and watched him struggle to slice the bread with a butter knife. He didn’t know the basics of which knife to use for cutting bread, which was for slicing vegetables, and which was for spreading condiments.

          I suspect that at the time he wouldn’t have known that a good supermarket will have a deli counter that will slice meat and cheese fresh for you, and the quality will be much better than anything pre-packaged in the cold meats aisle. It’s tempting to buy the cheapest loaf of white bread, but a bakery (even an in-house one) will have a much better offering. As trivial as these things seem to anyone familiar with them, they do need to be taught the first time.

          My sandwich preference is a toasted bagel spread thinly with mayonnaise (or butter in a pinch), with a slice of thick cut turkey breast, a slice of sharp cheddar, a slice of tomato, topped with pickles and pickled jalapenos. Serve with kettle chips.

          1. Brad

            It’s tempting to buy the cheapest loaf of white bread, but a bakery (even an in-house one) will have a much better offering.

            Just wanted to emphasize this point. If you’ve never had sliced bread from a bakery (they will slice it for you), try it. It is a whole different experience from the bagged stuff in the supermarket.

            My sandwich preference is a toasted bagel spread thinly with mayonnaise

            Here we part ways. First, a bagel should always be eaten fresh and a fresh bagel should never be toasted. Second: http://www.scpr.org/programs/offramp/2012/05/15/26495/old-jews-telling-jokes-is-old-news-for-irv-brecher/ (Ctrl-F mayonnaise)

          2. dodrian

            Unfortunately I live in a small town miles away from anywhere that does bagels properly (or even anywhere that has a halfway-decent bakery). I would happily accept your non-toasted edict or swap for another bread if I had that option.

            While your link objects to mayonnaise on corned beef it mentions nothing of turkey. But if you’re really upset, I can make do with butter. I don’t like mustard though, except on a burger.

          3. A Definite Beta Guy

            While your link objects to mayonnaise on corned beef

            Mayonnaise on corned beef is heretical enough to warrant an Exterminatus.

      2. andrewflicker

        A classic for me is decent roast beef, horseradish, black pepper, on fresh high-quality bread. (So not the random 1.99 loaf in the twist-tie with the brand name)

        Better if slightly toasted with a little havarti, then the horseradish and some fresh spinach or butter lettuce added when you take it out of the oven- but quite good without toasting and without cheese at all.

        I’m also a fan of good pastrami-on-rye, which I’d have never tried if I were stuck in my childhood tastes and patterns!

      3. Nancy Lebovitz

        This reminds me that one of the best sandwiches I’ve had was turkey, cole slaw and swiss cheese on rye. There’s nothing stopping me from recreating it.

        1. gbdub

          Isn’t that typically called a “turkey reuben” or a “Rachel”? Agree that it is very good. The cole slaw should be heavy on the dressing, and/or you should add thousand island dressing to the sandwich.

      4. gbdub

        Part of the problem with great sandwich making is that it relies on good, fresh bread. Unless you’re cooking for a crowd or are okay with eating only sandwiches for a few days, it’s hard to use a whole loaf before it goes stale.

        1. Nancy Lebovitz

          That’s an interesting point. There might well be a market for half loaves or small loaves even if they cost more than half a standard loaf.

          1. gbdub

            Some stores will have these, or small packs of decent rolls. Owning a panini press (or just using a griddle) can help as toasting will rescue moderately stale bread. Maybe you could mix it up with a fresh sandwich on day one (or just a couple slices of buttered bread with dinner) and then toasted/grilled sandwiches for a couple days.

            But the standard bakery loaf is definitely too big for one person to consume reasonably within the ideal freshness window.

        2. A Definite Beta Guy

          I haven’t tried sandwiches specifically, but I’ve had good experience freezing bread and thawing it in the microwave for 30 seconds. Work with bagels, buns, and bread for toast.

          Have not tried with something from a bakery, though.

          1. Aapje

            I regularly do that. It’s not as good as fresh bread, but it’s about on par with 1 or 2 days old bread.

            It’s important to microwave on a very low setting though

        3. CatCube

          This is the reason I stopped making my own bread. If I had to slam an entire loaf before it went bad in a couple days, I’d be easier to jump over than walk around.

        4. Conrad Honcho

          At the bakery at my supermarket (Publix) you can ask for a half loaf. Pick up the bread you want, take into the counter and ask them to slice it for you (regular, not thin), and that you only want half a loaf. They’ll split the loaf into 2 bags, charge you half price for one and put the other back on the shelf.

          Also at the Fresh Market near me you can buy a small loaf of…I don’t know exactly what it’s called. It’s like “almost baked bread.” When you’re ready to eat it you turn on the oven, bake it for 10 minutes and it comes out hot and fresh. Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside. Makes ~2 sandwiches and is delicious.

      5. Well...

        Or, if you want to be cheap, use this:

        – A decent crusty bread, sliced
        – Sharp cheddar slices (slice it yourself from a block, that’s the cheapest) (the sharper the better)
        – Romaine lettuce

        Optional: spicy mustard, applied to the inside of one of the bread slices

        If you’re having this for dinner, skip the sliced bread and do the whole thing in a hoagie-sized roll (the kind you can get fresh-baked from the deli for like $0.79).

        And remember, if your crusty bread is hard from sitting out, flick water on it until it’s shiny and then bake it for 5 minutes. It’ll come out like it was fresh baked. (Sometimes wrapping it in foil is necessary, depending on how crusty the bread is. More crusty = less likely a need for foil.)

      6. AnarchyDice

        Toasted black rye with canned tuna mixed with mayonnaise (slice of cheddar optional)
        Alternatively, any meat/cheese sandwich on white bread with Japanese mayo (uses different vinegar and only egg whites, resulting a superior umami flavor).

    5. Brad

      Pork shoulder in a slow cooker is both easy and cheap. I like to do an overnight dry rub with kosher salt and brown sugar and then when it is cooking check on it ever hour or so to pour the juices over the top, but you can also just throw it in the slow cooker and walk away.

      At the end (6-8 hours later) you let it rest. At that point you can pull it or if you want you can instead coat it with the kosher salt / brown sugar mixture and cook it at the highest setting your stove offers for 10 or so minutes to develop a crunchy outer layer and then pull it.

      I like an eastern North Carolina sauce to accompany it — vinegar, crushed red pepper, a little bit of sugar and a little bit of salt. Make it the night before and throw it in the fridge. I hear there are heretics that use a tomato based sauce, but I wouldn’t know anything about that.

      You can also serve it bo ssam style, with lettuce, rice, a red bean paste based sauce (they come in variety of heats add some vinegar), and optionally kimchi. You make and eat little lettuce sandwiches. Delicious!

      1. A Definite Beta Guy

        I’ll second Brad.

        The easiest effort-to-flavor foods are collagen-heavy meats, the kind that you slow-cook to make palpable. Pork shoulder roast is an excellent example. Beef chuck roast is a good example as well, along with brisket.

        Rib roasts and rib chips are excellent and taste even better, but are much less forgiving and much more expensive. You can easily overcook a rib roast or a rib chop. Ribeye steaks and pork rib chops are my go-to for grilling pan-frying.

        Sirloin and Loin roasts tend to have much less flavor and are quite easy to overcook. Tenderloin is a major exception to this trade-off.

        Round roasts…I’ve never been a huge fan of these. Basically you fast roast them in an hour to 2 hours, similar to a rib roast, but they don’t have fat flavor, and they always taste dry to me. It’s the equivalent of ham from a pig.

        Duck legs are incredible, and in this family.

        Chicken leg quarters are delicious, the best part of the chicken. My favorite quick meal is chicken thigh+celery salt and pepper.

    6. Paul Brinkley

      One of the simplest fake-mousses I’ve ever made is done with a package of chocolate pudding mix and heavy cream in place of milk. Just blend. (You might need an electric mixer.)

      A snack, which I’ve heard pronounced as “briscetta” although I’ve never seen it written: slice a fresh baguette, and toast the slices. Rub one side of them with a garlic clove. Sprinkle diced tomato, drizzle some olive oil, dash of salt and pepper.

      Fresh spinach in a plastic container, add vinaigrette (or vinegar and olive oil) and parmesan to taste; seal; shake. Instant salad.

    7. Well...

      The easiest way to cook bacon:

      Preheat oven to 400˚F. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, dull side up. (Officially, that’s the “non-stick” side.) Press the corners of the foil into the sheet so the foil will contain liquid. Then lay your bacon strips on it, as many as you want–they can touch but don’t overlap them. Then when your oven’s preheated, put the tray in there for 20 minutes. That should cook it just about perfectly.

      Once you’ve done that, drain your bacon grease through a strainer and into a mason jar or similar container and keep it in the fridge. Use bacon grease in conjunction with butter or oil for sauteeing, add a dollop to chili or soup, line cast-iron skillets with it when making cornbread, etc. It will take your flavors to the next level.

      1. Paul Brinkley

        This doesn’t seem like the easiest way to me. I just put two strips in a pan, covered, over med-high heat until I hear the sizzling start to die down. No need for foil or anything like that.

        Your way sounds like it’ll cook more of it per application, though. And it might ease the task of saving the grease for later, although I’ve been able to do that easily enough out of the pan.

        1. Randy M

          Two strips? Yeah, that’s the difference. When we cook bacon, it’s usually half the package, which takes a couple batches in a pan, with dumping the excess (currently quite hot) grease out between lots as it builds up quite a bit.

        2. Well...

          I think it’s easier. You don’t have to watch the bacon to make sure it doesn’t burn, you can make a bunch of it at once, and cleanup consists of crinkling a sheet of foil and throwing it out–no pan to clean.

          I think the ease of saving the grease is about the same either way.

      2. Brad

        What’s the current health story with bacon? I know that fat has been rehabilitated and sugar taken its place in the doghouse, but what about nitrates?

        1. Randy M

          I thought the official stance on Nitrates was that they are just harmless preservatives only crazy people worry about.

          1. roystgnr

            Last I looked, there was evidence that something in bacon can greatly elevate your risk of heart failure and some cancers, and it’s probably not the fat (since only cured meats seemed to show a link).

            I would be very pleased to hear of some flaw in that conclusion, though. One of my kids loves cured meats but doesn’t get them nearly as often as she wants (all the time) because of our and our pediatricians concerns about long-term health effects. I myself currently eat bacon once a week, as a poor tradeoff between “more bacon would make me more likely to die” and “less bacon would make me less happy to live”.

          2. CatCube


            I think it’s important to realize that the “greatly increase” is a large percentage increase over a small base. It increases your chance of colorectal cancer from 5% in your lifetime to 6%–which gets published in mass media as “an 18% increase” with no discussion of the base rate. (It took some careful Googling to get the actual freakin’ numbers!) Even eating bacon your chances of cancer are still very small in an absolute sense.

          3. JayT

            Also, I wonder if the type of person that eats three slices of bacon a day is also the type of person that in general makes poor dietary decisions. That article doesn’t say what other factors they accounted for.

          4. Douglas Knight

            The conclusion has a big flaw: the study finds only a correlation. As JayT says, there might be confounders. Consider the huge body of literature on the effect of alcohol. People who have 1 drink per day live longer (fewer heart attacks) than people who abstain. Do you worry about these studies more or less than you worry about the bacon studies?

            Doctors are hesitant to promote the alcohol studies for the very good reason that they might encourage people to drink more than the optimal amount. But many doctors (eg, Scott) claim to not believe the causal conclusion. Probably they’re applying a double standard, driven by their other worries about alcohol. Make sure you don’t apply a double standard.

            In fact, the alcohol literature is much higher quality. There are potential mechanisms. Short randomized controlled studies of alcohol consumption show effects on blood composition, thinning it and maybe improving lipid composition. (Of course, if you know that the benefit is a blood thinner, you could take a baby aspirin instead.)

            Colorectal cancer is rare, but heart failure is common. If bacon increased colorectal cancer (as most studies claim), it wouldn’t be a big deal. But this study claims that it increases heart failure, which is common. In fact, that exact comparison comes up in the alcohol literature: any amount of alcohol increases colorectal cancer, but heart attacks are so much of a bigger deal that small amounts of alcohol increase lifespan. But I don’t think most studies of cured meat find heart disease risks, at least not beyond other red meats. It is suspicious that this study is framed as finding heart failure, rather than heart attacks. It sounds like a sign of p-hacking.

        2. Well...

          My health story is I eat it, not all the dang time. My grandparents did the same thing and they were pretty vital up through age 90.

        3. Brad

          @Randy M

          I googled around and that seems to be the case. Very glad to hear it. I’d be feeling vaguely guilty about my daily breakfast sandwich habit.

      3. Iain

        This is how I cook bacon, too. Another advantage of the oven is that it frees up room on the stove, which can be relevant if you are, say, making pancakes to go with the bacon.

        1. Well...

          Oh yeah, just remembered: this also means less cleanup because cooking bacon in a pan means all those little microbursts of bacon fat sizzle everywhere.

          1. Conrad Honcho

            I don’t really know what to say. I think I have a pretty good palate and I’ve never found pan-cooked bacon to be any better than stuff I can easily microwave. Also easier to burn. However, I have always only ever used a special microwave bacon tray that pulls away the grease.

    8. Jiro

      Anyway, it’s tasty and quick.

      I’ve yet to see a recipe in a normal context (not Soylent and other things that you need to spend weirdness points on) which ended with “this isn’t tasty, but…”

      1. Witness

        Not entirely on point, but I did have a friend who said of pretzels “They’re no food pellets, but at least they’re dry and tasteless!”

    9. Paul Brinkley

      Another quick and easy thing I do:

      When making ramen, dump about a fist size of frozen broccoli into it. Add enough water to almost cover the broccoli, microwave for five minutes. While that’s running, mince about half a thumb of ginger root – this takes less than a minute. Dump that into the bowl, then add a few dashes of lemon juice and continue the microwaving. When it’s done, blend in the flavoring as usual.

      The result is about as nutritious as the broccoli, with a nice tart flavor.

      1. AnarchyDice

        I tend to do ramen quite a bit, but I go as far as making my own ajitama (marinated soft-boiled eggs) and marinated bamboo shoots. Both are surprisingly low effort, so long as you have the foresight to spend five minutes dumping some vinegar, seasonings, and soy sauce in a container with the soft-boiled eggs/bamboo shoots a couple days beforehand.

        As for a quick ramen that turns it into a meal, I like adding some combination of: a scoop of miso paste, a handful of any frozen veggie mix, a spoonful of dried mushrooms, a spoonful of dried seaweed, some slices of thick-cut lunch meat to the bottom of the bowl to have the soup poured over them, pan-fried tofu (seasoned with sriracha and ginger), or canned bean-sprouts.

        Note: Ichiran ramen, while thrice the price of maruchan is easily worth it (still less than $1 per). Their noodles are much more filling and the broth packets significantly better. That is, if you do not want to go the full route of buying bulk dried noodles and doing your own broth, but I’m weird and enjoy tinkering with the broth.

    10. JayT

      I always serve Israeli couscous with fish dishes like the one you mention. It works really well as a starch since it’s fairly mild in flavor and won’t overpower the fish.

      My go to no effort dish is to get some good polish sausage, put it in a baking dish with sauerkraut and peeled potatoes (canned potatoes work really well if you’re feeling especially lazy) and stick it in the oven until cooked.

    11. CatCube

      My dad has a recipe he calls “Runaway Chicken”, because when he was on a layoff from construction projects he could put it going, go to the bar for three hours, and come back home for dinner. I still ask him to make it when I go home.

      Preheat oven to 300°
      Separate 8 legs and thighs, remove the small tail tip, and wash
      Dice onion finely and spread in the bottom of roasting pan
      Cover legs and thighs liberally in Lawry’s Seasoning Salt
      Place in roasting pan, spread to maximize browning
      Roast three hours (with low temperature, adding water is not required)
      Pour off drippings into frying pan for gravy; make mashed potatoes and a vegetable to complete the meal

    12. AnarchyDice

      Rice and lentils in a rice cooker. Toss in some boullion cubes or spoonfuls of concentrated broth into the water plus maybe some frozen veggie mix and seasonings and you’ve got a solid meal in a half-hour.

      If you like, there is a middle-eastern comfort food similar to this that is rice and lentils mixed with pan-fried diced onions and topped with sour cream that is excellent. Normally seasoned with pepper, cumin, etc, but is amenable to pretty much any seasonings style you like due to the agreeableness of its constituent ingredients.

    13. Conrad Honcho

      Roast chicken.

      1 whole fryer chicken 5-7 lbs. (organic preferred)
      2 potatoes
      2 yellow onions
      2 lemons
      2 carrots
      Brussels sprouts (optional. Really any other vegetables you have lying around).
      1 stick butter
      few sprigs of thyme or rosemary

      Preheat over to 425 degrees. Quarter (or cut into eighths) potatoes and onions, roughly chop carrots and place in bottom of pot (dutch oven or clay pot). Remove giblets from chicken. Melt 1/2 stick butter and squeeze one lemon into melted butter. Rub salt and pepper into chicken (also perhaps under skin). Stuff chicken with squeezed lemon and thyme. Place chicken on top of vegetables. Pour butter/lemon juice over chicken. If you have kitchen string, tie legs together. Tuck in wings.

      Cook 45 minutes uncovered. Chicken should be brown on top. Melt other 1/2 stick butter, squeeze in other lemon. Baste chicken with butter/lemon juice. Cover and cook additional 45 minutes.


      That’s it. The prep time is under ten minutes, cook time is an hour and a half, and you’ve got a full meal with meat, potatoes and vegetables that you can eat off of for 2-3 days. And the roast chicken is very tasty. This is also my go-to meal for “I’m visiting someone, I don’t want to eat out the entire time or have them wait on me so here’s a tasty simple recipe I can cook with minimal cookware and probably stuff they already have lying around or can get with one quick stop by the grocery store and can cook from memory without error.”

      1. Evan Þ

        On a tangent, why do you tie a chicken’s legs together? I’ve never cooked a whole chicken myself, but whenever I get a rotisserie chicken with legs tied, I wonder why.

        1. Conrad Honcho

          Helps make sure whatever you’ve stuffed the bird with (in this case a lemon and some thyme) doesn’t fall out, and that the legs don’t fall off during cooking. Also looks prettier. But it doesn’t really matter much.

          1. JayT

            I think it’s also an attempt to make the bird have a more uniform mass to try to ensure even cooking. If you leave the legs hanging out, they are more likely to be overcooked by the time the breast is finished.

          2. HeelBearCub

            rotisserie chicken”

            I think this is actually the most likely reason? The weight of the leg/thigh is likely to not infrequently flop the legs around enough to cause issues when cooked on a rotisserie.

          3. JayT

            Definitely true for rotisserie, but you tie it up even if you are roasting it, as Conrad’s original recipe called for.

          4. HeelBearCub

            Good point.

            I agree that for baking it’s the reason you said, making sure you keep all of the extremities in contact with the main mass of the bird for even cooking.

      2. Conrad Honcho

        Oh, and I’ll throw in a few cloves of garlic too. I sometimes skip it if I’m cooking at someone else’s house and they don’t have a garlic peeler because I hate peeling garlic.

        1. Nornagest

          The easiest way I’ve found to peel garlic is to cut the stem end off the clove (optional with older cloves but helpful with fresh ones), mash it with the flat of a knife to loosen the peel, and then flick off the peel with the tip.

          1. dodrian

            It’s even easier to just use a press that’s strong enough to push the garlic out through the peel (remember to wash press immediately).

          2. Conrad Honcho

            I agree, that’s how I do it if I don’t have a peeler. But I was just remembering I made this recipe while visiting my brother two weeks ago and I was annoyed he didn’t have a garlic peeler. I thought I’d mention them because it’s one of those cheap kitchen gadgets some people don’t know about it and once you have one you’re like “oh man this is so much easier!”

  17. Nancy Lebovitz


    64 year old man commits mass murder– my impression is that people aren’t aging as fast as they used to. When I was a kid in the 60s, 60 was the beginning of old age, and now is seems more like late middle age. (Sorry no statistics.)

    Anyway, it’s seemed to me that a few people are committing violent crime surprisingly late in life. Am I right?

    1. The Nybbler

      Three-day rule applies, I think. (perhaps not for your post but inevitably in the thread)

        1. AutisticThinker

          Agreed. Furthermore there is nothing to talk about in this case. There is no way to prevent this kind of lone wolf attacks with no political, religious or racial motives.

          The only thing I can say is that it is really unfortunate.

      1. Well...

        I think we could talk about the more general topic of crime being committed later in life. No reference to any specific recent happening need be made.

        1. bean

          Might still be a good idea to stick it on the shelf for a few days. It’ll still be an interesting question next week, and less likely to spark culture war.

  18. thenoblepie

    I am German and I was thinking about living with my Turkish partner in Turkey at least for a couple of years. Is this a stupid idea, given the tension between our two countries recently? What precautionary measures should I take?

    Say there is a major fallout between the two governments and all German citizens are ordered to leave the country the next day, how do I prepare for that eventuality? How should I structure an emergency fund for such a situation and where should I keep the money so that it’s both accessible and shielded from rapid devaluation of the Turkish Lira (I would probably earn my salary in TL, if I’m lucky enough to find a job)?

    1. johan_larson

      I would stay well clear of Turkey if I were you. God knows what sort of trouble is coming as Erdogan tightens his grip on the country. You could well find yourself of a riot if you’re not careful.

    2. Nancy Lebovitz

      A go bag (the most urgently needed/wanted stuff already packed in a suitcase or backpack) is a good idea.

    3. Aapje


      I think that the risk is limited if you don’t get involved in politics*. There have not been any retaliations against random Dutch or German people over the recent troubles.

      I would keep as much as possible of your current wealth in EU bank accounts and suggest keeping 300-500 euros in cash around for emergencies. Preferably hidden somewhere, so it isn’t easily stolen/taken.

      * So don’t publicly share opinions that Erdogan doesn’t like about him, the Kurds, Gulen, etc. This includes Twitter and Facebook.

    4. Björn

      Turkey is becoming some sort of religious-nationalist-dictatorship at the moment, and Erdogan has shown that he has no problem with locking up people or kicking thousands of intellectuals out of their jobs when he doesn’t like what they are doing. And he doesn’t like it at all if you prefer liberal values to his ideology. So that means you are thinking about moving to a state that is becoming totalitarian, anti-intellectual and religiously reactionary. Doesn’t sound like a nice place to me.

      This is the general way Turkey is moving, now let’s think about what could happen to you and your partner. If Turkey would decide they want to kick out all Germans immediately, that wouldn’t be that bad for you, as the Auswärtiges Amt would help you in that case. As long as you don’t invest all your wealth into Turkish real estate or something, the situation would only be extremely annoying, but would not threaten you personally. However, it could also happen that the Turkish government decides to put you into prison with some bogus charge, like when they decide that you have something to do with the Gülen-movement. They probably won’t do this to a foreigner for fun, but at the moment some Germans are imprisoned in Turkey for precisely this reason. And Erdogan’s Gülen-paranoia is huge. You might want to look at the Marco-Weiss-case where you can see what can happen if you are only unlucky and there are no politics in play.

      What I think might be more problematic is when the Turkish government would decide to do something with your Turkish partner. This depends on which citizenships your partner has, if they have only the German, the diplomatic situation would be like yours, but if they have the dual citizenship, it’s harder for German diplomats to help your partner, and if they have only the Turkish citizenship, then German (or any other nation’s) diplomats can’t do that much. Especially if the later is the case, mysterious Gülen-charges would be very threatening to your partner. Also take note that Tukey has banned people working at a university from leaving Turkey. I don’t know what your partner does, but if the situation becomes more dire and educated Turks start leaving the country, your partner might be trapped in a “turkish GDR”.

      So I think going to Turkey with your partner for a few years is not a good idea at the moment. You should at least wait until Erdogan’s dictatorship has stabilized and the Gülen-purges become a little bit less frquent. If you do it anyhow, always check the news and do what the Auswärtiges Amt says.

    5. thenoblepie

      Thank you for your advice, everyone! I have to admit, I am rather angsty about all of this.

  19. AutisticThinker

    Nice Fiction related to rationality, transhumanism, AI risk etc

    I usually don’t read fiction. (Yep. The Three Body Problem is an exception because I needed the book to understand something about Liu’s hypothesis). SSC, could you please recommend more nice fictions related to rationality, AI risk, transhumanism etc that provide some nice fruits for thought? Thanks!

    Of course I don’t care about the following things: handsome guys, pretty gals, romance in a sci-fi, non-STEM celebrities, etc. These are what I simply skip. In fact I don’t even care about the stories at all other than using them as fictional examples for some ideas. Movies are fine if I can’t get the books but the books are better precisely because there are more ideas given and there are NO irrelevant pictures, irrelevant music or pretty actresses distracting me from the actual ideas.

    1. Charles F

      I’m not particularly confident in my ability to judge your tastes, so sorry if this is off-base. I think your best bet is reading lots of short stories, since novels really are mostly for people who like plot and characters, and you can get exposure to a lot more half-finished experimental ideas much faster with shorter works. Some recommendations to get you started:
      – The Last Question, Isaac Asimov
      – The Nine Billion Names of God, Arthur C. Clarke
      – Love is the Plan; the Plan is Death, James Tiptree Jr.
      – The Things, Peter Watts
      – Understand, by Ted Chiang (definitely not my favorite of his stories, but the one most linked to your interests)
      – Three Worlds Collide, by Eliezer Yudkowsky
      – James Thurber’s short stories (not so related to your interests, but pretty good food for thought)

      Two other Ted Chiang stories pretty close to your interests are Division by Zero, and The Evolution of Human Science.

      If you do want movies, Ex Machina and Transcendence are the two that come to mind.

      1. AutisticThinker

        Really thanks! WOW I really like Eliezar’s Three Worlds Collide! It does get me to think.

    2. willachandler

      James Tiptree’s and Ted Chiang’s works — yes, definitely.

      Older-and-still-great are Cordwainer Smith’s classic SF stories and novels.

      For Swiftian satire, Matthew Tobin Anderson’s new SF novel Landscape With Invisible Hand (2017) has been recommended elsewhere on SSC.

      An art project that appreciates these neuro-centric themes is Greg Dunn’s Self Reflected, which claims to be — entirely credibly — “the most complex artistic rendition of the human brain in the world.”

    3. Orpheus

      Try Greg Egan’s Permutation City and Diaspora for Transhumanism. Really any of Egan’s book are recommended (except for Zendegi. Fuck Zendegi).

      1. Algirdas Vėlyvis

        except for Zendegi. Fuck Zendegi

        I strongly disagree. While certainly no Diaspora, Zendegi is still good. It explores same transhumanist themes; it’s just that by focusing on near future, Zendegi has to deal with our near future technology limitations. I felt that it delivered its main message (“make it whole”) very well.

        1. Orpheus

          The plot in this book is just a complete mess. The parts before and after the time skip feel completely unrelated, the two main characters feel like they barely have any connection, and the whole thing is riddled with pieces of unrelated plots that don’t go anywhere.
          I am having trouble even thinking of a concise plot summery of the book.

    4. johan_larson

      Try “Blindsight” by Peter Watts. Interesting thinking about the utility of consciousness.

          1. rlms

            I was just referring to the exchange that happens in this comment section every time someone brings up Blindsight. Similar predictable exchanges are triggered by mentions of Galileo’s persecution, the badness of the Spanish inquisition, and long-term economic effects of global warming (no judgement on the content of those exchanges intended).

  20. dndnrsn

    (This is mostly directed at @bean and @John Schilling but others can pitch in)

    What are some good online defence analysts? Who are some ones who should be avoided?

    1. bean

      I can’t actually help much on this. The problem is that the skills/understanding required to do good analysis are better employed in the service of actually doing the work The one thing I will recommend is Thin Pinstriped Line, by someone who is/was a reasonably senior civil servant in the UK MoD. It’s a fantastic look at the behind-the-scenes of the RN, what really determines military capability. The US Naval Institute is probably one of the better places to go, as the audience at least knows enough to spot idiots. (In theory, at least. The most important thing to remember about Proceedings is that it’s the equivalent of an internet bulletin board for the USN, and there’s no IQ requirement to publish.)

        1. bean

          A lot of people. War Nerd is terrible, Fox has a defense reporter who used to be a ballerina, and probably should go back to that. Carlo Koop is a nutjob (although his website is occasionally useful), as is Ted Postol. Bill Gertz usually manages to be an idiot.

          1. dndnrsn

            What’s terrible about the War Nerd? From what I’ve read of his, he seems to have a tendency to find a narrative and interpret everything to fit it. How about the Saker? His politics aside, he seems consistently to overrate the Russian military.

          2. bean

            What’s terrible about the War Nerd? From what I’ve read of his, he seems to have a tendency to find a narrative and interpret everything to fit it.

            In the cases where I feel well-qualified to judge (carriers, A-10 vs F-117), he picks the wrong narrative, then runs with it to the point of making claims that are hilariously wrong to anyone who actually has been paying attention. He does have a reasonable factual background, so he really shouldn’t be making these incredibly stupid claims.

            How about the Saker? His politics aside, he seems consistently to overrate the Russian military.

            Haven’t run across him before. If you’ve got a specific post or two you want me to take a look over, post links.

          3. dndnrsn

            His stuff is part of the “republished on Unz” international relations/war coverage but in contrast to most of the stuff (I’d estimate about 90% of the people you could call centrist or left-wing on Unz, as opposed to right-wing, are on those topics – isolationist right-wingers tend to get along with anyone who says “hey it turns out that pointless and futile wars in the Middle East are bad and maybe we should stop” – eg, Bacevich) he seems pretty right wing in a particularly Russian fashion. His politics are, uh, he’s very hostile to “Anglo-Zionists”, whatever those are, and consistently refers to the Ukrainian government as Nazis. But on actual military matters – here’s an example.

          4. bean

            Drinker of Russian Cool-Aid. He’s not entirely wrong about the political problems the US has in using military force, but his reading of that into Russians Are The Best! varies between suspect and absurd.
            I particularly like how he skips the Pacific in WWII in counting US victories, and frames Desert Storm as a bad thing using vague implications, while making Afghanistan sound good for the Russians.

          5. dndnrsn

            On the subject of “Russians Are The Best” I’ve seen people compare the quick defeat of the Kwangtung Army by the Soviets in 1945 to the drawn-out battles the US fought against the Japanese on various islands, and used to draw the conclusion “The Russians Are The Best.” Obviously, unfair conclusion – open battle against an opponent that had worse than mediocre armoured, motorized, and mechanized capabilities is a different beast than winkling out suicidal defenders on rugged islands. But any other comments you might have? I suspect you know more about the Pacific than I do.

          6. bean

            On the subject of “Russians Are The Best” I’ve seen people compare the quick defeat of the Kwangtung Army by the Soviets in 1945 to the drawn-out battles the US fought against the Japanese on various islands, and used to draw the conclusion “The Russians Are The Best.”

            I’ve never run across this, which is probably a good thing. Anyone making this claim should not be taken seriously, for exactly the reasons you outline. The Kwangtung Army had been badly hollowed out from its glory days, and I think the commander may have made some serious mistakes. I’ll have to check Downfall for more details.

          7. Nornagest

            Well, that’s the first time I’ve heard anyone besides Russian trolls on Reddit and hawkish Brits in old books use the phrase “liberation of the Crimean Peninsula”.

          8. bean

            Well, that’s the first time I’ve heard anyone besides Russian trolls on Reddit and hawkish Brits in old books use the phrase “liberation of the Crimean Peninsula”.

            Actually, that was one of my favorite bits. Equivalent of that? Hmm. How about the time we brought down the entire Soviet Union without firing a shot? As for Operation-333, I actually think Gothic Serpent is a pretty close parallel. When your media is coming from the Kremlin, it’s easy to find successes.

            And then there’s this gem:

            The bottom central text says “One of them needs to be fed, clothed, armed, paid, etc. The other one just needs to be ordered “this way” and he will execute his mission. At any cost”

            Interestingly, I’ve never read any Russian doctrine that said soldiers should be starving, naked, and unarmed. As for ‘indomitable will’, well, I guess that’s one way of interpreting the amount of vodka the troops consume.

          9. Randy M

            Interestingly, I’ve never read any Russian doctrine that said soldiers should be starving, naked, and unarmed

            Although there were times in WWII, out of necessity, when the “armed” part was optional, weren’t there? On the assumption that weapons could be found when other soldiers happened to have no further need of them.

          10. bean

            Although there were times in WWII, out of necessity, when the “armed” part was optional, weren’t there? On the assumption that weapons could be found when other soldiers happened to have no further need of them.

            I only know of that happening on a large scale in WWI. In WWII, there were times (Leningrad springs to mind) when “fed” was optional. However, I don’t think anyone who has even a quarter of a brain (which does, admittedly, exclude most Russian fanboys/trolls) would say that this was desirable, or that it didn’t impact combat-effectiveness. The quote seems to suggest that a starving naked unarmed Russian is better than a fully-equipped and supported American. Good luck with that.

          11. Lillian

            War Nerd is terrible

            As a military analyst yes, as a humour columnist he very much appealed to my teenaged self. Though not everything he writes is bad, or at least it wasn’t when i read him many years go. His defence of French military history was on point if a bit hyperbolic, and he was right about Victor Davis Hanson being a hack. He also had some insightful points about Western blind spots with respect to demographic change and its effects in Western notions of just war. Though said points were often taken in silly directions and to ridiculous extremes. On the flip side he knows nothing about military hardware. While i loved his article about carriers, as bean noted it is a giant pile of bullshit. On the whole, i recommend him if you find him funny, but for trenchant analysis you’re better off with Duffel Blog.

          12. bean

            On the whole, i recommend him if you find him funny, but for trenchant analysis you’re better off with Duffel Blog.

            Counterpoint: Reading his articles gives him ad revenue and a greater public platform. If you want humor, find something to read that isn’t actively harmful to the public understanding of defense issues. Duffelblog is a good place to start on that front, too.
            (I really, really don’t like him. His narratives are stupid, and his attitude of ‘I know more than the professionals, who are idiots’ is grating.)

          13. Lillian

            Counter-counterpoint: If i were still reading him i’d get more utility from the amusement derived from his bullshit, and from the ability to share that enjoyment with others, than disutility from giving him slightly more ad revenue.

          14. Incurian

            Duffel Blog is actually pretty good. It often gives an inside view into problems you might not even realize are problems.

          15. Lillian

            Yeah i wasn’t joking about the trenchant analysis. The main thing is Duffel Blog’s focus is more grunt level than national policy level, but they do cover a bit of everything. Also since it’s a parody site, it’s no good if you have trouble reading between the lines. You kind of have to know a bit about what it’s talking about to know what it’s talking about, if that makes any sense.

    2. John Schilling

      Unfortunately, there’s not much good online, because as bean notes if you’re good you’ve got better things to do than post online. Print is a bit better, and I am fortunate that my day job has a library with an active subscription and a decades’ worth of archives of the Jane’s weekly and monthly publications as well as the more famous annual yearbooks. bean also calls out the US Naval Institute, and I agree they are usually pretty decent. And there are a scattering of good essays and whatnot by specific subject-matter experts; I’ve gotten to the point where I think I am pretty good at sorting the good from the bad, but I don’t know of any one-stop shopping centers for just the good stuff.

      For purely technical data, globalsecurity.org and ausairpower.net are OK, but less so as they get into policy analysis.

      On my particular specialty of North Korea, 38north.org is pretty good and not just on military matters. armscontrolwonk.com used to be good, but now almost all the content is in the podcast or in the twitter feeds of the various principles, neither of which is a really good medium for this.

      1. bean

        For purely technical data, globalsecurity.org and ausairpower.net are OK, but less so as they get into policy analysis.

        Avoid ausairpower.net’s policy analysis. Koop is one of the people who has a fairly serious axe to grind, and should not be trusted.

    3. Incurian

      I have a couple general pieces of advice on this topic.

      Avoid people who seem to have strong opinions on every subject. Defense is a very broad field, and people are unlikely to specialize in more than a few subjects. Unfortunately, people often seem to think that expertise in one subject carries over to every other. Find specific experts for specific problems.

      Find people who have been there and done that [recently]. You can learn a lot of theory from books, but they famously fail to capture how things actually work when you come into contact with fog, friction, bureaucracy, and the enemy. Remember that things change fast. Someone with experience from the Gulf War does not have experience with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and someone with experience from the invasion doesn’t necessarily have experience with the insurgency, and none of them know anything about Afghanistan. There is going to be a lot of overlap between different times and places, but be mindful that the more specific an observation is, the more likely that it’s highly spatially/temporally localized and not generally applicable.

      I like ISW, especially where they stick to “just the facts.” Their strategic analysis is outside of my expertise to evaluate, but it tends to lean very hawkish (all their sponsors are defense contractors), so take it with a grain of salt.

      1. bean

        Avoid people who seem to have strong opinions on every subject. Defense is a very broad field, and people are unlikely to specialize in more than a few subjects. Unfortunately, people often seem to think that expertise in one subject carries over to every other. Find specific experts for specific problems.

        This is good advice. Understanding this stuff takes a lot of time and effort. That said, someone who is good at one area probably has some insight into related areas. I’d just watch to make sure that they understand the limits of their knowledge, and hedge appropriately.

        Find people who have been there and done that [recently]. You can learn a lot of theory from books, but they famously fail to capture how things actually work when you come into contact with fog, friction, bureaucracy, and the enemy.

        This, I’m not so sure about. Yes, this is a very common failing with books. That doesn’t mean that you can’t get there by reading enough of the right kind of books. When I got a chance to take a 9-hour ride on the USS America, I was most surprised by how much it was exactly like I expected it to be.

        There is going to be a lot of overlap between different times and places, but be mindful that the more specific an observation is, the more likely that it’s highly spatially/temporally localized and not generally applicable.

        This is also very true. Veterans tend to be the worst about this. Yes, they’ve been there and done that, but most of them saw only a tiny slice of ‘there’ and ‘that’, and the slice that someone in the next battalion over saw might be wildly different.

  21. johan_larson

    The TV series The Expanse has raised an issue which can be formulated as a theoretical problem.

    Suppose you have N people in a survival situation. They have M person-days of supplies. These people have cause to expect rescue for everyone but it could be a while. Just to emphasize the theoretical nature of the problem, assume these are undifferentiated human beings who are perfectly obedient, have access to painless means of suicide, and anyone without supplies dies immediately. Assuming these people have no information as to when they will be rescued, what algorithm optimizes the expected number of survivors?

    I don’t have a solution, but based on intuitions from the ski rental problem and the secretary problem, I suspect the best available strategy is to let everyone live until half the supplies are gone, then order half the population to commit suicide, and repeat as necessary. Or maybe the best constant isn’t two, it’s e or the golden ratio.

    But, but, but. The longest we can keep one person alive is M days. If the rescue arrives after that time, the problem is vacuous; it doesn’t matter what we did; everyone would have died regardless. So for the problem to be worthwhile, rescue has to arrive on day R, somewhere between day 1 and M, inclusive. Furthermore, if we assume that the devil chooses R with knowledge of our algorithm, any purely deterministic algorithm that tries to keep more than 1 person alive (even for a few days) fails to keep anyone alive until day M, so the devil can foil the strategy by letting R=M.

    So in the absence of any knowledge about R, is the is the optimal strategy the one that minimizes the casualties in the worst case, in this case by telling N-1 people to commit suicide immediately, leaving one person to survive the maximum possible time? Or is there some better probabilistic strategy that does better on average, even if the devil sets R with knowledge of the algorithm, but not the future?

    Or maybe there is some other similar problem that is more interesting. It might make sense to optimize the number of survivors for each R, compared to what you could have accomplished if you had known R in the first place.

    1. AutisticThinker

      I’m thinking about maximizing the expected value of the number of survivors.

      Calculation needs to be done to determine this though.

      Let’s first assume that nobody such as the devil is trying to making the problem worse. Later we can assume that such a being exists.

    2. metacelsus

      Since the people have absolutely no information about when they will be rescued, their behavior should be time-independent. By this I mean that they don’t change their strategy during the course of their situation.

      I think the strategy here would be to set it up so the number of people decays exponentially and the supplies never run out (at least assuming a continuous, not discrete, number of people).

      For a discrete number of people, the math would get a little bit more complicated but would still be roughly the same (a geometric series summing to the total number of supplies). For example, an initial population of P(0) with initial supplies of 2*P(0) person-days would kill half its population per day, and the total over all the days until infinity would use precisely all of the supplies. Note that in this case, the situation would look the same at the start of each day (there are P people and 2*P person-days of supplies).

      I don’t think it would be realistic for the people’s algorithm to itself influence the date of their rescue (which would be the case if a “devil” chose R).

    3. John Schilling

      To solve this one, you’ll need to know the relative future utility (hedonic or otherwise) of a person who has participated in killing a number of their colleagues to ensure their own personal survival, vs. that of a person who with their colleagues has succeeded at the task of Leave No Man Behind. Pretending they are equal may make the math easier, but killing people to simplify the math seems like it might not be the ethically correct move here.

      1. hlynkacg

        …Or you can look at how often utilitarianism leads to you talking about who you should kill and wonder if maybe you should pick a different ethical system.


      2. beleester

        Does your math change if the dead people heroically sacrificed themselves so their friends could live, instead of getting killed off?

        1. John Schilling

          It works best if the opportunity for heroic sacrifice is asymmetrically distributed, so the survivors don’t have to spend their lives wondering why they didn’t volunteer themselves. Spock was the only one who could have endured the radiation in the Enterprise’s engine room long enough to matter, so the survivors probably would have done OK even without the magic resurrection planet. The crew of the whaleship Essex drawing lots to see who would kill and eat whom, did not exactly live happily ever after.

    4. andrewflicker

      You can’t answer this without a distribution for R. You can assume R is distributed ~unif, or distributed ~exp, or distributed ~N(M/2) or whatever- but you need a distribution to come up with an optimal strategy.

      1. andrewflicker

        (by-the-by: Were this a more real-life scenario such as a mine rescue, I’d use a normal approximation centered on something like 3 days, but acknowledge that even that is going to be a wildly poor approximation)

    5. Dacyn

      The somewhat unintuitive solution is: some number of people should be killed off immediately, then the rest should hold out for as long as the supplies last. The precise number of people to kill off immediately depends on your beliefs about when the rescue mission will arrive. It is impossible to justify any answer without appealing to such beliefs, as mentioned by andrewflicker. Under the assumption that the probability of being rescued on a given day is a decreasing function of that day (which seems like a quite plausible assumption), the solution is to not kill anyone off at the start and just have everyone hold out as long as possible.

      The key here is in the problem statement: we are asked to maximize the “expected number of survivors”. Of course in real life we want to maximize utility, not the number of survivors. But the number of survivors might be a reasonable proxy for utility; I won’t argue the point here.

      Anyway, here is the proof: Giving X days worth of supplies to someone costs X days worth of supplies, and the payoff in terms of expected number of survivors is the probability of that person’s survival, which is a function of X, say f(X). So the total payoff is equal to the number of supplies times the average of f(X)/X over all X used in the solution, weighted appropriately. To maximize this payoff, you should only use the value of X that gives the maximum value for f(X)/X. This is equivalent to killing off people immediately until the remaining people can survive for X days, and then letting those people survive for X days.

      If we assume that the probability of being rescued on a given day is a decreasing function of the day, then f is a concave function with f(0)=0 and thus X->f(X)/X is decreasing. So the maximum of f(X)/X is achieved by minimizing X. Now the smallest value of X for which the solution described above makes sense is the number of days that people would survive if you didn’t kill off anybody (since killing off people increases the number of days that the remaining people can survive). Setting X equal to this value corresponds to not killing off anyone and simply waiting for supplies to run out.

      (I am sweeping some issues under the rug here, like the fact that you could get a larger value for f(X)/X for some X by allowing a smaller value for other X; in the end this doesn’t change the analysis but is more complicated to describe)

      So, no need to conflict ethics with mathematics 🙂

      1. Chalid

        I think a simpler way to demonstrate this is that if probability of rescue drops with time, then killing people to save supplies shifts person-days from earlier times, when they’re more likely to be rescued, to later times when they’re less likely to be rescued.

      2. andrewflicker

        Very well-written, but yeah- this assumes that rescue probability-per-day is decreasing over the entire domain. That’s obviously wrong in examples like mine rescue (the machines can only dig so fast) or space rescue (rockets only travel so fast, so even immediate detection might mean days/weeks of travel), marooned sailors (they saw no ships before the crash, so no ships are within a day’s travel, and they know the next big trade rush is in two weeks, so rescue probability is multi-modal), etc.

        Decreasing isn’t a “safe” assumption, basically.

  22. Scott Alexander Post author

    Moderation decision: warning for HFARationalist

    HFARationalist has been floating a bunch of really offensive topics here. For example, this apropos-of-nothing comment about how a lot of features of Nazism made sense has such a horrendous useful-point-making to driving-people-away+attracting-the-Eye-of-Sauron ratio that I feel like it’s a big liability to this blog and its commenters. Other things along these lines are this comment, this comment, and this comment. I am also being especially harsh on him the the word “rationalist” in his name risks getting his actions linked to the community. Either he is some kind of troll/false flag, or his public relations skills are poor enough that he might as well be.

    I am going to avoid banning him for now because he hasn’t broken any explicit rules, but he is banned from discussing culture war issues outside the subreddit culture war thread, and the slightest violation in the future will result in a ban.

    1. AnonYEmous

      Either he is some kind of troll/false flag, or his public relations skills are poor enough that he might as well be.

      did the part where he constantly referred to himself as autistic not clue you in

      seriously, the guy is a full-blown autist, 99% epistemic certainty. feel free to do whatever you want, but I felt the need to point it out

      1. AnonYEmous


        though I should mention that apparently this was under his previous account, and only his word and similar posting style tells me that they are the same person; it may also be why you missed this.

      2. Scott Alexander Post author

        Fair enough, and I don’t blame him, I’m just trying to make sure things work out.

    2. HFARationalist

      I’m sorry that you get offended. I clearly oppose any kind of anti-semitism and this should be clear from my posts. In fact I even started one thread on why there is almost certainly no such thing as a World Jewish Conspiracy based on empirical evidence alone. I also oppose antisemitism on /ratanon, disputing the absurd claim that most Jewish humor is related to feces on the ground of being baseless (but crucially not on the ground of being antisemitic). I oppose antisemitism because I sincerely believe that there can be nothing wrong with Jews in the sense of I not caring an iota about virtues even if all antisemitic claims are true. I support Jews because I genuinely support merchants and scientists. I like all major ethnic groups that have a lot of traders, not just Jews. In fact I also take time to defend Arabs and Iranians including on sites where I might be attacked for that. (I’m 10758, 10759, 10765 and 10767 on /ratanon . It’s clear that I oppose antisemitism even on 8chan despite its environment.)

      I’m not sure why the thread where I voiced my support for the Nigerian entrepreneur Aliko Dangote made you unhappy. I sincerely believe that the future will prove me right. Africa will develop for the same reason Europe developed, namely self-interest, not aid. Mr. Dangote is actually one of the people who made Nigeria a net exporter of cement and is trying to make his country self-sufficient in sugar as well. He also has a refinery project that can fix the problem of Nigeria having to import lots of refined fuel as well. Isn’t he much better than all the virtue signalling or virtue-pursuing liberal, Christian and Muslim charities? Education and trade are why Nigeria is still much better than most of the other Sub-Saharan African countries. I interacted with Nigerians before and as a result I genuinely respect them. Not the fundamentalists but people who sincerely try to better themselves, get an education and work hard. From the posts I think it is clearly that I genuinely don’t want race wars and desire the racial issues to be resolved even though I’m really pessimistic about that. If only things went differently in the 70s..

      I agree to stay away from cultural war issues outside the subreddit cultural war thread and /ratanon and will change my displayed username (but not account) to AutisticThinker. I will stick to topics such as formal reasoning and other uncontroversial stuff. May I say something controversial that has nothing to do with the cultural war such as bashing any form of heterosexuality/bashing the existence of families/analyzing Clippy/etc?

      Is this acceptable? I understand that you care about public relations. So do I in real life.

      If I have time I will invite more people to my site, RationalityCorner for real, morality-free rational discussions where all kinds of views, politically correct or not must be under rational scrutiny and no amount of sentiments ever matter. It won’t be a den of Nazis because we will actually take Nazism very seriously as a set of claims and then prove that most of the claims are almost certainly factually incorrect. If they start moralizing you know how I will respect. I’m the kind of “if Jews are really evil like you guys said then I will help them as a collaborator to keep myself safe instead of helping you guys overthrow them because I’m very selfish” person who couldn’t care less about virtues and prefer incentives as proper methods to regulate behaviors of most humans. So what happens since Nazi claims aren’t even factually correct? I will just shout at them for moralizing and maybe I will even kick them out if they moralize too much and do not post rational stuff enough.

      1. Scott Alexander Post author

        I’m not offended, I’m just trying to avoid having any single commenter spend too many of our allotted weirdness points. Don’t worry about it.

        1. AutisticThinker

          Sure! I fully understand why you did that. That’s the same reason why I intentionally hide my real life identity and will never come out openly with my SSC handle IRL.

          I really hate dogmatic people who prefer ideologies, traditions, popular views or feelings over facts. Hence we need a free speech zone (but without racial slurs and other terms that serve no purpose other than conveying insults) to handle the situation. If I actually make RationalityCorner or one of its variants popular I do need to think about how to protect my own identity. Right now my biggest worries are from the SJ crowd. In the future if real Nazis or Islamists become power I will mostly worry about them.

          We need more discussions on controversial topics, not less because the more people talk about something without excessive emotional responses the more knowledgeable we are about it. Maybe they aren’t supposed to be here because your stakes are high (I know. I constantly worry about all kinds of online ideological mobs as well.) but they need to happen somewhere. The less we talk the easier it is for real lunatics to win intellectually because sane people simply moralize instead of respond rationally.

          Maybe I will host something. However if I do so I will have to make it deniable because despite me not being an amoral person I intentionally try to make almost all rational discussions amoral. This sort of real amorality can make lots of people mad including ideologues of both Blues and Reds. Since it is really easy to spot me from posts maybe I will simply use an admin account that does not post much and mainly post using another account. In order to stimulate discussions I may even have to use fake accounts (i.e. a fake separatist feminist account, a fake MRA account, a fake SJW account and a fake Neo-Nazi account , etc ) to get certain really controversial ideas discussed without I getting morally blamed. I really just want to have the ideas discussed without any moral police officers raising their batons.

          I really hope that one day humans can moralize less in speech and be rational more. The purpose of morality should be promoting human welfare. Moralizing can be harmful when applied where it is inappropriate. Don’t raise the moral baton due to speech, moralists! Please! Give facts and rationality a chance! We won’t become Nazis or ISIS members because we just choose to keep all ideas on the table! I also have to warn moralists that morality based on untruths tends to collapse and lead to even more immorality when the truth is uncovered. Please face the truth before immoral people do so first!

          1. Nornagest

            In order to stimulate discussions I may even have to use fake accounts (i.e. a fake separatist feminist account, a fake MRA account, a fake SJW account and a fake Neo-Nazi account , etc ) to get certain really controversial ideas discussed without I getting morally blamed.

            Do you understand that most people don’t want to discuss really controversially ideas because really controversial ideas are not pleasant to discuss for most people? What you’re describing is just straight-up trolling, and there’s a reason that “troll” is a term of abuse.

          2. gbdub

            I think Scott’s major issue is the sheer volume / frequency of your posts on those topics, which he’d rather have not dominating the open threads. So the same posts all coming from various sock-puppets is going to make things worse, not better.

          3. aNeopuritan

            “(i.e. a fake separatist feminist account, a fake MRA account, a fake SJW account and a fake Neo-Nazi account , etc.)” – nothing against the idea of using strawpeople to foster discussion, but you might do well to try some strawpeople who aren’t retarded sometimes. Can you post as a (e.g.) Democratic Socialist, Classical Liberal, Russian Orthodox, or Deng Xiaoping Theorist who has any idea what they’re talking about?

          4. AutisticThinker

            @Nornagest Sure. That’s why this is not for everyone. However even the most taboo topics need to be discussed rationally somewhere so that our knowledge on them aren’t harmed too much by social taboos. Conversational taboos tend to keep our views on taboo topics inaccurate and I wish to change that.

            @gbdub Don’t worry I won’t try that here. I don’t want to be banned.

            @aNeopuritan Sure. However I can use my primary account on my own forum to discuss non-extremist views without the moral police having issues with that.

          5. Nick

            He changed it because Scott said it having “rationalist” in his name risks tying his actions unduly to the rest of the community. I think it’s for the best in this case, provided that it sticks this time.

          6. AutisticThinker

            @Gobbobobble and Nick I think it is clear that I changed my handle due to good faith. 🙂 Yes it will stick.

            I respect that most people don’t want to discuss really controversial ideas. However I believe they still need to be discussed because not discussing them basically hands Nazis and other evil people victory in the field of rational discussions. Hence I will set up a separate place for them. I’m the sort of person who believe that the more we rationally analyze (and deconstruct) evil the less appealing such evil is.

          7. Nornagest

            However I believe they still need to be discussed because not discussing them basically hands Nazis and other evil people victory in the field of rational discussions.

            Have you ever actually talked to a Nazi? Maybe things were different in 1939, but anyone flying that flag now isn’t doing it because they calmly weighed the evidence and decided that Nazism was the way to go.

            Since they weren’t talked into it, what makes you think you can talk them out of it?

          8. AutisticThinker

            @Nornagest I have only dealt with online Nazis. RL Nazis are too physically dangerous to deal with.

            The point here isn’t about convincing a diehard Nazi to drop Nazism. A society that does not ban Nazism (or anything else) will usually have some Nazis. The problem here is not whether a single Nazi exists. The problem is how many Nazis exist. Rationally analyzing and deconstructing Nazism can at least stop some people from joining it, especially fellow autists. Hence this is not just rational but also socially useful.

          9. Nornagest

            Then I will reiterate: no one signs up for Nazism because they got calmly and rationally talked into it. Every single way it appeals to people is emotional, and not just non- but anti-intellectual: belongingness, ethnic pride, the glamor of force and strength. Okay, there’s also security if you happen to be in prison or just out of it, but that’s practical, still not intellectual.

            This isn’t like Social Justice, where a lot of its proponents really do care about the science and think they have it on their side; it isn’t even like young-earth creationism, where most proponents were born into the ideology, probably haven’t thought about it too closely, and might be open to persuasion if you can manage not to offend them too much. Calmly and rationally analyzing Nazism will not help because everyone that’s inclined to calmly and rationally analyze Nazism will never be a Nazi. You are trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, and considerably upsetting others in the process.

            The good news is that Nazis don’t matter anyway.

          10. AutisticThinker

            @Nornagest I suspect that the most important feature of modern Nazis isn’t group pride but instead it is absolute amorality. That’s what I have observed among many online Nazis. You can be an individualist, have no group loyalty at all but still support Nazism if you believe that you can gain something such as robbed goods from Nazis murdering people. However amorality is really required if you grow up in the West but support a murderous ideology. Different groups select for different kinds of psychological backgrounds and modern Nazism seems to select for sociopathy. Of course I’m talking about the real “kill them all” type ideology, not other alt-rightist ones that select for other traits. For example ethnic nationalism probably selects for having predominantly guardian values.

            In fact sociopathy is probably even higher on websites such as chim.pmania compared to any Neo-Nazi party. You need a really high level of sociopathy to be able to celebrate young kids dying or civilians drowning simply for being black.

            I agree with you that anyone who seriously analyze Nazism will never be a Nazi.

          11. Nornagest

            And you think that helps your case? There are no Hannibal Lecters in real life. Real sociopaths use reasoning the way a belligerent drunk uses a flower vase: they might pick it up to beat someone with it if it happens to be convenient, but not in any kind of systematic or even particularly competent way, and they definitely won’t be using it for its intended purpose. What you’re proposing makes about as much sense as learning flower arranging to stave off drunks.

          12. gbdub

            @Nornagest – I’ll note that you (and not just you, me too, below) appear to now be engaging AT in a dangerously culture warry discussion likely to get him banned. Which seems like poor sport on our parts (unintentionally I’m sure), so I’m going to stop and I’d encourage you to do so as well.

          13. AutisticThinker

            @gbdub Thanks! Let’s stop. 🙂 I think what I said here is not offensive or culture warry but we should stop.

      2. Nick

        May I say something controversial that has nothing to do with the cultural war such as bashing any form of heterosexuality/bashing the existence of families/analyzing Clippy/etc?

        I’m not sure whether this is simple rhetorical flourish, but you know you don’t actually have to bash anything, right? I have some pretty strong opinions and no doubt differ quite strongly on those topics from folks here, and I’d even be happy to discuss such things, but that doesn’t entail bashing things or, as a result, picking fights. And I’m not holding myself up here as some kind of shining example or saying you need to be like me in this, just that 1) there clearly exists an alternative, and 2) I think it’s worth considering the tradeoff.

      3. Jiro

        You need to act properly here. If you aren’t going to, you shouldn’t be here. This is true whether you can understand why you’re supposed to be acting that way or not.

        1. AutisticThinker

          Sure. That’s why I will reactivate my own forum for real hardcore rational discussions.

    3. Elephant

      Thank you, Scott! I still haven’t decided whether these posts are an intentional parody or not (“Genocide: good or bad? Let’s be rational and amoral and discuss it!”), but I’m certain that I’m sick of them. Of course, I don’t have to read them, but they occupy a large part of the space, and I haven’t looked up how to block particular commenters.

      1. Matt M

        Agreed. I’ve been manually ignoring this guy for weeks now. He gives autists, SSC, and rationalists a bad name.

        1. AutisticThinker

          I’m sorry to hear that. I hope you will eventually understand why I do what I do one day. Less rational discussions on something evil do not cause the evil to go away. Instead it will always be there to haunt us until we are brave enough to face it.

          1. gbdub

            Not all of us agree with your assessment that “having nuclear families” or “enjoying sexual relationships” are evils that require facing.

            I realize this is a bit snarky, and I apologize. But I hope you understand why “things you care very deeply about are emphatically wrong, and the world would be much better if society were revamped to match my highly idiosyncratic mind. But Nazis deserve to be discussed rationally” might be grating.

          2. AutisticThinker


            You don’t really need to apologize. 🙂

            I consider the issue of human bonding to be partly genetic. For whatever reason I simply reject human bonding in general which is likely to be a very rare trait among humans. I’m not mad at people who want to bond and actually bond. However I’m very mad at the fact that some people who don’t want bonding are bonded with others against their will.

            As for Nazism I believe it does need to be analyzed as a pathological product of the human mind. As someone who strongly prefer commercial values to guardian ones I would rather join a conspiracy of other people with commercial values than to condemn them. (Never mind there is not even any powerful Jewish conspiracy at all lol. That conspiracy theory has already been falsified.) This is why I can laugh at antisemitic materials without becoming an antisemite. Guardian-valued people can consider me completely amoral and I won’t care at all.

    4. aNeopuritan

      No complaints about this, except that the the first “this comment” link looks completely not just not objectionable but *right* to me – and even if wrong, it’s not one-of-a-kind with your other examples.

  23. Well...

    I’ve skimmed Ted Kaczynski’s “Industrial Society and its Future” but haven’t read it closely. I think I also skimmed his “Anti-Tech Revolution: Why and How” though I don’t remember it well. Wikipedia makes it sound like both these works were received positively, but I’m not clear on how they were reviewed by people who are really experts in fields like human factors or technology ethics. Does anyone here know?

    Also, if anyone here did read one or both of these works closely, what were your impressions?

  24. Anatoly

    (from HN) “I finished reading Ben Franklin’s autobiography earlier this year. He was notorious for sparking (and usually winning) debates with the people around him. After getting some negative feedback from a friend regarding just how insufferable he was to be around, he adopted the Socratic method of asking questions so that people would see their own folly.

    Eventually, it got to the point where his acquaintances and coworkers would refuse to answer even simple questions of his, out of fear that he’d follow up with more questions that would prove them to be incompetent or illogical.”

    The last paragraph made me both laugh out loud and uncomfortable, as I recognized myself in it to a considerable degree.

    1. Well...

      I can relate too. Sometimes I’m in situations where I feel like the groupthink is insufferable but I also feel like outside opinions would be unwelcome and I don’t want to be The Guy With Opinions anyway, so I try to just ask questions that make people think…but inevitably they infer my opinions anyway. Or at least I imagine they do, and that as soon as I leave the room they all discuss what a repulsive toad I am.

    2. Alejandro

      The idea that using the Socratic method makes you seem less insufferable rather than more is not supported by the fate of the method’s inventor and namesake.

      1. John Schilling

        Per Plato and Diogenes, after speaking in his defense the jury voted no more than 280 to 220 in favor of conviction. After speaking further in the penalty phase of the trial, the jury voted 360 to 140 in favor of executing him.

        So, clearly there is some formidable persuasive power at work there. Way to go, Socrates.

  25. AdamDKing

    I’m about 100 pages into Derek Parfit’s “Reasons and Persons”. If anyone else who reads SSC is thinking about reading it, I’d be happy to have someone to chat with. It’s quite a dense book, so really understanding it needs some conversation, for me at least. Comment here if you’re interested? I’ll put something up on the reddit and discord too.

    1. Protagoras

      A long time ago I took a class mostly devoted to examining that book. I probably haven’t thought about it enough since, but it probably deserves a re-read if there’s a local discussion group gathering.

  26. BBA

    We’ve been talking about airports lately, and I can’t find any past discussion here of Berlin’s airport woes, so let’s have at it. Here’s a Bloomberg article from two years ago that explains the situation better than I could. Nothing has changed since then – BER is currently planned to open in 2019, seven years after it was “finished,” and in last week’s election voters passed a referendum to keep Tegel open.

    I like the absurd stopgap plan to open the terminal without working fire alarms, and how it took the incredulous building inspector to actually shut it down just four weeks before the ribbon-cutting. “You are talking about having 800 people wearing orange vests, sitting on camping stools, holding thermoses filled with coffee, and shouting into their cell phones, ‘Open the fire door’?”

    1. SamChevre

      Airports: an apology to Newark.

      In the last open thread, I mentioned the terrible terminal at Newark. It wasn’t at Newark, it was at JFK–Tower Air’s Building 213 terminal.

      1. Nancy Lebovitz

        I’ve been known to have slips of the mind, too.

        When we hear an opinion, how much should we discount it because of the chance that the speaker simply got something wrong?

        1. SamChevre

          It’s been bankrupt since 2000–that’s how I figured out which terminal it was.

          It went bankrupt while I was in France, with a round-trip ticket from New York. I ended up having to buy another ticket to get home.

    2. bean

      Wait. The airport has been held up for six years by the fire detection/suppression system? So much for German engineering.

        1. Aapje

          At the beginning of that story he is “the man responsible” then a little later he is just “one of the designers of the system.” Looks like bad/lazy journalism.

          This German source claims that he was responsible for the part of the fire detection/suppression system that was a/the issue, but also has his point of view. The non-engineer claims that this system is just used as the scapegoat, that his company was brought on only in 2012 when the basic design was already done and that his company warned that the system was improperly designed. But he also seems to claim that the system is working correctly.

          Or something. I’m confused now.

  27. bean

    Naval Gazing:
    A spotter’s guide to warship classes
    Series Index
    As Naval Gazing has expanded beyond the battleship, it’s probably time to do a glossary of warship classes. I’m going to do two, for WWI and WWII. Each will give a sketch of the kind of ship you’d be likely to find under each description. These are not intended to be completely comprehensive, as I just don’t have time. I’m sure my nitpickers valued contributors will be able to come up with all of the cases I missed. A similar guide to contemporary ships will probably follow at some point.
    Pre-dreadnought: A battleship built 1889-1905, designed to carry 4 12” guns and ~12 6” guns. Obsolete, but still in service in large numbers. A few may carry some bigger secondary guns in addition to the 6” guns. 12,000-16,000 tons. Speed 18 kts.
    Semi-dreadnought: A battleship built 1900-1910, armed with 4 12” guns and a number of secondary guns bigger than 6”. Obsolete, and not built in numbers as large as the pre-dreadnoughts. 16,000 tons. Speed 18 kts.
    Dreadnought: A battleship built 1905-1914, armed with a larger number of 12” guns (8-10). 10”-12” of armor. Most do not have secondaries bigger than 4”, although a few (mostly German) retain 6” secondaries. 18,000-20,000 tons. Speed 21 kts.
    Super-dreadnought: A battleship built 1910-1920. Armed with guns bigger than 12” (8-12). Secondaries are 4-6”, and armor is increased to match growth in gun size. 22,000-30,000 tons. Speed 21-24 kts.
    Armored cruiser: A fast ship nearly the size of contemporary battleships, built 1890-1905. Intended for commerce protection or raiding and supporting fleet actions. Usually armed with a mix of 6” guns and larger guns, rarely above 10”. Lighter armor than battleships. Speed 21-23 kts.
    Battlecruiser: The dreadnought equivalent of the armored cruiser, built 1905-1920. The same size as contemporary dreadnoughts, and carrying similar weapons. Early British ones are lightly armored (6-9”), while the Germans are lightly armed. Later British ones approximate a fast battleship. Speed 25-30 kts.
    Light Cruiser: A ship armed with 5-8 4”-6” guns and torpedo tubes, and designed to serve as a scout, trade protector, and general fleet utility vessel. 2-3” of armor. Built 1905-1920. 4,000-5,000 tons. 29 kts.
    Destroyer or Torpedo Boat: A small ship designed to launch torpedo attacks and fight other torpedo craft. 900-1100 tons. No armor. 4 4” or 88mm guns and torpedo tubes (3-12). Built 1910-1920. 33 kts.
    Submarine: A surface ship that can temporarily submerge to evade detection. No, that isn’t a typo. A WWI submarine can be best thought of as a submersible surface ship. It could do about 15 kts on the surface and about 8 kts submerged, maybe a bit faster. 4-5 torpedo tubes, 1 gun. 500-800 tons.
    Escort/Sloop/Minesweeper: An auxiliary warship for sweeping mines and patrolling or protecting convoys. 500-1200 tons, with a couple of medium guns and minesweeping equipment. May carry a few depth charges, or an explosive paravane system. 16-18 kts.
    Seaplane Carrier: A ship, usually a converted merchantman, that carries seaplanes. Usually a dozen or so, but each one is unique. Most fly the planes off from the ship, then recover them from the water.
    Armed Merchant Cruiser/Raider: A merchant ship, usually an ocean liner or a fast cargo ship, modified into a light warhip. Fast, long-range, with good seakeeping. Usually a few 6” guns. Speed varies greatly. Used for escort work and patrols, sometimes as a commerce raider.

    Battleship, Pre-Treaty: See Super-Dreadnought, above. Anti-aircraft guns have been improved, and deck protection might have been increased as well.
    Battleship, Treaty: A battleship built after 1930, under the auspices of the Washington Naval Treaty. 35,000 tons standard. Carries 8 or 9 guns of 14”, 15”, or 16”, with heavy anti-surface and anti-air secondaries. 12-14” of belt armor, good horizontal protection. 27 kts.
    Battleship, Post-Treaty: A battleship built after 1936, not under the auspices of the Washington Naval Treaty. 40,000-70,000 tons. 8 or 9 guns of 15-18”. 12-16” of belt armor. 27-33 kts.
    Aircraft Carrier: Either a conversion of a battleship or battlecruiser cancelled under the treaty, built in the mid-20s, or a new-build ship from 1930 on. 18,000-37,000 tons. Some carried up to 8” guns, but most have 5” guns and light AA guns. 50-90 aircraft, depending on configuration and loadout. Most are unarmored, but the British armored theirs (resulting in low aircraft loadouts.) 30-33 kts.
    Carrier, Light: An austere carrier constructed quickly in wartime (1943-1945). 10,000-13,000 tons. Light AA guns only. 36 aircraft, unarmored. 25-31 kts.
    Carrier, Escort: A slow, small carrier built to escort convoys and provide air support for amphibious landings. Built 1941-1945. Very light armament. 27-33 airplanes. 16-20 kts.
    Large Cruiser/Light Battleship: A group of odd ships. Around 25,000 tons, armed with 11-13” guns. Built in the 30s and another batch in the mid-40s. Built for special reasons, and none were particularly successful. 30-33 kts.
    Heavy Cruiser: A category created by the Washington Naval Treaty, 1925-1945. Most were 10,000 tons standard, rising to 15,000 tons for some wartime ships. Armed with 8” guns, usually 8 or 9. Lightly armored (3-6”), and often referred to as ‘tinclads’. 4-5” AA armament, sometimes torpedo tubes. 32 kts.
    Light Cruiser: A creation of the London Treaty of 1930. 1932-1945. 7,000-11,000 tons, 8-15 6” guns. Otherwise, very similar to heavy cruisers in armor and secondary armament. 33 kts.
    AA Cruiser: Another creation of the treaties. 1939-1945. 6,000 tons, and armed with 10-16 5” guns, the standard dual-purpose armament of contemporary battleships. 3” armor. Light AA guns, torpedo tubes. 32.5 kts.
    Destroyer, WWI: A leftover destroyer from 1917-1920. Used primarily as an escort. 1090-1200 tons. As built: 4 4” guns, torpedo tubes, and depth charges, 34 kts. Many modified with more AA guns and ASW weapons, often with reduced speed and increased endurance.
    Destroyer, Standard: A destroyer built 1927-1945, used for every purpose at sea, most notably ASW and AA screening. 1300-1700 tons. 4-5 DP (dual-purpose) guns of 4.7-5”. Light AA guns, 8-16 torpedo tubes, and depth charges. 37 kts.
    Destroyer, Large: A destroyer built 1930-1945. 2000-2600 tons. A bigger, better-armed version of the standard destroyer, often with greatly increased range. 5-8 DP guns of 4.7-5”. More light AA guns, 8-16 torpedo tubes, and depth charges. 38 kts.
    Destroyer Escort/Frigate: A mass-production escort built 1939-1945 as a war emergency escort ship for slow groups. 1000-1500 tons. 2-4 3”-5” AA or DP guns, 2-3 torpedoes, and extensive ASW armament. 20-28 kts.
    Submarine, Small: Another submersible surface ship, small and relatively short-ranged, although the Germans used them throughout the Atlantic. Built 1930-1945. 600-700 tons, 4-5 torpedo tubes, 1 deck gun, light AA guns. 17 kts surfaced, 9 submerged.
    Submarine, Large: A bigger, longer-ranged submarine. Built 1930-1945. 1300-1800 tons, 10 torpedo tubes, 1-2 deck guns, light AA guns. 15-21 kts surfaced, 9 submerged.
    Corvette/Sub-chaser: A small ship designed as a light escort, hopefully for coastal waters, although many were employed in the Atlantic. Built 1940-1944, 800-950 tons. 1 3”-4” gun, light AA, depth charges/ASW weapons. 16 kts.
    Minesweeper: A ship designed to remove mines by sweeping them up with cables towed alongside. Built 1937-1945, 800-950 tons. 1-2 3”-4” guns, light AA, some depth charges, minesweeping equipment. 17 kts.
    Motor Torpedo Boat/PT Boat: A speedboat fitted to carry torpedoes. An excellent place to put dashing young officers who are not suitable for real work. Otherwise mostly useless. Built 1939-1945, 30-55 tons. 4 torpedo tubes, light AA guns. 39 kts.
    Armed Merchant Cruiser/Raider: A merchant ship, usually an ocean liner or a fast cargo ship, modified into a light warhip. Fast, long-range, with good seakeeping. Usually a few 6” guns and AA armament. Speed varies greatly. Used for escort work and patrols, sometimes as a commerce raider.
    I’m leaving auxiliaries and amphibious warfare out of this, as this is already quite a long list, and both deserve their own columns. I expect to do one on modern warships at some point, too.

    1. John Schilling

      Are you going to do one of these for World War Three, or shall I give it a try? One of my pet peeves is people trying to insist that the World War Two terms apply, or ought to apply, to modern warships. Or far-future space warships, for that matter.

      1. bean

        John, you’re slipping. I said I’d do just that in the last sentence. I’ll probably run that one by you for comment, which didn’t seem necessary here.
        (Also, you haven’t gotten back to me on the plane crashes one yet. I’m hoping to put it up Wednesday, and would really like your input.)

  28. Larry Kestenbaum

    As a political practitioner for more than four decades, I have often expressed views about the world which are wildly counter-intuitive for many people, whether left, right, or center:

    (1) Money is vastly overrated as an independent force in electoral politics.

    (2) Candidates rarely lose for lack of money. There is almost invariably some underlying reason.

    (3) Well-funded campaigns tend to win because the likelihood of success draws donors, not because the donors bring about the success.

    (4) Political campaigns are inefficient and mostly ineffective.

    (5) In general, the more money a political campaign has, the larger the proportion that is wasted.

    (6) If both sides in a contested race have at least some threshold amount of money to spend, additional money on one side rarely makes any difference.

    (7) Media advertising makes far less difference in electoral outcomes than is generally assumed.

    (8) In a highly visible contested race, very little of the information most people receive comes directly from the campaigns. The candidates are not speaking directly to voters, rather, their message passes through many layers of curation and interpretation before it reaches most voters.

    These views informed my assertion that, in the last month before the presidential election, there was very little the (very well funded) losing campaign could have done to change the outcome.

    Now comes a study which (though I don’t agree with all of it) tends to confirm what I’ve been saying. There’s an article about it on Vox: A massive new study reviews the evidence on whether campaigning works. The answer’s bleak. Here’s a link to the abstract: The Minimal Persuasive Effects of Campaign Contact in General Elections: Evidence from 49 Field Experiments.

    I will have more to say about the strengths and limitations of this study.

    1. pedrodegiovanni

      Being in a blog whose author wrote “Beware the man of one study” I think the study you mention should be placed within the relevant literature to which it belongs. I’m not disagreeing with you nor do I have anything to say against the study; I just want to note that all (or most of) your controversial views are empirical and could be (and probably have been) empirically tested, and one study feels short.

      1. Larry Kestenbaum

        Unfortunately most of the folkways of political campaigning have been subject to very little empirical testing until recently.

        There have been a few earlier studies which touch at least a little on some of the points I made above. I recall one which studied television advertising in Congressional primaries (I think in 1990) and concluded that the correlation between relative spending on TV commercials and electoral success was barely distinguishable from random. I’m too tired right now to go look it up and provide a citation.

    2. Deiseach

      I think there is a certain amount of money that is necessary; Brave Independent Guy going round on his bike delivering his hand-drawn flyers is probably not going to win the election against Established Candidate with the party machinery and slick posters behind them. But I would agree that past a certain point, you’re just throwing good money after bad.

      I certainly don’t mean to start any culture-warring, but one thing that did amuse me in the run-up to the election was all the gloating over “Trump doesn’t have the money to spend! He’s burning up what he’s got himself and he can’t get the donors! Meanwhile Hillary has the deep pockets and crowds of rich donors begging to hand her sacks of cash for her campaign! Any day now he’s going to flame out once the last dollar is spent, just wait and see!”

      And now it’s “All that wasted money on Clinton’s side and Trump ran the lean, mean, effective campaign”. I do find that funny, because it seems to prove what you’re saying: the conventional wisdom is rubbish.

      1. Larry Kestenbaum

        I think there is a certain amount of money that is necessary

        I did say that above.

        And now it’s “All that wasted money… [while the opponent] ran the lean, mean, effective campaign”. I do find that funny, because it seems to prove what you’re saying: the conventional wisdom is rubbish.

        Yes, that illustrates a couple things.

        One is that the loser is automatically blamed, regardless of the merits. Whatever the loser did was wrong, and the loser’s personal qualities are reinterpreted into awful liabilities. Switch a few thousand votes around so that the outcome changes, and the conventional wisdom would snap into the other position. Scott had a post warning about this, but it happens after every presidential election, and often after any highly contested race.

        Second is that the defeated 2016 nominee had a track record of using campaign money poorly (expensive topnotch catering, high fees to consultants, excessive polling, etc.). This was well known and previously reported on, but rarely pointed out in the run-up to November 2016.

    3. shakeddown

      You’ve talked about running for local office. What degree of campaigning/money did you need to get to the threshold that people would even hear about you/consider you a viable candidate? What level would you need had you decided to run for something more global, like state or federal elections?

      1. SamChevre

        For local office generally, I have no idea.

        But to give you an idea, my city had preliminary (basically, non-partisan primary) elections last month, and in one district, the city council candidate who won won with 211 votes. I suspect a week of consistent door-knocking would make someone competitive for that seat.

    4. HeelBearCub

      It’s not that you are wrong, but you aren’t right either.

      Occam tells us that politicians fundraise for good reason. I think you are making the kind of mistake where you look at a world where both parties are spending like the dickens, and it seems to make no difference, and concluding that therefore the spending has no effect. But you don’t have the counter factual world available to you.

      Yeah, if you spend 2 million and I spend 1 million, the extra million may not affect the outcome much at all. But if you spend 2 million in a race where it makes sense to spend 1 million, and I spend $100,000, I think you would see some significant effects.

      And yes, good candidates won’t only have $100,000 to spend, but I think that has more to do with the efficiency of the political market than anything else.

      1. Larry Kestenbaum

        Occam tells us that politicians fundraise for good reason.

        They do! I didn’t go into those reasons above. That post was long enough already. I will get to that in time.

        I think you are making the kind of mistake where you look at a world where both parties are spending like the dickens, and it seems to make no difference, and concluding that therefore the spending has no effect.

        You are imagining that my world looks uniformly like that. It does not.

        Since I became active in 1970, I have seen many different kinds of races at many different levels, with many different spending and campaigning patterns. I have seen the popular, high-spending city council candidate in a nonpartisan race fail to get what seemed like an easy win. I have seen races where the loser outspent the winner three-to-one, five-to-one, ten-to-one, or even more. I have seen situations where a political party completely gave up and abandoned its own candidate, who went on to unexpectedly win. I knew a candidate who was narrowly defeated in a big general election because his own party worked against him. I have seen candidates who withdrew from a race defeat candidates who were actively campaigning. I have seen a state rep win year after year in a competitive seat without spending a dime. I have seen a candidate flagrantly plagiarize a rival’s campaign literature. I knew a candidate who was arrested the night before the election for destroying his opponent’s campaign signs. I’ve seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.

        What I think you’re describing are those political races which got your attention. You are considerably more aware of politics than the average person, but there’s a whole lot more going on than that. And each race is a data point for understanding the world.

        Yeah, if you spend 2 million and I spend 1 million, the extra million may not affect the outcome much at all. But if you spend 2 million in a race where it makes sense to spend 1 million, and I spend $100,000, I think you would see some significant effects.

        I did say that both candidates have to reach a certain threshold of seriousness. And that threshold may rise if other candidates are spending a lot.

        But if that threshold is around $1 million, and you only spend $100,000, then your lack of fundraising almost certainly reflects issues with your candidacy. Maybe you’re not really trying. Or maybe the people who might have supported you have good reason not to take you seriously.

        In general, if you have a serious shot at winning an election for a significant office, the donors will be there to adequately fund your campaign. Not lavishly, but adequately.

        (Of course, a typical politician would much rather have a well-funded campaign than just an adequate one. But I’ll go into that later.)

        1. AnonYEmous

          I did say that both candidates have to reach a certain threshold of seriousness. And that threshold may rise if other candidates are spending a lot.

          In my opinion, the idea that you need to hit certain thresholds, but after that the extra utility of more money drops tremendously, makes a whole lot of sense.

          However, unless the thresholds are a lot lower than we thought, it doesn’t offer me much hope of the political system improving. You say that the donors will be there, but will they? If they will then that’s the hope, but I think far too many politicians fundraise too often to think that they’re all so mistaken. It could happen, especially since most people they rely on are probably being paid campaign funds (i.e. they won’t tell the politician to stop spending time getting campaign donations since those pay for their job) as well as the general concept of “no one ever got fired for buying Microsoft stock”, with “fundraising” being like Microsoft stock. But still…all that effort, energy, and money, not to mention in many cases electoral viability, for basically nothing?

          1. Larry Kestenbaum

            However, unless the thresholds are a lot lower than we thought, it doesn’t offer me much hope of the political system improving.

            I didn’t say anything about the political system improving.

            You say that the donors will be there, but will they?

            As I said, in general, for a significant office, yes, they are there. Obviously every candidate and every race is different, and individual circumstances can affect outcomes.

            Note, too, that the definition of a “significant” office varies. The more obscure the office, the fewer people who care about it, the more difficult it is to mount a campaign without having deep connections or independent resources. But I’d say that every state legislative seat counts as “significant” for this purpose.

            Even if a race is expensive, the campaign spending is still a little tiny infinitesimal sliver of the stakes involved.

            For example, in Virginia right now, the two leading candidates for governor have spent $10 million and $8 million. The winner will preside over an organization that will spend, over the coming four-year term, at least $200 billion. Even just the annual salaries of the governor and his direct political appointees may be more than the cost of a campaign.

            I think far too many politicians fundraise too often to think that they’re all so mistaken.

            They’re not mistaken. They have other motivations.

            Raising a lot of money (well in excess of what is adequate) is seen as a sign of strength — which it usually is. It may deter opposition. Dollar values are simple and publicly available, so a lot of observers (especially non-local ones, such as national media) look only to the fundraising totals to evaluate a candidate.

            It’s a lot more fun to run a well-funded campaign than a shoestring campaign. The candidate can stay in better hotels, eat better food, have more attractive offices. It’s a lot easier to hire staff than to recruit volunteers; money is an easy substitute for motivating unpaid workers.

            Internally, the biggest problem the candidate’s circle faces is anxiety about the outcome. Everybody wants to know “how are we doing?”
            Money buys ways to reduce that anxiety, usually lots and lots of polling. That’s almost invariably a waste of the campaign’s resources, but it’s very reassuring to feel like you know your numbers.

            The other focus of anxiety is on the other side’s campaign. When you’re the candidate, every manifestation of your opponent feels like a direct personal insult. You feel an instinct to fight back, to match him blow for blow. He’s got billboards? Well, we need billboards too! He’s got radio ads? Well, damn the budget, let’s get some radio ads made! There’s a powerful impulse to waste money on all the things the other candidate is wasting money on.

            And depending on applicable campaign finance laws, a candidate who is good at raising money may give it to another candidate. For example, if you want to be Speaker of the House, your fundraising help for other members will help get their votes.

            All of those things give candidates plenty of reason to raise money well in excess of what they actually need to campaign.

          2. HeelBearCub

            @Larry Kestenbaum:

            For example, in Virginia right now, the two leading candidates for governor have spent $10 million and $8 million.

            Hold everything else constant. Even hold fundraising constant (but try and pretend that no one is asking “why isn’t spending his money”).

            Do you believe each of these candidates would do just as well, in terms of percentage of the vote, if one of them spent “only” $1M?

            Or perhaps it would reduce their vote total by 0.5% of the total? 1%

          3. Larry Kestenbaum

            @ HeelBearCub

            Hold everything else constant. Even hold fundraising constant (but try and pretend that no one is asking “why isn’t spending his money”).

            Do you believe each of these candidates would do just as well, in terms of percentage of the vote, if one of them spent “only” $1M?

            I don’t know what the threshold for seriousness is in this race (admittedly a slippery concept to begin with), but reducing one candidate’s spending by 90% would probably put him below that.

            Or perhaps it would reduce their vote total by 0.5% of the total? 1%

            I reject the notion that (in a publicized and contested race) there is a any a priori mathematical relation between money spent and votes received.

            In situations where the campaigns control the information flow, sure. If voter engagement is low, you’ll get more votes in the precincts that received your mailing than in the precincts that didn’t.

            I presume the Virginia governor’s race is way beyond that level.

          4. HeelBearCub

            @Larry Kestenbaum:

            I don’t know what the threshold for seriousness is in this race (admittedly a slippery concept to begin with), but reducing one candidate’s spending by 90% would probably put him below that.

            This is a kind of cheat. You are basically saying “money doesn’t matter, but if a candidate isn’t spending as much money as the other guy then they are going to lose because they aren’t ‘serious'”.

            Basically you are saying, we can tell who is going to win by looking at who is spending more money, but denying that raising and spending on money (which the candidates do because they believe it to have an effect) actually does have any effect.

            You are positing that money is trailing indicator here. That money raised and spent is caused by the fact that they will win, not the other way around. But then, when I ask what would happen if they simply didn’t spend the money (the money that they actually have available), you say it would mean they are not serious.

            Even if we posit that raising and spending money only has the effect of indicating to everyone that the candidate is a “serious” candidate, that is still an effect! Candidates raise and spend money to influence the electorate into thinking that they are a worthy choice for their votes. If simply raising and spending money does that, irrespective of how the money is particularly spent, well, so much the better for the theory that the money actually matters.

            Think about what you are saying here. You are saying it doesn’t even matter what they spend it on. Just that they raise and spend the money.

          5. Larry Kestenbaum

            @ HeelBearCub

            This is a kind of cheat. You are basically saying “money doesn’t matter, but if a candidate isn’t spending as much money as the other guy then they are going to lose because they aren’t ‘serious’”.

            I said at the very outset (and again and again through these comments) that candidates need to be at some threshold of seriousness in order to be competitive. Money is one of the ingredients of that, but the amount very much depends on the individual local circumstances.

            Think about what you are saying here. You are saying it doesn’t even matter what they spend it on.

            But it isn’t being spent at random. A political campaign has certain basic objectives which cost money. Normally, if the money is available, and the people making the decisions are competent, those objectives are readily achieved.

            But once all the low-hanging fruit have been purchased or planned, each additional expenditure is less valuable in terms of votes. In other words, the cost per marginal vote rises sharply. In a presidential campaign, the cost per marginal vote approaches infinity.

            Once all the low cost-per-marginal-vote stuff has been taken care of, the benefit of whatever else the campaign does with the surplus money is speculative. Maybe the next $20,000 will buy something that dramatically changes the whole race — but if it were that obvious, you’d have done it already. Most likely, that next $20,000 will be spent on something that doesn’t actually yield many votes.

            Imagine a graph where the x-axis is money spent, and the y-axis is likelihood of a new candidate winning a big election. The line starts at the origin and stays at zero for some distance. At some point, the line rises sharply. Then it plateaus. Additional money after that makes much less difference to the outcome.

            You are positing that money is trailing indicator here. That money raised and spent is caused by the fact that they will win, not the other way around. But then, when I ask what would happen if they simply didn’t spend the money (the money that they actually have available), you say it would mean they are not serious.

            But a political campaigns is also under constant actual and potential scrutiny, and is expected to behave in certain conventional ways. The candidate’s reputation is fragile. To do anything weird is extremely risky.

            Your hypothetical is a bit like saying a person could gain weight if he permanently stopped defecating.

            All the money raised and spent by a campaign, every dollar, does have an effect. It employs people, both in the campaign and at the vendors that sell to campaigns. It sustains the morale of the candidate and his immediate supporters. It strengthens the candidate’s ongoing relationship with his political party, which will help in future races. It builds connections between the candidate and the donors. Probably most donors feel good about donating. And since a campaign is obligated to report on its fundraising, it makes a simple yardstick for outsiders to judge the strength of the candidate.

            All of those things are important in different ways. They just don’t necessarily change how people vote.

          6. HeelBearCub

            @Larry Kestenbaum

            Then it plateaus.

            Sure. This problem is like many other problems where the marginal effect of more X is less and less Y.

            Additional money after that makes much less difference to the outcome.

            This is incorrect, and in a fundamental way. It makes less and less difference to the raw vote total, but this is not the same thing as outcome (in our FPTP system), in a hypothetical race where one candidate has 2M votes and another has 2M+1. Every single marginal vote is the outcome.

            And as you have already illustrated, knowing the actual state of the race is a little bit of a black art. A “serious” candidate is simply a candidate who looks like they could be in a competitive race. In a world where you don’t quite know the state of the race, every marginal vote looks like gold.

      2. Jaskologist

        From the flip side, why do donors donate? I’ve seen studies indicating that donations don’t really change politicians’ minds so much as go to people who already agreed. Is everybody acting irrationally?

        1. Larry Kestenbaum

          From the flip side, why do donors donate?

          There are many reasons. A few examples:

          There are some people whose social life, during election years, seems to consist of attending political fundraising parties. Naturally, the more popular the candidate, the more well-attended the fundraiser, and the more someone like that would be motivated to show up and write a check.

          There are some people who see donating to candidates as public-spirited activity, a low-effort way to support the community/state/nation in political decision-making and governance. They are not wrong about this.

          There are some people who strive to be well-connected. Writing checks to politicians and showing up at fundraisers is a way to build and strengthen one’s connections with other influential people. The specific candidate’s views might not even matter to them; I have known people who wrote big checks to candidates they despised, just to maintain a connection with the candidate’s other supporters.

          Some people are ideological and strategic, and watch for opportunities where giving money to a specific candidate might advance their point of view.

          Lobbyists and lawyers plainly buy access to a candidate, not in a blatant quid-pro-quo way, but rather, wanting to be seen as someone friendly and familiar, needing no introduction. The lobbyist can say to a client, “Oh yes, I know Senator So-and-So. I’ll go discuss your issue with him.”

          Even if big spending on a campaign is largely wasted, the first increment of dollars that help a candidate achieve seriousness obviously do make a major difference. Even if the candidate doesn’t win, it creates another choice that inevitably changes the dynamic of a race.

        2. Matt M

          I think that when the public thinks of “changing minds” they think of massive shifts on visibly public and contentious issues.

          No, some random company donating a few million is not going to suddenly convince a Republican from Alabama to support partial-term abortion, or convince a Democrat from California to favor the coal industry.

          But the donation will get you in a position where you and your people can maybe change one or two key words or phrases that are super-technical that are buried somewhere in the 20,000 page health care bill that nobody anywhere will care about, but may improve your margins by a few percentage points, which may result in millions of dollars of increased profits.

      3. cassander

        there are two possible explanations for why politicians raise money despite empirical evidence suggesting that it’s not particularly helpful. One, building up the network of fundraising goes along with things that do work, like organizing networks of supporters.

        Two, and I think more probable, an election is a zero sum game. Sure, raising a million dollars might only increase your chance of winning a tiny bit, but what else can you do? Politicians above all else want to stay in office, they’re clearly going to spent a huge amount of effort for what amounts to a tiny gain, and so will their opponents.

        1. Larry Kestenbaum

          there are two possible explanations for why politicians raise money despite empirical evidence suggesting that it’s not particularly helpful.

          Even if [a given increment of money] is not helpful at winning elections, it is plenty helpful for other purposes.

    5. Douglas Knight

      (8) In a highly visible contested race, very little of the information most people receive comes directly from the campaigns. The candidates are not speaking directly to voters, rather, their message passes through many layers of curation and interpretation before it reaches most voters.

      What do you mean by this?

      I found your bullet points confusingly organized. At first it looked like you had one thing to say and most of the points were rephrasing it: Money doesn’t do much (1,2,3,6,7). If people can’t believe you’re really saying something, it’s good to say it many different ways to convince them that’s what you really mean. If you’re trying to make a more subtle elaboration, where the details matter, it all went over my head.

      But then there were (4) and (5), which seemed to be going off in a different direction. Maybe you just meant that if money can’t do anything, extra money is wasted. On the other hand, you could mean the opposite causality, that money is ineffective because people are incompetent and waste it. If you mean to say something new, you shouldn’t bury it in all the variants.

      But (8) seems very different, where you definitely seem to have buried a new claim. What are these layers of curation? I can think of two very different interpretations. One is the campaign staff. The other is the media. Did you mean the media, that most information about candidates is through coverage of campaigns, rather than the direct ads of (7)? In particular, the two-week-out desperate candidate may be able to change message on a dime, but can’t get the media to notice? (And if they do notice, the coverage will be that the candidate is desperate.)

      1. Larry Kestenbaum

        My apologies. I wrote a short-ish post, then went back and added more stuff in a somewhat disorganized way. Rewriting the whole thing was not possible under the 60 minute editing deadline. It ended up being a kind of laundry list of my contrarian ideas about politics.

        I added point (8) because it was part of my case (mentioned just below that) that the presidential race couldn’t have been turned just by holding rallies in State A instead of State B.

        But it also goes to the ineffectiveness of campaigns in a big election. The campaign organizations lose the power to set the agenda. Other people (mostly media, but not just media) are telling voters what is going on. People are hearing about the race from their local opinion leaders. TV ads (whether from the campaign or not) are lost in the roar of thousands of similar ads from local, state, and national candidates.

        Back in 1964, the (in)famous “daisy” ad, which implied that Goldwater would start nuclear war, ran exactly once, and made a huge impression. That would be impossible today: there are too many channels, too many competing ads, too little attention from viewers. Nowadays, an ad (political or commercial) has to be shown a dozen or more times to the same typical consumer to even be noticed.

        In particular, the two-week-out desperate candidate may be able to change message on a dime, but can’t get the media to notice? (And if they do notice, the coverage will be that the candidate is desperate.)

        Exactly. The campaign can choose themes and messages early on, and that DOES make a difference. But it isn’t a good sign if there are sudden changes near the end. When commentators call you “desperate”, voters who get that message are likely to start seeing you as a loser.

    6. Aapje

      @Larry Kestenbaum

      Your study analyses whether campaigning can change people’s opinion. My impression is that you have those who want to believe really hard that people can become enlightened relatively easily, but who keep being proved wrong again and again (see the replication failures for priming studies, for example). So it’s far from unexpected that some contact with potential voters would not cause them to change opinions and belief systems that evolved over decades (and probably have a biological element, as they appear fairly strongly correlated to the big 5 personality traits). I think that at best you can nudge them a little, which will rarely be enough to flip them from candidate A to B.

      My impression is that a substantial part of campaigning for US elections is not to change opinion, but to boost turnout for their base and perhaps even more so, to lower turnout for the other side. Hence so many attack ads. This seems to me to be far, far more likely to work than changing opinions.

      I would also argue that political parties have so much baggage that it’s hard to change image. If the next Democrat candidate would run ads for strict migration laws, how many people would actually believe that? Very few, I think.

      So voters already have a (strong) opinion about the Democrats. You might be able to convince them that the reality/new course is a little different from their existing opinion, but not a whole lot. Large chances probably take multiple elections & actual different behavior by Democrats in office, not just different campaign messages.

      1. Larry Kestenbaum

        Definitely people are more partisan now, and political parties have come to inspire strong, stable opinions in many voters.

        That being said, boosting or inhibiting turnout (obviously a campaign goal) is not as easy as it sounds.

        I still need to discuss my criticisms of the study I linked above.

        1. Nancy Lebovitz

          Whether or not to vote (whether in general or for a particular election/candidate) is also an opinion.

          1. Aapje

            What about: “voting is worth the trouble, but I have to finish this WoW raid so I’ll vote later…wait…did the voting booths close already”?

            Isn’t the entire idea behind revealed preferences that they can differ from stated preferences (aka opinions)?

    7. birdboy2000

      The purpose of money in politics is to ensure that the overwhelming majority of candidates for office (and, consequently, the overwhelming majority of politicians) serve the moneyed class, not to ensure the victory of a particular politician over another one. Focusing on whether or not it swings close races between said candidates is missing the point.

      1. Larry Kestenbaum

        The purpose of money in politics is to ensure that the overwhelming majority of candidates for office (and, consequently, the overwhelming majority of politicians) serve the moneyed class, not to ensure the victory of a particular politician over another one.

        There is something to be said for this, but I don’t see the world in such simple terms.

        Certainly the effect of the fundraising motivations I wrote about above is to strengthen the political power of those who have money to donate.

        Focusing on whether or not it swings close races between said candidates is missing the point.

        Most people have high confidence that it does exactly that. I’m rebutting that belief.

    8. SamChevre

      On hilarious example of how little more funding helps, over a certain threshold, was the Cantor-Brat primary (2014 Republican primary, VA-7) , in which Cantor’s campaign famously spent more at steakhouses than Brat’s campaign spent in total–and Brat won.

        1. yodelyak

          Meg Whitman spent $144 million *of her own money*, and lost.

          These things matter, and in this order: Message, Money, Field. And each matters 5x or even 10x more than the next on the list. If your method of conducting your field outreach is going to interfere with raising money… maybe just stop having field at all. If your method of raising money (such as donating >$100m of your “golden parachute” to buy the Gov’s mansion for yourself) is going to significantly harm your message, then maybe just stop raising money.

    9. Chalid

      Campaigning aside, to what extent do you think actual substantive things like the candidates’ favored policies, voting records, and the like affect elections?

      1. Larry Kestenbaum

        Campaigning aside, to what extent do you think actual substantive things like the candidates’ favored policies, voting records, and the like affect elections?

        I think substance can have a great deal of impact on outcomes. But it doesn’t happen automatically.

        When opinion leaders in the district care deeply about something (e.g. the local industry), candidates are not going to get away with giving it short shrift. The attitudes of knowledgeable people are going to be transmitted to the electorate.

        Other than that, a campaign can effectively convey the substance. Ads and literature that are built around real substance are more effective, in my experience, than similar ones built on aspiration and fluff.

        And the candidate’s own qualities matter at every stage in the process.

  29. blame

    I assume many of you are more or less familiar with the Kegan stages.

    The picture suggests some sort of ‘natural progression’ from one stage to the next:
    If you are subject to X in stage N, you see X as an object in stage N+1.

    Any thoughts on what comes after stage 5? What are you subject to in a hypothetical stage 6?

    1. The Nybbler

      Stage 6 you realize that Stage 5 is just whatever the author thought he himself was, and the whole theory was based on him being the pinnacle of human achievement with everyone else below him.

    2. rlms

      After stage 5 you loop back to stage 1. If you complete the hierarchy again without taking damage, you unlock the mirror stages.

    3. AdamDKing

      Just so there’s a non-sarcastic answer (though they are pretty funny):

      It seems like stages 1-3 make some sense while stages 4-5 come out of left field and don’t follow the same pattern. Saying that someones “needs, interests, and desires” are “subject to interpersonal relationships and mutuality” seems either hopelessly vague or totally empty. And needs, interests, and desires are in general the product of an abundance of things, some of which involve others and some of which don’t. The “underlying structure of meaning-making” column looks to me to be totally bogus, as in no relation to the stages and no actual meaning apart from them either. This being said, I’m not at all familiar with the Kegan stages, maybe there’s something in the text that makes this figure make sense.

    4. yodelyak

      You may find this link really interesting: https://vividness.live/2015/10/12/developing-ethical-social-and-cognitive-competence/

      I didn’t re-read it all just now. But my experience with friends who had brief periods of hard-core Nihilism as a seemingly direct result of “making it”–that is, achieving career/other success in a way that depended on seeing the world through an abstract systems lens–well, this seems correct that there’s a “4.5” that is post-modern and meaningless. I also have had several experiences where someone who was a “4” was solidly nasty (the phrase “flighty bitches with no control over their lives” comes to mind) to other friends of mine who were perceived as 3s, and saw some relationships come apart dramatically when one person went “4” but the other person stayed “3”. (I think this is a common fail mode for high school relationships with sincere commitment, when one goes to college and the other has another year of school to go, and suddenly they find they not only don’t understand each other, they struggle to even respect each other.)

      I don’t remember ever having any of these transitions, but I’m unusual. I read “Mission to Metlakatla” in third grade, and also some tidbits from a Descartes book, and got really weirdly into trying to transform my mind w/ philosophy, and for most of middle school read a book a day, expecting transformation. (Mission to Metlakatla took me a few weeks, and I’m pretty sure I missed a lot of what was there. A book a day in middle school was mostly things like A Wrinkle in Time or A Spell for Chameleon or etc.) I think it’s possible to be a “5” on this scale, but still be a child for practical purposes–you’ll just seem like an unusually wise, philosophical child… but being smart can also facilitate laziness, self-indulgence, and a host of other sins.

      I also love the phrase, “allergic to dualism” which has described me since I was very small also (the first few times I had a friend go “4.5” I ended the friendship, thinking the other person a total psychopath, and only by good luck learned that people grow out of it.)

  30. pedrodegiovanni

    What do you think of a kind of foreign aid as the following:

    The U.S. government (or any other developed country’s) offers a poor third world country (Somalia, DRC or similar) to build and run a water processing plant, and install all the infrastructure needed to provide it to urban centers, with only one caveat: all the workers and suppliers (or as many as deemed necessary) shall be from the developed country, and the project will pay no taxes whatsoever as it is a gift and not an economic entreprise.

    This model (similar to the provision of defense to NATO countries or Japan/South Korea) would provide a clear benefit to the receiving country (clear water and an economic boost from the expenditures of foreign workers in their country) without carrying much risk of the funds beign misallocated or swallowed by inefficiency and corruption.

    Receiving countries may complain against this being a kind of soft colonialism, but I find it hard to beleive that they would reject having free potable water.

    1. Anonymous

      Receiving countries may complain against this being a kind of soft colonialism, but I find it hard to beleive that they would reject having free potable water.

      If they happen to believe that it’s actually free, and not some skulduggery in disguise or a prelude to establishing a protectorate down the road. Given the Great Powers’ track record (especially in light of the ongoing anti-colonialist propaganda), I won’t rate the third worlders’ cooperation very highly.

    2. John Colanduoni

      Receiving countries may complain against this being a kind of soft colonialism, but I find it hard to beleive that they would reject having free potable water.

      You could say the same about free polio vaccines, but distrust of foreign aid has held up the eradication of polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan (which turned out to be somewhat justified, considering the CIA was actually sampling their blood, albeit on a small scale). Even before that there was resistance based on fears of nefarious intent (e.g. sterilization), so “new water plant run entirely by foreigners, as a formal rule” may not be so easily accepted.

      1. pedrodegiovanni

        How does this belong to a culture war? Are we at a point where any discussion pertaining the real world is at risk of generating an irrational response?

        1. AnonYEmous

          no offense to you sirrah but this is basically, as the original post states, soft colonialism. That’s…kind of culture warry.

        2. rlms

          I think any in depth discussion of it would have to get into questions of why certain countries are more developed than others, and the pros/cons of colonialism, which are definitely culture war topics.

    3. ilikekittycat

      So long as the biggest individual chunk of the foreign aid budget disappears into the black hole intersecting the military-industrial complex and the kinetic apparatus of nations like Israel, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt, there’s not really any solid high ground to insist that King Mtumbo dot every i and cross every t to get basic infrastructure from comparatively minuscule investments

      1. pedrodegiovanni

        I don’t understand your argument, sorry. Could you rephrase it?
        I’m not saying that that King Mtumbo should follow any regulations or anything similar, just refrain from intervening or hindering the enterprise.

        1. Douglas Knight

          The problem you are trying to solve doesn’t exist: foreign aid isn’t swallowed by corruption. It is a bribe and functions as intended.
          (I don’t know if ilikekittycat is saying that about King Mtumbo, or just about the big parts of the budget, but I am.)

    4. HFARationalist

      That’s the sort of thing China does in Africa. The consequences are the facilities breaking down after the Chinese left and Africans complaining about Chinese imperialism. Its long-term benefits to Africans is almost zero.

      Long term aid to Africa never worked, never works and will never work. What black Africa needs are native businesses, factories, commercial farms, etc. Social justice can not build up what persecution can not easily tear down, such as a culture that suits modernity, an educated population, etc.

    5. Deiseach

      We build the plant, staff and run it with our own people, it’s a gift from us and you have no say otherwise in how it’s run or taxing it – and if we bugger off in five years time that’s just too bad for the people now dependent on the water our plant provides.

      Unless you commit to staffing and running this plant and maintaining it and expanding it forever, how will the country benefit long-term? You’re not training local workers to run it, local suppliers aren’t involved except in “sell food and drink to the foreigners” (and maybe not even that, if supplies are brought in from the developed country), and while this may prevent the sticky fingers of the Minister for the Environment creaming off funds meant to run the plant, it also means that anytime the donor country changes its mind or finds it too expensive to keep doing this, once they pack up and leave – who staffs and runs and maintains the plant?

      1. HFARationalist


        However when a country is truly messed up in terms of human capital instead of only being temporarily poor such as Moldova and even North Korea it is very hard for aid to be effective.

        For example let’s start from hiring locals. OK what if locals are either unable or unwilling to perform good work? Alcoholism, drug addiction, culture..These can all make a worker unproductive. Some work also requires education which people in really messed up nations frequently lack.

        Then let’s talk about materials. Some countries don’t have lots of industry. Infrastructure can be so poor that you would rather get materials shipped in from home or some other country such as China due to price issues. So why would you buy expensive local stuff of low quality that probably takes a month to arrive?

        I hate to say it but many people from the West probably won’t even drink water or eat food locals drink and eat in Africa. That’s due to health concerns.

        There is a difference between Ukraine-style poverty and DRC-style poverty because the former type is much easier to fix.

        So how can we actually help Africa? By educating its people. Once the human capital situation improves so will living standards.

      2. toastengineer

        Isn’t it a really popular idea nowadays that the best way to help third-world people is just to straight-up give them money so they can decide how they want to spend it?

      3. Nancy Lebovitz

        I agree that it’s important for local people to learn how to maintain the infrastructure.

        Also, it may take more than that– the foreign infrastructure may be designed for a different climate or other conditions, and it might not make sense to just transplant infrastructure from elsewhere. And I’m not sure if there will be a problem with spare parts eventually not being made for the project.

    6. John Schilling

      So, the receiving country gets free potable water until we decide we don’t like their foreign policy, or their abortion policy or their treatment of the local LGBT population or whatever, and then Congress won’t approve continued funding any more and the plant shuts down. There’s now no one in the region who knows how to run a water treatment plant, so everybody complies with our demands or goes thirsty. In the meantime, there’s a local population of white engineers and technicians making twenty times the local median wage and using it to hire the locals’ daughters as prostitutes.

      Nope, can’t imagine any reason that wouldn’t go over well.

      Also, I suspect most of the places where shortages of potable water are a major problem, are ones where the local warlords or kleptocrats insist on keeping for themselves the ability to dispense water to their friends and cut it off for their enemies.

  31. Well Armed Sheep

    What is the best thing the Trump administration has done?

    What is the worst thing the Trump administration has done?

    In order to be valid, a response must provide a nonsarcastic answer to both questions.

      1. toastengineer

        But then _is_ everything related to the current administration automatically culture war? I’d hope we’d be able to speak calmly about how the government is doing without, yanno, stuff.

        1. Charles F

          I think there are questions about the current administration that wouldn’t be. But trying to pick out the best and worst parts seems guaranteed to rely on some controversial/CW values.

        2. Nornagest

          Yes. I’d like to discuss this kind of thing without getting entangled in the culture war, too, but that is not the world we’re living in.

    1. All I Do Is Win

      I can at least report what the alt-right would answer (to the best of my knowledge—I follow them closely):

      What is the best thing the Trump administration has done?

      Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.

      What is the worst thing the Trump administration has done?

      Not built the wall, or made credible progress towards doing so.

      1. bean

        I can at least report what the alt-right would answer (to the best of my knowledge—I follow them closely):

        This is the CW-free OT. Please don’t do this here.

  32. markk116

    My girlfriend has been experiencing some odd problems the past month and after half a dozen visits to the GP turning up nothing I’m checking to see if someone here has any bright ideas. The doctor ended last session by saying that she doesn’t really know what’s going on but tries to throw it in a stress direction, which we find highly unlikely. The symptoms she exhibits include suddenly starting to stutter for two weeks, then having no problems for a week and now stuttering again. Episodes of bewilderment and the inability to process any information. Periodic loss of balance and severe dizzyiness (results in falling over pretty much randomly). And headaches combined with light and sound sensitivity. I’m not expecting some free differential diagnosis but rather some general direction of stuff to look into. Any response is greatly appreciated.

      1. Charles F

        I agree with this. But also all of those are symptoms I get from lack of sleep. (Well, not stuttering exactly but difficulty forming/finishing words in a way that some people might call stuttering.)

        1. markk116

          She’s been averaging 14 hours of sleep the past week so I don’t think that’s the issue, but despite that she’s still tired.

          1. baconbacon

            This sounds a little bit like Hemochromotosis, or excess iron build up in the organs. I know of one person who has this diagnosis, and it took months of testing before they hit on it, even though the very first doctor ran an iron count to see if he had anemia and noted that “if anything he had high iron”. This should be very easy to rule out at the least.

      2. markk116

        I’m sorry I neglected to say we already had an appointment, but she also tried to push it in the stress/emotional trauma corner. We have got an appointment for an MRI next week but my girlfriend is afraid that if the neurologist primes herself for not finding anything neuro-related she won’t actually find anything.

    1. janemccourt

      I concur with Incurian; definitely see a neurologist as each of the symptoms would indicate neurology as a first step.

    2. Deiseach

      The headaches sound a bit like migraine, which is what I’d think if the symptoms were confined to that, but the dizziness/vertigo sounds a bit like Ménière’s disease. I have no idea what the stuttering is, but yeah – don’t get fobbed off by “it’s probably stress”, make a fuss and ask to be referred to a neurologist. Anything else I might suggest would only be guesswork from looking up random crap on the Internet. She needs to see a specialist.

    3. hyperboloid

      I am not in any way qualified to dispense medical advice, but I’m going to back up what everybody else is saying; get her to a neurologist. A lot of neurological conditions have overlapping symptoms, so it would be hard for even a qualified professional to speculate about any potential diagnoses based just on what you described. And as I said, I am pretty far from being a doctor, so take anything I say with a massive grain of salt. Nevertheless, I had many of the same symptoms (though not the stuttering), and while I don’t want to scare anybody, and after a few MRI’s, and a spinal tap, the diagnoses turned out not to be good.

      Of course it could be nothing, and let’s all hope that it is, but it couldn’t hurt to get her to a neurologist.

        1. hyperboloid

          The BCG vaccine is one of the more promising treatments in the pipeline. There are a number of caveats though. For one one thing, the Italian study was not all that big, and for another the effects it showed were in patients quite early in the disease. The most common progression for someone with MS goes from a Clinically isolated syndrome , an early isolated instance of inflammation or demyelination of the nerve tissues, to a relapsing remitting phase, where the disease is characterized by periodic flareups of increasing severity; and finally to a primary progressive phase where degeneration is more or less constant. BCG has shown efficacy in reducing progress from CIS to relapsing-remitting MS, but there hasn’t been as much research into it’s effect in reducing disability in patients in my group, who already have RRMS.

          I don’t usually get into arguments about health policy, because I find that people are uncomfortable engaging with me on the topic. Nevertheless, let me say that examples like BCG are some of the best arguments for why, at least some, medical research is a public good that should be provided at state expense. BCG is cheap because it’s so old that the patents have long since run out, so pharmaceutical companies are going to be reluctant to pay for the clinical trials to study effectiveness in treating RRMS. “Well…”, I can already hear Scot asking,”It’s been proven safe, so why don’t don’t you have it proscribed off label”; because without phase III clinical trials it’s not possible to know what an appropriate course of treatment would be.

          Literally billions of infants around the world have been inoculated with the vaccine to prevent TB, and by comparing countries where inoculation is common to countries (like the US) where it is rare we know that this has little to no effect in preventing MS. If BCG really does what the Italian study claims that it does, then it either only works in a narrow time window before CIS has progressed to RRMS, or perhaps more likely, it wears off, and it requires repeated treatment to have a lasting effect. But treatment at what dosage, and what interval? BCG is safe when administered to people with healthy immune systems at the doses appropriate to inoculate them against TB, but I’m taking powerful immunosuppressant medication to keep my immune system from eating my brain. The vaccine is cheap enough that I easily could pay for almost any number of treatments out of pocket, but how would I actually go about this?

          Do I go off my current medication, and put my trust in an unproven treatment? Because that would seem ill advised. Do I just buy one of preps for bladder cancer immunotherapy, mix a dose in my apartment and hope that injecting myself with a live bacteria vaccine while my immune system is compromised doesn’t result in some kind of infection?

    4. Well...

      What do they do to check for brain tumors? CAT scan? MRI? Whichever one, might be worth checking off the list just to get it out of the way.

    5. JayT

      Has she had a blood test? Some of those symptoms sound similar to someone I know that had lead poisoning. Do you eat a lot of fish?

  33. AdamDKing

    I’ve recently made (yet more) friends who believe in vague mysticism. Nothing structured or life-changing, just the regular hippie-ish stuff. For example: burning sage, having a small shrine in their house, wearing pendants, talking about ‘energy,’ thinking that their presence makes streetlights go out… you get the idea. I don’t believe in that stuff and I’m a little put off by it. Lots of people I like do enjoy it, and it’s nothing contentious between us. Depending on the friend, I might talk mysticism as it relates to what they want/how they feel, or I might provide a (gentle) rationalist take.

    I always thought that I was put off by mysticism for rationalist reasons — mysticism requires both sloppy thinking and a lack of faith in (some) sciences. Some types of mysticism also violate a kind of Copernican principle: they put their practitioners in a special place w.r.t. the rest of humanity (Indigo children, seeing ‘auras’, etc.). Lately, I came across another justification that I think fits the facts better: mysticism reminds me of the YA fantasy novels I used to read. I spent a huge part of my childhood reading books about magic, and I often imagined that I had magic powers, or that there was magic in the objects around me. Looking back on it makes me feel silly, and a little ashamed. Since the types of things I thought about magic then are similar to the things I hear from my friends who believe in mysticism now, I might just be attaching those feelings about my younger self to others.

    SO, can any SSC commenters weigh in? How do you feel about various “new-age” mysticisms, and did you read cheesy YA fantasy books? While I’m here, does anyone else in the rationalist community find themselves with an uncommonly large number of friends who believe in mysticism?

    1. Charles F

      As for auras and energies and whatnot, that used to bother me, but now I actually enjoy being around people who believe in those sorts of systems. I still think that on a surface level it’s all bunk, but things like auras and energy flow actually seem to contribute to reasonably consistent ways of thinking about people/bodies sometimes, and their interpretations seem like they’re based on a decent level of intuitive understanding and just filtered through a new-agey worldview.

      On the other hand, I encounter a lot of people who believe in astrology and its derivatives. And that seems to be bunk on the surface level and also in terms of the underlying understanding of the people applying it. It also doesn’t actually bother me anymore, but that’s just a missing emotional response, I still think it’s terrible, I’m just good at zoning out and ignoring it now.

      I read a lot of YA when I was younger, I still read some YA and enjoy it precisely because sometimes I just want to read about the special chosen one, even if I don’t half-expect it to be me anymore.

      I’ll ask questions about the a lot of mysticism stuff if it comes up, but not bring it up myself. If astrology comes up I won’t ask any questions or express any interest and I’ll do my best to change the subject quickly since the topic has led to a lot of fights.

      This would be culture-war in a lot of contexts I think, but I guess here it might be too one-sided to count?

      1. AdamDKing

        The first paragraph is something I haven’t thought about. I like that way of seeing things, and I’ll pay more attention in the next ‘energy’ conversation I have, to see if it holds up for me 🙂

        Astrology is pretty far removed from me personally, but it doesn’t sound fun to have ‘dead zones’ in conversation like that. Especially given that astrology conversations between two believers seem to be full of positive feedback (lots of ‘yes and’). The most I encounter it in my regular life is that people ask my sign (Sagittarius) and then say ‘that makes sense.’

        I hope this doesn’t go a culture-war-y direction — that certainly isn’t what I want or what I anticipate. If it does, I’m happy to delete it (or I’m happy if the admin deletes it; not really sure how things work round here). Thanks for the feedback!

    2. rlms

      In my experience, young people (who read/read YA books, which I think are a fairly modern phenomenon) are much less inclined to mysticism than the older generation. So I doubt they cause it.

      1. AdamDKing

        Whoops, apologies for convoluted writing. I meant to say that reading YA fantasy made mysticism less attractive to me, not more.

    3. sandoratthezoo

      I don’t think that you should be ashamed of wanting to have magical powers when you were a kid, or imagining there was magic around you.

    4. Björn

      I find people doing “mystic” stuff ok as long as they aren’t being annoying or damaging themselves in any way. Everyone must decide for themselves how they want to life an enjoyable life, and if part of that are some kind of rituals or symbols, then so be it. Furthermore, doing some kind of ritual every day or having some objects that you find valuable can be quite healthy, as it structures your life and gives you a place of rest in a chaotic world. I remember reading about a pietistic guy who would hike through the woods talking to god after a stressful work day. I find pietism silly, but I also think he will never suffer from burnout syndrome.

      But what’s important in my opinion is that you have to be “literate” in a certain sense when you get into “mystical” stuff. That means you have to know (or rather feel) that “mysticism” is about your relationship with the world. It’s not about doing things to become extraordinary or to gain secret knowledge, it’s about expressing what things mean to you. I think if you get that feeling right, you will steer away from more problematic “mysticism” like buying 1 million devices that energize your water or ending up in a megachurch.

    5. Nornagest

      Slightly annoying to me, but basically harmless. The thing to remember is that ritual — even fake New Age ritual coming out of a book by someone named “Silver RavenWolf” (not making this up!) — is a way of making social statements, so if you end up getting offers to unblock your chakras, treat that as the mark of respect that it is. (That doesn’t mean you have to say yes.) The reverse, of course, is true if they try to put a curse on you or something.

      I would only consider trying to intervene with someone if it’s interfering with their life in a big way.

  34. Incurian

    Armchair generals: what are your thoughts on the national level organization of the US military? Specifically, what do you think about combining the services into one joint service? Is the Marine Corps redundant? Do we need a separate cyber service? A space service? What about the two dozen organizations that make up the intelligence community?

    1. Charles F

      My answers which come from a place of about ε knowledge and so if they’re good it’s only by coincidence.

      The services shouldn’t be organized into one joint service, they’re good as they are. The divisions are pretty logical and don’t severely hamper communication between the branches. Even if somebody did try to unify them, you’d probably end up with some similar internal divisions.

      We need a shared cyber service for coordinating general training/best practices, but having people who will end up doing cyber-warfare join under specific branches is still the correct thing to do. We wouldn’t want a cyber team separate from the navy sending their people with navy ships to do cyber stuff for them when we could have navy cyber people who stick around with the navy.

      The marines are redundant, and we need a space service. So the marines should become the space marines.

      The intelligence community is a bit too fractured, and should be consolidated through a system of prediction markets, where if it’s determined that one agency is better at predicting things in another’s area of expertise, the better agency can absorb the worse one (or something vaguely similar to that) (or just base funding on revenue from the markets with govt setting values of questions based on their priorities) until we have a smaller number of agencies with more reasonably/effectively divided areas of concern.

    2. .

      Leaving aside the military, what sort of redundancy is good for an organization in general

      The rule of thumb I’ve heard is, if you need to do some serial process (step 1) –> (step 2) –> (step 3), it is better to have redundancy at each level. So have two groups A and B working on identical steps (step iA), and let (step 1A) feed into (step 2A) OR into step (2B). This is more robust than having two separate systems that each try to accomplish all 3 steps on their own.

      I don’t know much about fighting but it seems like an example of a serial process might be (get everyone where they should be) –> (bomb a bunch) —> (invade). In this example the US military seems to have the correct sort of redundancy: the navy could move everyone, then the air force could bomb a bunch, then the army could invade, OR the army could move their own selves, the navy could bomb a bunch, and the army could invade, etc.

    3. johan_larson

      A perennial point of contention is close air support of infantry operations. The air force grooves on air superiority and maybe some strategic bombing. Close air support tends to get short shrift, or so the critics charge.

      It would be interesting to know whether the marines do better, since they have their own strike aircraft.

      1. bean

        A perennial point of contention is close air support of infantry operations. The air force grooves on air superiority and maybe some strategic bombing. Close air support tends to get short shrift, or so the critics charge.

        The CAS game has changed a lot since the 50s/60s/70s. What looks like short shrift is really just us finding better ways to do it, which don’t look like the A-10. To a large proportion of people, the A-10 is fixed-wing CAS. These people are at best misinformed and at worst actively stupid. These days, anything which can carry smart bombs and has the right radios is a good CAS platform. Heavy bombers, which inevitably went horribly wrong when trying to do CAS in WW2, are very good at it now. I’d suggest giving the Army some Super Tucanos or something of that ilk to get them to shut up, but the problem is that I suspect they’d keep agitating for platforms that look more and more A-10-like, and we’d soon end up with a parallel Air Force dedicated to playing in the dirt and providing targets for enemy air defense gunners.

        It would be interesting to know whether the marines do better, since they have their own strike aircraft.

        Marine CAS has a good reputation.

        1. John Schilling

          Heavy bombers, which inevitably went horribly wrong when trying to do CAS in WW2, are very good at it now.

          Heavy bombers are good for a subset of CAS missions, specifically the ones where someone on the ground can identify and paint targets for them. There are also CAS missions that require the air platform to find its own targets, and that typically requires eyeballs that are low and moderately slow. No matter how good your sensors are, if you’re flying over a clound deck you’re not doing that sort of CAS.

          Helicopters are usually tolerably good at this sort of thing, and the rule that the Army can have helos and the Air Force gets the fighter-bombers is a kind of workable kludge here. I certainly wouldn’t want to do any major restructuring of the services to give the Army control of fixed-wing CAS even if I think the Air Force will do a suboptimal job of it. But I do suspect the Air Force will do a suboptimal job of it in a way that puts an excessive burden on the Army’s helicopters.

          1. Sfoil

            Agree about airborne control of CAS, but in the near future the airspace currently used by low-altitude CAS aircraft is going to become both increasingly crowded with UAS and increasingly dangerous as short-range missiles improve and proliferate. For a given missile casing, there’s not really much improvement to be made on propellant (range/altitude) or payload, but sensing and possibly control systems will improve. Aircraft are either going to have to fly too high to be hit, take cover (helos), or be expendable (unmanned). That puts the A-10 (and the Tucano) in a pretty bad spot.

          2. bean

            Heavy bombers are good for a subset of CAS missions, specifically the ones where someone on the ground can identify and paint targets for them. There are also CAS missions that require the air platform to find its own targets, and that typically requires eyeballs that are low and moderately slow. No matter how good your sensors are, if you’re flying over a clound deck you’re not doing that sort of CAS.

            You’re assuming that the people doing the flying low and slow have to be the same ones dropping the weapons. That’s not really the case these days. Low altitude is getting really dangerous, as Sfoil points out. Use a UAV to see the target, and a B-52 to kill it. Link 16 is a wonderful thing.

          3. Trofim_Lysenko

            It’d more likely be TCDL (higher bandwidth, which is why all the UAV systems I worked with used it), but yeah.

            Actually, at least as of 2004 we were doing that in practice, though we hadn’t reached the level of integration you’re talking about, we were just providing grid references and calling them in the same way other Army units were. That was some time ago so it wouldn’t surprise me if we’ve gotten a bit more sophisticated since.

          4. bean

            It’d more likely be TCDL (higher bandwidth, which is why all the UAV systems I worked with used it), but yeah.

            Link 16 was how it gets to the bomber, not the UAV link. And yes, the bomber does have that capability now.

    4. bean

      Specifically, what do you think about combining the services into one joint service?

      The US Military puts a lot of effort into jointness right now. There’s a threshold beyond which you can’t get promoted without at least one joint tour. Can’t remember what it is offhand. Maybe O-5 or O-6. It’s not like we’re suffering due to massive infighting. It’s just going to really annoy everyone and probably destroy esprit de corps. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I’m strongly against.

      Is the Marine Corps redundant?

      The Marine Corps is very valuable. Having them means we have serious competition in terms of providing effective ground forces, which is invaluable in keeping effective ground forces when we don’t have a war going on. There’s a lot of heritage and culture that getting rid of the Marines would destroy, and I don’t think that’s a good idea.
      Also, it provides a use for America’s illiterates. (That was kind of mean. The belief that the written part of the Marine entry test is a trap isn’t true.)

      Do we need a separate cyber service?

      Probably not. The problem is that everyone uses computers, and if we hand all the computers to one organization, the end users will have to fight to get their cut. I’m reminded of the trouble the RN had after the FAA got handed over to the RAF. I’m not familiar enough with current cyberwar forces to be sure what needs to be done, but I don’t think this is it. On the other hand, if we’re looking at offensive cyberwar, then there’s some promise here. Ok, put me down for ‘unsure’.

      A space service?

      Cool though that would be, it’s sort of the same problem as the cyber service. Space is still basically a support area. There’s been enough friction between the USN and USAF over military space assets that trying to centralize seems to be asking for more of the same.

      What about the two dozen organizations that make up the intelligence community?

      Having one single source and interpreter of intelligence is a terrifying thought. Different people need different things, and trying to make one organization satisfy all of them is just asking for trouble. Also, you’re somewhat less likely to fall prey to systematic biases in your intel. I’d encourage more overlap, not less. Make them fight.

      1. johan_larson

        The Marine Corps is weird. What could be a small, specialized force acting essentially as the navy’s security guards, has somehow grown into a large combined arms force. And make no mistake, the Corps is huge. Take the Corps, throw in the “gator navy”, the USN forces that work closely with large Marine units, and you have something the size of the entire French military. It’s not an accident that people make wry comments about the navy’s army having an air force.

        Still, I’d be reluctant to get rid of it, even if everything it does could be done by other services. The elan and esprit the corps that characterize the USMC don’t come along every day. Throwing them away would be a huge mistake.

        1. bean

          The problem is that it’s easy to equivocate between ‘get rid of the Marines’ and ‘get rid of the Marine’s capabilities’. I don’t see the capabilities going away. We want to have the ability to put troops ashore anywhere in the world on short notice. This is a sign of a great power. So we’d still need the men and the ships. We could, I guess, change their uniforms. But how much are the extra uniforms costing us, particularly when they’re doing a very different mission from the one that the Army is set up to do. Note that the US isn’t alone in having Marines. The British Royal Marines are quite similar to ours, on a smaller scale. The French also have Marines, although I’m not sure what they do. The Soviets had naval infantry which looked a lot like Marines, too. I’m sure I could turn up a whole bunch more.

          1. Whatever


            I think (if I’m wrong I apologize) that you have made derogatory remarks towards the French military in the past, and I interpret your comment here (“I’m not sure what they do”) as a joke about the French marines not doing anything worthwhile.

            From what I know of the French military (very little), I can’t see how these comments are justified, other than for the cheap tribal validation one gets out of facile jokes.

            Please show me how wrong I am.

          2. bean

            Nothing of the sort. My knowledge of the French Marines ran essentially to the fact that they exist. I didn’t feel like looking up anything, so I punted. I didn’t want to claim that they were the same as our Marines and turn out to be wrong, if, for instance, it was a historical title carried by some units of the Army or it’s what the navy calls its security troops. In fact, it looks as if the French basically did both. There’s a specialized naval infantry unit which is directly part of the Navy, and some units of the French Army are also known as Marines, and have some overseas role. Neither seems to correspond exactly to the USMC or the RM, although there are elements of the same concept in both, which makes me glad I hedged.
            Re France-bashing, it’s about 90% in the same spirit as my comment about the Marines being illiterate (which was 100% joking). I know the French army is pretty good, although to be honest their Navy has some fairly serious issues.

          3. Whatever

            Thanks Bean, I really appreciate your answer. I wouldn’t mind more details on those serious issues. In fact, it may be fun to compare strengths and weaknesses of the (say) top 5 military organizations in the world.

          4. bean

            The MN has a reputation for letting politics get in the way of procurement (to an unusual degree, that is), and particularly for being an absolutely terrible partner in multi-national procurement projects. They held up Horizon for several years by refusing to compromise over the chaff launchers, until the British got bored and pulled out. The Italians dealt with them by walking out if they got difficult. And then there’s the saga of the Charles De Gaulle. I can’t say that they have the same issues operationally, and it’s possible they’ve gotten better (both of these date back 20-30 years), but this kind of thing does not leave an overall positive impression. And the problems go way back. They had the same issues with their Navy during WWI-WWII. And in the Napoleonic Wars, for that matter.
            And I appreciate you giving me the benefit of the doubt on this one, and not just laying into me for French-bashing.

            In fact, it may be fun to compare strengths and weaknesses of the (say) top 5 military organizations in the world.

            Fun for you to read, maybe. I’m not trying to take over from Jane’s, although I seem to be drifting that way.

          5. AlphaGamma

            The British Royal Marines are quite similar to ours, on a smaller scale

            There are some fairly major differences- the Royal Marines don’t have tanks, artillery or aircraft, and I don’t think that’s just a function of size. They are purely a light infantry force.

          6. bean

            There are some fairly major differences- the Royal Marines don’t have tanks, artillery or aircraft, and I don’t think that’s just a function of size. They are purely a light infantry force.

            You’re correct on the aircraft, and the USMC’s air component is unique or pretty close to it (I don’t feel like doing research right now). And you’re correct in that they do not have the USMC’s ability to land a mechanized force. But they do have light armored vehicles, and they do have artillery. It’s provided by a detachment from the Royal Artillery, but it is part of 3 Commando Brigade. And when you look at what they do in the broad strategic sense, they occupy pretty much the same niche.

      2. Nancy Lebovitz

        So, some division between military branches is good.

        It’s possible that the US military got it about right, but it you were designing a modern military from scratch, how would you set it up?

        1. johan_larson

          Right now, things are a bit to lumpy for my tastes; too few organizations exist, so they do too many unrelated things. For example, the air force is responsible for air superiority, strategic bombing, close air support, airborne logistics, military surveillance and communications satellites, and land-based strategic nuclear missiles. Some of these are related, in that they involve operating airplanes, but others are much more tenuously connected, particularly the ICBMs.

          Pulling out the satellite operations into a separate Space Force looks pretty reasonable to me. And since we have to put the ICBMs somewhere, they go there too. A separate Doomsday Corps would be a little too provocative. 😉

          1. bean

            Right now, things are a bit to lumpy for my tastes; too few organizations exist, so they do too many unrelated things.

            The fact that current space forces are unrelated to what we do on the ground/in the air/at sea is news to me, and I’ve read a couple books on the subject. If we make Space its own service, there’s going to be a strong incentive for them to come up with reasons for them to stand on their own, and not just a service provider to the other services. This is a bad thing, as right now, the best thing we can do with space is to use it as a service provider. Before WW2, Britain and Germany both made their naval aviation communities part of their main air forces, and both had cause to regret it. They got starved due to not being core enough to the identity of the service in question, and the navy had limited ability to fight for them. The inability of Coastal Command to get long-range airplanes due to Bomber Harris’s obsession with thousand-plane raids is probably the best example. Or take the USAF’s attitude towards CAS. A Space Force would likely spend most of its time and energy fighting for improved Space Superiority capabilities while ignoring things like comms.

          2. AlphaGamma

            On Doomsday Corps: the Russians have their Strategic Rocket Forces as a separate service branch, though at a lower level than the Army, Navy or Air Force (the Airborne Troops are also separate).

          3. bean

            On Doomsday Corps: the Russians have their Strategic Rocket Forces as a separate service branch, though at a lower level than the Army, Navy or Air Force (the Airborne Troops are also separate).

            This is at least 50% political. The Russians were a lot more paranoid about the strategic forces than the US. So the Strategic Rocket Forces were set up to keep the existing services from contaminating them.

          4. Nornagest

            The Russians have their Strategic Rocket Force, and India does something similar. The Chinese and the Pakistanis organize their ICBM handlers as artillery units under their army. We put them under the Air Force. The French and British don’t have ICBMs, relying on SLBMs controlled by their navy as their main deterrent. I don’t know how Israel or North Korea do it on the operational level.

            ICBM deployment is a unique enough beast that it’s probably a pretty arbitrary decision — it doesn’t matter that much whether your network of snow-covered silos in South Nowhere, Idaho are administered by the Army or the Air Force or the Armageddon Force, since all the stuff they need is specific to them anyway — although the Russian solution strikes me as the cleanest. Might be prone to interservice rivalry problems, though.

          5. Igon Value

            @nornagest: “The French and British don’t have ICBMs, relying on SLBMs controlled by their navy as their main deterrent. ”

            True, the French (and Brits) today rely essentially on SLBMs controlled by the navy.

            But the French also used to have IRBM at the base in “plateau d’Albion” (18 of them) and they were under the control of the “armée de l’air” (Air Force).

            They also had SRBM (Pluton missiles) under the “armée de terre” (Army).

            Even today, the armée de l’air (Air Force) operates Mirage 2000N capable of firing medium-range nuclear missiles.

            So all three services owned and operated strategic nuclear weapons at some point.

          6. Nornagest

            You’re absolutely right, but I was trying to economize on space — most of the nuclear powers have complicated deployment histories, and even a decent summary of how they’ve developed over time would take a bean-tier effortpost. The story of how the Brits ended up settling on an SLBM deterrent is pretty convoluted all by itself — there was a period when they were planning on basing their entire deterrent around the Douglas Skybolt, a deeply strange air-launched ballistic missile (!) the size of a small bus. The Avro Vulcan was supposed to cart two of these things around, like a seagull stealing bananas.

            Probably on par with Project Pluto in terms of early-Sixties strategic weirdness, though not in terms of outright scariness.

          7. bean

            there was a period when they were planning on basing their entire deterrent around the Douglas Skybolt, a deeply strange air-launched ballistic missile (!) the size of a small bus. The Avro Vulcan was supposed to cart two of these things around, like a seagull stealing bananas.

            And now I can’t get the picture of a Vulcan flying around carrying a pair of bus-sized bananas out of my head. And the Vulcan is flapping. Thanks.

          8. hyperboloid


            Other than the atomic battleship versions of Orion, it’s hard to think of anything that matches the Supersonic Low Altitude Missile (SLAM for short) for pure distilled crazy.

            For those not in the know, project Pluto was a program to develop a nuclear ram jet engine for an intercontinental cruse missile/drone that would fly at Mach four at tree top level tossing hydrogen bombs over the Soviet Union. It’s power plant was an air cooled nuclear pile, so dirt simple that it was nicknamed “the flying crow bar”. It had a projected range of 182,000 kilometers, enough to circle the earth four times at the equator. The reactor was unshielded, and because of it’s simple direct cycle design it would have left a trail of fallout in the form of fission fragments spewed out the back of the engine. The designers actually aimed to make use of this by programing it to fly loops over the USSR after it had dropped it’s payload.

            One of the reasons it was canceled was that, perhaps unsurprisingly, no one ever figured out a safe way to test the damn thing.

          9. Igon Value


            Oh sure. In providing more details on the French military, I was mainly confirming your overall point that nuclear strategic forces can be administered by any service (“since all the stuff they need is specific to them anyway”).

          10. bean

            Other than the atomic battleship versions of Orion

            No, Orion was a non-nuclear battleship. The only atomic battleships were Iowa, New Jersey, and Wisconsin (Missouri was decommissioned before the Mk 23 was introduced, and never got the modification to carry them.)
            Although I guess you could count the Crossroads battleships as atomic, too.

          11. hyperboloid


            No, Orion was a non-nuclear battleship


            At any rate, the 80s era refit of the Iowas is defiantly one of the more peculiar decisions the US navy made during the cold war. They were supposedly a response to the Kirov class “battlecruisers”(the soviets never used the term themselves), but in comparison they were anemically armed, poorly protected, and required almost four times the complement to operate. Of course people still argue that they provided essential naval fire support, but there were better, and far cheaper ways of doing that.

          12. Nornagest

            @hyperboloid — As far as atomic crazy goes, I’m still kinda fond of the Convair X-6 concept. This was the early Fifties; at the time, ICBMs and SLBMs weren’t really a thing yet, and so keeping up a second-strike capability was inherently fraught — if your enemies can slip over the pole and and bomb out enough of your air bases, then they can actually win a nuclear war. Later on we’d start keeping B-52s in the air round the clock (see the premise of “Dr. Strangelove”), but that hadn’t happened yet.

            Enter some bright boy at the Air Force, who realized that nuclear propulsion offers basically unlimited fuel. If you could only miniaturize a nuclear powerplant enough to fit in a bomber, you could hook up some props to it and potentially stay in the air for months at a time, avoiding this whole business of keeping all your delivery vehicles sitting on the ground in big, soft, attractive targets. And the crazy thing is, they actually got pretty far with the idea. It wasn’t a full-blown powerplant, but Convair did stuff a running reactor in the bomb bay of a B-36 and fly it around for a while. The Soviets did it too, as one of the million variants of the Tu-95.

            Shielding problems proved insurmountable, though, so that’s as far as it ever got. I wonder what the cancer rates of the NB-36H crews looked like.

          13. Nancy Lebovitz

            See Hilbert Schenk’s Steam Bird for sf about the atomic-powered aircraft actually getting built and flown. As I recall, finding a place to land it was a problem.

        2. bean

          It’s possible that the US military got it about right, but it you were designing a modern military from scratch, how would you set it up?

          Depends on what I want it to do. But for the conditions the US faces, I think we’re pretty close to the optimal setup. I might think about splitting out the strategic forces, as they’ve been increasingly lost in the shuffle since the end of the Cold War. On the other hand, the bombers are dual-role, and keeping them part of the Air Force makes that easier to do.
          Overall, put the Navy, Army, and Air Force as separate units. Make sure the Army and Navy have control of their direct air units, or they’ll get starved of funds to pay for bombers. If you plan on doing lots of expeditionary deployments abroad, make sure to have units dedicated to that. Airborne and Marine are common titles. It might make sense to give them different uniforms, depending on the size and setup of the units.

          1. gbdub

            Splitting off the strategic (let’s not mince here, NUCLEAR strategic) forces seems unworkable when only a third of the triad is self contained – cruise missiles and gravity bombs need fixed wing bombers, and I don’t think you want anyone but the navy trying to manage a boomer fleet.

          2. bean

            Well, yes. The suggestion was more along the lines of what I’d come up with if you put a gun to my head and asked me for the least stupid change we could make if we had to make one.

          3. John Schilling

            On the other hand, if we’re going to have a triad, and we’re going to have three services, there’s a lot to be said for noting that surface-to-surface missiles are in every other context classified as “artillery” and controlled by the Army.

          4. hlynkacg

            On the other hand, the bombers are dual-role, and keeping them part of the Air Force makes that easier to do.

            Is there really that much of a niche for fixed wing nuclear bombers these days? Seams to me that their role has been effectively supplanted by cruise-missiles.

          5. Nornagest

            Most of our remaining nuclear-armed cruise missiles are air-launched these days — and exclusively from the B-52, if I remember right, although there’s been some talk of a follow-on that could be carried on more platforms than that. Most of our cruise missiles period are probably still launched from ships, but the Tomahawk’s nuclear capability was retired a few years ago.

            We’ve still got a few nuclear gravity bombs, too, and an earth-penetrating variant coming.

          6. John Schilling

            The nuclear cruise missiles, at least for the US, are now all air-launched, so we need the bombers for that. They are also useful for nuclear strikes against mobile or camouflaged targets that need real-time intelligence immediately before nuclear release, and for edge cases where you might wish to launch on incomplete information while retaining the ability to call back the strike.

            Also potentially useful for diplomatic purposes, reassuring allies or intimidating enemies by staged flybys of a nuclear-capable platform. And being dual-capable means you get to share at least part of the cost with conventional missions.

            The most dubious part of the triad, at this point, is probably the ICBMs. Particularly with silo basing, which isn’t really survivable against modern strategic weapons.

          7. johan_larson

            @John Shilling

            The most dubious part of the triad, at this point, is probably the ICBMs. Particularly with silo basing, which isn’t really survivable against modern strategic weapons

            I guess you could put them on trucks. Disguised 18-wheelers endlessly circling the highways of America with Armageddon at their backs.

            The country music writes itself. 🙂

          8. AlphaGamma


            Interestingly, the US apparently transports nuclear warheads on the highways in unmarked trucks designed to look like civilian ones, while British nuclear convoys are extremely obvious.

        3. hlynkacg

          I may be over-generalizing from my own experience serving in expeditionary units but if I were designing the US military from scratch I’d separate it to three branches based on role rather than capability; An expeditionary force who’s primary role is to move fast and break things power projection. A more civil oriented “Guard” for things like nation building and disaster relief, and finally a dedicated strategic force to handle our nukes and ballistic missile defense.

          In practice it’d probably end up looking a lot like the current US military with the Navy/Marine Corps fulfilling the role of the expeditionary branch, and the Army as the nation-building/disaster relief branch. The Air Force would be re-tasked to be pure strategic warfare (nukes/BMD) with it’s tactical and logistical missions shifted to the Marines and a re-constituted Army Air Corps.

          1. dndnrsn

            Presumably, the civil element would have to be able to defend itself – would that be the job of the expeditionary force, or would it have its own combat element?

          2. hlynkacg

            Yes, the civil force would still be armed, but their focus would be on policing rather than pitch battles requiring heavy weapons and combined arms support. That sort of thing would be the expeditionary force’s job.

          3. Trofim_Lysenko

            You’re not the only one who wants to reorganize along the lines of mission, but I think you’re wrong about how much like the current military it would look.

            I think at minimum it’s reasonable to expect that such an Expeditionary Branch be able to accomplish an operation on the scale of the Invasion of Iraq and/or Afghanistan with little to no “Joint”-ness in the operations (Otherwise, why did we organize on the Expeditionary/Follow-On form rather than simply follow the traditional branch structure?). From that, a look at the assets we needed to make those plans work, and a comparison with the assets available to the current USMC make it pretty clear that the Marines would need to get a lot bigger and more “Army Like” to fulfill that role.

            And to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how well Marine Culture would scale, because my impression (though from the perspective of former Army, not Marine) is that a part of that culture’s success is from saying “If your Primary Mission isn’t to Kill People and Break Things, or -directly- enable others to do so, then go be a Navy Corpsman, an Air Force trash hauler, an Army Truck Driver, or a DoD Civilian Contractor. Marines Kill People and Break Things, Period.”

        4. keranih

          but if you were designing a modern military from scratch, how would you set it up?

          Aside from the good serious answers here, I’m trying to remember the exact phrasing of an old saw – that the *best* army would consist of Russian soldiers, British NCOs(*) and Danish(?) officers, commanded by German generals, using American logistics (and French rations) to defend Switzerland against an Arab navy. (Or something like that.)

          The point being that there are useful edges to every weapon, and success comes from being able to use one’s strengths against the enemy’s weakness. And the point of *that* is that the ideal modern army changes with ‘modern times’ – and no one can say what the world will look like in ten years.

          (*) every version I ever heard of it had Brit NCOs. I have the feeling that when we face off against the Alpha Centarians in furious space battle, they’ll go back home telling of the gravel and stuff of UK non-coms.

          1. Nancy Lebovitz

            I wouldn’t at all mind some comic sf about a mad genius with a time machine trying to get a composite military like that to work.

    5. hyperboloid

      Yes, we should adopt a Canadian style combined service, as separate service branches are an anachronism from an era before warfare was dominated by combined arms.

      Even though we’ve probably been inching in that general direction since Goldwater–Nichols, I don’t really expect full unification to happen anytime soon, just increasing levels of “jointness”.

      Under a combined services the marines wouldn’t be any different then the airborne divisions; specialized troops with the equipment and training to do a specific job, but not an independent service with it’s own separate pool of personnel. A servicemen might start his career as an army rifleman before attending a specialized “amphibious assault school”, and completing his service with a marine division. It would probably make sense to shrink the marines, and make them a more elite force focused on a narrow expeditionary mission. Specialized space and cyber forces could be created as needed within the unified service.

      The intelligence community is a legal, and organizational mess. The fact that the CIA operates an independent paramilitary force, that acts outside of the purview of both the war powers act, and the uniformed code of military justice is a constitutional travesty. I would say it was a disaster waiting to happen; but it’s not waiting to happen, it has already has happened repeatedly.

      Whatever is left of the CIA once the paramilitary capacity is stripped out, should be combined with the NSA into a single civilian intelligence agency, brining together both signals and human intelligence. The irregular warfare capabilities would be taken up by USSOCOM. To improve the quality of research and analyses, a “national intelligence university” should be created on a secure campus somewhere in the Baltimore Washington metro area. It would be a research institution, both offering graduate level courses to intelligence professionals, and an academic environment, where a tenured faculty of experts in intelligence, international affairs, political science, economics, and history, could provide the best possible independent analyses of raw intelligence data.

      @Charles F

      The marines are redundant, and we need a space service. So the marines should become the space marines.

      I’m not sure if this is a Warhammer inspired joke; but why would the marines, of all people, take on the responsibilities of a space service?

      Obvious jokes about there not being too many rocket scientists in the marines aside, the USMC is an infantry focused expeditionary service, who’s main job was originally supposed to be amphibious assault. A space service would be something more akin to the Russian strategic rocket forces. They would be reasonable for launching military satellites, managing our strategic nuclear arsenal, strategic missile defense assets, and any space based weapons platforms we might build in the future. It’s almost the exact opposite of the marines traditional focus on close combat.

      1. Charles F

        That the marines are redundant and we should have a space service was serious, if not thought through very much. The last bit was mostly a warhammer-inspired joke, though I would have nothing against the space service taking the name but not the people.

    6. John Schilling

      After WWII, pretty much every nation on Earth at least renamed their “War Department” as a “Department of Defense”, usually with some level of reorganization. Along the way, nations as diverse as Canada and China ultimately decided to merge their separate services into a single unified military force in the name of efficiency and/or politics. I don’t think it has ever really worked. It causes significant morale problems among all the services except maybe the Army, and operational realities mean that the unified force fissures at the highest level into land, sea, and air uber-commands. If the nation does lots of expeditionary warfighting, there will be combined-arms expeditionary warfighting units that look an awful lot like US Marine Expeditionary Units.

      So, one, warfighting is one of many things that really don’t benefit from being forced into neat rectangular grids, and the consequences of getting warfighting wrong are rather worse than for e.g. forestry. And two, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. What do you see as broken about current military organizations that this is likely to fix?

      Space is for the moment the domain of combat support activities; it will be at least a generation before we see enough direct warfighting activities to justify a separate service. Nobody had separate Air Forces until roughly the end of WWI; everybody who didn’t have separate Air Forces by the start of WWII had their Army’s air service operate as a de facto independent force from the start. This is as it should have been, and substitute WWIII and WWIV for space forces.

      Each of the separate military services will need their own tactical “cyberwarfare” capabilities, at least for defending their own systems against subversion and probably for local offensive operations. If an F-35 squadron has to depend for cybersecurity on a separate chain of command that doesn’t connect with theirs below the level of the JCS, their planes are going to be hacked on day zero. Any global offensive cyberwarfare operations are going to have to be closely tied with other intelligence activities and so a good fit for someone like the CIA.

      So, overall, I think we’ve got it about right.

    7. dndnrsn

      Is the weak link in US military performance things like organization of the military, or is it stuff the military as a professional service doesn’t have much control over, like bad strategic decisions made by the administration? Would better coordination between ground troops and close air support have changed things in Iraq or Afghanistan?

      1. bean

        Bad strategic decisions. 99%. Better CAS wouldn’t have done any good. I’m not sure how much better CAS could practically be, without entering the realm of magic. Based on what I know (I have some limited interaction with this in my new job) they do a very good job of this kind of coordination.

        1. dndnrsn

          In general, though, is there any tactical change that would really improve things? The impression I get is that the US military, among others, is tactically extremely proficient. The failings are strategic, and the strategic failings are more the responsibility of politicians and administrators than military personnel. Perhaps more high-ranking officers should be putting their jobs on the line by saying “that’s not a good idea” but, first, that’s a tall order, and second, there are good reasons to want the generals and admirals to obey the elected officials and administrators.

          1. bean

            In general, though, is there any tactical change that would really improve things?

            Nothing that’s politically palatable. If we adopted the RoE of the Albigensian Crusade it would definitely improve things in the moment, but the inability to do that is definitely rooted in strategy/politics.
            (Just to be clear, I am not endorsing this. It would make things easier on a tactical level, but the reasons not to do it are good ones.)

          2. Sfoil

            The number one tactical “complaint” is that US forces are somewhat tactically immobile and road-bound. The median American ground engagement looks a lot like: get shot at/blown up on road -> return fire -> call for support -> enemy runs away or dies. This isn’t what’s in the platoon manual and sticks in a lot of craws, said craws then advocating that the US Army needs to be more “mobile” and engage in more “maneuver”.

            The problem is critics don’t understand the cost/risk of the light infantry tactics they advocate. Yeah the NVA were pretty amazing light fighters but guess what, they were basically fighting a war of attrition and grinding up scores of thousands of their guys every year. American infantrymen are actually pretty good at that stuff, but the edge against the enemy might be e.g. 2:1 instead of 50:1.

            Also, it’s time to admit that general officers just aren’t going to resign over debatably dumb strategic orders. First, the US like many other modern states has gone way out of its way from historical norms to teach its officers that they don’t get to be statesmen, and second, we can safely say at this point that there is no real precedent established.

            If a career officer (100% of all current and potential generals) will ever get fed up with the top, he’ll resign way before he ever gets looked at for his first star. 20 years (colonel), tops, and that’s probably after a few years of phoning it in until his pension vests.

    8. Sfoil

      Most of the awkward parts of the American organization are the result of having diverse military commitments across the entire planet. Combining the services into one joint service is a mistake because they generally work pretty well together when needed, and when they don’t, it’s not in a way that would be solved by a joint service.

      The US must train a lot of different pieces and then combine them in various disparate ways to suit requirements in various theaters. You need to get really good at flying a jet or laying an artillery battery before those things can play together, so they’ll always spend the majority of their time training separately. However some things are more similar than others e.g. a howitzer battery is more similar to a mechanized infantry company than to driving a boat around. To the extent we need officers who can employ both of these organizations effectively, we already have joint officers, the most high-performing of which eventually become MACOM commanders and Service Chiefs of Staff.

      You also need to account for the organizational/moral/psychological effects of different services. In a combined force, the Army takes ultimate precedence because “a guy with a weapon” is the most fundamental aspect of warfare. All the rarin’ young bucks want to be infantrymen, and flying high performance jets armed with nuclear weapons becomes kind of a sideshow niche for the technically competent but unambitious. Maybe you don’t want that, particularly when it means that the Strategic Bombing Corps commander either can’t tell a bomber from a helicopter or isn’t even allowed to present his concerns to El Presidente without having five different ground pounders critique it first.

      The above sort of explains why there are so many intelligence agencies. I’m sure the NRO could become a department of the CIA, but it would probably make both organizations worse. That one is more fundamentally about the need for different capabilities by different intelligence users, though.

    9. Brad

      Do we need a separate cyber service?

      Every organization these days needs to have digital security expertise. In terms of the military I’m not sure if or why the people that have that expertise should or should not be uniformed versus civilians working for DoD.

      On the flip side, in terms of offensive hacking, the vast majority of such hacking is to obtain information rather than pure disruption. So the prime capability I think it is a better fit for the intelligence services (specifically the NSA) than for anyone under the umbrella of the military. Given that we have parallel intelligence services in several corners of the DoD world, I suppose those services need their own hackers, but I don’t see any need to centralize the hackers separate and apart from any argument that applies to the separate intelligence services in general.

    10. cassander

      The bigger issue isn’t intra-military coordination, but getting the military coordinating with the rest of the government. This is not to say that the military is perfect, it certainly isn’t, but the rest of the government has much, much further to go when it comes to putting out a coherent foreign policy.

      the military’s role in foreign policy making has been expanding for decades, largely against its will, because it’s the only organization in the US government that’s both well funded and expeditionary. You can send it somewhere to do something, and that thing will be attempted. If you’re in Iraq in 2007, you can’t get people from USAID* to rebuild Iraqi cities. There weren’t enough of them, and even if there were, they aren’t organized so that you can send a ton of them to Iraq. But you could send army engineering units, so that’s what they did.

      This process has been aided by the other parts of the foreign policy having neither the resources nor the will to step outside their comfort zone. USAID doesn’t, and didn’t, want to go to Iraq to re-build cities, so they were willing to cede that territory to the military. the military actually begged state department for more people, offered to pay for their billets, and got turned down.

      The US foreign policy establishment as a whole needs the sort of re-working that the military got in the mid 80s with Goldwater-Nichols, that is, retain the multiple organizations and perspectives, but bring them together operationally in a unified command structure with real authority over them at an operational level.

      As a general principle, though, organizations at best get to be good at one thing. building large organizations is about assembling a federation of organizations where each level has a clear sense of its own mission and where that mission contributes to some larger, but still clearly defined purpose.

      Making sure a group of organizations function well together requires thinking about at what levels various functions should be “linked up”. For example take the question of air support. During WW2 (and frankly ever since) there has been debate between the army and air force at what level air assets should be handed out. As a general rule, the Army has argued that air assets should be handed out at fairly low levels, that is, giving each division or brigade control of a small number of aircraft. the air force has argued for the opposite, that almost all air assets should be centrally controlled and directed under an air commander that was co-equal or, at worst, immediately subordinate to, the theater commander.

      These debates well illustrate the basic organizational questions.

      To what degree does a given function benefit or suffer as it is done on a larger scale?

      The air force arguments has always been that a separate air force was logistically separate and tactically efficacious, because it made it easier to coordinate air assets and took advantage of the ability of aircraft to tactically combine over great distance to achieve decisive force at critical points. An air force that is not centrally directed will be defeated in detail by one that is. Critics have said that these advantages are not greater than the costs imposed by a separate command structure and the decrease in coordination between air and ground assets that it entails.

      The greater degree of independence an organization has, the more its culture will diverge from its partners, so to what degree does your function benefit from or require its own culture?

      The air force has argued that a separate air force cultivates an “air minded” culture that would be lost or go unappreciated if the air force were just part of the army. Critics agree, though instead of air mindedness, they tend to use a term like “parochial”.

      How much coordination with other organizations does the successful achievement of your mission require and how important is your function in the overall scheme of things?

      the air force has always argued that it can achieve strategic effects on its own, independent of other military forces. Others have disagreed.

      To answer your specific questions, I’d say that I want a cyber force, but a very limited one that focuses on disrupting enemy networks. I do not thing that this force should be a part of the military, but it should work closely with the military, a relationships similar to that the NSA has. I think this because cyber warfare scales well, is definitely culturally distinct from both he military and other intelligence services, and isn’t required for the day to day operations of an infantry battalion. Defensive cyber efforts need to be embedded at a much lower level.

      With a space service, I am much more skeptical. As others have said, space operations these days are almost pure support missions and, unlike cyber, infantry battalions do rely on them for their day to day operations, and I worry that creating a separate space force would lead to a level parochialism not yet justified. I would prefer a space command, organized similarly to the way that transportation command is currently. That is, it has some institutional independence, but it draws on the other services for its personnel and is very clearly understood to be a supporting role, not a main effort.

      * I don’t mean to imply that no one from USAID went to Iraq. That’s not true, many did, and did great work. But they did so in relatively small numbers and institutionally never devoted the degree of attention to it that the military did.

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