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OT86: Utopen Thread

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

1. There’s a public beta of Less Wrong 2.0 up at lesserwrong.com. See also the overview of what’s going on and why one might want such a thing.

2. Probably there will be an SSC meetup in Berkeley on October 14. I’ll post more details later, but if it’s important to have a little advance warning, now you have it.

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873 Responses to OT86: Utopen Thread

  1. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    Related to Jaskologist’s post above:

    If one is injured in California and needs a transfusion, is there a procedure to ensure that the blood is from an uncontaminated blood bank?

    Hemopure hasn’t been approved by the FDA and I would assume that most hospitals probably won’t have it. The similar blood substitute Oxyglobin might be available from a veterinarian but I’m assuming that reputable doctors aren’t ever going to agree to use it even if a supply was available.

    • rlms says:

      What makes you think any blood bank is contaminated?

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        In the short term, after January 1st it’s no longer a criminal offense to donate tainted blood. HIV tests have a false negative rate, so increasing the amount of tainted blood coming in is going to increase the chances that some will slip through.

        In the long term, if this faction continues to win political victories it will be increasingly difficult to discriminate by disease risk. I for one really don’t want indiscriminate blood collection! You’d think that if anything was a reasonable minimum bar, ” almost certainly doesn’t have a deadly disease” would be it.

        I’d rather be proactive and secure an alternate blood supply before things get much worse.

        • rlms says:

          Indiscriminate blood collection is not being instituted. Blood banks will still refuse to accept blood from people with HIV (and men who have had sex with men in the past year, and women who have had sex with the aforementioned men), it’s just that one way in which HIV positive people who give blood can be punished is being removed. Unless you think that there are large numbers of knowingly HIV positive people who would love to break the rules and donate blood, but are afraid of committing a crime, nothing is going to change.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            I went through the trouble of distinguishing my short-term and long-term concerns, it would be polite if you acknowledged that difference.

            I do expect this to lead to a significant increase in the amount of contaminated blood donated in the next year. But that’s not the biggest problem:

            Blood banks will still refuse to accept blood from people with HIV (and men who have had sex with men in the past year, and women who have had sex with the aforementioned men)

            For how long?

            Because the same ideology that supports decriminalizing donation by HIV+s already objects to restrictions on MSM blood donation.

            It looks like we’re in stage 1 of how every single LGBT issue in the last few decades has gone:

            “Nobody wants X, you conspiracy theorist!”

            Xists win.

            “How dare you oppose X, you bigot!”

          • rlms says:

            “I do expect this to lead to a significant increase in the amount of contaminated blood donated in the next year.”
            Please define “significant” and explain why you believe that. Do you agree with my characterisation of the group who could cause a short term increase? I would expect it to contain very few people: wanting to do something with bad indirect effects that doesn’t benefit you, but being too scared of the law to actually do it seems like an unusual state of mind.

            “For how long?”
            There’s an obvious difference between banning blood that is by definition bad, and banning blood that comes from a group that has a disproportionately large amount of bad blood. The latter probably will change at some point, not least because the cost of screening for HIV and proportion of gay men with it are decreasing*. I’m pretty certain that the former isn’t going to change any time soon.

            *It seems to me that policy should be to keep restrictions on common blood types, and relax them on highly desirable ones. This would be good in a cost-benefit sense, and also make the sensible rationale behind restrictions clearer.

  2. Jaskologist says:

    Could one of you steelman this, because it just looks like pure madness to me:

    Starting January 1, it will no longer be a felony in California to knowingly expose a sexual partner to HIV with the intent of transmitting the virus. Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Friday that lowers the offense to a misdemeanor.

    The new law will also eliminate the penalty for knowingly donating HIV-infected blood. This action is a felony under current law and will be decriminalized starting in January. Supporters of the change argue the previous law was antiquated because all donated blood is tested for HIV.

    • dndnrsn says:

      The argument generally made, or at least the best argument generally made, is that laws criminalizing exposure create perverse incentives: people will avoid getting tested if testing positive would put more obligations on them, and people who are positive and don’t know it are more of a public health risk than people who are positive and on treatment.

      As for blood, I’m not sure what the reasoning is.

      • Deiseach says:

        Possibly with blood because it seems to me that America gets its blood supply via paying for blood. People who sell their blood probably need money, and the kind of (small) amounts paid that would make a difference like that are people on very low incomes or who need a lot of cash for reasons. So you’re going to have disproportionate amounts of people at high risk for HIV (like drug addicts, ex-cons, sex workers, etc) selling their blood, and if you scare these people off, you are not going to have enough blood for your needs (healthy people don’t voluntarily donate in sufficient amounts).

        I think it’s stupid because there have already been scandals over blood products made with imported American commercial products which were contaminated with the Hepatitis-C virus, in Ireland, the UK and (I think) Canada. We also had another scandal when women receiving Anti-D immunoglobulin contracted Hep-C from contaminated blood donated in Ireland and made into blood products by our Blood Transfusion Board, but that came before the HIV from bought-in products affair.

        It just needs one slip-up when treating the donated blood, somebody gets infected, and there you go Jerry, here’s a court case against the State of California.

      • John Schilling says:

        Possibly with blood because it seems to me that America gets its blood supply via paying for blood.

        Actually not. Basically all whole blood donation and most blood plasma donation for direct human transfusion in the United States comes from unpaid volunteers. The stereotype of the skid-row drunk donating blood to pay for booze (or worse), refers to paid blood plasma donations that get fractionated down to bare proteins and processed into various pharmaceutical products, which mostly gets rid of any unwanted viruses, etc, along the way.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      It does seem like madness to me, but at least the first section isn’t a decriminalization – just lowering the severity. It strikes me as misguided virtue signalling “HIV+ are people too”. The specific wording of “knowingly expose a sexual partner to HIV with the intent of transmitting the virus” makes that harder to steelman, but maybe it comes from the reporting.

      The latter part, though, I cannot fathom. It’s like saying credit card fraud should be decriminalized because you can call Visa and get them to reverse the charges.

      Maybe it is all just an extreme form of “HIV+ are people too”: “HIV+ ain’t nothing to be worried about – let’s have chicken pox parties, but for adults (yay orgies)”. I think this is a particularly dangerous view of public health to have, but I can sorta see where it could come from.

      And it doesn’t reflect well on the proponents’ coherence that this happened in the state where damn near everything has “may cause cancer” warnings. Perhaps those have contributed to Californians’ blasé attitudes toward public health?

      That the governor and legislature went along with such a thing is recklessly negligent, though.

    • Thegnskald says:

      I would guess the former law caused more problems than it solved; intent is notoriously difficult to prove, and it opens up the possibility of a criminal trial anytime anybody contracts AIDS. A quick Google search suggests that, in the twenty nine years the law has been on the books, there have been seven convictions. There is a related law of exposing someone without informing them that has a higher number of convictions (350?), and apparently the vast majority of convictees were sex workers. I can’t find the number of cases that went to trial without convictions.

      And the latter change looks like a prelude to allowing gay men to donate blood, since right now AIDS is basically the reason they aren’t allowed to, and there was a lot of support from the LGBT communities for that change.

    • Chalid says:

      If treatment can reduce HIV to undetectable levels in blood, is that blood then safe to donate? If it is then decriminalizing donations from HIV-positive people and just directly testing the blood for safety seems like the right move.

      For exposing a partner – are there similar laws for other diseases?

      • Randy M says:

        That would depend on the relative need for blood and the price of universalizing such treatments, as well as their reliability. If I carried a fatal illness, I can’t imagine donating blood and putting the responsibility for making it safe in someone else’s hands.

        • Chalid says:

          The article said all blood is already tested so the price is zero. No idea about reliability though.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            If you ignore the costs of extraction, transport, and disposal.

          • Randy M says:

            You said treatment the first time, not just testing.

            Oh, you meant the carrier is being treated, which lowers the amount in the blood to perhaps below detectable level? That’s an interesting question as to if that is then safe. I sure don’t know; but is the blood supply in that desperate need to be worth the risk?

            It seems like more a point of pride than an actual concern for public health.

          • Chalid says:

            you meant the carrier is being treated

            Yes, I meant that the carrier was being treated and therefore had undetectable levels of HIV in his blood. Sorry for the confusion.

            Without knowing anything about the topic I’d guess donation from such a source was very low risk – you can’t get HIV from kissing, and saliva can contain detectable HIV? But that’s just completely unresearched speculation.

          • Randy M says:

            Without knowing anything about the topic I’d guess donation from such a source was very low risk – you can’t get HIV from kissing, and saliva can contain detectable HIV?

            I think the vector of entry is as important as the fluid. Seems like one won’t get it from oral sex unless there are some sort of open sores in the mouth. (Of course, that still falls under “not worth the risk” for me as well)

    • Matt M says:

      I remember hearing an argument that exposing people to other very serious, difficult/expensive to cure diseases carried a significantly lighter punishment – implying that HIV was being unfairly singled out for reasons unrelated to the severity/difficulty to cure (and we can all guess what people think those reasons might be). The follow-on implication is that this law is designed to treat HIV equally to other diseases, not necessarily to say “it’s okay to deliberately infect people with disease”

    • John Schilling says:

      1. There was definitely a problem with the old law treating HIV and e.g. Syphillis differently. With the (somewhat dubious) perception that AIDS is the “Gay STD” and Syphillis is the “straight STD”, that just looks like outright discrimination in a way that government policy shouldn’t.

      2. “Criminalize X, and you just drive it underground where you can’t treat the victims”, has some ugly failure modes where there is a second group of victims who know damn well who wronged them but can get no justice from the courts under the current laws.

      3. Cue the usual litany of how HIV is now no big deal because it is so easy to treat, heck, all the cool people have it, what are you all whining about. It is still expensive to treat, and even if the drugs become cheap managing the treatment regimen, the side effects and complications, probably isn’t going to be trivial. Which brings us to:

      It may be not be a crime to for an HIV carrier to have unprotected sex without prior notification, but it’s hard to see how it isn’t a tort. What happens the first time some insurance company files a suit saying, “Your reckless behavior infected our customer with a deadly chronic disease, such that we are now on the hook for several $100k in expected treatment costs. We just noticed that you have a house, and we want it”.

      Actually, I’m kind of wondering why that hasn’t happened yet. The optics would be terrible for the median HIV case, but there have to have been terribly unsympathetic individuals who can be positively identified as the vector for infection of an insured and telegenic victim.

      I’d go with, it should be on the books as a crime for HIV, syphillis, and all the rest, with rules of evidence and mens rea requirements that make it difficult to indict in practice.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Regarding treating it as a tort, when you look up the cases (at least in Canada) of criminal exposure/transmission, the people on trial are rarely people who have tons of assets to go after.

      • BBA says:

        It wasn’t just STDs. Under previous California law, intentionally exposing someone to “any contagious, infectious, or communicable disease” (like, say, ebola) was a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of six months. HIV was singled out for much harsher penalties.

        The new law establishes a single penalty, and also restricts its application to diseases with “significant public health implications,” because you just know there’s an overzealous DA who would try to prosecute someone for giving him a cold.

  3. johan_larson says:

    Sears Canada is shutting down.

    http://www.blogto.com/city/2017/10/sears-canada-going-out-business/

    Amazing. One of the true giants of retailing laid low by the move to online sales. This is going to have some big consequences for malls, many of which were already in trouble, since Sears stores were often anchor tenants.

    • Chalid says:

      Sears has been run by hedge fund ESL Investments for some time, and their philosophy has been to squeeze the business for cash instead of investing in it. (Which hasn’t really worked out well for them in the long term.)

  4. bzium says:

    I just stumbled upon this: http://ncase.me/trust/

    It’s called The Evolution of Trust and it’s a sort of interactive essay on game theory, trust and cooperation. It interleaves text, minigames, simulations and is probably relevant to interests of SSC readers. It’s also adorable and moving.

  5. johan_larson says:

    Every sport has something wrong with it.

    Basketball: too high-scoring
    Soccer: too low-scoring
    Boxing: too violent
    Golf: not violent enough

    What’s wrong with your favourite (or least favourite) sport?

    • Aapje says:

      Field hockey: hard to watch (small ball and fast play)
      Cricket: too complex (parody)
      Formula 1: too processional
      Boxing: stupid to let a knocked out person recover
      Soccer/football: unwilling to adapt the rules to make the game more fun with today’s fit and capable players
      Road bike racing: teams too large, causing too much cooperation
      Judo: defense is too strong, causing many decisions by ‘inactivity’ penalties
      American football: long stretches of nothing happening are interrupted by brief moments of action
      Culture war: too many injuries

      • Doctor Mist says:

        That parody of cricket was either cripplingly funny or too slow, but of course when you realize you’re thinking it’s too slow, that’s funny, too.

    • bean says:

      Baseball: Takes too long.
      Cricket: It’s like someone took the baseball rulebook and said “How can we make it longer?”
      Football (American): The Western Front as sport. Teams of men in helmets spend most of their time doing very little. Occasionally, they line up, one attacks the other, there’s a bunch of violence and some territory maybe changes hands. Repeat.
      Formula 1: Too many restrictions on solving problems on the cars during a race weekend. It’s not particularly enjoyable when someone who should be up front is stuck at the back due to a blown turbo or something.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      It’s become sort of a pet issue for me that the basketball 3 point shot is worth too much when compared to other ways of scoring.

    • John Schilling says:

      Air racing: We’re running out of airworthy P-51s so I can no longer feel it is OK for someone to mutilate a piece of history to get an extra few knots of speed, and the other classes can’t compete with Unlimited Piston because of, well, limits.

      Sport hunting: Too few butcher shops still willing to process game, plus the image problem due to canned hunts and high-profile idiots.

      • bean says:

        Air racing: We’re running out of airworthy P-51s so I can no longer feel it is OK for someone to mutilate a piece of history to get an extra few knots of speed, and the other classes can’t compete with Unlimited Piston because of, well, limits.

        That’s easy to solve. Remove the restriction that they have to use warbirds.

        • John Schilling says:

          There was no such restriction prior to 2013; it was still always the chopped Mustangs (and occasional Sea Furies and Bearcats) that dominated the field, except in the early days when nobody had figured out that you could chop a Mustang for speed. In theory, if resources weren’t a constraint, a clean-sheet design without vestigial combat requirements should have the edge over something that is e.g. dragging empty gun bays through the sky, but in economic reality the ability to freeload on the WWII military-industrial complex’s engineering work is a much bigger edge.

          This will eventually change, but the “first we wear out or crash enough P-51s that nobody can afford to fly the survivors” part of the process is problematic.

          • bean says:

            So long as they restrict themselves to P-51s, I can’t be too heartbroken about it. When I went to the Planes of Fame airshow, there were lots of times I wished they had fewer of the things so they’d put something else up instead.

            Edit: This is a little unfair. Yes, we shouldn’t be destroying pieces of history for racing, even if it is a plane that is, IMO, given way too much glory and that we have proportionately too many of.

          • John Schilling says:

            Agreed, but in the immediate postwar environment almost nobody cared about what was going to be historically significant and everybody with money cared about what was still useful. The P-51 was the least-useless piston fighter of the early Jet Age, so maybe half of them stayed on with the new USAF or the ANGs, and the other half were cheap for civilians to buy surplus and cheap-ish to operate insofar as the manufacturer was still supporting the product. The Bearcats and Corsairs lasted for a bit, but carrier deck space was always too short to waste on anything second-rate. Almost everything else either got scrapped or got turned into a target drone until it wore out or was shot down.

            So for anything but a first-rate air museum, it may be a Mustang or nothing, and even the first-rate museums it’s going to be one each of a few things plus several sorts of Mustangs and a Mustang formation demo team. Sigh.

      • johan_larson says:

        Sport hunting: Too few butcher shops still willing to process game …

        Liability concerns?

        • John Schilling says:

          That and local health codes, I believe, but I haven’t researched it in great detail.

        • engleberg says:

          Two butcher shops where I live are happy to cut up your deer. Putting venison up for sale, never, asking for liability, but butchers like getting paid.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Fencing: Fencing is the only combat sport I’m aware of that restricts participants movement to one dimension. I’m assuming that came from some set of dueling rules but it makes the sport much less fun to play and less exciting to watch. Put fencers in an octagon!

      • AnthonyC says:

        As a former saber fencer, I agree. I’d also be interested in figuring out rules for mixed-weapon bouts.

        • jimmy says:

          I’d always wondered why they did that but I’ve never fenced. In boxing and MMA circling is important, but it seems more so in wrestling. I’m wondering if the larger distance makes circling less important because the angular rates are low enough that the guy can always turn to face before you can create an angle.

          Does that fit your experience fencing, or are you pretty confident that adding a dimension would be a big change?

          • Nornagest says:

            Former epeeist here. Classical fencers sometimes fence “in the round” — using a circle of 15 feet diameter or so instead of a piste. It changes the game pretty substantially, especially at close range, although it’s harder for an effective defense to bring you off the line on the thrust than it is on the cut.

            I don’t know where the use of the piste comes from, but I suspect it was implemented to ease scoring: in the days before electric sensors, a panel of judges scored each touch, and reliably judging touches would have been nearly impossible at certain angles.

          • Lillian says:

            In HEMA tournaments they solved this by having various judges viewing from multiple angles. Each one reports independently if they saw a touch, the point is awarded if at least half of them saw it.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Oh wow, another HEMA geek on SSC. Super cool! I wonder if I’ve seen you (it’s still a pretty small crowd).

            Aye, four judges in a formal match, plus a director. It can get pretty interesting. The judges start at four corners of the 15-foot ring, but can and will scurry around to get a better look at the fighters. Also, the director has final say on the scoring. I’ve seen a director side with the 1 in a 3-1 judge split (if it’s 4-0, they will virtually always go with the 4). I’ve also seen directors rule that a touch was not “quality” – the flat of the blade struck, rather than the edge – and award no points despite a definite touch.

            The director may also award 1, 2, or 4 points depending on the location of the hit, and there are things like open or closed doubles – basically, one fighter lands a hit, but is unable to defend against counterattack – which further complicates judging.

            I might be getting some of this detail wrong, and I know I’m leaving a lot out, but this is what I’ve learned from watching two competitions and hanging out with judges.

    • dndnrsn says:

      MMA: the nature of matchmaking means that it’s in the fighters’ interest to do pro-wrestling style feuds, etc.
      BJJ: fun to do, pretty boring to watch.
      Judo: the rules are increasingly cryptic and have resulted in the athletes playing to the rules excessively.

      • Charles F says:

        I’m not seeing the problem with pro-wrestling style feuds. Are there a lot of good match-ups that don’t happen because of it?

        • dndnrsn says:

          Well, matchup decisions already get made based on what sells vs who’s the best, and having the feuding just amplifies that.

    • johan_larson says:

      I am happy to report that there is a British Human Powered Flying Club, and they organize an annual competition called the Icarus Cup, with prize money, even.

      https://www.aerosociety.com/media/6264/bhpfc-raes-icarus-cup-2017-competition-poster.pdf

      The problem with this sport is that it’s too exhausting.

    • Wrong Species says:

      What’s wrong with high scoring?

      • hlynkacg says:

        It dilutes the value of individual plays, and thus play/counter-play in general.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Low-scoring can do that too, if taken too far. To my American view, soccer lacks intermediate objectives. If scores and saves are the only individual plays that matter, there’s less to really celebrate for the other 90% of the game.

          Whereas one of the things baseball gets right (possibly overdoes) is an abundance of discrete sub-goals. Every hit, out, arguably even pitch, can be exciting and – with the still relatively low-scoring nature – every play has the potential to be big.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Good point.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            American football does it too, and in a much less annoying way than baseball. Field position counting means that there’s a difference between an 8 yard unsuccessful drive and a 40 yard unsuccessful drive in a way that there’s just not between any unsuccessful attempts on the goals in soccer.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            @sandoratthezoo

            Ah, true, football does it too. Baseball just came first to mind due to playoff season 🙂

            Mind expanding on what you mean by “much less annoying way”? I’m not a big baseball fan in general, but I’ve always had trouble grokking all the hate it gets. I suspect it comes from being enamored with turn-based games in general.

            Conversely, I’ve often thought that football’s system utterly despises serendipity (a confirmation-bias-approved sense that any time something unexpected happens it has to be rolled back) so it’s hard for me to get into.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I think that’s why people tolerate more breaks in American football, because there is more gaps to gameplay but more moments matter. Soccer is so unsatisfying because so little happens but something big could happen so you always have to be watching closely in case it does. In football, every first down feels like an accomplishment, even if it ends up leading nowhere. And if you have a really good run but don’t get the touchdown, you can at least get the field goal, so it doesn’t feel like a waste.

          • Matt M says:

            If scores and saves are the only individual plays that matter, there’s less to really celebrate for the other 90% of the game.

            Ah but the more you celebrate, the less value each celebration carries.

            I vastly prefer hockey or soccer to basketball for this very reason. Your celebrations are more meaningful. A goal really matters in a way that even the most spectacular basket, a cool slam dunk or a deep three-point shot, simply doesn’t.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            So I guess a few things:

            1. Baseball has 9 breaks in which everything resets. Football has one (halftime). Baseball is often an exercise in boredom when innings go by 0-0, or frustration when you get a guy on second and then there are two strike-outs and that progression resets.

            2. I think that baseball strategy is less immediately legible. A real fan gets a lot out of watching subtle variations, but to the uninitiated, it kind of looks like a guy comes up to bat, tries to hit the ball as far as he can, lather-rinse-repeat. Football has immediately obvious strategy differences like running versus passing, punting vs field goals vs going for it. A batter might be trying to do two very different things when he comes up to the plate, but unless you’re fairly far into the game already, it all looks the same to you. All pitches look the same, too, although at least on TV they kind of walk you through that a little.

            3. So much of baseball is failure. Typically on a football drive, you move the ball forward at least a little. Baseball is one guy after another striking out or flying out. It’s just more engaging/less frustrating to see people accomplish something.

            Also also also: The pace of scoring is so much less clumpy in football. It kind of feels like the difference in baseball between scoring one point in an inning and three is as much luck as anything else. Did your clump of breaks from the failure happen mostly together or spread out through the game? A double might score you 0 points or it might score you 2 points. If you’re up by 5, you could lose all that in two innings.

            In football, if a team puts together scoring drive after scoring drive after scoring drive, it feels to me like they’re actually playing better. In baseball, it feels like a lot of the variance in score comes from whether your singles happen in inning 6 or 7. I acknowledge that this is probably less true than it seems to me, and that in fact baseball teams are exploiting opportunities to score. But it’s hard for me to see it.

            TL;DR: I find baseball very frustrating.

          • johan_larson says:

            I suspect my ideal game would have something like one scoring opportunity per minute, and something like 20% of scoring attempts actually succeeding. Scoring should be hard, but not impossibly way-in-the-distance hard.

            It should be possible to study this empirically, by devising parameterized games and studying how much people actually get into them for various values of alpha, beta, and other fancy greek letters.

          • John Schilling says:

            …something like one scoring opportunity per minute, and something like 20% of scoring attempts actually succeeding.

            Right, but they should score only a minuscule number of points. There should also be a completely different scoring opportunity that happens only once per game, involves only one player on the team, immediately ends the game, and scores so many points that it doesn’t matter what happened before. Then all the other players who were doing the irrelevant stuff can tell the uber-scorer what a hero he is for single-handedly winning the game. Trust me, it will be awesome.

            Well, OK, maybe not.

          • Nornagest says:

            A subtler issue with Quidditch is that so much of the action comes from players vs. the environment rather than player vs. player. The Snitch is totally independent of player action until it gets caught; the Bludgers get moved around by players but they attack indiscriminately.

            That must have some weird effects on play at different skill levels. Unless there’s some way to set the difficulty, but that would have some weird strategic effects too, being as different teams have different strengths.

          • Matt M says:

            I suspect my ideal game would have something like one scoring opportunity per minute, and something like 20% of scoring attempts actually succeeding. Scoring should be hard, but not impossibly way-in-the-distance hard.

            I think ice hockey is relatively close to this.

            On average, each team tends to get 20-30 “shots on goal” (reasonable proxy for scoring opportunities) per game (games are 60 minutes, if each team gets 30 shots, thats one per minute). Teams also average about 2-3 goals per game, which is about a 10% chance rather than 20.

      • gbdub says:

        What hlynkacg said – but also that it makes the games less random, with fewer upsets. It reduces the value of (and the ability to even notice) good defense. A “Great Play” is still only worth a tiny fraction of what you need to win.

        It’s why I can’t stand basketball as a spectator – any “good” game, the first 3 quarters are basically pointless, because the teams will invariably be within a few points, easily made up. And then the last couple minutes of the game will be dramatic, but a slog due to deliberate fouling and free throws.

        (That’s actually my favorite potential change to basketball rules – in the last 5 minutes of a game, allow a team in the “bonus” to either take a free throw, or take possession out of bounds. “Double bonus”, and they also get a fresh shot clock.)

    • Nornagest says:

      Football (American): not enough actual game and too much standing around between plays. Scoring is a little baroque.

      Basketball: not enough strategy, especially on defense.

      Baseball: good strategic balance, but just not fun to watch unless you’re drunk.

      Formula 1: reminiscent of watching soap bubbles in the bath and betting on which one gets to the drain first.

      Boxing: too hyperspecialized, goes on too long unless it’s decided by knockout, pay-per-view is the devil.

      Judo: too hyperspecialized, all the fun moves are banned.

      Fencing: too linear, action’s too fast to follow on TV, right-of-way rules for foil and saber are silly outside a training context.

      MMA: was more interesting before it started developing its own sui generis fighting style. Pay-per-view is still the devil.

  6. AutisticThinker says:

    Clipping nails
    Anyone else hates having short fingernails? Due to autism-induced sensitivity I can’t stand having short fingernails at all. As long as the nails are slightly longer than the fingertips it is OK. Otherwise it is REALLY uncomfortable.

    Hell fingernails were the first reason why the AT vs evil conformist societies conflicts ever existed. Idiotic social norms and parents who imposed them helped make me an absolute individualist.

    • bean says:

      I’m the exact other way around. I cannot stand it if I don’t trim my fingernails every 4 days or so.

    • Charles F says:

      It seems like programmers generally hate having short fingernails, and I have no idea why. Go from normal society into a CS class and suddenly there are claws everywhere. I try to have 1-2mm of the white bits at the end, and I wouldn’t be able to stand letting them grow out to my fingertips.

      I can’t stand filing my nails though, for some reason, so they’re usually a little rough.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        It seems like programmers generally hate having short fingernails, and I have no idea why. Go from normal society into a CS class and suddenly there are claws everywhere.

        I would surmise that it’s a “college student with a major stereotyped for poor social skills and personal hygiene” to be the cause, not a general programmers thing. Long fingernails are awful for working on a keyboard all day. I code for a living and am only recently trying to see if I can get the nail-beds to grow back out a bit after years of compulsively combating white bits that get >1mm.

    • Vorkon says:

      Worst of both worlds, here. I hate having my fingernails TOO short, and it makes me feel weird whenever I pick anything up with them in that state, but when they get too LONG I feel alternately like there’s some sort of weight on the end of my fingers, or like there’s something growing inside my fingers trying to burst out. I need to trim them JUUUUUUUST right every couple days, or else it becomes massively distracting. (Well, at least on my thumb and index finger. I can handle to “too short, feels weird to pick things up” feeling on all the rest of my fingers, for the most part, so I can at least cut those ones short and not have to worry about them for a week or two. But I’m pretty much always messing with the thumb and index finger.)

    • Nornagest says:

      Fingernails can’t be more than 2 mm long or so if you practice jujitsu, or they get snagged on your opponent’s gi and potentially torn off. It’s not pleasant. Longer ones are harder to keep clean, too.

  7. Perico says:

    Greetings, fellow humans! Here is a review for a game that is relevant to our interests: paperclips! A clicker game that puts you in charge of a paperclip factory – perhaps not the most exciting of genres, but who needs sophisticated game mechanics when you can enjoy simple pleasures like increasing the amount of paperclips in the universe?

    • johan_larson says:

      Good work. When the day comes, you will be put to work making paperclips, not serving as raw material for them.

    • rahien.din says:

      I hit a stall once I left the planet. I have sent out probes, and have discovered matter, and have built drones and factories… but matter is not even being acquired. [Screenshot]

      Any hints? Oh for pity’s sake. Drones were all on “think.”

    • Nick says:

      I had to try this on my lunch break, but the page RPS links isn’t loading. Is it down for other folks?

  8. Jacob Kopczynski says:

    Does anyone have a good analysis of the health and longevity benefits of aerobic vs. anaerobic exercise?
    I have a theory that the effect size of the difference should be small, consistent with it being a class/wealth confounder that’s inadequately adjusted for. (Cardio being upper-class and strength training being lower-class.) I can’t seem to find the sources that underly standard recommendations or quantitative results, though.

  9. Deiseach says:

    I’m only after reading this now, and I don’t know what’s more embarrassing; North Korea is so badly off, it has to hack Meath County Council, or that it nearly worked:

    Investigators now believe the attempted €4.3m cyber raid carried out against Meath County Council in October 2016 originated in North Korea.

    The funds were frozen in a bank account in Hong Kong just minutes before they were scheduled to be transferred.
    The attempted fraud was carried out on October 28 and the council admitted it was “a highly sophisticated” attack.

    Cyber thieves impersonated the identity of chief executive Jackie Maguire, and issued a fake instruction to a junior council employee for the funds to be transferred overseas.

    Perhaps it was revenge for this? 🙂

    • Bugmaster says:

      If anything, you should be happy that the Meath County Council survived a deliberate cyberattack. That is pretty impressive, given that massively powerful organizations like Equifax are leaking data all over the place without help from anyone at all.

      • Deiseach says:

        Given that the “sophistication” of the attack was probably along the lines of “hey, give us all your money, thanks”, I don’t know about that! Nobody thought “Okay, the CEO wants me to send this money to Hong Kong? Maybe I should check this first?”

        I’m more impressed that North Korean hackers even heard of Meath! 🙂

    • Nornagest says:

      They’re probably just after the money. North Korea is not as badly off as it was a decade or so ago, in terms of its internal economy, but if anything it’s more strapped for cash in currencies that it can use externally. Cyberattacks are one of the creative ways it’s come up with to raise those funds.

  10. Thegnskald says:

    Thought:

    What if government agencies were required to set up both a “Failure” and a “Success” condition?

    On a Failure, everybody in a management position is fired immediately.

    On a Success, everybody in the agency is given a substantial bonus (say, a year’s salary and benefits) and laid off. (And given preferential hiring status in other government agencies)

    So some agencies might not have an achievable goal – as long as there is crime, we need the FBI, and I don’t foresee not having crime – but it would help avert mission creep.

    And a failure condition would avert the tendency of US government agencies to engage in brinkmanship to prove a need for increased funding; you might get more funding for your agency, but it won’t be your agency anymore.

    Thoughts?

    • baconbacon says:

      1. “there is always crime so we need the FBI” will immediately turn into “there is always poverty, so we NEEEEED HUD/Foodstamps/SS. There is also always pollution so we need the EPA, always workplace accidents so we need OHSA, always terrorists so we need the TSA”. The primary function of every group will become exaggerating how bad everything is.

      2. Exaggerating how bad everything is also allows you easier ways to find statistical improvements to get your big ole bonuses. In the long run the least scrupulous, best salesmen will end up with tons of cash, and the most honest and humble will end up losing their jobs/departments.

      3. Oh great, so now we have another regulatory committee designed to oversee these other groups, who overseas them? I guess we just assume that they are benevolent and wise and move on from there?

    • cassander says:

      What if government agencies were required to set up both a “Failure” and a “Success” condition?

      On a Failure, everybody in a management position is fired immediately.

      On a Success, everybody in the agency is given a substantial bonus (say, a year’s salary and benefits) and laid off. (And given preferential hiring status in other government agencies)

      Putting aside that such a system would be immediately sued out of existence by the federal employee unions, the system would be immediately gamed so that all projects resulted in success, much the way all VA managers are above average. This would happen first at the lowest levels, and would percolate up the chain of command, because at every level, no one wants to admit that they oversaw a massive failure, which would make it more likely that they’d also be lustrated.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Give an example of a government agency which has a mission with an end condition. There probably are a few, but they are not the major agencies.

      And further, the general thing that you’re trying to do (set up incentives that matter) would probably be much more effectively accomplished by creating some kind of market, even a fairly artificial one, than a giant blunt-force true/false condition.

    • BBA says:

      You’re just describing a variation on a sunset clause. PROTIP: sunset clauses don’t work. The legislature can’t bind its future instances and future legislatures will keep renewing them forever. (See, e.g., the “temporary postwar measure” that is rent control in NYC, still in force 70 years later, currently set to expire in 2019.)

      Using sunset clauses for everything, as is mandatory in Texas, can lead to embarrassing failures, such as when the governor had to call the legislature into special session because they forgot to renew the TX Department of Transportation and it was about to expire.

    • . says:

      Huh, does the private sector ever do this?

    • Aapje says:

      @Thegnskald

      A substantial part of outcomes is outside of the power of the agency. You also see this for politicians, who often get credit for riding economic recoveries or blame for economic downturns, despite the existence of Kitchin, Juglar and Kuznets cycles.

      That is on a large scale, but luck based outcomes also happen on smaller scales. So the more serious the punishment, the more risk averse and unambitious the government will become. This is sub-optimal in the same way as it is sub-optimal to always arrive two hours early at every event to make sure you are never late. By artificially increasing costs of certain outcomes, people are forced to incur substantial costs to avoid those outcomes, even though those costs are larger than the actual benefits.

  11. Mark says:

    I like this Weird Al Yankovic song: Foil.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I do too! I like the Lorde song as well, so basically I like the underlying tune, but I thought that the video was an amazingly well-thought out execution of “How could I change a song from being Royals to Foil?”

  12. AnthonyC says:

    Just highlighting a shout out to Scott from David Brooks at the New York Times, who includes him in a list of “individual beacons of intellectual honesty” in a column called “The Art of Thinking Well.”

  13. Futurist concepts that are unreasonable.

    The Singularity: it’s too vague to be a meaningful thing to think about. If it’s literally interpreted as advancement that continues getting faster infinitely, then it’s physically impossible. If it’s interpreted as advancement that’s too fast for humans to measure, then this is also impossible since in order for the advancement to mean anything it will have to have real world physical consequences. Really really fast advancement might involve an artificial intelligence bootstrapping itself upwards, but any improvements that we can bear witness to will take place at speeds bound by the laws of physics (and speeds survivable by humans assuming it’s a friendly AI), and will begin to decelerate as ultimate physical limits are realized.

    If it’s instead just some idea of WOAH REALLY FAST DUDE, then the truly relevant thing is the super-intelligent AGI, and not some half baked idea of really fast advancement. I’ve read one of Kurzweil’s books, and he seems to be a smart guy, but when he drifts away from technical topics to discussing “The Singularity” it comes across as if he’s just masturbating to infinity.

    Post-scarcity: Literal post-scarcity is impossible, as there’s no way to create energy ex nihilo, but that’s a strawman as what people who talk about post-scarcity actually mean is some vague idea about universally high living standards because we’ve found more efficient ways to utilize all of the stuff that already exists. In this sense, technology is a scarcity liberating resource, but only in a relative sense. The whole concept isn’t very profound at all, because if we’re talking in such vague, relative terms then we could define our time as being “post-scarcity” so long as what we actually mean is post-(a particular level of)scarcity(in terms of how much already existing matter and energy we can utilize). Scarcity is the one thing that isn’t scarce; it will always be with us, whether meatbags or God-like artilects.

    Futurist concepts that are reasonable:

    Full automation: The idea that automation technology can advance enough that it can be 100% automated, closing the loop, and creating a system where machines are responsible for all economically quantified labor, including the maintenance and production of machines. This is possible because the only thing standing in the way of it is the realization by machines of the same capabilities that are already physically realized by human beings. Therefore, unlike relative vagaries like “The Singularity”, and “post-scarcity”, this is a concrete, physically realizable idea with a clear end state, which will in the process of realizing, have a profound effect on how human society functions.

    CONCLUSION:
    The Singularity and post-scarcity are trash tier waifus and should not be discussed nay more.

  14. keranih says:

    In keeping with the theme of the thread: favorite dystopia depictions in literature?

    I’m tempted to lead with Robert Creally but will instead content myself with The Silver Chair as the oldest one I can remember.

    (I would ask that people keep to overt dystopias, even if anvil-ful, rather than arguable cases like the Star Trek universe.)

    • Well... says:

      I’m kinda curious how a person would decide what his “favorite” dystopia is. Seems like you could do this several not-necessarily-mutually-exclusive ways:

      – The dystopia you’d least want to live in.
      – The dystopia you’d most want to live in.
      – The dystopia that happens to be part of the best piece of literature, or in which the most exciting thing happens, or some other such thing.
      – A dystopia that is most impressive for some reason or another.
      – Any of the above combined with some measure of plausibility (meaning, we could actually wind up there).

      • Wrong Species says:

        I think it’s the most thought provoking. My knowledge of dystopian literature is pretty low but I thought one of the futures that Nick Bostrom described in Superintelligence was equal parts fascinating and disturbing. He talked about the possibility of a “slow take-off” in the development of artificial intelligence where people either end up replaced by multiple AI or they achieve whole brain emulation but competitive pressure eliminates consciousness. In this multi polar world:

        We could thus imagine, as an extreme case, a technologically highly advanced society, containing many complex structures, some of them far more intricate and intelligent than anything that exists on the planet today— a society which nevertheless lacks any type of being that is conscious or whose welfare has moral significance. In a sense, this would be an uninhabited society. It would be a society of economic miracles and technological awesomeness, with nobody there to benefit. A Disneyland without children.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Most want to live in, while remaining a dystopia: “Brave New World”. (of course I want to be a Beta. Alphas work frightfully hard, and Gammas are so terribly dumb)

      Least want to live in that’s plausible: I’ll go for the classic _1984_. Pure grind, provided you don’t get any dumb ideas.

      Least want to live in overall: There are many, but off the top of my head, Camazotz from _A Wrinkle In Time_. _I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream_ is up there too.

    • shakeddown says:

      I’d go with Beta Colony. Not that it’s super-dystopian, but it manages to make “world of science and reason and free sex” look hella depressing in a believable (and possibly unintentional) way.

      • keranih says:

        Well, that’s California for you, no?

        (This is what I thought of when I read engleberg’s comment below, about Known Space.)

    • Said Achmiz says:

      Lem’s Return From the Stars—favorite because most realistic.

    • The Red Foliot says:

      The one we are living in now is Brave New World. That which comes next is Player Piano. The solution to it involves the fate which befell Atlas Shrugged, which leads us into an era of Alastor: Wyst 1716.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Hoi chummer, I’m surprised that the world of Shadowrun hadn’t been mentioned yet. It’s really not all that terrible, even if you are a Runner.

    • Atlas says:

      A mildly obscure one that I quite like is Eoin Colfer’s the Supernaturalist. I wrote a bit about it in a comment on the past OT.

      I also really like the world of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the Sun.

      • Nornagest says:

        Book of the New Sun is amazing and I love its setting, but I don’t think I’d call it a dystopia (well, as long as you don’t happen to be Ascian, or fall under the care of the Seekers of Truth and Penitence). It’s not a particularly nice place to live, but it wasn’t designed that way, and it’s not meant as a cautionary tale or even really a focus of the story; that’s just what naturally happens when you stay home until your resources run out and you’re reduced to an ever-diminishing cycle of scavenging, subsistence farming, and ganking whatever bits of alien supertech you can scrounge up. It feels medieval because it is medieval.

        • Atlas says:

          Yeah, I was thinking about this question before posting, but I think I would respectfully disagree. Possibly to some extent it’s a semantic dispute (I don’t think that intent on either the author’s part or characters in-world is necessary for a world to be a dystopia).

          But to me at least the world Severian travels through is so incredibly vicious that it seems unarguably a dystopia. Whether through human hubris, cowardice, or some other failing, this world’s environment, political order, artistic and material culture, social trust, etc.—in short, all the valuable things that human civilization has tried to build and pass on— have collapsed thoroughly. To me, that seems to be the essence of dystopia.

          Though again, I emphasize that I think this is a subjective matter of personal judgement, and unlike in other arenas I wouldn’t say that two competing views can’t both be “right” (or at least not “wrong”.)

          • Nornagest says:

            Fair enough. I think of dystopia as a genre; like all genre definitions it’s fuzzy around the edges, but it has more to do with how the story works and what the author’s trying to do with it than with any details of the setting. Central examples would be something like Bioshock or The Handmaid’s Tale, where the plot functions as a guided tour of the machine that’s making everyone miserable; marginal examples would be something more like Neuromancer or the film version of Starship Troopers, which are conventionally plotted and where background detail does most of the heavy lifting, but where we’re clearly meant to take some aspect of the setting as a tragedy we could avert by making the right choices.

            Settings which are miserable because of the direct actions of their characters (Game of Thrones, cartoon sitcoms), or because of some outside force (zombies, disasters, alien invasions when they aren’t stand-ins for human ideologies), or as an unelaborated fact (Mad Max 2 and 3, but not 1 or 4), are not dystopias to me. Historical or contemporary fiction can be dystopian (The Jungle, some misery lit) but usually isn’t.

            But if you’ve got something else in mind, no one died and made me king.

    • engleberg says:

      Niven’s Known Space Earth starts as a happy fun sunshine place and, over decades of stories, starts going into details on widespread subsidies for psychoactives to keep the billions placid, a paranoid ARM secret police enforcing fertility laws, and worse. Sorry if this breaks the ‘keep to overt dystopias’, but I really like Niven.

      ‘anvil-full’, query? Jack London’s The Iron Heel has a blacksmith hero.

      • keranih says:

        anvil-full references the TV Tropes description of a message-heavy work, one that drops anvils to remind the reader/viewer of This Important Aesop You Should Know – drugs are bad, saving the earth is important, don’t cheat on your spouse, sexual propriety rules are bad, etc, etc. (Dropping anvils means the theme is played without subtlety, but might not actually disrupt the work. Other works can have a theme/intended message, but deliver it with less force.)

        And thank you for the Jack London reference!

    • hyperboloid says:

      The Man In the High Castle.

      It isn’t even remotely a realistic depiction of an axis victory, but it is genuinely great work of literature. I don’t just mean a great work of science fiction, I think it deserves to be considered one of the great English language novels of the twentieth century. It’s got an almost Nabokov kind of feel about it.

      • keranih says:

        That’s interesting. I am not such a fan of the book – I think it has a period feel that doesn’t hold up. (Plus the female character is quite off putting to me.)

        I am a fan of the series, but am not done with it yet, so that may change.

      • All I Do Is Win says:

        I read it through to the end, which is about all of the praise I can give it.

        Would. Not. Recommend.

    • SamChevre says:

      Not fantasy/sci-fi, but The Church of Fire and Brimstone and God’s Almighty Baptizing Wind from Sheri Reynolds The Rapture of Canaan.

      Believable society, recognizable how you would get there; everyone is trying to make the society the best they can, but…

      Hard to read, hard to put down, and impossible to forget.

    • Nick says:

      I don’t know that I have a favorite, but my least favorite is definitely The Giver.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’m going to give two answers, depending on how we’re interpreting the word ‘favorite’ here:

      The most awesome dystopia is, hands down, the Warhammer 40K setting and the setting of Nemesis the Warlock which inspired it. They’re just so unbelievably metal and darkly hilarious. They’re sort of dystopia one wouldn’t actually want to live in but which is really fun to imagine oneself in.

      The dystopia which frightens me the most is Brave New World, because it’s a dystopia that many people (especially here) see as a utopia. It’s the failure state Nietzsche described as the “last man,” where mankind has lost any ambition to overcome itself and spends all of its energy on idle hedonism. I would rather see humanity destroyed outright than have it reduced to such a pathetic state.

      • Thegnskald says:

        I don’t see Brave New World as having much polarization on the utopia-dystopia spectrum – well, the movie version anyways, the book version has infants being mentally crippled to prepare them for factory work and all that. Setting that aside, since I think the more likely version of it wouldn’t have factory workers, just the idle hedonism – the major issue is that it is deliberately stagnant, and consumerist in a way that looks very unsustainable.

        It isn’t a bad society to live in for most people, and they have options set aside for those who can’t live in it. It takes care of everybody’s needs, basically, and gives everyone exactly as much freedom as they want (by carefully controlling how much freedom they want). It is in most respects a better society than the one we live in.

        What it lacks is a point, a purpose, a place to go. It isn’t that it is a dystopia, exactly, but rather that it is a dead end; it would be a significant accomplishment, to create a society of idle hedonism, but at the same time, it is kind of depressing if that is all that is achieved.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          I mean it’s a sort of achievement to permanently cripple the human spirit, the same way that destroying all life on Earth would be. But it’s not an achievement to be proud of.

          I’ve had this debate here many, many times already so I would prefer not to retread that ground too much. It’s exhausting and doesn’t do much good. Once this thread hits the nesting limit I plan to tap out.

          My view is that a life that exists solely for the sake of comfort is not worth living. That’s not to say that I prefer discomfort to comfort, obviously if everything else is held equal it’s better to be comfortable than not. But if I really had no ambition in life that’s worth sacrificing my comfort for, I would take my life then and there. That’s not bravado: there was a point in my life where I very nearly acted on that conviction.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            The root problem is that humans are maladapted for modernity. In order to cure themselves of existentialist despondency, humans must develop their psychologies to better suit their present-day environment. The fault is not with reality itself, but the mismatch between it and its participants.

          • Thegnskald says:

            The world does have the islands, and the reservations, for those who do not want a plastic-coated existence.

            I haven’t read The Island, so I have no idea what there is there, but the description suggests it is a society full of my kind of people, inwhichcase you could view the broader society as serving to keep everyone else distracted while interesting people do interesting things.

        • Saint Fiasco says:

          Brave New World is just wireheading with extra steps. Even the crippled babies are there not because they really need them in factories, but because when they tried to reduce work hours by automating the factories, soma consumption (their proxy to measure unhappiness) increased.

          • Thegnskald says:

            For a given value of “wirehead”. It sounds more to me like Jerryboree; a playground world without sharp edges, which holds people in with complacency even as there are more interesting things still available.

    • . says:

      Blood music. Humans are reduced to semi-conscious meatsacks by extremely intelligent nano-robots.

    • Kevin C. says:

      “A Bowl of Biskies Makes a Growing Boy” by Raymond F. Jones (author of This Island Earth).

    • Vorkon says:

      It’s kind of a boring answer, but Fahrenheit 451 always impressed me by being utterly plausible and believable. Things like 1984 and Brave New World are fun thought experiments, and potentially useful allegories for the theoretical worst case scenario of a trend in society being taken too far, but they require far too much coordination for humans to actually build a society that looks like either of them, but which doesn’t quickly collapse under its own weight. Fahrenheit 451, on the other hand, while not nearly as dystopic as either of those two, simply requires laziness and complacency to come to pass, something which we humans have in no short supply.

      • lvlln says:

        I read Brave New World, 1984, and Fahrenheit 451 in late high school/early college years, and at the time, I was most struck by 1984 as being the most scarily plausible.

        In the years since, I’ve changed my mind that Fahrenheit 451 is the far more believable one. One reason is the coordination problem you mentioned which makes 1984 very difficult to put together without something somewhere falling apart. Another is that 1984 is so popular and the structure of its dystopia is so obvious that our society is strongly inoculated against such a thing arising IRL.

        On the other hand, the anti-intellectualism that led to the state of things in Fahrenheit 451 looks similar to what’s actually happening right now. As a teenager, that anti-intellectualism looked like something limited to the old conservative farts and their religion-based ideologies, which would naturally be overcome one funeral at a time as my more enlightened rational generation took over. Unfortunately, since that time it’s become clear that anti-intellectualism is just as strong in my generation, it just looks different. And it’s perhaps more pernicious in that it’s taken root in our centers of academia, which were theoretically supposed to be strongholds of rational, evidence-based thinking. When we keep seeing academics showing disdain for empirical evidence in favor of identity-based narratives and rejecting existing pieces of literature and science due to those having been written and developed by the wrong sorts of people, it doesn’t take much of a stretch at all to believe that society may go in a direction such that people tend to voluntarily destroy their books and other similar sources of knowledge.

        As for Brave New World, that one always struck me as a successful utopia to aspire to. In the years since, I’ve come to better understand why many people might consider it a dystopia that we should avoid, and I’ve also come to understand that those people have a valid point that’s at least worth considering if not accepting. But I haven’t found those entirely convincing.

  15. ddxxdd says:

    Income is positively correlated with educational attainment. Educational attainment is positively correlated with voting for Democrats and left-wing parties. Voting left-wing is *negatively* correlated with income.

    A is positively correlated with B, B is positively correlated with C, and C is *negatively* correlated with A.

    Someone please explain this like I’m 5. Preferably from both a mathematical perspective AND a political science perspective.

    I’ve read a couple MathOverflow posts explaining why this can be the case. Quickly, it’s that:

    1. Correlation_A_B is bounded by Correlation_b_c * Correlation_a_c plus-or-minus 1/sqrt(1-C_b_b^2 [?]) * sqrt(1-C_c_c^2 [?])

    2. Random variables are like vectors, and correlations are like the cosine of the angle between them. angle AB can be 45 degrees, angle BC can be 45 degrees, and angle AC can be up to 90 degrees.

    3. A=X, B=Y, C=X+Y. A and B correlate with C, but are uncorrelated with each other.

    Once again, please explain this in a way that doesn’t go in 1 ear and out the other.

    • SamChevre says:

      Basically, put it this way–I find it intuitive:

      1) At a given income level, people with more education are more likely to be Democrats. (A plumber makes $80K is likely to be much more conservative than a public interest lawyer making $80k).
      2) At a given education level, people with higher incomes are likely to be Republicans. (A high-school grad who runs a plumbing business is much more likely to be a Republican than one who works at McDonald’s).

      Which effect dominates depends on many factors.

      Does that make sense? Or is that what doesn’t make sense?

      • Well... says:

        Yup. An offshoot of #2 is that some of that “people who earn less tend to vote left-wing” effect is young people.

      • ddxxdd says:

        That’s what doesn’t make sense. There would have to be a zero/negative correlation between education and income in order to make what you’re saying be true, or at least I think.

        Someone in the SSC subreddit pointed out that there’s actually no correlation between education levels and voting democrat; democrats get both the most and least educated voters. Nevertheless, I want to figure out if such a set of correlations is possible.

        • SamChevre says:

          For an example from the physical world, think of a liquid/vapor mixture in a sealed container.

          The hotter it is, all else equal, the more vapor relative to liquid.
          The higher pressure it is, all else equal, the less vapor relative to liquid.

          But adding pressure increases heat, so the impact of additional pressure may be to increase or to decrease the amount of vapor relative to liquid.

        • Deiseach says:

          There would have to be a zero/negative correlation between education and income in order to make what you’re saying be true, or at least I think.

          Being snarky, consider the protesters at Evergreen State College. When they finally get their degrees and venture out into the glorious world of work, what kind of jobs do you think they will mostly be in? Unpaid internships in small progressive magazines, for one, I should imagine. I don’t think there’s much money in “I am a trans non-binary person of colour who is differently abled and has been oppressed for the last four years of my education by the racist fascist white supremacist system”, unless you’re really well-established, which these straight out of college kids are not.

          So – young, educated (if by that you mean “has a bachelor’s degree in moaning and complaining about The System and Da Man”) and not in very high paying first employment; if they vote at all, likely to vote Democrat.

      • cassander says:

        this is roughly accurate, as far as I have looked into it.

        http://andrewgelman.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/incedu5.png

    • Educational attainment is positively correlated with voting for Democrats and left-wing parties.

      I’m not sure that’s true. My memory from exit poll data is that Democrats do better at both the top and the bottom of the educational distribution.

    • littskad says:

      How about a quick example? Consider a group of six people.
      A is tall, rich, and old.
      B is tall, rich, and young.
      C is tall, poor, and young.
      D is short, rich, and old.
      E is short, poor, and old.
      F is short, poor, and young.
      As you can check, 2/3 of tall people are rich, 2/3 of rich people are old, but only 1/3 of tall people are old. So among this group, height is correlated to wealth, wealth is correlated to age, but height is anti-correlated to age.

      • ddxxdd says:

        This is what I’m looking for. Now I just need to wrap my head around it. Thanks.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          It might help if you sketch a cube with one corner at the origin of a 3-D graph, name the axes “height”, “wealth”, and “age”, and plot ABCDEF at each corner. Six out of eight corners will be labeled. The remaining two are the ones that exactly anti-correlate (tall poor old, and short rich young).

          Of the others, note that triangles ACE and DBF are parallel to each other, and perpendicular to the anti-correlation line.

          Consider any plane parallel to those two triangles. Any plane that holds one of those variables constant will intersect with the former plane; the line of intersection will exactly denote the correlation you originally specified.

          Hypothesis: if you have one correlation inconsistent with two others, the points have to more closely define a plane than they do a line. Or in other words, they appear to fill a “slab” more than they do a “cylinder”. Or in other other words, you can’t plot a simple line of points that exhibits this behavior.

    • blame says:

      I assume that by “correlation” you mean the Pearson correlation coefficient, which only measures linear correlation. I wouldn’t expect it to be transitive in any strong sense, since it fails to recognize non-linear relations.

      Indeed, even if your variables are uncorrelated, there might still be (very strong) non-linear relations between them.
      As an example you can take X to be uniformly distributed on the interval [-1,1] and Y = X^2.
      There is an obvious relation between X and Y, but their Pearson correlation coefficient is 0.

      The example might not be helpful for a 5 year old, but I always found it very enlightening.

  16. johan_larson says:

    One of the things I encountered pretty early as I started reading about Christianity is that in the US and Canada, liberal churches are shrinking and conservative churches are growing. The thinking among those who have studied this is that it is useful for a religious organization to take some positions on what is right and wrong and to enforce real codes of conduct. People want to be among other committed believers, and setting the bar for membership high raises the odds that the rest of the congregation is exactly that.

    But I have to wonder, why does this have to be a purely conservative thing? It seems to me a left-wing denomination or congregation could settle on some core set of tenets and then tell everyone who won’t affirm them to bless themselves and fuck off. And they could throw in some substantial service requirements too, just to raise the bar and make the place unappealing to anyone looking for just a Sunday-morning social club. That’s pretty much what the conservatives have done, and it’s working. Why is this impossible over on the left bank?

    • Nick says:

      Doesn’t the left (right now in America at least) tend to care a lot about diversity, inclusion, etc.? How do you square that with holding a core set of tenets and excluding anyone who doesn’t agree to them?

      • Wrong Species says:

        Diversity in appearance, not in thought.

        • Nick says:

          I agree that’s how it always ends up, but those on the left are always the ones all about “dialogue” and telling other people they need to listen and so on (compare every debate about Catholic sexual ethics ever). I don’t see why this wouldn’t proceed in much the same way—as soon as the tenets seem to be restrictive or exclusionary, there will be a call for dialogue and understanding of differing viewpoints, and the only correct response is to accept those differing views as equally legitimate, etc.

          • People on the left don’t usually regard a viewpoint that takes seriously different distributions of intellectual characteristics by gender or race as equally legitimate.

          • johan_larson says:

            One of the ideas you’ll find on the left is that tolerance is of course good, but an idea can’t include its opposite, which means a tolerant person doesn’t have to tolerate intolerance. This means the way to exclude something from a lefty institution is to declare it intolerant.

            It’s not ok to punch people, but Nazis think it’s ok to punch people, so it’s ok to punch Nazis.

          • Nick says:

            You’re right, David; I cop to being insufficiently clear or precise here.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Demanding more from your members does indeed seem to have a positive effect – from what I remember in university, this doesn’t just hold for denominations, but also for things like communes (the most demanding ones held together better). Wanting to be among strong believers is probably part of it. There’s also probably some lost costs fallacy (“If I’m tithing 10% and I’ve given up booze, it must be worth it, because otherwise I’m a dummy”) going on.

      It doesn’t have to be a right-wing thing. However, at this point in time, generally the right tends to be more religious, and the left less. This isn’t an absolute rule, but rather a tendency – but left-wingers looking for a high-entry-cost, true-believer experience are more likely to end up in secular groups than religious (when you apply a religious-studies lens to, say, political affiliations, you see many similarities – true believers are true believers).

      There’s even apolitical committed groups: look at hardcore sports fans, or people really into working out (visit a martial arts, powerlifting, or crossfit gym; “let me tell you about what I have sacrificed” is a major theme). Meanwhile, there’s a grand total of zero military outfits that boast about how easy their training is.

      EDIT: Also, the division isn’t “liberal/conservative” so much as “mainline/evangelical”. While evangelicals are almost always right-wing, mainline isn’t necessary left-wing. Dishwater right-wing churches are doing as bad as dishwater left-wing churches.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Meanwhile, there’s a grand total of zero military outfits that boast about how easy their training is.

        The US Air Force?

      • Jaskologist says:

        Also, the division isn’t “liberal/conservative” so much as “mainline/evangelical”. While evangelicals are almost always right-wing, mainline isn’t necessary left-wing. Dishwater right-wing churches are doing as bad as dishwater left-wing churches.

        I don’t think this is true. The division is basically liberal/conservative, and it cuts through denominations rather than between them. Within denominations, congregations on the left are still generally shrinking and those on the right are growing. To the extent that the denomination as a whole leans left or right they see similar growth patterns.

        But I guess that’s really just my assertion against yours, and I don’t have backing documentation handy at this time.

    • SamChevre says:

      If you were “not-conservative,” you might not call it a church. I’d say feminism, and the gay rights movement, have both followed that strategy very successfully. But by not calling themselves churches, they’ve managed to translate supporters into government pressure on everyone else to conform, rather than government pressure to make sure that no one is pressured to conform.

      Why would you want to be the Catholic Church, when you could be NOW?

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I agree that “everything is a religion” is overused to the point of triteness, but ideological systems of thought defining moral and immoral behavior match fairly well to “religion.” Feminism is more like a religion than unicycle riding is.

          I’d match feminism more to gnosticism though.

          • dndnrsn says:

            “X is a religion” is a bit tired, but “the methods used to understand religion work very well for understanding ideology” is entirely true. Given what we know about how people think, this is unsurprising. The division between “religion” and “everything else” is a very modern (and very Protestant) idea.

    • neaanopri says:

      Liberal churches declining seems to make sense to me, because one of the core tenets of the liberal mindset is to determine what is correct through reason and debate. This seems to be somewhat in conflict with the way that a church operates, and even with the point of a church. In the US, Catholicism is popular enough that I could meaningfully write about the decline of liberal catholic churches and still address a sizable community, I don’t have much knowledge outside of there.

      It seems like the whole point of religion is to assert, “We know what is right and what is wrong, you do no have to expend any effort philosophizing about what to do, just listen to us.” This is neatly wrapped up in the idea of Sin in catholicism.

      Sin is most easily defined for somebody who considers themself a Catholic in good standing, and has no ideological disagreements with church teachings. Church teachings are vague enough to make this practical for most people, but it applies significant constraints on one’s life (go to church, don’t have gay sex, don’t use birth control, etc.), which tend to fit more with a conservative/Red Team lifestyle. If you consider yourself a Catholic with no ideological disagreements with the Church, then it’s easy to define sin: an action is Sinful if you know it to be wrong when you perform it. Catholicism accepts the idea that everybody sins, especially since the moral code is fairly strict (i.e., Jesus says that becoming angry is a sin). However, if you sin, you are expected to be contrite and confess your sins to a priest. You then receive absolution, and your sins are erased.

      This doesn’t leave any space for ideological disagreement with the church. You must submit to the priest that you acknowledge that your actions are sinful, and you are sorry. There isn’t a box for, “I know you guys don’t like birth control, but I don’t think it’s actually sinful, and I’m going to continue using it until convinced otherwise.” The church is a hierarchy, since its structure is literally medieval, and you are not allowed to make these decisions for yourself, strictly speaking that is heresy.

      The church is a very heavy ship, and takes a long time to reverse course on any matter. It takes great pains not to ever reverse any decision as unjust. So it has the accumulated moral judgements of millennia, and does not like reversing course.

      So how does the church’s structure fit onto contemporary American cultural factions? There are a large number of liberal catholics who make the argument that Church teaching is more liberal than conservative, because of the emphasis on caring for the poor in the gospels. These catholics often point towards Church opposition to capital punishment, which they view as traditionally conservative. These liberal Catholics are very rarely pro-choice, and some believe that abortion is immoral but should not be illegal (Tim Kaine articulated that stance in the Vice Presidential debates). However, many liberal Catholics oppose abortion, favoring their religion over their party. They often concede that the Republicans are closer to the Catholic ideal on “social issues”, but consider “economic issues” of poverty prevention to be more important. And as far as LGBT issues go, these Catholics run the gamut: some quietly defy Catholicism and support standard modern LGBT rights, while others hew to the Church teaching that homosexual action is immoral, and gay people should be celibate.

      Compared to the large amount of rationalizing that the liberal catholics seem to have to go through, being a conservative catholic seems much simpler. Abortion is wrong, the Republican party opposes Abortion. Gay marriage is wrong, the republican party is more in opposition than the Democrats. You can run down the list, and it’s difficult to contest many of these points. Naturally, following a religion which enshrines cultural norms into right and wrong, and rarely updates these cultural norms, makes believers more conservative.

      So there seems to be a significant amount of cognitive dissonance inherent to being a liberal Catholic. It’s much easier to pick one: liberal, or Catholic. I personally picked liberal, especially once I became more aware of LGBT issues and convinced that there was no possible way to make a Catholic church that gives full rights to LGBT people. If people want a religion, then they want a religion, that can really consistently tell then what is right and what is wrong, and liberal catholicism just has too many contradictions to do that. Tribal identity is strong, so people don’t switch out of the liberal Catholic camp overnight, but it should come as no surprise that there is a declining number of liberal Catholics.

      • Nick says:

        Where do you get the idea that people trying to liberalize the Catholic Church are doing so by “reason and debate”? Or the idea that Catholicism isn’t interested in “expend[ing] any effort philosophizing about what to do, just listen to us”? Have you heard of casuistry, i.e. situational ethics?

        I think this post illustrates what I was trying to get at above better than I ever could. Liberal Catholics have much more confidence in what they’ve decided for themselves and seem to assume that there’s no value* in trying to understand the tradition to which they belong. So as soon as they find themselves at odds with it, it’s the tradition that’s wrong, not them. The only thing to do is to change the tradition or leave. And changing the tradition means reversing the old position, or functionally erasing it by making the opposite position acceptable too.

        *This is strong wording on my part, but I don’t think it’s unfair here. I have met about one hundred liberal Catholics who don’t care about any justification as such, any explanation the Church has, who don’t seek understanding in any kind of responsible way, for every one that does.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I have met about one hundred liberal Catholics who don’t care about any justification as such, any explanation the Church has, who don’t seek understanding in any kind of responsible way, for every one that does.

          Unless neaanopri would like to correct me, that’s what I gathered from his post, also. He seemed to think the rules of the Church are arbitrary. But there is a teleology here. There is 2,000 years of canon literature working out what one should do or should not do and why. That is “reason and debate.”

          • Nick says:

            Well, I don’t want what I said to be a judgment of neaanopri himself, though it’s kind of hard to walk back the obvious implication “I think there’s a 100 to 1 chance your decision to leave the Church was ill-informed.” It’s entirely possible neaanopri did try to understand Catholic condemnation of abortion, same-sex marriage, etc… I just didn’t see anything in his post to suggest that.

      • Anonymous says:

        Liberal churches declining seems to make sense to me, because one of the core tenets of the liberal mindset is to determine what is correct through reason and debate.

        IMO, that’s irrelevant, even if it were true.

        What’s relevant is that the conservative denominations promote self-replication, while liberal denominations generally don’t. Since there is a genetic component to personality and beliefs, combined with the environmental effects of teaching, it leads to conservative churches replicate better than liberal churches. Whatever genetic component of their personality that drew these people to the particular church is going to have substantially higher amount of instances in the next generation than otherwise. Meanwhile, in the liberal denominations, the reproductive potential is going to get suppressed from the baseline.

        The result is predictably that liberal churches shrink, as old members die, and new ones don’t get born. It’s like Shakers Lite.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Yes, an awful lot of the Catholic sexual ethics boil down to “behave in such a way that maximizes family size.” i.e., makes more Catholics.

    • Well... says:

      I gave an answer to this question on my blog about 2.5 years ago. [link]

    • But I have to wonder, why does this have to be a purely conservative thing?

      I don’t know about “have to.” But the intellectual trend of at least the past century has been away from religious belief, so people who think of themselves as on the cutting edge of progress are less likely to be comfortable with religious rules than people who see themselves as trying to preserve good things.

      I think you get the equivalent of the conservative churches on the left, but they aren’t in the form of churches and the members don’t see their ideology as a form of religious faith.

    • Isn’t the definition of liberal Christianity that they don’t take the Bible literally, so it must be interpreted for modern society? Even if they use a non-literal but dogmatic interpretation, I think that is again a sign of conservatism. There are still plenty of liberal Christians out there, and they do tend to join the churches with freely interpreted doctrines. But I can see why such Christians would be less committed to their religion than the conservatives, since the Bible doesn’t tell them anything that they haven’t already decided. So such churches would be less attractive to the wholly committed.

      I am not at all religious, so you can take what I say with a grain of salt. Although my parents were classical liberal Christians, so maybe I have a little insight into this from my childhood.

    • All I Do Is Win says:

      But I have to wonder, why does this have to be a purely conservative thing?

      The kind of people who inhabit the left are different from the kind of people who inhabit the right. News at 11.

    • dodrian says:

      To reiterate what the article you linked says, the best predictor for church growth is committed belief. You ask why can’t a left-wing church succeed on this basis? I would answer that left-wing churches can and do succeed, but it’s hard to specifically see that in the US.

      Firstly we need to be very careful with terminology. The article defines a conservative theology as believing ‘a person can be saved only through Jesus Christ’. It talks about lay-liberalism as rejecting the idea that Christianity has a uniquely valid truth claim. I doubt it would be possible to have a liberal (in this sense) church that also has strong beliefs. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have church with left-wing politics.

      Christianity in the US has a huge amount of cultural baggage that associates itself with right-wing politics. The religious culture of the US is largely protestant – and it’s easy for those in the US to see why Protestantism might mesh well with right wing politics. It holds the Bible as the high authority, which helps for stronger beliefs, and it’s easy to see how the Bible can be used to support right-wing positions on abortion, marriage, etc. Protestantism places a high value on individual responsibility, which can support right-wing economic policies, and go against wealth redistribution (at least by the government, it doesn’t stop right-wing churches from running ministries, which they do).

      This puts a left-wing church in a difficult position. A left-wing church which wants to adhere to a strong belief that ‘a person can be saved only through Jesus Christ’ has to also overcome a number of cultural expectation of the other things they believe.

      But this isn’t always the case in other countries. In Latin America for example, since the ’50s there’s been a big growth in liberation theology, a quasi-marxist theological framework that holds left-wing ideas about power and economics as central to the message Jesus taught (that said, liberation theology is often coupled with more socially conservative positions on, eg., abortion & gay marriage). It’s a big influence both within the Catholic Church (look at Pope Francis!) and in independent evangelical churches (which could be considered protestant by US standards, but usually aren’t part of one of the big protestant denominations). While traditional Catholic church attendance is dropping in a similar manner to mainline Protestantism in the US, Latin America is seeing growth in ‘conservative’ churches (as defined by having a strong belief), even ones that are left-wing politically.

      I think we will begin to see a similar growth in left-wing churches in the US, however I doubt it will come from the mainline left-wing denominations (Episcopal and Presbyterian). While their politics on the national scale is left-wing, they seem to be abandoning strong belief claims. In their place I think we’ll see a growth in independent left-wing churches, and possibly Quakerism (which has a tradition of left-wing political action in the US), and maybe within Catholicism as well. For the time being it’s hard to see because those numbers will be dwarfed by the bigger right-wing congregations.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      From a traditionalist Catholic essay on this topic:

      Perhaps counterintuitively, then, the result of avoiding Christ’s “hard teachings” isn’t flocks of people coming through the church doors, but the opposite. After all, why would someone make the sacrifice of getting up early on Sunday and spending an hour sitting in a pew to hear a message they could hear 24/7 from the mainstream media? If a church says—either explicitly or implicitly—that the vows of marriage can be broken, what distinguishes that church from everyone else? Why bother listening to it?

      What do you envision the “strict left-wing denomination” would look like? “Gay is okay, abortions for everybody, divorce is fine!” How would that be any different from watching Rachel Maddow? Sleep in on Sunday and save your collection plate money.

      • Brad says:

        What do you envision the “strict left-wing denomination” would look like?

        Maybe it would emphasize Jesus’ challenging messages about giving your money away to the poor, turning the other cheek, letting he who is without guilt cast the first stone, feeding and housing the stranger, washing the feet of prostitutes — you know all the things Jesus stood for that American right wing denominations prefer to pretend he didn’t.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Do you think American conservative denominations don’t teach that? Of course they do. But they also teach the parts about “go forth and sin no more” and the admonitions against sexual immorality. Jesus said to do good, yes. He also said not to do evil. Your liberal denomination is only preaching Nice Jesus, but not Hard Jesus, and Jesus was both. I think the result is described in Revelation 3:16:

          So because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of My mouth!

          Again, how are the teachings you describe different from what you’d get from watching Rachel Maddow?

          • Brad says:

            Do you think American conservative denominations don’t teach that?

            Based on their followers, if they are they aren’t doing a very good job of it.

            But they also teach the parts about “go forth and sin no more” and the admonitions against sexual immorality.

            Most of which are either in the OT or by Paul. Because they like Paul and the OT God better than Jesus. So why exactly do they call themselves Christians?

            esus said to do good, yes. He also said not to do evil. Your liberal denomination is only preaching Nice Jesus, but not Hard Jesus, and Jesus was both.

            You think it is easy to turn the other cheek? To give a man who asks for shirt your coat too? To love your neighbor as you love yourself?

            Those things sound really really hard to me.

            I think the result is described in Revelation 3:16:

            Written many decades after Jesus died by someone that never heard him preach. Much preferable to Jesus’ actual message.

            Again, how are the teachings you describe different from what you’d get from watching Rachel Maddow?

            If Rachel Maddow said it, it must be wrong. Because it isn’t about Jesus, it’s about having a burning hate in your heart for half your countrymen.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Most of which are either in the OT or by Paul. Because they like Paul and the OT God better than Jesus.

            The attempt to divide Christianity from Paul is one of the more absurd (and very, very recent) memes to find traction. At least the OT/NT division has some precedent.

            If liberal churches actually try to embrace that, it will just serve all the more to undermine their claim to be a part of the Church Catholic writ large.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Atheist and leftist, so speaking from a place of ignorance – not that that puts me in unusual company on this subject – but my understanding is that biblical charity is necessarily personal.

            Voting to have other people pay for welfare isn’t really charity, in the Christian sense of the idea; charity is what you do, not what you get other people to do.

            When you get down to it, voting for higher taxes on (other) rich people to help poor people doesn’t make you charitable, it doesn’t make you a good person, it doesn’t reflect on your personal morality at all. You don’t get credit for forcing other people to do good works.

            That, I think, is the major disconnect between Christian morality and left-wing politics; to them, good works only count if they are voluntary. Do your good works count if you were made to do them? What if you would have done them anyways? What if you would rather have done different good works?

            Jesus, as far as I know, didn’t advocate for establishing a government which forced people to be good. As far as I can tell, he preached a very personal goodness, saving your own soul, and there was a lot of parable warning against trying to make other people better people (mote in your eye, and whatnot).

          • Anonymous says:

            @Brad

            But they also teach the parts about “go forth and sin no more” and the admonitions against sexual immorality.

            Most of which are either in the OT or by Paul. Because they like Paul and the OT God better than Jesus. So why exactly do they call themselves Christians?

            “Go forth and sin no more” is straight from Christ’s mouth. Also straight from Christ’s mouth is upholding of the core morality of the OT.

            Jesus said to do good, yes. He also said not to do evil. Your liberal denomination is only preaching Nice Jesus, but not Hard Jesus, and Jesus was both.

            You think it is easy to turn the other cheek? To give a man who asks for shirt your coat too? To love your neighbor as you love yourself?

            Those things sound really really hard to me.

            I think he meant ‘hard’ in the other sense – the aspect of God’s justice, as opposed to God’s mercy – not in the sense of ‘difficulty’.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Based on their followers, if they are they aren’t doing a very good job of it.

            The food bank at my church alone feeds over 1,000 families, but I guess we’re not doing good enough for you, Brad. We’ll try to get better and make you proud of us.

            If Rachel Maddow said it, it must be wrong. Because it isn’t about Jesus, it’s about having a burning hate in your heart for half your countrymen.

            To be honest, I have no idea what that’s even supposed to mean.

            I think he meant ‘hard’ in the other sense – the aspect of God’s justice, as opposed to God’s mercy – not in the sense of ‘difficulty’.

            Yes.

            @Thegnskald

            Atheist and leftist, so speaking from a place of ignorance – not that that puts me in unusual company on this subject

            You did perfectly. That’s exactly right. When I die, God judges my soul, not my government’s soul.

          • dodrian says:

            @Thegnskald

            but my understanding is that biblical charity is necessarily personal.

            You’ve described a very common tradition of Biblical interpretation (especially in the US), but as I [sort of] argued up above, it’s not a necessity.

            Left-wing Christianity tends to emphasis the frequent Biblical exhortation for those in power to act justly. They may agree that it is important to practice charity on a personal basis, but they would also argue that it is important to advocate for a just government and just society, which they might say (for example) is best reflected in a society that allows equal access to healthcare for all, or that ensures the poorest don’t starve. I don’t think this is necessarily in conflict with a personal commandment to care for the sick or feed the hungry.

          • Brad says:

            @Thegnskald

            Jesus, as far as I know, didn’t advocate for establishing a government which forced people to be good. As far as I can tell, he preached a very personal goodness, saving your own soul, and there was a lot of parable warning against trying to make other people better people (mote in your eye, and whatnot).

            The stoning episode I referred to (let he who is without guilt …) was a quasi-governmental reaction to a what was considered a crime. Jesus was asked by the Pharisees to sit in judgment of an adulteress. His response was to nullify the death penalty that the law required and instead let her off with the admonition to “go forth and sin no more”. How do you square that with self described Christians in their capacity as voters and jurors pursuing motivated-by-anger tough on crime policies?

          • Brad says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            To be honest, I have no idea what’s even supposed to mean.

            I don’t think you love Rachel Maddow as you love yourself. I don’t even think you try to. Do you disagree?

          • bean says:

            Because it isn’t about Jesus, it’s about having a burning hate in your heart for half your countrymen.

            Why don’t we go a bit further and accuse all evangelicals of being exactly like the Westboro Baptists?
            The church I just started attending has a Hispanic congregation and an anglophone one, and they make a big deal about how we’re one church. There’s a joint worship service next Sunday, and I’m excited for it. The one before that regularly stressed unity and not letting political hatred divide us. No candidate was endorsed, and I only know the pastor’s politics because he’s a personal friend. There are churches like you describe, but they aren’t that common.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Dodrian –

            There is a lot of divergence in opinion; Comte, loosely interpreted, functionally argued that a true Christian would sell their soul to Satan to feed the hungry.

            The point wasn’t that Christianity forbids it, but that it doesn’t exactly demand it, and atheistic left-wing people have a tendency to argue against a straw version of Christian beliefs to attack right-wing Christians. It is a nontrivial assertion that a personal responsibility translates into a political responsibility (and I don’t exactly see them arguing that left-wing Christians are hypocrites if they don’t think their personal beliefs about abortion should apply at a government level).

          • rahien.din says:

            Anonymous,

            Brad has a valid point.

            You think it is easy to turn the other cheek? To give a man who asks for shirt your coat too? To love your neighbor as you love yourself? Those things sound really really hard to me.

            I think he meant ‘hard’ in the other sense – the aspect of God’s justice, as opposed to God’s mercy – not in the sense of ‘difficulty’.

            For one, from the original article :

            After all, they’re called “hard teachings” because they are hard. Many people will find them too hard and reject them, and reject the messenger who preaches them.

            The things that are “hard teachings” for conservatives are probably not “prohibit contraception, abortion, and divorce.” Instead, they are “give away your wealth, care for the stranger, and eschew retribution.”

            Furthermore, the whole of God’s law is summed up in “love God with all your heart/mind/soul/strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” So the “hard for conservatives teachings” have just as much to do with justice.

            The attitudes of the church that Christ challenged ranged from legalistic and conservative (stone the prostitute, don’t pick wheat on the Sabbath) to decadent and liberal (divorce and remarriage). There’s plenty enough hard teaching to go around.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Brad

            I don’t think you love Rachel Maddow as you love yourself. I don’t even think you try to. Do you disagree?

            I don’t love myself a whole lot. But a common refrain in my morning prayers is for an increase in my patience and charity, so I can definitely say “don’t even try to” is false. I prayed for and meditated on it this very morning during my rosary.

            @dodrian

            also argue that it is important to advocate for a just government and just society, which they might say (for example) is best reflected in a society that allows equal access to healthcare for all, or that ensures the poorest don’t starve.

            Oh my. So I should be voting (or establishing a government) to enforce the ideals of my religion? Is that what you want me to do? I wonder if there are any downsides to establishing a government that forces everyone to obey Catholic teachings?

            @rahien.din

            The things that are “hard teachings” for conservatives are probably not “prohibit contraception, abortion, and divorce.” Instead, they are “give away your wealth, care for the stranger, and eschew retribution.”

            No, they’re all hard. Christians get horny too.

            I would still like to know how the liberal church teachings would be any different than the liberal secular teachings.

            Instead of just snarking at me, will someone please do the following so I can understand where it is we disagree:

            Imagine the hypothetical liberal Christian denomination. What are three homilies I could expect at this church that Rachel Maddow would criticize?

            As an example, a right-wing Christian church might include a homily on why divorce is forbidden, why gay sex is disordered, and why abortion is murder. My model of Rachel Maddow is that she would strongly disagree with these homilies, and my model of the hypothetical liberal Christian church is that these homilies would never be given.

          • Nick says:

            Imagine the hypothetical liberal Christian denomination. What are three homilies I could expect at this church that Rachel Maddow would criticize?

            As an example, a right-wing Christian church might include a homily on why divorce is forbidden, why gay sex is disordered, and why abortion is murder. My model of Rachel Maddow is that she would strongly disagree with these homilies, and my model of the hypothetical liberal Christian church is that these homilies would never be given.

            Good luck with that, you’re takin’ a stand. You spit, I’mma sit, we’ll see where we land….

          • Anonymous says:

            @rahien.din

            Conrad has since clarified that he meant it in the way I suggested, above. Brad certainly meant it in the definition used in the article.

            After all, they’re called “hard teachings” because they are hard. Many people will find them too hard and reject them, and reject the messenger who preaches them.

            The things that are “hard teachings” for conservatives are probably not “prohibit contraception, abortion, and divorce.” Instead, they are “give away your wealth, care for the stranger, and eschew retribution.”

            This is a general confusion of things. Contraception, abortion and divorce are prohibited, directly or indirectly, by God. You disobey the forbidding at your peril. It makes zero difference if the government prohibits them also, but it isn’t wrong for the mortal authorities to forbid them, in effort to discourage their subjects from straying – but it is to their credit, not their subjects. The sin of the pharisees is not preaching obedience to the Law, but hypocrisy of not following the Law themselves.

            Giving away your wealth is supererogatory. Caring for the stranger should not detract from caring for your family and kinsmen, who you have greater obligation to care for. Eschewing retribution you have correctly identified as something difficult, but not optional.

          • Brad says:

            The sin of the pharisees is not preaching obedience to the Law, but hypocrisy of not following the Law themselves.

            One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time ofd Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

          • Anonymous says:

            @Brad

            Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.

          • Brad says:

            The scribes and the Pharisees say not to pluck heads of grain on the Sabbath. What to do?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Nick

            I understand that an awful lot of American Christian (including Catholic) homilies are watered down and milquetoast. They certainly are at my church. But I’m kind of okay with that because my church is absolutely overflowing with children. It would be rather awkward if the priest started talking about adultery and homosexuality.

            Then again, we used to have a thing where the children all went to a different room during the homily for something more age appropriate, and we don’t do that anymore. I wonder why…

            Anyway, the point of johan_larson’s original post and the article I linked was that making the homilies less offensive decreases attendance is counter-intuitive. You can get “do whatever you want just be nice to each other” anywhere. But an awful lot of religious people want their religions to make demands of them. “Don’t leave your wife even if you really want to.” “Yes, we know you’re horny but do not look at porn it’s bad for you and makes baby Jesus cry.” Nobody wants to hear that stuff, but any religion that’s not making demands of controlling your own behavior is indistinguishable from an After School Special, and just as likely to be ignored.

          • Anonymous says:

            The scribes and the Pharisees say not to pluck heads of grain on the Sabbath. What to do?

            Appeal to higher authority, who’s right there with you.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I’m also still waiting for somebody, anybody, to tell me what counts as a liberal christian moral teaching that’s different from liberal secular moral teachings. “Be nice to people, don’t hate, take care of the poor.” Nobody disagrees with these things. What are the liberal Christian moral teachings that would put them at odds with the liberal parts of the popular culture?

          • Brad says:

            I guess you think that argument is really clever which is why you won’t let it go.

            But the same exact argument can be flipped around. As demonstrated by this very community conservatives can get to the same sexual morality principles you are so proud of by the expedient of just so stories about evolution. Why do not get them from there and sleep in on Sundays?

            @Anonymous

            Appeal to higher authority, who’s right there with you.

            Okay, the rule is that the whole law applies unless Jesus says it doesn’t. No linen and cotton clothing then, right?

          • rahien.din says:

            Conrad has since clarified that he meant it in the way I suggested, above.

            Eh, he’s switching meanings. He tells you “These things are hard not because of difficulty but because of justice.” He tells me, “Sexual sins are hard for everybody because even Christians get horny.” Not coherent. But whatever.

            The sin of the pharisees is not preaching obedience to the Law, but hypocrisy of not following the Law themselves.

            Pharisaic sins ranged from absolute legalism to outright decadence.

            [Such-and-such teaching of Christ] is supererogatory.

            Really? Christ said “fail this teaching to your spiritual hazard” and you claim it’s extra credit?

            Caring for the stranger should not detract from caring for your family and kinsmen, who you have greater obligation to care for.

            “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?'” Who do you think the Samaritan was traveling towards?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Brad

            I guess you think that argument is really clever which is why you won’t let it go.

            Yes, and I take as evidence of its cleverness that no one will address it.

            And I’m sitting here, open-minded, brimming with charity. Change my mind, and show me that there’s a difference in the moral teachings of liberal religion (Nice Jesus) and liberal secularism.

            But the same exact argument can be flipped around. As demonstrated by this very community conservatives can get to the same sexual morality principles you are so proud of by the expedient of just so stories about evolution. Why do not get them from there and sleep in on Sundays?

            Because part of the evo-psych Just So story is that you transmit these principles by demonstrating them so young people alieve them before they have the mental ability to believe them.

            @rahien.din

            I’m not switching meanings, I’m saying it’s all of these things. Yes, being good like Jesus wants you to is very difficult. Jesus also said you’ll get punished for doing bad stuff (Hard Jesus).

            All you get out of the Nice Jesus liberalism is “be nice to prostitutes, Jesus was nice to prostitutes!” Yes, absolutely, you should not be stoning prostitutes. But after he quelled the crowd he didn’t say “later, have fun whorin’!” He told her to knock it off.

            The right-wing church will say “don’t hate prostitutes” and will also say “don’t go whorin’.” The left-wing church and Rachel Maddow will both teach love of tolerance of prostitutes but will not suggest there’s anything wrong with their behavior.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Brad

            Okay, the rule is that the whole law applies unless Jesus says it doesn’t. No linen and cotton clothing then, right?

            IANABS, but that’s almost assuredly one of the rules for ethnic Jews, not moral law.

            @rahien.din

            Pharisaic sins ranged from absolute legalism to outright decadence.

            Sure, no argument there.

            [Such-and-such teaching of Christ] is supererogatory.

            Really? Christ said “fail this teaching to your spiritual hazard” and you claim it’s extra credit?

            And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

            Emphasis mine. Being rich certainly makes salvation harder, but doesn’t preclude it.

            “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Who do you think the Samaritan was traveling towards?

            I don’t see how you think the Samaritan’s actions were inconsistent with my previous statement.

          • Brad says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            And I’m sitting here, open-minded, brimming with charity.

            I doubt it.

            Change my mind, and show me that there’s a difference in the moral teachings of liberal religion (Nice Jesus) and liberal secularism.

            I don’t any relevance of this demand to anything we are discussing. You might as well be demanding that someone demonstrate the four color theorem to your satisfaction and obnoxiously repeating the demand over and over again as if the fact that no one took you up on it meant anything.

            The right-wing church will both say “don’t hate prostitutes”

            If they are, there’s very little evidence that the message is getting though.

            Because part of the evo-psych Just So story is that you transmit these principles by demonstrating them so young people alieve them before they have the mental ability to believe them.

            I can’t even begin to understand what you are trying to say here. Anyone?

          • Brad says:

            @Anonymous

            IANABS, but that’s almost assuredly one of the rules for ethnic Jews, not moral law.

            Where did Jesus say anything about that? Didn’t you just quote at me:

            Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.

            are you saying he was only preaching to to ethnic Jews there?

          • rahien.din says:

            Conrad Honcho,

            I would still like to know how the liberal church teachings would be any different than the liberal secular teachings.

            In a very broad sense, I agree with you. Liberal institutions seem more numerous in this regard. Conservatives, largely, have their eggs all in one basket.

            I do not agree, however, with the claiming of the church in the name of conservatism. “Liberal” is not synonymous with “easy,” “secular,” “optional,” or “decadent.”

          • Anonymous says:

            are you saying he was only preaching to to ethnic Jews there?

            I don’t know, but why would non-Jews care about the Pharisees?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Asking for what’s essentially popular culture examples is the equivalent of demanding a proof of the four color theorem? Think maybe you’re exaggerating a touch there? (see how charitable that was? Brimming, I’m brimming I say!)

            johan’s original question was about whether or not left-wing churches could go hardcore to keep membership. Asking “what would the teachings of this left-wing church be and how would they differ from secular left-wing moral ideas” seems pretty on topic. The fact that no one can give me any and are instead jumping to the instant extreme is a good indicator to me that there aren’t any that are obvious or of substance.

            So I state, with about 95% certainty that no, you cannot go “hardcore left christian” in order to attract membership because you already get all the hardcore left moralizing you need from popular culture.

            “Liberal” is not synonymous with “easy,” “secular,” “optional,” or “decadent.”

            In terms of, say, personal sexual morality, isn’t it though? At least for “easy” and “optional.” Wouldn’t a liberal personal sexual morality essentially be “do or don’t do whatever you want.” That sounds both easy and includes optionality.

          • Brad says:

            @Anonymous

            I don’t know, but why would non-Jews care about the Pharisees?

            Because God aka the Son of God said to?

            Unless I guess he wasn’t talking to you. But that’s hardly clear to me from the text. That raises another question: suppose he was just talking about ethnic Jews here, does that mean that if I were to become Christian I’d have to forgo wearing clothes made of linen and cotton?

          • rahien.din says:

            Being rich certainly makes salvation harder, but doesn’t preclude it.

            Well, we interpret this somewhat differently, probably as some matter of ε. For the record, I am not claiming that being rich is itself a sin. I am not convinced that being rich is less sinful/less sin-proximate/less spiritually-hazardous than condoms.

            I don’t see how you think the Samaritan’s actions were inconsistent with my previous statement [that caring for our family and kinsmen is a greater obligation than caring for the stranger]

            Because the Samaritan was caring for a stranger, despite what other obligations he was under.

            He was traveling somewhere important – we know this from his choice of route. And, all three figures in the story were under certain religious purity laws which forbade the Samaritan’s actions. Undoubtedly, to stop and help the stranger would mean defying other obligations.

            But the Samaritan stopped because he could not defy his own compassion. The parable of the Good Samaritan is about the dangers of sincerity and rote obligation-following, and how they may prevent the true work of God. Just as in Luke 14:5, Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?”

            Furthermore, you started to parse your various obligations based on ingroup-proximity. But the parable of the Good Samaritan is Christ’s direct and immediate answer to the question “Whom am I most under obligation to help?” The answer is : invoking obligation is precisely incorrect – instead we must follow our compassion. It is Luke 10:27 made operational.

          • Nick says:

            In the interest of actually answering Conrad’s question, how about mandatory vegetarianism?

          • dndnrsn says:

            There’s relatively little “hardcore left moralizing” in popular culture. What’s dominant is a fairly watery mashup of bits and pieces of liberalism and leftism. One could easily construct a hardcore left-wing Christianity: it would involve significant restrictions on personal property, high levels of charity and community service, and a major push towards evangelization. This could range from “ordinary, but dedicated, church” levels to “whoa that’s totes a cult” level.

          • rahien.din says:

            Wouldn’t a liberal personal sexual morality essentially be “do or don’t do whatever you want”?

            Well. No. Why would it be that?

          • Randy M says:

            So I state, with about 95% certainty that no, you cannot go “hardcore left christian” in order to attract membership because you already get all the hardcore left moralizing you need from popular culture.

            I suppose one could go full commune and demand all property shared amongst members (with, I hasten to add, some NT support).

            Complete polyarmorous relationships aren’t exactly Christian, but it seems cults often end up there, and I think that would map more left than right. It’s a “hard” teaching in being counter-cultural and counter biological (one doesn’t have to “polyhack” into a natural impulse).

            Hmm, that’s two hard left precepts. Let’s go with radical environmentalism for the third. Any waste is literally stealing from future generations, and cost-benefit analysis is sophistry, so no shipping goods from China and most big businesses are suspect.

            Now I think most left wing observers will see our polyamorous eco-commune as overly idealistic and too pure for this world, while not actually condemning it. But it would be a hard teaching for the laity to follow. I mean, I expect I tend to fall on Conrad’s side, but I wouldn’t say the overton window has no room on the left. But at that point you are making a pretty radical break from orthodoxy and traditions of Christianity.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Thanks for answering my question, this is getting really interesting.

            @dndnrsn

            There’s relatively little “hardcore left moralizing” in popular culture. What’s dominant is a fairly watery mashup of bits and pieces of liberalism and leftism. One could easily construct a hardcore left-wing Christianity: it would involve significant restrictions on personal property, high levels of charity and community service, and a major push towards evangelization. This could range from “ordinary, but dedicated, church” levels to “whoa that’s totes a cult” level.

            That’s a really good point. But I think once you get to “commune” level you’ve pretty much left anything resembling Christianity because now you’ve got your political system forcing people to give their wealth to each other. And it would not be popular. Communes don’t get that many people.

            If you go that far right, you wind up with some kind of Christian Sharia, which would also be very unpopular.

            I guess if you kept it in something resembling “Christian but definitely votes Democrat” it would just be people who are really, really, really, really against racism and sexism and discrimination, but I think that’s the same as the secular left.

            The most worked up I ever saw my rather centrist church priest get was after Charlottesville. I roll my eyes whenever the priest starts getting political, but it was a very nice message against racism and everybody clapped. But it also was pretty much exactly something I’d expect to find on MSNBC.

          • Nick says:

            Communes would work well as a voluntary arrangement (we still have monasteries, remember!), but I’m not sure it scales well to the rest of society. Of course, channeling Rod Dreher for a second, the more that Christianity becomes an intentional community, the less this distinction will make a difference.

          • Iain says:

            It’s not hard to come up with a hypothetical hard church on the left. It looks a lot like the Quakers, actually. If we’re just looking for teachings that are hard to follow, right-wing Christianity is nowhere close to having a monopoly on those. “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” does not sit easily. The Bible has much more to say about wealth and poverty than it does about homosexuality, abortion, and contraception put together. Fred Clark has spent a long time writing about this; I like this piece in particular. If you don’t believe me or Fred Clark, the Pope also has some interesting thoughts.

            That is not the sort of thing Rachel Maddow spends a lot of time on. This whole Maddow thing is silly, though. Can you name three homilies at a conservative church that, say, Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity would criticize? All you’ve really proved is that left-leaning churches lean left, and right-leaning churches lean right — hardly a crushing blow.

            (I will preemptively grant that, to its great credit, the Catholic church has been good on immigration, for a value of “good” that involves taking “I was a stranger and you took me in” seriously.)

          • Matt M says:

            If they are, there’s very little evidence that the message is getting though.

            Well I haven’t seen any evangelicals stone one lately, have you?

          • Matt M says:

            In the interest of actually answering Conrad’s question, how about mandatory vegetarianism?

            Mandatory polyamory?

            To loop in a conversation happening elsewhere, the sexual mores of Brave New World (everyone belongs to everyone else) always struck me as aspirational to the left-wing

          • Do you think American conservative denominations don’t teach that?

            Based on their followers, if they are they aren’t doing a very good job of it.

            I’m curious about your evidence. Several possibilities:

            1. Conservatives oppose laws that you think help the poor and in various other ways do things Jesus preached.

            The obvious alternatives it that conservatives think those laws have bad consequence, not good.

            2. Some high profile conservatives act in very unchristian ways.

            Possibly true, but not very informative about how the mass of the followers of conservative Christian sects act.

            3. Individual conservatives are, on average, less willing to personally help the poor than individual non-conservatives.

            One would want evidence. My memory is that conservatives give more per capita to charity than liberals, but I could be wrong, or those could be the wrong kind of charities.

            4. ?

            What did you mean, other than a general expression of hostility?

          • The right-wing church will both say “don’t hate prostitutes”

            If they are, there’s very little evidence that the message is getting though.

            At a slight tangent, am I mistaken in thinking that all the talk about “human trafficking” is how people left of center, whose purported ideology has nothing against sex, justify attacks on prostitution–by pretending that most prostitutes are actually slaves? I wouldn’t think conservative Christians would need that excuse to oppose prostitution.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Mandatory vegetarianism and polyamory may get you a left-wing religion, but not a left-wing Christianity. The former has enough precedence in monasteries, but the latter is pretty much just found in heretical groups. That’s not answering the original question.

          • Brad says:

            @David Friedman

            1. Conservatives oppose laws that you think help the poor and in various other ways do things Jesus preached.

            The obvious alternatives it that conservatives think those laws have bad consequence, not good.

            Suppose someone honestly believed, perhaps through some kind of neoRX reasoning, that stoning adulteresses would have good consequences not bad and supported laws that required adulteresses to be stoned.

            If this person claimed to be a devout Christian that attended Church every week would it be fair to say if his minister was preaching about the part of the Bible where Jesus says “let he who is without guilt cast the first stone” then he (the preacher) wasn’t doing a very convincing job of it?

            Whether you or I like it, Jesus’ message wasn’t maximize human flourishing in the way that seems to you most calculated to work.

            Also, I think your #3 is not correctly stated. If preachers were doing a good job at teaching those lessons we’d expect to see a whole lot of neighbor loving, cheek turning, giving away of coats, and not much rock throwing in the relevant population. Any difference at all between conservatives and non conservatives wouldn’t be sufficient to make the claim.

          • are you saying he was only preaching to to ethnic Jews there?

            Rabbinic law distinguishes between the rules that only apply to Jews and the rules that apply to all descendants of Noah. My guess is that the mixed fabric rule is in the former category, but I don’t know–do you? Given where Jesus was, it’s reasonable to assume that his audience was Jewish.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not an expert in this, but I’m pretty sure the Noahide law is tiny compared to the Halakah– I don’t think even the full set of Ten Commandments is mandatory.

          • Matt M says:

            There were specifics.

            About stoning prostitutes? Yes.

            About whether or not the state, under the affordable care act, can mandate employers to provide contraception despite the allowances given by the RFRA?

            No, not so much.

            I would suggest that 99% of present-day political issues have a certain level of ambiguity in that either side could probably find at least one bible verse to suggest that Jesus would totally be on their side.

          • Randy M says:

            Whether you or I like it, Jesus’ message wasn’t maximize human flourishing in the way that seems to you most calculated to work. There were specifics.

            Yep. Like Jesus’ famous aphorism, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, because he does God’s work better than you could.” Struck for painful pettiness, then, as a sign of contrition

            Less snarkily: Jesus had rather fewer specifics about how governments could best facilitate carrying out his teachings than you seem to think. Rather a lot about what individuals should do, of course.

          • Nornagest says:

            Uh, guys, y’all think you could dial down the zingers a little bit? I like a good theological argument, but this is getting kind of painful to read.

          • Brad says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Rabbinic law distinguishes between the rules that only apply to Jews and the rules that apply to all descendants of Noah. My guess is that the mixed fabric rule is in the former category, but I don’t know–do you? Given where Jesus was, it’s reasonable to assume that his audience was Jewish.

            If the Noahide laws are the only thing that bind Christians then they are permitted to have sex so long as the woman isn’t married to someone else — fornication is okay. Also, lesbian sex. But eating prairie oysters presumably send you straight to hell.

          • Brad says:

            @Matt M

            There were specifics.

            About stoning prostitutes? Yes.

            Parsing the letter of the law is fine with me. But fortunately or unfortunately your Jesus really hated people that do that. So somehow I don’t think putting them in prison and then saying “hey we didn’t stone them!” is going to get you off the hook.

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            Mandatory polyamory?

            To loop in a conversation happening elsewhere, the sexual mores of Brave New World (everyone belongs to everyone else) always struck me as aspirational to the left-wing.

            Well, the Anabaptist theocracy that briefly controlled Münster featured both equal distribution of wealth as well as polygamy, although the latter may have been for practical reasons (way more women than men were part of the rebellion, many of whom were former nuns, who may have been very eager to take advantage of no longer having to abstain from intercourse).

          • Brad says:

            Randy M

            Yep. Like Jesus’ famous aphorism, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, because he does God’s work better than you could.”

            Less snarkily: Jesus had rather fewer specifics about how governments could best facilitate carrying out his teachings than you seem to think. Rather a lot about what individuals should do, of course.

            I highly recommend that all Americans, especially non-Christians, read the gospels. Different Christians you come across will say all kinds of things about Jesus, but its pretty easy to read four pretty short books and figure out what’s actually in there.

            I’ve read through them several times and I think I have a pretty feel for the character. You want to say that the holy spirit inspired other people — Paul or the early Church fathers or Martin Luther — to have a truer message, that’s your right. But as for Jesus, the gospels are it, and anyone can go and read them. You don’t need to be a believer to see the kind of message he was preaching and to point out when people try to offer wildly implausible readings.

            Myself I tend to agree with Gandhi’s take.

          • I wrote, to Brad:

            The obvious alternatives it that conservatives think those laws have bad consequence, not good.

            He responded:

            Suppose someone honestly believed, perhaps through some kind of neoRX reasoning, that stoning adulteresses would have good consequences not bad and supported laws that required adulteresses to be stoned.

            I don’t see the relevance. Jesus says you shouldn’t stone adulteresses unless you are without sin, so you shouldn’t stone adulteresses even if you think doing so has good consequences. I don’t think it strictly follows that you shouldn’t support laws requiring other people to stone adulteresses, but it seems a pretty natural implication.

            But Jesus didn’t, so far as I know, say that you had to recognize gay marriage, or legalize abortion, or vote to tax people in order to give their money to the poor, still less that you had to vote for minimum wage laws. So what are the laws conservative Christians vote against that Jesus says they are obliged to vote for?

            Suppose you believe, as many economists (I can’t speak for conservative Christians) do, that minimum wage laws hurt poor people by pricing low skilled workers out of the market. Does anything Jesus says imply that you should vote for them?

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Brad & DavidFriedman

            I feel like you’re both ignoring a critical detail of that story. The letter of the law dictated that both adulterer and adulteress receive the same punishment. The Pharisees had declined to punish the man so they were obliged to release the woman.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Can you name three homilies at a conservative church that, say, Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity would criticize?

            With regards to Rush, I’m guessing sermons against lust, gluttony, and divorce.

          • Randy M says:

            You don’t need to be a believer to see the kind of message he was preaching and to point out when people try to offer wildly implausible readings.

            I invite you to do so.

            (Please reference your earlier argument in response to David regarding which laws must be endorsed without regard to their actual consequences, a stance I would be expected to be called out as uncharitable for if I actually attributed to liberals.)

            edit: But I think I’ll refrain from responding further for fear of dog-piling, etc. Suffice to say, I am unconvinced by your argument to this point.

          • Matt M says:

            Parsing the letter of the law is fine with me. But fortunately or unfortunately your Jesus really hated people that do that. So somehow I don’t think putting them in prison and then saying “hey we didn’t stone them!” is going to get you off the hook.

            I feel like your claim was implied to be interpreted more broadly, as if to say the specifics encompass most relevant issues of our day and not just prostitution.

            In any case “sin no more” pretty heavily implies that this is a bad thing that will be met with punishment. If not meted out by man, than by God in the form of eternal suffering and hellfire. Which remains slightly different from “my body my choice” or what have you.

            And as David Friedman points out, the real issue here is when people point to “love thy neighbor” as if it’s 100% synonymous with “fight for $15” or whatever social justice cause-de-jour is sweeping the evening news circuit…

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            (Weird. I thought I posted this earlier)

            That’s a really good point. But I think once you get to “commune” level you’ve pretty much left anything resembling Christianity because now you’ve got your political system forcing people to give their wealth to each other. And it would not be popular. Communes don’t get that many people.

            Yeah, but consider the early Jesus Movement, or whatever scholars are calling it these days. A weirdo tiny commune that everyone thinks is weird with weird rules would be pretty appropriate.

          • Brad says:

            @DavidFriedman
            I don’t think Jesus has a position on minimum wage laws, I don’t think I’ve implied anywhere that he has a position on minimum wage laws, and I don’t hold it against you that you don’t remember but you and I have discussed minimum wage laws before and I agree with your take.

            I’m not, and haven’t, claimed that Jesus’ message is identical to the 2016 Democratic political platform.

            This is what I said:

            Maybe it would emphasize Jesus’ challenging messages about giving your money away to the poor, turning the other cheek, letting he who is without guilt cast the first stone, feeding and housing the stranger, washing the feet of prostitutes — you know all the things Jesus stood for that American right wing denominations prefer to pretend he didn’t.

            To which Conrad Honcho replied in part

            Do you think American conservative denominations don’t teach that?

            To I responded

            Based on their followers, if they are they aren’t doing a very good job of it.

            You wanted to know if by this I included their political positions. I did. That doesn’t at all imply that I think anything and everything that the party that conservative Christians overwhelmingly support does is directly contrary to these teachings. It isn’t some kind of contradiction to find a plank of the Republican Party that Jesus happened not to speak to one way or the other.

            @hlynkacg
            That may an interesting and worthy midrashic spin on the verses, but I looked at several different translations and I didn’t see anything that directly implied it.

            @Randy M
            Here I am a non-believer encouraging other non-believers to go out and read the good news. I’d have thought you’d be pleased.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Can we just post this meme and be done with it?

            The “you should vote for democrat welfare stuff because Jesus” argument has never, ever worked on any Christian, ever. It doesn’t work because 1) they don’t want to and 2) most Christians see their religion as one of personal choice and not government force.

            Finally, it proves too much. Vote to have the government force everyone to care for the poor like Jesus wants and that’s good and right and holy, but vote to have the government force everyone to worship God like Jesus wants and not fornicate like Jesus wants and that’s being an oppressive theocrat.

            So, you can keep arguing that we should be having the government enforce our religious convictions and I’m going to keep saying “no.” Catholics and Protestants have done that sort of thing in the past and Europe got a little bloody over it.

          • Nick says:

            You wanted to know if by this I included their political positions. I did. That doesn’t at all imply that I think anything and everything that the party that conservative Christians overwhelmingly support does is directly contrary to these teachings. It isn’t some kind of contradiction to find a plank of the Republican Party that Jesus happened not to speak to one way or the other.

            It doesn’t strictly imply that, sure, but it’s a fairly natural interpretation, and don’t you think it would be more helpful to be clearer about what you mean in the first place, or to clarify it sometime in the intervening… 58 posts? Of which 12 were your own? I’m getting kind of tired of this pattern—Big, vague claim!—oh, you mean this then, but here’s why that’s wrong—No, that’s not what I said—oh, you mean this then, but here’s why that’s wrong—No, that’s not what I said—oh, you mean this then….

            The more I read and reread this thread, the less clear it is to me the substance of what you’re defending. What precisely is it, beyond “right-wing Christians are bad at promoting economic justice, in a way that reflects in some but not all the policies of the party they tend to vote for”? Do you have in mind specific policies, that you will name? If not, do you have in mind specific Christians who are failing at this, that you will not? If not, do you have in mind specific incidents in which churches or Christian leaders failed to uphold economic injustice, that you will name?

            I’m sorry if this comes across as antagonistic, I don’t mean it to be—I genuinely want to see the debate revolve around what you do mean rather than what you don’t, and I think it’s imperative that you clarify that for us.

          • rlms says:

            @Conrad Honcho
            “The “you should vote for democrat welfare stuff because Jesus” argument has never, ever worked on any Christian, ever.”
            That is a very narrow (North) American perspective. I expect that Angela Merkel (leader of the Christian Democratic Union) would disagree with it.

          • Brad says:

            @Nick

            What precisely is it, beyond “right-wing Christians are bad at promoting economic justice, in a way that reflects in some but not all the policies of the party they tend to vote for”?
            Do you have in mind specific policies, that you will name?

            You and others keep on wanting to make it about taxation and welfare for some reason. But you claim to have read all my posts, and I have not be emphasizing that at all.

            The one part that I have been emphasizing more than any other is the story with the adulteresses and the would be stoners. Here we have something that’s pretty straightforward to translate not only to the modern day, but specifically to the communal as opposed to personal context.

            Are people that attend conservative denominations overwhelmingly supporting criminal justice polices that emphasize mercy, forgiveness, and rehabilitation? I don’t think so at all. And I don’t see how you can square “tough on crime” up to and including the death penalty where it isn’t needed for isolation*, with Jesus’ message of forgiveness.

            Although I haven’t up to this point, we could also talk a great deal about warmongering in general and specifically supporting wars of vengeance and how that contradicts Jesus’ overall message.

            I know the apologists would rather talk about taxes and welfare because they have the “but private charity!” counter-argument all fired up and ready to go. Sorry to disappoint.

            This entire discussion started with Conrad Honcho ridiculing the concept of a left wing Church because hurr durr it would just be the Rachel Maddow show. That’s absurd. Rachel Maddow doesn’t tell people they have to love their enemies. Rachel Maddow doesn’t say you need to turn the other cheek. Rachel Maddow doesn’t even say that it is better to be poor than rich — unlike like Jesus was, she’s rich.

            But apparently Conrad Honcho thinks that the only thing Jesus really cares about is where men stick their dicks. And the rest of you can’t wait to dogpile in to nitpick responses to his nonsense because Go Red and Gray team! So yeah, you did come across as antagonistic.

            *That caveat is in honor of the Pope.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            This entire discussion started with Conrad Honcho ridiculing the concept of a left wing Church because hurr durr it would just be the Rachel Maddow show. That’s absurd. Rachel Maddow doesn’t tell people they have to love their enemies. Rachel Maddow doesn’t say you need to turn the other cheek. Rachel Maddow doesn’t even say that it is better to be poor than rich — unlike like Jesus was, she’s rich.

            But apparently Conrad Honcho thinks that the only thing Jesus really cares about is where men stick their dicks. And the rest of you can’t wait to dogpile in to nitpick responses to his nonsense because Go Red and Gray team! So yeah, you did come across as antagonistic.

            Aside from the needless homophobia swipe, this is fair criticism. Conrad’s OP and first response don’t exactly convey a “let’s all discuss this nicely” tone.

            On the other hand, aside from your first post, your contempt has been coming across very strongly the whole thread. You really should not be surprised when a signal of “ugh not this red tribe shit again” catalyzes a red tribe response.

            Maybe don’t throw shit like “Because it isn’t about Jesus, it’s about having a burning hate in your heart for half your countrymen” around if you want to have a productive discussion. Or at the very least don’t want to start a crappy CW quip-fight.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Additionally, Brad, you started attacking people-who-aren’t-Conrad as being insufficiently Christian. It is pretty clear you weren’t just responding to him, and were using it as an opportunity to jump on a soapbox to point out perceived moral failings of one of your outgroups, based on your interpretation of what your perception of their moral precepts should imply.

            Not that many of us here are wholly innocent of that kind of behavior, but that doesn’t make it a good thing.

          • Randy M says:

            @Randy M
            Here I am a non-believer encouraging other non-believers to go out and read the good news. I’d have thought you’d be pleased.

            I made no counter to that point, let me clarify! I was requesting justification for a specific implication you seemed to be making, but apparently I wasn’t doing so cogently enough for the argument to register.

            Regardless, your point is not without merit (echoing as it does James’, another Christian writing after Jesus, remarks on works) and encouraged me to take another look at our own giving, etc., so thank you.

          • Randy M says:

            @ Conrad’s most recent
            That meme is the mirror image (well, less rigorous) version of what Iain called a bad faith argument a thread ago, isn’t it?
            Paraphrased, “I don’t believe in the epistemology you use, but nonetheless it supports my point not yours.”

          • hlynkacg says:

            And I don’t see how you can square “tough on crime” up to and including the death penalty where it isn’t needed for isolation*, with Jesus’ message of forgiveness.

            It’s not hard if you think about it for more than thirty seconds. This is the same guy who cast the vendors out of the temple and instructed his followers to sell thier cloaks and buy swords after all. In the particular case of Pharisees and the woman caught in adultery, Jesus doesn’t comment on the brutality stoning but he does call out the Pharisees for hypocrisy.

            The Pharisees ask Jesus to sit in judgment and accuse him of violating God’s law when they don’t like his decision. Jesus’ response boils down to; Hey! You guys came to me and if you can show mercy to the john I can show mercy to the whore.

            Edit:
            Ninja’d by a whole mess of people. I don’t want to dogpile and nobody here seems interested in the actual theological debate anyway.

            That said, I would suggest you take a long look in the mirror before accusing others of harboring “a burning hate in your heart for half your countrymen.”

          • Nick says:

            You and others keep on wanting to make it about taxation and welfare for some reason. But you claim to have read all my posts, and I have not be emphasizing that at all.

            You haven’t emphasized it at all, but as I said, it was a natural interpretation of your original post; I mean, you did after all list “giving your money away to the poor” and “feeding and housing the stranger,” alongside “turning the other cheek,” “letting he who is without guilt cast the first stone” and “washing the feet of prostitutes.” And the conversation actually did turn at one point to the prostitution question too. So I’d say it wasn’t at all clear from your original post that the issue you were most concerned about was terrible criminal justice policy.

            Also, I haven’t been in the discussion on taxation and welfare at all, actually; when I jumped in it’s been for other stuff.

            The one part that I have been emphasizing more than any other is the story with the adulteresses and the would be stoners. Here we have something that’s pretty straightforward to translate not only to the modern day, but specifically to the communal as opposed to personal context.

            I’ll grant you it appears in your second response, and quite clearly actually, but it disappears for a long time in arguments over other things you said. It reappears again toward the end, but that post ends with a reaffirmation of all the ones you mentioned at the beginning. So yes, it was the one you emphasized the most, but not consistently, and not without exception. It’s too bad no one took you up on that, but it’s not that surprising when you follow it immediately with doubling down on something inflammatory you said.

            So, with the context hopefully clarified, we can have a discussion about this—I’ll refrain from now so as not to clutter this post, except to say that I actually agree that criminal justice policies are too harsh in America, and that our prisons are awful, though I’d caution that, for the Catholics in this discussion (of which there are several), the issue is always going to be more complicated than what a straightforward reading of the gospels might suggest:

            Are people that attend conservative denominations overwhelmingly supporting criminal justice polices that emphasize mercy, forgiveness, and rehabilitation? I don’t think so at all. And I don’t see how you can square “tough on crime” up to and including the death penalty where it isn’t needed for isolation*, with Jesus’ message of forgiveness.

            Although I haven’t up to this point, we could also talk a great deal about warmongering in general and specifically supporting wars of vengeance and how that contradicts Jesus’ overall message.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @rlms

            “The “you should vote for democrat welfare stuff because Jesus” argument has never, ever worked on any Christian, ever.”
            That is a very narrow (North) American perspective. I expect that Angela Merkel (leader of the Christian Democratic Union) would disagree with it.

            Is Merkel particularly interested in government enforcement of Christian personal or sexual behavioral morality? My model of her is “large government social programs because raised communist” and not “because devout Christian,” but perhaps I’m wrong.

          • rlms says:

            @Conrad Honcho
            Merkel is just the most prominent Christian democrat, there are plenty of others who didn’t grow up in East Germany*. The extent to which they promote governmental enforcement Christian morality is irrelevant, my point is that they do in fact use the “‘you should vote for democrat welfare stuff because Jesus’ argument” argument, and with great success.

            *I think you are mistaken about her anyway, given the party she chose to lead and her religious upbringing, but that’s besides the point.

          • quanta413 says:

            Trying snark again after epic wrong level post fail.

            @Brad

            I highly recommend that all Americans, especially non-Christians, read the gospels. Different Christians you come across will say all kinds of things about Jesus, but its pretty easy to read four pretty short books and figure out what’s actually in there.

            I’ve read through them several times and I think I have a pretty feel for the character. You want to say that the holy spirit inspired other people — Paul or the early Church fathers or Martin Luther — to have a truer message, that’s your right. But as for Jesus, the gospels are it, and anyone can go and read them. You don’t need to be a believer to see the kind of message he was preaching and to point out when people try to offer wildly implausible readings.

            Contrary to this unintentional caricature of some Protestant belief, it doesn’t actually make much sense to interpret all of Christianitiy Sola Scriptura especially if you’re going to ignore all the books but four.

            And the rest of you can’t wait to dogpile in to nitpick responses to his nonsense because Go Red and Gray team! So yeah, you did come across as antagonistic.

            Personally, I can’t wait to dogpile in because your arguments are a vague and ever moving target, which can be an amusing game that won’t really end.

          • Brad says:

            @hlynkacg

            You guys came to me and if you can show mercy to the john I can show mercy to the whore.

            Again, I’m not seeing this implied in the text.

            Here’s Young’s literal translation:

            1 And at dawn he came again to the temple, 2 and all the people were coming unto him, and having sat down, he was teaching them; 3 and the scribes and the Pharisees bring unto him a woman having been taken in adultery, and having set her in the midst, 4 they say to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was taken in the very crime — committing adultery, 5 and in the law, Moses did command us that such be stoned; thou, therefore, what dost thou say?’ 6 and this they said, trying him, that they might have to accuse him. And Jesus, having stooped down, with the finger he was writing on the ground, 7 and when they continued asking him, having bent himself back, he said unto them, ‘The sinless of you — let him first cast the stone at her;’ 8 and again having stooped down, he was writing on the ground, 9 and they having heard, and by the conscience being convicted, were going forth one by one, having begun from the elders — unto the last; and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 And Jesus having bent himself back, and having seen no one but the woman, said to her, ‘Woman, where are those — thine accusers? did no one pass sentence upon thee?’ 11 and she said, ‘No one, Sir;’ and Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I pass sentence on thee; be going on, and no more sin.’

            It’s certainly a clever reading, “hey what happened to the guy”, but I think it is just that — a clever reading that can be used as a jumping off point for a different point. Not the obvious and primary reading that offers the main lesson the text is trying to impart.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Brad
            It’s not cleverness it’s context.

            Jesus is in the temple teaching law (along with reading and writing) to whomever shows up. The Pharisees are scribes, scholars, and representatives of the priestly class. They’re annoyed that Jesus is teaching commoners (I wonder why) and are looking for an excuse to expel him from the temple. “trying him, that they might accuse him.” The Pharisees bring the woman before him and cite Moses’ command. Jesus responds by writing the text of that command out on the ground “both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.” and uttering the famous line.

            Far from being fringe, I assure you that this is the main-line interpretation among Orthodox and more conservative Christian congregations. You see, Jesus had this thing about people laying claim to the mantel of virtue without putting the work in. Judge not, that ye be not judged and all that,

          • Brad says:

            @hlynkacg
            I’m not trying to be combative here, I’m genuinely puzzled. You write:

            Jesus responds by writing the text of that command out on the ground “both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.” and uttering the famous line.

            But I just quoted the entirety of the episode as it appears in John 8 and it doesn’t say that. As far as I remember (and I double checked by googling) this episode doesn’t appear in any of the synoptic gospels. So where are you getting the part about him writing out the text of the rule on the ground from?

          • hlynkacg says:

            Like I said above, it’s about context.

            This is but one episode among many. It is assumed that the reader knows who Jesus is and what he’s been up to. Likewise it is assumed that the reader knows who the Pharisees are and why they have a beef with him.

            Edit to elaborate: Jesus has been teaching the people to read by writing out the commands of Moses in the sand. The Pharisees confront him citing the commands of Moses. Jesus writes in the sand. What do you think he’s writing? A shopping list? A dirty Limerick? Mary had a little lamb?

          • Nick says:

            Hlynkacg is right. If that passage were all we knew of Jewish your straightforward reading would be the more plausible one, Brad. But we also have passages like “I came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it” from Matthew, and hlynkacg’s reading is more consonant with passages like that.

          • Brad says:

            It doesn’t say he is teaching anyone to read. It doesn’t say he is teaching anyone to read hebrew. I certainly doesn’t say he is teaching anyone to read hebrew by writing out the laws of moses in the sand. It says:

            And at dawn he came again to the temple, 2 and all the people were coming unto him, and having sat down, he was teaching them;

            and as for writing

            And Jesus, having stooped down, with the finger he was writing on the ground, 7 and when they continued asking him, having bent himself back, he said unto them, ‘The sinless of you — let him first cast the stone at her;’ 8 and again having stooped down, he was writing on the ground,

            That’s it. No hint of what was being written.

            And no, “I came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it” doesn’t somehow let the reader know that he was actually teaching people how to read and that what he wrote in the sand was the passage from Deuteronomy that describes the rules regarding adultery.

            Apparently this is some long standing Church tradition. I can respect that for what it is. But it isn’t coming from the text of John or supplied by the context of the gospels as a whole.

            If you sat down a very smart person with no background in Christianity, gave them the four gospels to read and then gave them a SAT style reading comprehension test with the passage from John on the page and some multiple choice questions, that’s not the reading he’d ever pick.

          • Randy M says:

            And no, “I came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it” doesn’t somehow let the reader know that he was actually teaching people how to read and that what he wrote in the sand was the passage from Deuteronomy that describes the rules regarding adultery.

            Try and have a little charity. What Nick obviously meant was that the “I came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it” line informs us about Jesus mission generally, and how he is not likely to be attempting to revolutionize Jewish sexual mores or legal proceedings–Nick was clearly not saying that from that line we can conclude exactly the details Hyn suggested.

            Jesus in that scene was a bit like I sometimes am with my children when they tattle-tale. Yes, I might wish for one to brush her teeth or not jump on the bed or whatever infraction, but I’m also concerned about what it says about the relationship between the siblings when one is trying to get the other in trouble. It seems Jesus saw angry mobs as a problem worth rebuking–and his response was kind of like someone getting off for a crime when the police don’t follow proper procedure–but his admonition to the woman makes clear that her behavior is sin.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Brad

            The passage doesn’t say anything about Jesus being Jewish either. It is assumed that the reader already knows, just as it is assumed that reader knows that Jews (and by extension early Christians) place a great deal of stock in the idea of having written laws.

            Like I said above, this is but one episode among many. We know from previous episodes (the accounts of Matthew and Luke) that Jesus has been teaching people to read so that they might know and follow the law. We also know that he has challenged the power/authority of the local priesthood by doing so. This is why Jesus is being addressed as “teacher” in this scene. It also explains why the Pharisees want to get rid of him.

            As Randy M pointed out above, Jesus’ admonishment to the woman at the end is not “adultery is cool now so feel free to whore it up” it’s “cut that shit out”. Rather than overturning the law, he’s holding others too it.

            You wanted to know how conservative Christians square being “tough on crime” and general respect for law and order with Jesus’ mercy and other revolutionary acts? That’s your answer.

          • Nick says:

            FWIW, the gospel doesn’t actually say explicitly what Jesus wrote in the sand, and while hlynkacg’s suggestion is reasonable, it’s still fundamentally speculative with respect to the words themselves. Another suggestion I’ve heard before is that he was writing the Pharisees’ sins out, showing to each and each other that they are unworthy. But I think we can all see that’s a less plausible reading.

          • rlms says:

            There’s a difference between encouraging moral behaviour by enforcing the law, and doing so with persuasive speech. Jesus’ actions in the passage under discussion seem to strongly favour the latter. He didn’t say “sin no more, or we *will* stone you”. Telling prostitutes to renounce their wicked ways is certainly not unchristian, but doing things that analogise to supporting stoning them does lean that way.

          • Randy M says:

            but doing things that analogise to supporting stoning them does lean that way.

            Why do I get the feeling these analogies are going to be doing a lot of work? There’s a qualitative difference between capital punishment and any other type, namely the ability for the recipient to atone and repent.

            What types of things did you in fact have in mind?

          • rlms says:

            @Randy M
            There is certainly a difference between capital and non-capital punishment, but I think it’s a lot more reasonable to go from “Jesus didn’t want prostitutes to be stoned” to “Jesus wouldn’t want prostitutes to face lengthy jail sentences” than to go from “Jesus didn’t want prostitutes to prostitute” to “Jesus would have been willing to use any government force up to imprisonment to enforce that desire”.

            Separately, the passage under discussion seems to provide a decent argument that all forms of capital punishment are unchristian. To be fair, this claims that although a lot of American Christians support the death penalty, only a small minority think that Jesus would agree with them.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m not sure what exactly our punishments for prostitution are and I’m not prepared to argue it either way. Regarding capital punishment, Dennis Prager points out that death penalty for murders is mandated in all of the books of Moses, the law that Jesus said he came to fulfill.

            Jesus did in fact forgive his killers, but I’m not sure he’d agitate to over turn the use of capital punishment in civil murder cases (that were justly prosecuted, etc.)

          • rlms says:

            I don’t think that “don’t punish prostitutes” is the only plausible interpretation of Jesus’ teachings, but (going back to the start of this discussion) it is one reasonable interpretation that a hypothetical “strict left-wing denomination” could hold but that American conservative denominations do not.

            What is the difference between the OT laws that demanded capital punishment for murder, and the ones that demanded it for adultery/homosexuality/witchcraft etc.? I’m not sure that there’s enough of one that you can say Jesus promised to fulfil the former but not the latter. Also, if you are looking at capital punishment in the context of the modern US, it’s possibly relevant that we now have life imprisonment as an alternative to execution. I think the main reason for choosing the latter is that it’s more retributive, which is pretty anti-Jesusy.

          • There is an easy way to see that the bible is left-wing:
            Andrew Schafly wants to rewrite it

        • johan_larson says:

          The Social Gospel movement, part II: Electric Boogaloo.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Gospel

          Jeepers. That was a hundred years ago now. Ol’time religion.

        • Nick says:

          Let me draw attention to the words of Abp. Chaput:

          What do I mean by that last sentence? Critics sometimes claim that America’s bishops talk too much about issues like abortion and religious freedom while they overlook the poor. And of course we do talk about those issues, and we’ll continue to do so—vigorously, and for as long as it takes—because the right to life and religious liberty are foundational to human dignity. Without the right to life, all other human rights are compromised.

          But consider this: In Philadelphia we spend less than $200,000 a year on the archdiocesan office that handles sanctity of life, family and laity issues. It has one full time employee. Most of our specifically “prolife” work is done by volunteers, and at the parish level.

          In comparison, we spend more than 4.2 million privately donated archdiocesan dollars each year— every year—on social services for the poor, the homeless, the disabled, troubled youths, battered women, immigration counseling, food pantries and nutritional programs. And we manage another $100 million in public funding for the same or similar efforts. We have 1,600 full time employees spread across these Catholic social ministries doing the works of mercy—and fewer than 200 of them are involved in parenting, family and pregnancy support services.

          What’s the lesson? If there’s anything “lopsided” about the real witness of the Catholic Church in Philadelphia, it’s weighted heavily in favor of the poor. It always has been. And that’s the reality in nearly every diocese in the United States. But it’s not a fact that fits comfortably into a storyline of “compassionate Pope Francis vs. conservative American bishops.”

        • quanta413 says:

          EDIT: Wrong comment level. @#$#@$

      • rahien.din says:

        I ought to answer your question.

        What do you envision the “strict left-wing denomination” would look like? How would that be any different from watching Rachel Maddow?

        Well, I don’t think that “hyper-liberal” necessarily means “like the photo-negative of Westboro Baptist Church.”

        What I think is hard to explain. I could start by proposing a certain value [Th], which represents the fervency with which one holds a belief, or the degree to which one holds that belief to be permissible. Then, a plane of belief-space, with each belief falling somewhere along an axis of liberal-vs-conservative.

        At heart, liberals and conservatives are each working with the same overall mass of [Th], but just distributing that mass differently. Conservatives stack their [Th] higher over a narrower, highly right-predominant area of belief-space, liberals spread their [Th] more thinly over a broad area of somewhat left-predominant belief-space. Maybe those distributions are both maximal at “Christ is our Lord and Savior,” but they are otherwise very different in profile.

        The most liberal of liberal denominations would have a tiny bump of [Th] at “Jesus” but otherwise be rather flat over the rest of the plane. So, the United Church of Christ? Just enough Jesus to be this side of the Unitarian Universalists, but still basically holding bake-sales and reading the news together.

    • BBA says:

      Just a note: religiosity among young white people is declining, even among those who were raised evangelical. To the extent that evangelical churches are still growing, it’s because they’re attracting more black and Hispanic congregants from the historic black churches and Catholicism, respectively.

    • Deiseach says:

      There definitely is the Religious Left, but it’s pretty much so embedded in the liberal secular society that it’s not very noticeable. And media outlets prefer headlines about “Church leaders slam gay marriage” than “Church leaders say gay marriage is the cat’s pyjamas” because duh, conflict makes for an interesting story. A story full of “Everybody was nice and nice things happened today and at a meeting of the Committee For Niceness, it was agreed that we should try and be nice” is going to be dull and boring and not grab eyeballs and so not sell advertising.

      Reverend Barry Lynn. Ever heard of him? You probably did, only you don’t know it. Ever heard of Americans United? Formerly and probably still currently Americans United for the Separation of Church and State? Reverend Lynn, ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, has headed that up since 1992, had a Huffington Post blog, and has often taken cases about religious liberty issues – guess which side he promotes? Hint: it’s not the same side as the Little Sisters of the Poor versus Health and Human Services on the contraceptive mandate (side note: cannot believe Trump actually did sign this one into law! I really did think that all the pro-life talk beforehand on the campaign trail was going to be so much hot air and this would never happen!)

      Same with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice – guess which side of the fence they are on when it comes to Planned Parenthood? And a lot of other similar organisations and churches walking hand-in-hand as the Zeitgeist points the way.

      As to being strict and rigid in their requirements, The Episcopal Church embarked on a (ruinous) campaign of suing the socks off dissident congregations, be that parishes or dioceses, who were not with the programme on tolerance, love ‘n’ peace. It is very complicated and very tangled, but basically the same people who were all God’s Dream of Shalom (yes, they said that) on the one hand suddenly got “And we own every damn thing here, including the hassocks and prayer books” when individual congregations said “hey, we don’t think you’re adhering to Biblical standards anymore, so since we’re not a hierarchical church as you keep telling us we’re not, we’re gonna take up our beds and walk”. Court cases are still being decided, millions of dollars have flowed into lawyers’ pockets, and there is a lot of rancour and bad feeling on all sides.

  17. . says:

    John Schilling:

    Ancient Geek: I see everyone has fallen back to blaming culture

    When did the “everyone” to whom you are speaking, blame anything but culture?

    Cultural explanations are wildly over-used here. Here is why cultural explanations are mostly bad and we should feel bad:

    They mislead. It is unrealistic to think that we really understand societies, so it useful to have a bin of unknown unknowns which we call ‘culture’. But this creates the illusion that the things in the bin are somehow related. Saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and valuing democracy are both parts of Western culture. People get so freaked out about protecting the first one, that I must conclude they believe that these are causally related.

    They are lazy. To give a historical, legal or economic explanation, one needs to know or think about history, law or economics. To give a cultural explanation it suffices to interrogate your prejudices. Not only can you do this from your armchair, your don’t even need to have read any books. Sitcoms and buddy cop movies are more than sufficient. Beyond this, further cultural study faces sharply diminishing returns. I am not being sarcastic: because culture is so mysterious, you really do face such diminishing returns.

    They are unambitious. It is hubris to think that we can fully understand society, but we can understand a little, and we should not settle for the illusion of understanding that culture provides.
    Consider this example. In it a man kills his daughter because of Afghan culture. This cultural explanation is basically true, but you can go beyond it and ask how exactly Afghan culture dictates his actions. And there is a more precise explanation available here – the murderer’s incentives are shaped by his family back in Afghanistan, and he responds to these incentives.

    They don’t let you estimate magnitudes. Because culture functions as a sort of odorless, invisible gas that fills the gaps in any model, there is no way to get a handle on the magnitude of cultural effects. Consider the eternal question, “why is Singapore so good”. Singapore is catnip to the culture-theorist. It is full of culturally (and genetically) superior Chinese, together with the legacy of Great Britain, maybe the most stable and successful political system in history. But the Singaporean state does not put its trust in their superior culture, in fact it is famously legalistic. So, do Singaporean policies work, or are good Singaporean outcomes mostly due to culture? It is impossible to say; culture is so nebulous that it could explain all of the variation or none of it.

    Culture might not exist. Brainwashing is apparently impossible, which makes it unclear how deep culture (that is, stuff deeper than facts, explicit theories and funny dances) could be transmitted from one generation to the next. By comparison it is obvious how incentive structures are passed down from one generation to the next.

    • Nornagest says:

      This smells a bit… motivated to me.

    • p duggie says:

      You call it interrogating my prejudices. I call it writing an autoethnography.

    • John Schilling says:

      Cultural explanations are wildly over-used here. Here is why cultural explanations are mostly bad and we should feel bad:

      Culture might not exist.

      Having read actual books on the subject of culture, specifically including books on the “gun culture” of the United States and other nations, I have come to the well-informed conclusion that culture does, in fact, exist. Really.

      Insofar as culture does exist, there must logically be some set of questions for which the answer is found in the domain of culture. I will not feel bad, when I recognize one of those questions, for saying “the answer is cultural”.

      I will also not feel bad when, seeing someone deny that culture exists and also accuse me of being so intellectually unambitious as to begin and end my understanding of the subject with sitcoms and buddy-cop movies, I deem that entity unworthy of further consideration except as an annoyance or a threat.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I feel a special obligation to respond here since the comment thread built on my comment:

      When I wrote “some combination of hereditary traits and culture” I was qualifying my statement to avoid derailing the thread. My view is that the combination is genetics plus or minus biological variability (random noise).

      All of your complaints about it being vague and handwave-y are correct only to the extent that culture is serving as a euphemism.

    • Randy M says:

      Saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and valuing democracy are both parts of Western culture. People get so freaked out about protecting the first one, that I must conclude they believe that these are causally related.

      eh? Why wouldn’t you conclude instead that they value things other than democracy?

    • Well... says:

      Does software exist, or just hardware?

    • Aapje says:

      @.

      Culture might not exist. Brainwashing is apparently impossible, which makes it unclear how deep culture (that is, stuff deeper than facts, explicit theories and funny dances) could be transmitted from one generation to the next.

      Please provide evidence for this claim.

      This is an utterly absurd claim that is inconsistent with the basic observation that people with the same genes behave quite differently if they get raised by Chinese or American parents.

    • aNeopuritan says:

      “But the Singaporean state does not put its trust in their superior culture, in fact it is famously legalistic.” – it doesn’t put its trust in the cultures of the Malays, Tamils, and Westerners. For example:

      “I have said this on many a previous occasion: that had the mix in Singapore been different, had it been 75% Indians, 15% Malays and the rest Chinese, it would not have worked. Because they believe in the politics of contention, of opposition. But because the culture was such that the populace sought a practical way out of their difficulties, therefore it has worked.”

    • All I Do Is Win says:

      Culture might not exist.

      So…are those people who try to maintain a distinct “company culture” (at Google, for instance) on a quixotic quest of no significance whatever? Like, if Google made no attempt at all at keeping a consistent culture with who they hire, that would produce the exact same results they see now?

      I doubt anyone believes this, ergo: cultures (a) exist, and (b) matter.

  18. piato says:

    I’m looking to invest-and-forget-about some money in Indexes/ETFs. I’m not interested in becoming an active investor, and I guess I’d like my portfolio to have the most generic possible SSC-reader financial outlook (broadly optimistic about worldwide economic growth, broadly optimistic about machine learning/AI). So perhaps something like:
    25% – Generic ‘US’ (maybe Nasdaq?)
    25% – Generic China (maybe with a tech emphasis?)
    25% – Generic ‘Developing’
    25% – Generic Europe

    Beyond that, I’m clueless – how do I pick between the available options? Am I missing anything?

    • andrewflicker says:

      Aim for low-fee broad index funds, and don’t feel obligated to go 25/25/25/25- there are plenty of good “two-fund” strategies that work for beginning.

      Check this out: https://www.bogleheads.org/wiki/Lazy_portfolios

      EDIT – to put my own skin in the game, my 401k is 65% FID 500 Premium Class (FUSVX) and 35% Vanguard Total International (VTIAX). I don’t worry about bonds because I’m still young and would rather take the risk for higher returns (basically).

      • piato says:

        Thank you, this was very helpful.

      • Brad says:

        My problem with the general boglehead group of philosophies is they seem way undermotivated.

        Don’t invest in active mutual funds, sure. But once you get into the actual asset allocations people recommend there’s very little reasoning involved. The lazy two fund portfolio is 60% total world equities and 40% total world bonds. Why that ratio?

        • chroMa says:

          The ratio I always heard/used was 70/30 domestic vs. international. I think the main reason you don’t want too much international exposure is the effect of currency fluctuation and the higher fees associated with investing international (which explains why not 50-50 I guess?). The one blurb I could find on it in 5 minutes of googling was this:

          International stocks in combination with U.S. stocks can actually lower risk in an equity portfolio, compared with an all-U.S. portfolio. That’s because historically, the performance of U.S. and international stocks has not typically been perfectly correlated,2 which thereby reduces risk. Historically, a globally balanced hypothetical portfolio of 70% U.S./30% international equities has produced better risk-adjusted returns (Sharpe ratio) and lower volatility (standard deviation) than an all-U.S. portfolio (see table, below).

          But the above says nothing about if this is the ideal ratio historically. Something else I found was the total world stock market capitalization (65.6T USD) and the US stock market capitalization (23.8T USD) which definitely suggests a general overweighting of US stocks if you’re simply looking at being market cap weighted.

          • Brad says:

            I’ve generally heard the term “overweighting” to mean weighted more than the market based weighting would imply. Market based weighting is one natural way to go, and so better than 70/30 just because, but it’s not obviously correct.

            Suppose a country has for regulatory or historical reasons a lot of privately help companies: should you weight that countries equities by their percent of the total publicly traded universe of equities, or should you instead buy enough so that they represent in your portfolio the percent of the world economic output that the country in question represents? If the latter, nominal or PPP?

          • chroMa says:

            Thats the correct use of overweighting. What I meant was generally speaking, US is going to be your largest country holding because it represents the largest chunk of the world market (albeit, less than 50% of the world market). By way of explantory factors, I think it also helps that the USD is the world’s reserve currency and that the US is politically/regulatorily (new word?) stable.

            The list I saw only shows top 10 stock market market caps, but by the 10th country, each country was basically 1% of the world’s market cap, so below that I’m sure the percentages start going even lower… it would be hard for a variety of reasons to get into every single one of those countries including for the reasons you mentioned.

            I don’t have an answer to your world economic output vs stock market cap question, but many many developing/emerging economies have wildly fluctuating rates of economic output (because of currency challenges, internal conflict, political missteps, etc). I’m sure that also means wildly fluctuating market caps as well. So those extra risks also push you away from simple market cap/economic output weighting. I’m missing EMH considerations I know, but I’m running on coffee right now so do forgive me.

          • Chalid says:

            If anything I’d expect you want to be underweight the US relative to the world market if you work in the US, since your income is likely more correlated with the US stock market than with foreign ones.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Is it naive to think “well, duh, I’m overweighting the US: that’s where I live so it’s easier and cheaper to move US assets around”? Is some sort of “home field market advantage” a real thing?

        • Brad says:

          Here’s another question for the indexers:

          Real property is some large fraction of the overall negotiable asset base of the world. How should that be accounted for in a portfolio? How do you index it?

    • Protagoras says:

      There are places like Betterment and Wealthfront that specialize in very low fees via largely automated investing which seems to be mostly in the kinds of things you’re looking for.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I would not invest in specific geographic regions, except maybe China. You should do it by sector of the economy. Tech is a good one. Biotech is riskier but potentially more rewarding. You could also do boring stuff like US bonds but if you’re young you don’t want to do that.

    • chroMa says:

      Hey piato,

      Not sure if I’m too late on this, but I like investment stuff (disclosure: worked at Fidelity doing financial advising so I’m biased towards Fidelity because I know it inside and out. Also because they are comparable to or beat Vanguard on pretty much every measure (please someone prove me wrong)).

      For US exposure you have a few options:
      1) There is the standard S&P 500 but if you want to get a little broader you can go Total Market. The Total Market gives you some exposure to Medium and Small sized companies that the S&P 500 does not, but the returns of these two funds will be very very similar. By way of illustration, their top 10 holdings are identical (but the Total Market fund has lower allocations to those top 10 holdings).
      2) If you want to get the NASDAQ, you can with this fund. The expense ratio is a bit higher at .30% (vs. .09%), but if you want exposure to the IT Sector, that fund will do it (48% vs ~22%).
      3) A middle ground between the above two would be this Large Cap Growth Index Fund . Expense Ratio is 0.17% and IT Exposure is ~37%.

      For China specific exposure its not gonna be cheap. Many international indexes include China, but getting country specific is almost always a little more expensive. This one fits your bill though (42% of it is IT Industry). Cheapest Mutual Fund on Fidelity’s platform with No Transaction Fee (ER = 1.02%). For ETF’s there is also MCHI with a .64% ER.

      Generic Developing would be this.

      Generic Europe would be this . Unfortunately, this mutual fund is a bit pricy (actively managed, 1.07% ER). If you’re okay to get ETF’s and you wanta go index then IEUR should do the trick. It only has .1% ER.

      However, these last two categories you might as well get together. This Global ex US fund and this Total International Index fund are really really similar (same ER, basically same returns, same breakdown of developed vs Emerging). Both funds are about 43% in Europe and 21% in Emerging markets. Note that both funds also have about a 5% exposure to China.

      I hope this helps!

      • Charles F says:

        Also because [Fidelity is] comparable to or beats Vanguard on pretty much every measure (please someone prove me wrong).

        Not a big difference, but Vanguard’s total market fund has an expense ratio of 0.04%, compared to the 0.09% you point to for Fidelity’s. That difference seems to carry over to most of the other funds I’ve compared, too. Fidelity is consistently about 0.05-0.1% above vanguard for the funds I care about.

        I use both: Fidelity for work, Vanguard for personal, though I certainly don’t know either as well as you know Fidelity. And my impression is that they’re similar enough in what they offer that I prefer Vanguard mostly for its more navigable website* and more helpful customer service.

        *Also Fidelity has an annoying tendency to sell all of my shares every month then buy them again, so all the summaries end up mostly blank because the current holding has no history, though on the other hand Vanguard -> Mint can’t seem to get accurate balances across, so that’s kind of a wash.

        • Brad says:

          Total tracking error is probably more important than fees alone. That takes into account the efficiency of their respective trading operations and sampling methodologies.

        • chroMa says:

          You’re comparing different share classes. The Vanguard Total Market Investor Shares have an expense ratio of .15% and Fidelity’s Investor Shares of the same fund have an ER of .09% (also Fidelity’s Fund Minimum is 2500 vs Vanguard is 3000).

          Fidelity’s Premium shares have an ER of .035% with a minimum to invest of 10k vs. Vanguards Premium *Admiral* class are .04%ER also with a 10k minimum investment.

          I think Fidelity does have a more complicated website, but also much more useful. If you have the inclination you can trade on Fidelity for much less commission, you *can* buy Vanguard funds on Fidelity’s platform (but you can’t do Fidelity Funds on Vanguards platform) and there are a bunch of no commission etfs you can buy on Fidelity as well. I’ve never interacted with Vanguard’s customer service but I know Fidelity’s well. I’ve never been given the run around or had a headache to accomplish something.

          As for the selling every month… is this in your 401k? Thats not a normal thing at all and I would call Fidelity if I were you and that were happening to my account. I’d be curious to see what other index funds vanguard beats fidelity. Fidelity recently (sometime this year) specifically moved to make all of their index funds match or beat Vanguard in expense ratio *and* Fidelitys bond index funds have been beating vanguard there for awhile (last time I checked, around March of 2015)

          • Charles F says:

            Ah, I didn’t notice the share class difference. Also my numbers are out of date. I just checked again and the prices look the way you describe. Sorry about that.

            I’m certainly willing to believe Fidelity’s website is more useful than Vanguard’s, it just doesn’t matter much to me compared to not getting 500 – Internal Server Error pages all the time (2 while trying to figure out how to get to the list of available investments just now) and dealing with weird organizational choices (partly my employer’s portal’s fault, but not entirely).

            But I’ll update my rare recommendations to mention that costs favor Fidelity now.

          • chroMa says:

            Hah, we have vastly different experiences on the website. Although its a little clunky, the website doesn’t give me any bigger problems than Facebook. But yeah, I can see how Fidelity’s website would take some acclimating to be able to zoom around and find the things you’re looking for with ease.

            @Brad -> Couldn’t find tracking error for the Fidelity Fund or the Vanguard fund, albeit I only spent about 5 minutes searching for each.

    • Anon. says:

      Why not just go with a global ETF? Vanguard has VT. Also add some bonds, diversification is a free lunch.

  19. p duggie says:

    Saw a thing on Reason about protests at Columbia disrupting an LGBT prof’s Sex and Gender class. The protesters were claiming Columbia wasn’t handling Title IX cases well. So they invaded a class and shouted over the teacher. Bad form

    So I see that the protests are led by a woman who claim her rape wasn’t properly investigated by Columbia.

    Her story
    – She wrote an article for Huffpo in April 2015 criticizing Columbia for handling rape complaints when she was still in high school
    – Awoke to rape in her dorm in Oct of 2015 (freshman year). She awoke then passed out due to pain. When she woke up later, saw guy leaving but couldn’t ID him.
    – She went to Columbia student health complaining of genital pain, but didn’t say she was raped. Told by Student health she should not have such rough sex. Eventually, in her suit, mentions they failed to probe whether she was raped
    – Called rape hotline a week later, told she should be on birth control, and to report to police.
    Buzzfeed says she said she didn’t report because she felt shame, at being unable to ID him and for being targetted.
    She asked for a room transfer, but didn’t like the terms columbia has for room transfers, and in the suit focuses on how she wasn’t told her rights under title IX
    – In december 2015 she was raped in her dorm again, buy someone pushing her into her room from outside, knocking her down, tying her with her own iphone cord, and using scissors and hairbrush and razors to rape her. –
    – She still can’t ID him. He whispered in her ear “Still a dyke?” during the rape.
    – She got treated for injuries at a hospital the next day. tearing, cuts on her thighs, wrist sprains.
    – Harassing notes show up on her dorm bulletin board
    – “Following the harassment [woman] decided to make a formal report to university officials, but was told that Columbia would not be able to investigate her report unless she was able to identify her assailant.”
    – She reported the rape to police in January 2017. Columbia has no security tapes from 2015 because they get erased (and they wouldn’t cover interior areas anyway)
    – She sues in March
    – Columbia moves to dismiss in June
    -“According to court papers, she didn’t want to make a formal report because she didn’t trust admins would do anything “based on her prior experiences with Columbia administrators,” with whom she unofficially discussed her rape”
    – “Meanwhile, [Woman] told administrators she had thrown out notes allegedly left by her attacker, and she told investigators she didn’t want them interviewing her roommates, Kaplan told Manhattan Federal Judge George Daniels.”
    – NY Daily News says [woman] “previously said she waited to file a police report because she’s opposed to incarceration.”

    So is this rape allegation plausible?

    Oh she also wrote an article at a feminist site about how she has been bothered by the idea, since she came out at 12, that her queer identity might be related to sex assault she suffered in childhood.

    • lvlln says:

      Do you have links to articles about this case? You reference Reason, Buzzfeed, and NY Daily News in your post, and it’d be convenient to have one place from which one could easily access all those articles instead of finding them through Google. Trivial inconveniences and all that.

      Based on your description, it seems that unfortunately this case seems similar to many other college rape cases I’ve read about in the lack of hard evidence, so at best I think it’s possible it’s true, but how plausible it is is probably going to depend almost entirely on your priors. If you think women are getting raped left and right but just scared to report it (or too ignorant due to cultural conditioning to recognize that they were raped), then you might find her claims so banal that the question of plausibility is insulting. If you think rape is rare, then you might find her claims implausible.

      Some things do raise my eyebrows, such as the timeline of her complaining about Columbia’s handling of rape cases before she was even a student, or her claimed motivation of not having the assailant suffer prison time, or her not wanting her roommates interviewed. This is behavior that seems consistent with someone who is not filing such a complaint for entirely honest reasons. But even here, one’s priors have an outsized influence. If you believe that suffering sexual trauma can often lead to basically unbounded arbitrary behavior changes on the part of the victim in response to that trauma, then any and all behavior by a self-claimed rape victim is fully congruent with their claim of being raped, and so there exists no behavior she could engage in, short of outright proclaiming herself a fraud, which would indicate that she might not be honest, so those above details don’t mean anything to you. If you believe that, in most cases, behavior changes following sexual trauma are somewhat limited and somewhat predictable based on what we know about human psychology and biology, then those above details might be more like alarm bells.

      I certainly find it interesting that this is Columbia, the school famous for the Mattress Girl (among many, many things, obviously), a case in which a male student was found not guilty of rape under the preponderance standard (50.000…1%) and the police refused to take the case due to lack of evidence, after which whose alleged victim was lionized by a lot of the media and some politicians as a heroine standing up for rape survivors.

    • vV_Vv says:

      So is this rape allegation plausible?

      My intuition would say no, but then I recall that some individuals seem to be magnets for misfortunes and abuse. Or maybe they aren’t and they all make it up.

      Anyway, the right question to ask is not “is this rape allegation plausible?” but “was the allegation properly investigated by the relevant authorities?”. Even assuming that this ninja rapist exists, since he can’t be identified, what response did she expect from the college and the police?

      • keranih says:

        I am perfectly willing to accept the premise that a grievous wrong was done to this person by an unknown assailant, and that she has suffered greatly from it, and needs help and support from her friends and coworkers as she moves along the process of dealing with it.

        (As opposed to not dealing with it and being traumatized to the point of incapacitation for the rest of her life. I would hope that no one here wishes for that outcome.)

        I am not willing to accept that it is obvious that deliberate actions were taken to avoid prosecuting this assailant. There is next to no evidence here. Some of the evidence which could exist, and which *might* help identify the assailant, has been destroyed by the complainant. Had some other person destroyed the evidence by which this assailant could be identified – and hence arrested, and hence prevented from hurting another person – then I could certainly see prosecuting that person for obstruction of justice. In this case, I don’t see the point, and think it would do more harm than good.

        Can’t fix this. It’s horrible, and I wish it were otherwise. But, I refuse to be *blamed* for not fixing this, and furthermore refuse to be blamed for not wanting my country to be turned into a police state in order have the “fix” that is looked for here.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’d say not plausible, and most likely mental illness. Her excuses for destroying evidence and not reporting things in a timely manner are bizarre.

      • Brad says:

        Based on the write up here, I have to agree.

        I’m not sure what I think about the lawyer here. It isn’t really his job to turn away a client because he thinks she might be mentally ill, but on the other hand he isn’t supposed to be filing frivolous lawsuits. But what if whether or not it is frivolous turns out whether he believes the client?

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      As far as I can tell from the articles, the initial “unoffical” report was along the lines of:

      “I was raped twice, months apart, months ago, by the same peretrator. I don’t have any ID on them or leads. He left me notes, but I threw them out so they’re gone. No, I won’t talk to you about this officially. No, you can’t talk to me or my room-mates or friends about this in the course of your investigation. Please do not contact me further on this matter, I refuse to speak to you again. No, I won’t talk to the cops about it either. Good Day.”

      Am I missing something?

    • Protagoras says:

      Rapists do not particularly want to get caught, and it seems that one good tactic for that is to pick victims that are less likely to be believed. Which produces an unfortunate situation with respect to those who are for various reasons less than credible; those who are more likely to fabricate rape stories are simultaneously more likely to actually be raped. It is not obvious what to do about that situation.

      • keranih says:

        To me, it’s the grey area between “these people are clearly able to act as adults, allow them the liberties and assign them the responsibilities of adults” and “these people are clearly *not* able to act as adults, continue to limit their liberties and assign them minders to keep them out of trouble” – our society doesn’t have a good hard and fast rule, nor a good system for evaluating margin cases.

        (To be clear, this includes people who will get drunk and have sex with random strangers, as well as people who will attempt to get random strangers drunk so as to have sex with them, regardless of gender.)

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          This is why I (sort of half jokingly because I don’t ever see it happening) suggest bringing back chaperones. There will always be rapists. There will always be men applying various amounts of pressure to women to get them into bed (“hey, ya wanna do it?” is a form of pressure). So, it used to be we did not have coed dorms. The colleges acted in loco parentis, girls had to be in their dorms by 9PM or whatever, and no boys allowed. That resulted in a lot fewer of these sorts of cases.

          And then we had feminism and women’s lib and the women said “we can take care of ourselves!” And it turns out, no, no they can’t. I don’t quite believe the “25% of women and girls are raped on college campuses,” but the feminists do. Either the statistic itself or women believing the statistic is a strong data point towards “the colleges and culture were right before the sexual revolution, young men and women cannot control or take care of themselves.”

          I don’t think there’s much more we can do to “teach men not to rape.” It’s already considered one of if not the most heinous crimes that there is. Nobody thinks it’s okay. There is no “rape culture,” because no one forgives or excuses this. If we can’t get a less-rapey culture, then people either have to take care of themselves, or be taken care of.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t think there’s much more we can do to “teach men not to rape.” It’s already considered one of if not the most heinous crimes that there is. Nobody thinks it’s okay.

            In modern western culture, you mean, aside from some criminals.

          • And then we had feminism and women’s lib and the women said “we can take care of ourselves!”

            I think the shift away from parietal hours and similar restrictions and towards coed dorms preceded the major role of feminism and women’s lib and due more to the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies.

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      I give it about 50-50. If I had heard about it through an IRL friend or acquaintance I might be more trusting, but I heard it here on the Internet, so it might be infected with memetic toxoplasma.

    • Aapje says:

      @p duggie

      If your write up is correct, then there are red flags all over the place. For example, she describes a person that targets her personally (“Still a dyke?”), yet that she doesn’t know. It seems very unlikely that a person with a personal grudge would not interact with her personally and would immediately escalate to rape, rather than harassment.

      In general, one of my main heuristics for assessing truth vs made up is whether the scenario is a very extreme scenario that many people fear as the worst thing that could happen to them, but which is actually very rare in reality. Stranger rape is relatively uncommon. Rape using sharp objects seems very uncommon. Trying to ‘fix’ a lesbian through rape seems restricted to perpetrators from a very traditionalist culture. If you google this, it seems common in S-Africa, but I can’t easily find any reports from the US. It seems very unlikely that such an extremely traditionalist person would go to Columbia and even more unlikely that the person would feel emboldened to commit such a crime in an extremely hostile (to them) progressive culture.

      In the kind of hyperactivist culture we see at many universities, it seems that there are pretty strong incentives to make false allegations. Self-selection effects and what is taught at these colleges means that you can expect a very large number of people who could potentially make false allegations consistent with culture war issues and a tiny group who could perpetrate crimes that require a very traditionalist cultural background. So purely by multiplying the likely base rates with the population size, we can expect that these very extreme accusations are far more likely to be false allegations, than true.

      Another huge red flag is that rape with scissors and razors can be expected to leave major trauma, requiring extensive medical intervention and even then leaving permanent disability. In contrast, for a fake allegation that involves self-harm, we expect superficial wounds. The treatment that she says she got at the hospital is more credible for the latter scenario.

      Her behavior and story describes behavior that makes it very hard to determine the truth (throwing out harassing notes, waiting a long time, refusing to initially file a formal complaint, not allowing her roommates to be interviewed, not being able to even describe the attacker in general terms (race, hair color, size, etc)). The level of counterproductive behavior if one wants to maximize the chance of finding a perpetrator is very extreme. The more extreme this kind of behavior, the more likely that the reason is not trauma, but the intent to protect a false allegation from scrutiny.

      Her accusations for how Columbia was negligent revolves around a very strong victim narrative, where she seems to have a rather pathological need to blame others for her own choices. For example, she now blames the university for not investigating after she refused to file a report and after she told the university officials not to contact her (when she later changed her mind and did file an official report, the university did try to investigate).

      So when you add it all up, I would say guesstimate the probably of the incident as the alleged victim describes it at less than 1 percent. Perhaps something less extreme happened, but it’s very doubtful that something so extreme happened to her.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        not allowing her roommates to be interviewed

        That can’t possibly be her call, can it? I would assume that if they didn’t interview her roommates, it’s gotta be due to the investigators not believing there’s enough evidence to spend the resources doing so.

        Campus authorities can ram through a prosecution over the wishes of a victim, but a victim can deny them the ability to interview roommates? Yeah, no. That’s gotta be just a coincidental alignment of objectives.

        • Aapje says:

          You are correct that I may have misrepresented that a little bit. The university lawyer said that the alleged victim didn’t want them interviewing her roommates. It’s ambiguous whether the university rules require them to conform (probably not, I guess) or even whether the university lawyer claims that this made the investigation impossible. The NY Daily News story has this text:

          Meanwhile, Roskin-Frazee told administrators she had thrown out notes allegedly left by her attacker, and she told investigators she didn’t want them interviewing her roommates, Kaplan told Manhattan Federal Judge George Daniels.

          “It was all but impossible for Columbia to conduct a meaningful investigation,” Kaplan said at one point.

          The “at one point” makes it really ambiguous whether these statements that seem related due to their proximity in the text were actually part of the same argument in court.

  20. cabalamat says:

    Some random thoughts on Lesserwrong.com:

    (1) Overall, a good plan that seems likely to succeed.

    (2) I don’t like the font and colour choices — the old Less Wrong is much more plasant to read, at least for me. YMMV.

    (3) When I read Eliezer’s Sequences, I often get the feeling that I’ve missed something or not quite understood it. I never get that feeling from Scott’s writing. I suspect I may not be only one. Maybe it would make sense for Scott to re-write some of Eliezer’s material, to bring it to a wider audience.

    • Nick says:

      Re (3), I think Eliezer relies more on nerd cultural references than Scott does—is that what did it?

    • JRM says:

      I would really not want Scott to do that. Eliezer’s writing style is distinctive, but with a few notable exceptions it hits his target audience square-on.

      Let Scott be Scott. I’d rather he continue to be a writer than an editor; it seems to me that using Scott as an editor can’t be optimizing. Plus, too much editing is bad for your writing health.*

      *Maybe.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      Consider installing one of my custom themes (with a browser extension such as Stylish)! They change the look of LW 2.0, to something that a few people now have gone on record as preferring—take a look: screenshots.

  21. Pseudocydonia says:

    So, in a spectacular victory for nominative determinism, the economics Nobel has gone to a specialist in people’s psychological relationship with money, and the assignment of value to possessions, who is literally named Thaler.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Now I want to see a comic based on his theories, called “The Adventures of Dick Dollar”.

  22. AutisticThinker says:

    Ticks and Lyme

    Ticks are pretty harmful animals and Lyme is one of the most infamous diseases they spread. Let’s talk about ticks and Lyme Disease in this thread.

    I think there are several interesting questions to discuss.

    1.What shall we do to avoid or kill ticks?
    2.When are we ever going to stop the Lyme epidemic? How?
    3.Does post-treatment Lyme exist? There are certainly people who remain sick even when no Borrelia can be detected any more. What’s that illness?

    • Charles F says:

      I was completely unaware that lyme disease has gotten several times more common over the past few decades. CDC stats. Am I justified in blaming the increase in WI on a dearth of deer hunters? Is it some sort of climate change thing?

      And the age+sex graph tells a sad story about how we’re spending our early adulthoods indoors, probably working.

      • AutisticThinker says:

        In both New England and Midwest the Lyme problem is now epidemic. I personally know people who got bitten by a tick which thankfully did not result in Lyme.

        What are the consequences? I don’t dare to enjoy forests or state parks any more. You do need to have a tick attached for a long time to get Lyme. However other tick-borne illnesses are worse. Some may only take 15 minutes of tick attachment to infect a human.

    • keranih says:

      The focus on Lyme disease as the most important tick-borne illness is a function of geographic and temporal location. There are diseases which historically shaped the face of human settlement and agriculture production in the US, but which are not now present in the popular mind.

      For anyone with a tick problem in their area, may I recommend the use of guinea fowl? Fun to watch free roaming barely domesticated birds who love ticks, and who will roost high in trees (rather than in a coop) making plausible deniability of ownership possible, thus avoiding local zoning violations. Also they make so much flipping noise when disturbed that many people will not be that upset when the hawks eat a few.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Eradicating ticks would be an excellent wedge issue for Republicans to pursue. It would activate the purity modules of people’s brains (good for conservatives), and force the Democrats to either piss off their green wing or be on the side of literal blood-sucking parasites.

      Plus, disease eradication is good policy, and well within the scope of traditional governmental powers.

      • Saint Fiasco says:

        It depends on how exactly the eradication is achieved. If government agents have to spray pesticides around the neighborhood, won’t people get upset? It would be like the right-wing paranoia about fluoride in water combined with left-wing paranoia about harmful artificial pesticides.

  23. CarlosRamirez says:

    I’m currently in Portland, due to my company sending me here to keep working while the situation in Puerto Rico (where I’m from) stabilizes. Anyone want to meetup? Or does anyone have must see/do recommendations?

  24. Nick says:

    It looked from a few threads ago like there was interest in the free will question. I figure it’s worth bringing up again.

    What are the conditions for having free will? Can humans meet those conditions, and do they regularly do so? What do you take to be a paradigm case of free will—my deliberating on what to eat for lunch and deciding on a salad, Buridan’s ass picking which bale of hay to approach, or something else? If you say humans do have free will, are there cases where they don’t, like under duress, coercion, etc.?

    (Obviously don’t feel obligated to answer all those questions. I’m just trying to provide good starting points for the conversation.)

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      My 2¢:

      Free will is completely orthogonal to whether or not someone can near-perfectly predict your actions (like Omega in the Newcomb problem). This is trivial to demonstrate if you believe that people in the past had free will: you can ‘retrodict’ their choices with near-perfect accuracy by watching a video of their choice.

      I don’t see a conflict between that sort of determinism and free will. You are just as responsible for your choices in the absence of an omniscient observer as you would be if one had written them down on stone tables a billion years ago.

      • Atlas says:

        Free will is completely orthogonal to whether or not someone can near-perfectly predict your actions

        I would respectfully disagree: I think that if humans had “free will”, there would be some margin on which it would just be impossible to predict their behavior based on prior causes, because they would run around exercising their “free will” by making totally unpredictable decisions.

        So I think that if your some of your actions can be predicted with a high degree of accuracy by an outside observer, it usefully demonstrates the flaws in the idea of “free will”. It would be a really crazy random happenstance if the end result of your totally free and undetermined choice always or even almost always just happened to match what someone with sufficient knowledge of the relevant prior causes would predict.

        This is trivial to demonstrate if you believe that people in the past had free will: you can ‘retrodict’ their choices with near-perfect accuracy by watching a video of their choice.

        Leaving aside the sort of assuming the conclusion, I don’t see how this contradicts the anti-free will position. If you could genuinely predict the behavior of people in the past recorded on video—-that is to say make accurate predictions about what comes next in the video without foreknowledge of what comes next—then it would again seem to cast doubt on the idea of “free will”. If people in the past had “free will”, it seems to me at least that it would be necessarily difficult to predict their behavior. They would simply exercise their “free will” and make decisions that you just couldn’t predict from physical causes, no matter how much knowledge of them you had.

        • Skivverus says:

          This rubs my intuition the wrong way: it implies that “free will” must necessarily be irrational. Rational actions, after all, have reasons behind them, and are thus at least theoretically predictable.
          But the term “free will” in ordinary usage makes no implication as to an actor’s rationality or lack thereof: perfect rationality does not disqualify you from having free will, nor should it.

          Also, from a practical perspective humans do have a margin beyond which it is impossible to predict behavior based on prior causes: the amount of time it takes to ascertain another human’s motives based on their behavior. Sure, if you know the coin is fair you’ll know how often it’ll turn up heads, but how many times do you flip the coin before you know it’s fair?

        • Doctor Mist says:

          Far too many people seem to want to sneak dualism back into the universe by mixing it up with “free will”. I strongly recommend Dennett’s Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting.

          My layman’s takeaway: Why would I even want the ability to take actions that were uninformed by my past experience?

          I’m thinking some of Scott Aaronson’s complexity arguments are relevant here as well. There is a world of difference between something that’s logically possible and something that’s computationally feasible. Perfect prediction of a human’s future behavior seems like a plausible candidate for the former but a lousy candidate for the latter.

        • Lillian says:

          There appear to be two definitions of free will at work in these discussions. The one used by those like who see no conflict between will and prescience, is the quality that makes a person’s decisions their own. The other definition, used by those who do see such a conflict, is the quality that makes a person’s decisions not be foreordained.

          In my view, the second definition would lead one to conclude that the man who rolls dice to chart his course in life has more free will than the one who does not. This strikes me as incredibly silly, literally trusting your life to chance gives you less free will, not more.

      • It’s is not prediction per se that impacts free will: it is that the possibility of prediction implies determinism, and determinism impacts (libertarian) FW.

        Prediction and retrodiction aren’t analogous in the way you need. You can have retrospective knowledge of something that happened without impacting FW, because retrodiction doesn’t imply determinism .. you have direct evidence that something happened, so you don’t need to infer it using deterministic laws.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          What’s the difference between the past and the future in this case?

          That’s not a rhetorical question, I’m just not sure why you’re drawing this distinction.

          The future will happen; the past has happened. We have imperfect information about both. That seems symmetrical enough for my reasoning to hold.

          • Lillian says:

            Just wanted to say how happy it makes me to see someone with my exact view in the subject. It’s so rare to see someone else who doesn’t priviledge one part of the timeline over the other.

          • The kind of information is quire different. A record of the past is not the same as predicting the future using the evolution of the present under causal laws.

            In particular, you can have accurate information about past events that occured indterministically. But you cannot predict future indeterministic events.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Ancient Geek,

            This is falling back into semantics.

            How does one determine whether an event is indeterministic or not? If it’s just that you can’t predict it with certainty beforehand, your argument becomes unfalsifiable.

            Anyway, it’s easy to construct situations where past and future knowledge are identical. For example, take a televised football game. If a fan watches it for the first time on live TV or on a tape, does it change whether the actions of the players are deterministic? He has equal knowledge regardless of whether it happened in the past or the future.

    • keranih says:

      Yes, humans have free will.

      No, they don’t have *perfect* free will, no more than we have a perfect response to gravity. Our inclination to choose a particular action is impacted by numerous things – genetics, daily level of hormones, previous and current environment, the particular demons riding our shoulders, state of grace – but we retain the ability to choose our actions.

      I hold that the degree of imperfection of free will is visible (or predictable) only on a population wide basis, which nests well with my prior that all humans sin, and that all are capable of seeking salvation. But the degree to which we will each individually sin rests on a vast variety of variables, the sum of which is so large that our particular response is known but to the Creator. Furthermore our particular future decisions rest on our environment *now*, so that our future likelihood of sin depends on when and how we commit errors *now*, which *can* be modified (to some degree) by deliberate choice between two (or more) options at the margin.

      I think it’s also important to recognize that free will is not between, oh, being Mother Teresa or being Hillary Clinton – it’s between being, say, patient and enduring MT today, or being crabby and abrupt MT today. Or this hour.

      • Atlas says:

        No, they don’t have *perfect* free will, no more than we have a perfect response to gravity. Our inclination to choose a particular action is impacted by numerous things – genetics, daily level of hormones, previous and current environment, the particular demons riding our shoulders, state of grace – but we retain the ability to choose our actions.

        I would personally reach a stronger conclusion than this, namely that there is nothing human beings do—anymore than there is anything that celestial bodies, rocks or pixelated video game characters do—that can’t be reduced to various physical causes.

        But leaving that aside, if we just agree on the weaker (in terms of determinism) conclusion you state above, (i.e. that many human decisions are profoundly shaped by uncontrollable forces) I think it really damns “free will” with faint praise.

        If your actions are subject to the laws of gravity, the laws of society, the laws of behavioral genetics, the laws of the market, the forces of neurochemistry, the forces of evolution, and so on down the line of things almost totally out of one’s control, it really leaves very little space for one’s alleged “free will” to make a difference.

        So I think that even if one only accepts this relatively weaker conclusion, which seems so obvious that I don’t see how anyone can’t intuitively do so, the end result is that this “free will” universe might as well be a deterministic one for practical purposes. Physical causes that result from vast, impersonal forces so clearly determine so much of our actions that even in the most uncritical and generous acceptance of the free will position it’s hard to externally observe much fundamental difference in the behavior of allegedly free humans compared to obviously un-free algorithms, robots, bowling balls, etc.

      • we retain the ability to choose our actions.

        For some value of “choose”, but that is what the whole debate is about.

        But the degree to which we will each individually sin rests on a vast variety of variables,

        Does “rest on” mean “determined by” or merely “influenced by”? Again, that is the whole question.

    • Urstoff says:

      As always, terms need to be defined first. What does it mean for a person to have a free will? Humans deliberate and make decisions. Is anything beyond that needed for free will?

      • Nick says:

        That’s why I asked the questions I did! To answer yours, though: we often hold people responsible for their actions on the grounds that they chose to do them, and do not hold them responsible, or responsible to the same degree, when they chose that way under duress or coercion or whatever, and may not even speak of the latter as a choice at all. If this distinction were illusory, though, it would seem we do not have this basis for holding people responsible. So it seems like we have need to speak of a free will, as opposed to will under duress, a will under coercion, etc.

        • Urstoff says:

          I don’t think moral responsibility is a particularly coherent notion either. Worries about freewill seem to come from two sources: moral realists and those prone to existential dread. The former are wrong and the latter just need therapy.

        • beleester says:

          If free will doesn’t exist, then while we have no basis for holding people responsible, there’s also no way for us to stop holding people responsible. So it’s kind of a moot point. The criminal’s actions are preordained, but so are the actions of the judge who sentences him.

    • rahien.din says:

      I think of will as choice of action, and the freedom of will to be the range of available actions and reasons for actions.

      To have a completely free will would mean that any possible action was available to you, including eating your spouse, flapping your gills, and waggling a vine to find the next branch to entangle. This obviously is undesirable. Furthermore, the situations in which I have found myself to have un-free will are some of the most important to me. They are the most true expressions of my nature. And, certain things such as falling in love are completely involuntary. It makes no sense to describe them in terms of will, and yet, they are some of the most important experiences to have.

      From the angle of reasons for action, one’s will is free to the extent that they are not constrained in the reasons for their actions. The ultimate freedom of will is attained by a sort of multipolar Buridan’s ass.

      None of those would make sense or is functionally distinguishable from insanity. So on a very base level, I don’t believe in or desire free will, per se.

      I mostly value the expression of natural will. It’s a kind of gooey concept, but, I take this to mean that a being’s actions express its nature, in that they are commensurate with its own appraisal of its circumstances and its own natural reactions, rather than the coercive fiat of other beings. In some sense, a being’s will can be natural without ever being “free.”

      (This allows me to continue to ascribe agency to myself and to others – which is the whole point of will, anyway. Blame and credit.)

    • blacktrance says:

      Roughly speaking, free will has two prerequisites: having a will (being able to deliberate between options, select one, and direct oneself to act accordingly) and to usually act as you’ve willed (so people with total locked-in syndrome don’t have free will).

      It’s compatible with both determinism and perfect prediction.

    • Atlas says:

      Caveat lector: this is a concept that lots of smart people have written quite a lot about, and I haven’t really familiarized myself with any of the relevant literature. The only real outside knowledge I can claim is that I listened to a lengthy debate/discussion between Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett on the subject, and I figure that they’re both probably quite familiar with it.

      What are the conditions for having free will? Can humans meet those conditions, and do they regularly do so?

      There’s a lot of possibility for semantic confusion here, but I think that the intuitive view of libertarian free will that a lot of people have is profoundly wrong. I don’t think it’s wrong in the sense that, say, the statement “all elephants have wings” is wrong. My belief that that statement is false is contingent on the existence of empirical evidence contradicting it. I could change my mind about it given sufficient evidence, and I can imagine a world very similar to our own where it is true.

      Whereas with “free will”, the very idea seems necessarily untrue to me. It implies that the combination of particles known as homo sapiens for some reason are magically able to behave in ways not reducible to prior physical causes, unlike all the other things in the universe made out of combinations of particles. I just don’t understand how this could possibly be the case—e.g. if an omnipotent God gave human beings “free will”, that God would still be part of the universe and our behavior would still ultimately be determined by causes outside of our control.

      An analogy I’m tentatively using here for what seems to me to be the illusion of free will is to imagine that you were put into a Matrix-like simulation based on a video game. Suppose you externally observed the player character go about various tasks: talking to merchants, moving around, killing enemies, etc. If you didn’t know you were in a video game simulation, you might have the illusion that he has “free will”, because he seems to be making his own decisions. But if you could see that this character’s actions are in reality absolutely controlled by a puppet-master player, it would seem ludicrous to say that it has “free will”. Likewise, I would say that human behavior is fundamentally determined as absolutely by impersonal forces as the behavior of the set of pixels that represents a video game character is, it’s just harder for us to observe how they determine human actions.

  25. rlms says:

    Another Cambridge UK meetup:

    Date and time: Thursday 12th October, 19:30
    Location: the Burleigh Arms

    Contact details on the meetups page, email me if you want to join the mailing list or Facebook group.

  26. Another San Jose Meetup:

    We are hosting another meetup on Sunday afternoon, October 29th.

    Time: 2:00
    Location: 3806 Williams Rd, San Jose, CA 95117
    Let us know if you are planning to come so we will have at least a rough head count.

    • John Schilling says:

      It’s looking like 50/50 I will have to be in Sunnyvale for work the next week; if so I’ll probably come up the day before for this.

  27. blitzerrr says:

    Can Scott himself or someone else explain to me why he has said the candidate he most supports is Elizabeth Warren? Feel free to just link to articles he has written that outline this stance.

    Thank you.

    • arabaga says:

      The links that shakeddown posted are good for a somewhat comprehensive look at what Scott thinks about Elizabeth Warren specifically. If you want a look at his political viewpoint more generally (at least as of ~4 years ago), you can see that here: https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/12/08/a-something-sort-of-like-left-libertarianism-ist-manifesto/

      Basically, it seems that he likes her because she supports the standard liberal social issues, but also really seems to like free markets (this is where she separates herself from e.g. Bernie Sanders). When she wants to regulate the market, it’s not because she thinks “capitalists are evil” but instead because the outcomes in those instances are empirically not optimal. She is also against government-big business “collusion” (i.e. making decisions based on who contributed to her campaign), which separates her from e.g. Hillary Clinton.

  28. keranih says:

    For those of us who read books originally written in other languages, for the people who speak that language, which are your favorites/best recommendations? (I am ignoring that the US and the UK aren’t actually the same culture, and same-same for Spain/Latin America.)

    Also: favorite movies of the same sort, and did you like best with or without subtitles?

    (I started to ask a longer and perhaps better question about the pros/cons trade-offs of communication errors vs problem-approach-diversity that seem to be inherent in cross-language communication, but I have the day off and haven’t yet figured out how to ask that question.)

    I am going to ask for anime/nonanime divisions here. I am esp interested in the pov of people from outside the USA.

    My choices (non-anime): Smillia’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg. (For those who have only seen the movie – check out the book. It’s better, and weirder.) To me, this was a literary adventure story – not as deep as the quality of the prose made it out to be, and full of great action and a sense of exotic places. Smillia was a great spunky-gal/Mary Sue type, but the people she encounters were ever so realistic in their reaction to her off-putting and abrasive personality.

    Before the Rain – no, not the 2007 India one, the Macedonia film made in 1994. I like it because it’s quirky and dark, includes some aspects of religion, and comes from that hopeful-but-stressful period between the fall of the Soviet Union and 9/11, when even problems that had existed for centuries seemed to be solvable, if we could just figure out the puzzle box.

    Anime: for books, it’s Lone Wolf and Cub, all the way. I like that it’s a super long arc, that the characters both change and remain true to themselves along the way, and the different cool things seen about the culture of that period. I particularly like how characters come back again, and how the lives of lower class people (even gangsters and prostitutes) are given dignity.

    Ghost in the Shell – the original one, not the more recent remake. (I don’t even much fancy the remastered one with better graphics.) (I do like all the animated versions better than the manga graphic novel versions.) To me, it’s the action/adventure mixed in with Our Hero trying to reconcile the similarities between herself and the villain, plus the great secondary characters of Da Chief and the Major’s good-cop sidekick.

    • John Schilling says:

      My choices (non-anime): Smillia’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg. (For those who have only seen the movie – check out the book. It’s better, and weirder.)

      Is it possible to be weirder than having Julia Ormond playing an Inuit?

      Ghost in the Shell – the original one, not the more recent remake

      Seconded. I rewatched the original when the remake came out, and it cured me of any vague notion that I ought to see the remake. Whose casting, I might add, is as ridiculous as that of Smilla.

      My own nomination, in the book department, would be pretty much everything Jules Verne ever wrote, but in particular check out the U.S. Naval Institute’s translation of “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”. You probably have some vague notion of the story from one of the movies or the old, highly abridged English translation. There is a wealth of technical, nautical, and oceanographic detail that the earlier editions basically ignored, amounting to maybe half the text, because that was just “nerd stuff” that nobody cares about. The USNI has the right sort of nerds for the job, and at least one of them is fluent in French.

      • keranih says:

        Is it possible to be weirder than having Julia Ormond playing an Inuit?

        Half-Inuit. And yes!

        (In defense of the newer version of Ghost in the Shell they do actually address that, a bit. Out-of-context outrage was out-of-context.)

        Thank you for the 20KLUS rec – I actually quite liked the bits of Moby Dick that were about the technology of whaling and seacraft.

        • Nornagest says:

          Ever since I finished Moby-Dick, I’ve thought of it as classic lit for people that like Neal Stephenson books. It doesn’t have the Stephenson snark, but it does have the right amount of obsessively researched technical detail, long digressions, and sudden unsignaled style shifts.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        There is a wealth of technical, nautical, and oceanographic detail that the earlier editions basically ignored, amounting to maybe half the text, because that was just “nerd stuff” that nobody cares about. The USNI has the right sort of nerds for the job, and at least one of them is fluent in French.

        I can’t believe I didn’t know that. Thank you! I now have my next book.

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      As a German, I really enjoyed the Expanse (the TV show, haven’t read the books yet), which has lots of cool characters, that speak (some entirely) in a very pleasing, futuristic Creole language or strange English accents. I never liked the Indian accent before, but hearing Chrisjen Avasarala exude power and fury, by positively mutilating some words at times is just delightful.

      Also knowing most of the European/Latin roots and some Chinese and spontaneously puzzling out extra meaning is great fun.
      In terms of problem-approach diversity, I finally found a show, where people try to make rational and hard decisions on the fly, calming each other down, holding each other accountable, often fighting over taking more risk to save more people or saving their own lives, casually shooting someone in the head, just to quickly and safely deescalate a situation, that might have been resolved peacefully with some negotiation, but more risk, people being forced to kill innocents, because they’re stubborn…
      The show reminds me of Firefly a bit, but in space and much bleaker, grander and more real. Also contains Mormons, which adds further alienness to it.

    • dodrian says:

      My favorite foreign-language film (of an admittedly short list that I’ve watched) was 2010 Foreign Language Oscar Winner El Secreto de sus Ojos (ironically, even translating the title into English ruins it a bit). My Spanish isn’t quite good enough to watch it without subtitles, but I try not to look at them if I can avoid it (I can only do that much because I lived in Buenos Aires and can handle those accents).

      The subtitles definitely miss some of the subtleties of the original.

    • Nornagest says:

      Everything Jorge Luis Borges ever wrote is amazing.

    • Montfort says:

      2666 by Roberto Bolaño has so much critical hype I can only assume there’s about 6 levels of meaning that went over my head, but what I did understand made it out to be a pretty clever and sprawling novel. It’s kind of hard to describe, in the end, but it involves literary criticism, murder, and failures of various sorts.

      As for films, Wages of Fear is a very tense film about down-on-their-luck Europeans trucking nitroglycerin in South America. Some of the plot elements feel a little worn today, but that’s not really why you watch it; you watch because even on the fourth or fifth watch, when you know exactly what’s going to happen, the suspense in every obstacle and danger is thick enough to cut with a knife. It looks pretty, too.

      And Les Revenants was a pretty good TV series (the French one, not various English adaptations) about a small town where the dead suddenly came back to life, apparently as just (mostly) normal people who wanted to pick up where they left off. Definitely some creepy and mysterious moments, along with interpersonal drama, but I haven’t finished season two so I don’t know if the mysteries all get resolved (probably not). I don’t know if there’s a dub available, I watch it subtitled.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        I second the recommendation for Le salaire de la peur / Wages of Fear. It’s amazing thriller, especially when you realize the actual thriller part of it manages to do it without any true human antagonists.

        I hear Clouzot (the director) was once described as Hitchcock of France. I have not seen all of is filmography, but L’Assassin habite au 21 and Les Diaboliques are also enjoyable Hitchcockian murder mysteries.

    • Casanova’s Memoirs. A first hand view of 18th century Europe, top to bottom, England to Russia, by an interesting and engaging narrator.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      My favorite translation is Sonnets from the Portuguese.
      I’m looking forward to the new Voynich translation.
      I’m a big fan of subtitles, especially for British films.

      • Nick says:

        If you’re referring to Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poems, they’re not actually translations! She just did that for a measure of privacy.

        • keranih says:

          …I don’t think Douglas Knight is a native English speaker. Or, at least, that was my impression. Which I think is the joke.

          • Nick says:

            Wow lol, I didn’t even bother to read the rest of the comment. You’re right, it’s just a joke (a non-translated work, a work that no one knows how to translate, and films that don’t require subtitles). Props to Douglas.

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      My favorite book in English is The Catcher in the Rye. It’s narrated in first person by a protagonist who has a relatively limited vocabulary, so it’s suitable for people with an intermediate level of English. The way the narrator explains complicated things using simple words is fantastic.

      The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is great for similar reasons. The characters are ignorant, uneducated and have limited vocabularies but at the same time they are very smart and clever. Only issue is that the dialect they use is a little more removed from contemporary English than the one Holden uses, so it takes a bit more work for a non-native to understand.

      For books that don’t play with language with limited vocabulary or clever puns, I don’t really mind reading translated versions. The Lord of the Rings is just as epic when properly translated in any language.

    • beleester says:

      Non-anime foreign movies:
      The Raid: Redemption has some of the finest fight scene choreography I’ve seen in any movie.

      If you don’t want action, Zero Motivation is a movie about a group of women in the Israeli army, stuck doing office work on a base in the middle of nowhere. A great mixture of drama and black comedy.

      Anime: I’m a huge fan of the Studio Ghibli movies. They’re all good, but I think I’ll put Castle in the Sky as my favorite.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      From Norway: Trollhunter.
      From Finland: Rare Exports.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      I see no point in giving recommendations for the works in English, because that would look exactly like the usual “recommend films / books you like” listings we have here in OTs now and then. (And before any gushes “how do speak so many languages”, this is more of my “originally written in other languages, read the translation” list.)

      Books.

      French. Of course there’s classics (Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas senior, etc) that are always worth a read, but actually my true favorite is Goscinny’s Le Petit Nicolas series of books. Excellent comedy that purports to be for children’s fiction but you truly start to appreciate only as an adult. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s (most famous for authoring the Little Prince) very poetic memories about aviation is also a favorite.

      Francophone area is also amazing because of “BD” or Franco-Belgian comics (Goscinny is, of course, more famous as a writer for Asterix and Lucky Luke). Some favorites: Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese series (discounting the couple of weirder ones near the end) are probably the most excellent examples of “romantic adventurer” genre I’ve ever read. Francois Schuiten’s La Douce is instead an awesome technological romance. Alex Alice’s Siegfried is a gorgeous take on the Nibelungenlied. Blacksad series by Canales and Guarnido is an awesome noir film pastiche. (Like the best Westerns were done by Italians, today the best noir is graphic novels done in Europe?)

      Italian. I’ve always liked Umberto Eco’s fiction. Foucalt’s Pendulum is probably my favorite.

      Spanish. Augusto Pérez-Reverte has written lots of fun historical adventures. I recall enjoying Captain Alatriste series, but there’s also stand-alone books. (At least one about fencing master in early 20th century Spain, but the name of the title escapes me?) And of course then there’s The Club Dumas.

      Film.

      German. You might notice from the above list that I have have read disappointedly few German books. Luckily I’ve managed to see a couple of good German films.

      Newer: I can think of at least two titles that I liked, or left so strong impression that I can recall them immediately. Both deal with East Germany. Good Bye, Lenin! is a comedy, but also curiously … I must search for a word … painful? Das Leben der Anderen / the Lives of Others is not. However, it’s excellently thought-provoking, describing what it was to live in a surveillance society in DDR, the “nice part” of the Soviet empire. After watching it I googled for some commentary, and I read that it was lambasted by some critics who claimed it presents unrealistically positive case for Stasi. (In reality, they claimed, there were no sympathetic figures like the protagonist in the agency: no ex-Stasi agent ever showed any remorse for maintaining that dystopia.)

      Older:
      Fritz Lang’s M is a classic for a reason; I was surprised how modern it is. I also hear that Metropolis is excellent must-see for any serious SF fan, but I have had yet no opportunity.

      French. I already mentioned Clouzot in a subthread above. What else…
      Jules et Jim is not exactly my favorite, but it is an remarkable film, and SSC readers will notice that it depicts polyamoric affair, of sorts.
      I recently watched Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle which is worth of a few chuckles, and it features an enjoyable depiction of an automated “smart” home, 1950s edition.

      • Nornagest says:

        At least one about fencing master in early 20th century Spain, but the name of the title escapes me?

        It is, in fact, The Fencing Master — at least in English. I’ve got a copy not five feet from me.

        I feel like Dumas needs more of a nod too, though. While The Three Musketeers got bitten hard by the Seinfeld-is-unfunny bug, The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the most remarkable novels I’ve ever read and I don’t think anyone else ever really managed to capture its formula. Despite numerous attempts, some of them pretty good in their own right.

  29. Doug says:

    Why isn’t genetic hemochromatosis screening universal? Some back of the envelope math: At least 1 out of 200 Northwestern Europeans are homozygote mutants. (And about 5-10% carriers). Virtually all people with symptoms are genetic homozygote.

    At least 50% of genetic hemochomates will go on to express the phenotype. Usually around age 40. Untreated phenotypical hemochromatosis is really nasty stuff. Cirrhosis, diabetes, cardiomyopathy, sexual dysfunction, depression. On the flip side treatment of the diagnosed is pretty much the easiest, cheapest and lowest risk medical intervention imaginable. Just donate blood regularly to reduce iron levels.

    A very conservative estimate is that diagnosis of the condition easily adds three years of life expectancy. Most likely a lot more. At a cost of $100 for 23andMe’s genetic screening, testing all Northwestern Europeans comes out to $40,000 per phenotypical hemochromate. That’s a lower-bound of $13,000 per QALY for universal screening. That’s far cheaper than the vast majority of medical expenditures, including almost all “preventative medicine”.

    • Thegnskald says:

      It may be more cost-effective to just test your iron levels regularly, since, I believe, you are supposed to get that done during your annual checkup anyways.

  30. bean says:

    Reminder about the effort post index. I’m busy reading and writing about naval things, so I’m relying on crowdsourcing to provide links.

  31. aNeopuritan says:

    When Cultures Collide is an excellent book. In the Wikipedia page for the author (Richard D. Lewis), you can find a summary of his threefold cultural model, but the book explains the cultures (and some history) of a large number of countries: it even clearly distinguishes Tajikistan from Uzbekistan, and Slovenia from Slovakia. 😛 While a lot of the information might not be news to you if you’ve been reading about different cultures for a long time, it’s at least the best summary I’ve ever seen, and what you’d hand out to someone who wanted to learn quickly. It also contains:

    “Is there such a thing as a “national style” of humor? Before answering this question directly, one must accept the fact that there is such a thing as international humor—that is to say, some types of humor and some jokes gain international acceptance. In particular, this is true of slapstick, which is age-old in its use and laughed at by Europeans, Americans, Africans and Asians alike. It is very much in evidence, for instance, on Japanese television. There are also “international” jokes repeated across many borders, such as the one about who must jump first out of the airplane, elephant jokes, restaurant jokes and hilarious stories about golfers.

    Even in the area of international jokes, however, the national “rinse” begins to show. Take, for example, the old joke about the journalists who organized a competition to write an article about elephants. The titles were as follows:

    English Hunting Elephants in British East Africa
    French The Love Life of Elephants
    German The Origin and Development of the Indian Elephant from 1200 to 1950 (600 pages)
    American How to Breed Bigger and Better Elephants
    Russian How We Sent an Elephant to the Moon
    Swede Elephants and the Welfare State
    Spaniard Techniques of Elephant Fighting
    Indian The Elephant as a Means of Transportation before Railroads
    Finn What Elephants Think about Finland

    This joke, which probably originated at a conference of journalists, pokes fun at various national faiblesses (weaknesses): French lust, German seriousness, American bragging, British colonialism and so on. The punch line is the Finns’ preoccupation with what others think about them. In Helsinki, however, the Finns developed an alternative punch line by adding a Norwegian title: “Norway and Norway’s Mountains.” Finns, Swedes and Danes find this alternative absolutely side-splitting. The Norwegians, who consider themselves a humorous people, do not find this ending funny at all. In fact, they do not understand it. Do you?”

    • keranih says:

      Well, not Norwegian (descended from, and visited, but not Norwegian) but here’s my best run at a just so story to explain:

      Norwegians are not joiners. They are somewhat like Japanese in this – they are Norsk, other people are not. This is okay – the world is better for having weird tourists come to Norway to be laughed at. But the actual place for a Norwegian is not in the city where the tourists are, but out in the woods and mountains. (Or out in the sea, on the waves, going to (or coming back from) other places that are not Norway.) So any film about elephants, made by a Norwegian, would have to start by talking about where the Norwegians came from & what their perspective is. And this is so fascinating, and there is so much to know about Norway ( & the Mountains) that you know, maybe better to just make the movie about that.

      Norwegians *think* that they aren’t self-centered – look at all the places Norwegians have gone to, throughout history! Look at all the exploring they’ve done! But I think that the exodus in the 1800’s led to most everyone with a wanderlust leaving the country (and not returning) so that Norway now has a deficit of people who have a great deal of curiosity about other places.

      OTOH: Australia’s entry is: My Adventures With Elephants on Six Continents (and How Australian Animals Are Still More Likely To Kill You.)

    • rahien.din says:

      Also found :

      Japan: How to Make Smaller and Cheaper Elephants

    • aNeopuritan says:

      Damn. I meant to write “distinguish between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan” – those are the 2 Central Asian former Soviet Republics with full write-ups (the other 3 get a paragraph each), and, about Tajikstan, you can know a substantial difference from any of the others just by knowing its language is from a different family.

      To both keranih and rahien.din: “Japan and Japan’s Mountains” also is “plausible”. (But yes, “smaller and cheaper” is better.)

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      Whoever made this joke was unaware of the pre-existing joke “Russia is the homeland of elephants”.

      Canada: Why We’re Uninterested in Breeding Bigger and Better Elephants.

      • Andrew G. says:

        The version of this joke I first encountered was (probably as told by a Canadian):

        At a school for diplomat’s children, four pupils are instructed to write an essay about elephants. They choose the following topics:

        British: “The role of elephants in the British East Indies”
        American: “The role of elephants in the Barnum and Bailey Circus”
        French: “The love life of the African elephant”
        Canadian: “Elephants: provincial or federal problem?”

    • Deiseach says:

      Ireland: All Our Elephants Died During The Famine 🙂

  32. johan_larson says:

    There’s a film being released this Friday that looks like fun: Happy Death Day. The Hollywood pitch was probably Groundhog Day meets murder mystery. A young woman wakes up repeatedly in the morning of the day she will be killed by a masked murderer. Each iteration plays out differently as she tries to figure out who her murderer is, in order to escape the loop.

    Very low budget ($5 million) and the cast is a bunch of young people who have experience but aren’t famous.

    • CatCube says:

      I hadn’t heard of that before–except as a poster in the theater last night when I went to see It.

      That sounds like it could be a really good movie if it’s well-executed.

    • Tibor says:

      Hmm. I had the same basic idea about a year ago for a short story I started writing and never (or rather still) haven’t finished.

    • John Schilling says:

      Tru Calling, Joss Whedon / Eliza Dushku, 2004-2005. Protagonist relives any day in which she directly encounters a murder or other “unnatural” death, which seeing as how she works in a morgue is quite frequent. Usually only one replay to set things right, and usually someone else’s murder rather than her own, but I recall at least one episode with many replays a la “Groundhog Day” and at least one where Tru’s own life was on the line.

      Decent piece of work, and I really wanted to see how the new plot element they introduced in the second season (another person with the “replay” ability, but a competing agenda) worked out. Cancelled too soon, of course.

      • bean says:

        That wasn’t Whedon. Although it looks interesting.

        • John Schilling says:

          You’re right; I was confusing it with Dollhouse, which was a Whedon/Dushku collaboration from the same era. Also very interesting, in part for coining the term “thoughtpocalypse” and providing an appropriate context.

          No, we don’t need to know the plural. Fortunately.

  33. Winter Shaker says:

    Does anyone have a citation for the smartarse Libertarian quip “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what your country can do to you”? I was curious who came up with that first, and having trouble googling it.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’m going to guess that several thousand people, most of them not Libertarians, independently came up with that one on 21 January 1961.

    • Brad says:

      Incidentally I have heard that the original JFK quote was a ripoff of something a headmaster at Choate used to say but I never bothered tracking down whether it was true or not.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Here it is in a 1904 book by LeBaron Russell Briggs, first Dean of Students at Harvard. George St John, headmaster of Choate attended Harvard at the right time and is widely claimed to have repeatedly used it. Circa 2008, Judy Donald, school archivist found a notebook of St John quoting Briggs (source). Kennedy’s version, in the imperative, is better than Briggs’s. I’m not sure anyone is really sure about St John’s phrasing.

    • “Ask not what the government can do for you. Ask what the government is doing to you.”

      The Machinery of Freedom, subhead to Chapter 4, 1973.

      But I can’t swear nobody else said it first.

  34. OptimalSolver says:

    We often hear that torture doesn’t work, but if so, how do we explain it’s constant use over thousands of years, and in seemingly all places?

    How to explain its ubiquitous employment by all manner of organizations, governmental, criminal, religious etc.?

    Surely if torture was less efficient at producing results than other methods, it would have fallen by the wayside over the millennia?

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Well it presumably does work as a deterrent to crime, at least to some extent; what is in doubt is whether it works as a reliable way of extracting information, and even then, it presumably works some of the time, on some people, and in the cases where you do get false confessions/false accusations of others, you may be looking at a society that considers it more important to see someone punished for a wrong regardless of whether they actually did it, than to see no one punished and thus be sure that whoever it was has gotten away with it. Is the bulk of historical torture of the ‘we have ways of making you talk’ variety, or just the more prosaic ‘you have been found guilty of X; here’s some pain’?

    • Tetrikitty says:

      It might just be an antipattern.

    • Mr Mind says:

      I guess for the same reason religions or superstitions still exists: humans are not utility maximizers. Often times they can take something that barely works, but gives them a way to enjoy cruelty and sadism, and make an institution of it.

    • Aapje says:

      People are naturally inclined to believe that doing more extreme things gets more extreme outcomes.

      Torture tends to make people tell you what you want to hear, which means that it gives minimal cognitive dissonance and thus results in more pleasing outcomes than being told the truth.

      There is a punitive/revenge/deterrent element.

      Surely if torture was less efficient at producing results than other methods, it would have fallen by the wayside over the millennia.

      This entire claim resolves around the definition of “result”. If you merely want high levels of truth, with low levels of misinformation, then torture doesn’t produce the best result. I don’t think that many torturers actually optimize for this, even if they think they are.

    • johan_larson says:

      I would guess torture (or even just the threat of it) is plenty effective at getting people to reveal information they actually know, but don’t want to reveal. The example here is, “Tell me who you are working with, and where we can find them.” That strikes me as a reasonably common case.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        I think the ‘doesn’t work’ claim is that it is effective at getting people to reveal true information that they don’t want to reveal, but it is even more effective at getting people who don’t actually have the information you want, to fabricate false information in order to make the pain stop, so that unless you have chosen your torturees very carefully (which, if you were able to do, you probably wouldn’t have needed to resort to torture in the first place), you get, on net, more false than true information. It is difficult to think of any ethical ways of testing that hypothesis, but it is prima facie plausible.

        • johan_larson says:

          Sure. Information obtained through torture is not reliable and therefore must be verified by other means. That makes sense. But you are probably better off with six new clues even if four of them are drivel than you would be with nothing at all.

          • bean says:

            This is a known problem. The way the US dealt with it was to make sure to ask questions about things we knew, but that the prisoner didn’t know we knew. When he started giving truthful answers to them, we increased our confidence in other things he was saying. It’s basically just a matter of record-keeping.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            If one tortured a large number of people, like POWs, one could filter the results on the basis of repetition. If one claim was repeated by multiple captives, it could command high confidence; and if it wasn’t, it could be treated casually. Given this, as well as other possible techniques, I suspect that torture was often extremely useful.

      • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

        Mixed with so many false positives that a snowball effect erases parts of the population. Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, Argentina, Chile, …

    • 1soru1 says:

      Define ‘work’ and ‘results’.

      Diesel fuel works in a diesel engine, and will ruin a petrol one.

      Torture works very well at enforcing the will of the powerful on the powerless. It doesn’t work so well in terms of protecting the innocent from the guilty. A society that tries to run on the latter narrative while using the methods of the former will need to be taken to the garage for a service.

      • fortaleza84 says:

        You also need to define “torture.” Holding someone in contempt of court and making them sit in jail until they pay their back child support is fundamentally no different from what is commonly referred to as “torture.”

        • rahien.din says:

          Are you being genuine? You are incapable of discerning torture from mere imprisonment?

          • The Nybbler says:

            You are incapable of discerning torture from mere imprisonment?

            There’s no bright line.

          • There is an old article by John Langbein comparing the medieval law of torture with the modern American practice of plea bargaining. In both cases, you evade strict requirements of proof of guilt by holding that they do not apply to a voluntary confession and then stretching “voluntary” to apply to a situation where it is often in the interest of the accused to confess to something of which he is not guilty.

          • rahien.din says:

            The goal of torture is the negation of the will, via the infliction of anguish in the present. I will hurt you until you do what I want.

            The goal of bargaining (such as plea bargains, or, being held in jail until you pay your child support) is engaging the will, via descriptions of punishments/adducements that may occur in the future. Via your actions, you will select from the following options…

            These are definitely different things.

          • Nornagest says:

            Traditionally, the first stage of torture is showing the guy you’re torturing the implements you’re going to torture him with. That sounds an awful lot like “engaging the will via descriptions of punishments…” to me.

          • rahien.din says:

            Nornagest,

            Well, then that’s still a bargaining phase. It might be a rather extreme set of options, but to the extent that anguish is not being inflicted, what you describe would be prior-to-torture.

            One could put it in the other direction : if I offer a prisoner a routine plea bargain wherein they must choose between prison and probation, and they have a genuinely overwhelming, mind-altering phobia of prison, that might be enough to invalidate some aspect of their plea decision.

          • @rahien.din:

            Under the medieval law of torture, a confession while being tortured didn’t count. The confession had to be made while the suspect was not being tortured–at which point it was avoiding future torture that was the incentive.

          • rahien.din says:

            David Friedman,

            I’m skeptical that we’ll-pause-the-torture-for-a-chat really, truly counts.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not convinced that “negation of the will” vs. “engagement of the will” is a real distinction. Whether you’re using the threat of more torture to come or the threat of imprisonment, you’re still trying to force compliance through threats.

            I’ve also heard that the psychological game of torture isn’t about inflicting pain as such. There is not really a breaking point for most people where, if you hurt them enough, they’ll do whatever you tell them to; people can endure quite a lot if they have a reason to, and they’re pretty good at inventing reasons. The torturer is trying to take those reasons away, to force the victim into a choice between compliance or certain pain — or mutilation, or isolation, or whatever they’re afraid of. Obviously that’s different in severity from offering a plea bargain for six weeks in prison vs. potentially years if you don’t confess, but it doesn’t seem so different in kind.

          • rahien.din says:

            Nornagest,

            Well, “finding and removing any reasons to resist” still seems categorically different from “allowing you to choose between two fixed options, however bad.”

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s precisely a choice between two fixed options. The leadup to it can be viewed as establishing the credibility of those options, just like the showing-the-implements phase.

          • rahien.din says:

            Ehhh, the way you describe torture has me more convinced of my own position.

          • Nornagest says:

            The legitimate legal system puts quite a lot of effort into establishing the credibility of punishment, too: threats and promises during interrogation, restraints, special costumes and props, elaborate rules of courtroom procedure, maybe a stay in county jail (which is usually worse than prison) before you go before a judge.

            When a police detective hauls you out of your jail cell at five in the morning, handcuffs you to an interrogation-room table, shines the light in your eyes and tells you that a city boy like you you won’t last a week in Folsom and you’d better make it easy for yourself, what’s he doing but trying to break down sources of resistance? He’s limited in how he can do that, but it’s basically the same psychology.

          • rahien.din says:

            You’re putting a lot more stock in this idea of credibility of future punishment than I am. I don’t think that matters so much.

            I think torture is designed to turn a voluntary situation into an involuntary one, via the infliction of anguish. This is a pretty clear distinction.

          • Nornagest says:

            I think torture is designed to turn a voluntary situation into an involuntary one, via the infliction of anguish. This is a pretty clear distinction.

            And I don’t think we have any reason to make that distinction vs. plea bargains or any number of other things. In both cases we have the perpetrators artificially constructing a situation where compliance is the lesser of two bad choices, in hopes that the victim will then choose to comply. I don’t think there’s any principled reason to say that the choice in one case is voluntary and isn’t in the other; we may have other reasons to forbid the deliberate infliction of pain, but we also know that just hurting people doesn’t magically make them do what you want. If it did, the case for torture would be a lot stronger than it is!

            I’m not sure how much clearer I can make this.

          • beleester says:

            I feel your definition is overly broad – pretty much any form of law enforcement will fit under “attempts to construct a situation where compliance seems better than resisting.” Heck, I bet some high-pressure sales tactics would fit under it too.

            It’s sort of a “taxes are theft” argument – yes, under your definition, imprisonment and plea bargains are just a lesser degree of torture, but they’re non-central enough that I start to question your definition.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            You are incapable of discerning torture from mere imprisonment?

            In a rigorous, principled way, yes.

            But since you are capable of discerning the two, would you mind laying out, step by step, how you would decide whether an activity is “torture” or not?

          • fortaleza84 says:

            I feel your definition is overly broad

            I might agree with you, but let’s turn back to the example which sparked this sub-thread. You owe child support and the judge orders you to be held in jail until you pay up. It seems pretty clear to me that the point of this is to inflict suffering on you as a way of motivating you to do what the judge wants in order to make the suffering stop.

            Fundamentally, how is this not torture? Admittedly, cooling your heels in jail is a lot more bearable than having your fingernails pulled out or whatever.

            But let’s take another step back: The earlier question being discussed was whether torture “works.” It seems to me that the example of contempt of court shows that (mild) torture does in fact “work.” If mild torture works, it’s reasonable to conclude that more severe torture works. Maybe more effectively, or maybe less effectively, but still.

          • Nornagest says:

            I feel your definition is overly broad – pretty much any form of law enforcement will fit under “attempts to construct a situation where compliance seems better than resisting.” Heck, I bet some high-pressure sales tactics would fit under it too.

            What definition? I’m not claiming that this is the definition of torture. We all know what torture is, and high-pressure sales tactics aren’t it. I’m claiming that the strategy of torture, the psychology it exploits, is similar in some important ways to e.g. high-pressure sales tactics, and that attempts to classify or to condemn torture have to rely on things other than the psychology it employs for that reason.

            Basically, I jumped into this subthread because that phrase about “negation of the will” ticked me off. Don’t read too much beyond that into what I’m saying.

          • rahien.din says:

            Nornagest,

            That phrase about “negation of the will” ticked me off. We also know that just hurting people doesn’t magically make them do what you want.

            I get it. You’re trying to walk me out of that. You claim to have read some material on how torture works, so you may know something I don’t. And that’s fine.

            But here’s the thing. I have to take your word for it, face value, perfect-internet-stranger. Or I have to ask you for sources which, given everything else on my plate, I will have little motivation or rationale to read. And what can I anticipate? If you are correct, I will conclude something like “Everyone knows what torture is, and it’s something like a plea bargain but not really like high-pressure sales tactics.” That’s akin to “Everyone knows what porn is and it’s something like a Shakira video but not really like a football game on TV.”

            And you’re not even answering challenges to your position! beleester has an excellent point : if you describe torture merely as an extreme degree of negative consequence presentation, then you’re not able to demonstrate that a torturer is categorically different from a pushy salesperson. This proves way too much! And in response you hand-wave that “Well of course those things are different, everybody knows that…” which, to me, only serves to demonstrate that you don’t know if or how they actually are.

            It’s hard not to conclude that you have “rigor”-ed your way into torture apologia.

            Moreover, you’re not exactly being forthright with me. You could have led with :

            that phrase about “negation of the will” ticks me off. Don’t read too much beyond that into what I’m saying.

            Or something like it, instead of wheedling a fight out of me.

            I wish you had started with explaining the following:

            I’m claiming that the strategy of torture, the psychology it exploits, is similar in some important ways to e.g. high-pressure sales tactics, and that attempts to classify or to condemn torture have to rely on things other than the psychology it employs for that reason.

            C’mon Nornagest, that’s what’s interesting! Why not just do the fun, interesting thing? Why did we do the other, non-fun, uninteresting thing instead?

            I’d be very interested in learning more about what you know. Honestly, if you have the time and wherewithal, that might make a good effort post (or something like it). I genuinely hope you’ll consider that.

            fortaleza84,

            But since you are capable of discerning the two, would you mind laying out, step by step, how you would decide whether an activity is “torture” or not?

            Oh boy. I have hereby registered this request for more of the non-fun, uninteresting thing.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            Oh boy. I have hereby registered this request for more of the non-fun, uninteresting thing.

            I’m not sure what your point is here, but it looks like you are unable to explain how you would discern “torture” from jailing someone for contempt of court.

            Because like I said, there is no fundamental difference. In both cases, you are inflicting suffering on a person to motivate them to behave in some way so as to end the suffering. Jailing someone for contempt of court is just more mild than the conduct which is commonly referred to as torture.

      • Protagoras says:

        Yes, people are good at rationalizing that those they inflict harm on deserve it. So torture is good for convincing the torturers that their victims deserved it; hence good for increasing solidarity and loyalty among the enforcers of an oppressive regime.

    • Urstoff says:

      What is “work” in this case? As a way to make people give false confessions, torture seems fairly effective. As a way to find out accurate information, it seems of dubious value. However, it’s not clear if that’s because torture itself is ineffective or if the type of people that employ torture are the type of people that are not interested in truth. The latter seems to be more the norm throughout history.

    • rlms says:

      Torture is definitely effective from the perspective of a (potential) torturer at solving the problem of a prisoner who won’t say anything: either by inducing them to make possibly false confessions, or by killing them. That doesn’t imply much about its effectiveness from the perspective of potential torturers’ bosses, who want useful information.

    • rahien.din says:

      All of the above, plus, emotional reasoning. They-hurt-us-so-we’ll-hurt-them-worser.

    • John Schilling says:

      We often hear that torture doesn’t work, but if so, how do we explain it’s constant use over thousands of years, and in seemingly all places?

      When we hear that torture doesn’t work, we are listening to a liar who thinks that lying to us about the effectiveness of torture is justified if it convinces people not to engage in torture. Or, perhaps, an ignorant dupe of such a liar.

      Torture does work. It works for lots of things. It even works for the thing people are most likely to accuse it of failing at, to wit identifying whether a particular suspect is guilty of a particular crime, if you use it intelligently for that purpose. If that’s what you’re after, ask questions that only you and the criminal would know the answer to. But of course, as others have elaborated above, many torturers have completely different purposes in mind, and torture works well enough for those also.

      You still shouldn’t torture people. But you also shouldn’t, e.g., shoot people who annoy you. You just shouldn’t argue against it by asserting, “we often hear that annoying people are bulletproof”.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I don’t think anyone is lying. It’s part of a commonly believed narrative.

        • John Schilling says:

          How does a falsehood become part of the “commonly believed narrative” without an initial narrator who was Making Shit Up? And to be common, you really need more than just the one and you need ongoing reinforcement.

          • 1soru1 says:

            One way is by not being false. Just because some people are mistaken about the theoretical effectiveness of torture in the abstract does not make other people wrong when they talk about it in the context of actual human institutions and societies.

            Communists, anarchocapitalists and fascists don’t have any great differences in temperament or morality; they differ in what they think would work in the real world. By defijition, torturists think torture works better than the alternatives. If you are a torturist, it doesn’t make any coherent sense to say ‘nevertheless torture is bad’.

          • bean says:

            By defijition, torturists think torture works better than the alternatives. If you are a torturist, it doesn’t make any coherent sense to say ‘nevertheless torture is bad’.

            You’re assuming that only torturists will say that torture works. “Torture works, but we shouldn’t use it for moral reasons” is a coherent position. “Torture doesn’t work” is the result of the Just World Fallacy, people trying to dodge the need to confront uncomfortable moral choices.

          • Deiseach says:

            How does a falsehood become part of the “commonly believed narrative” without an initial narrator who was Making Shit Up?

            Show trials. Confessions by people who plainly didn’t do what they were accused of. That shows torture does not work for “obtaining true confessions”; it does show torture works for “making people confess to being Jack the Ripper”.

            Since the rationale of those who wish to use torture is “we can use it to get true confessions out of those who would otherwise never talk (and we will never use it for any other purpose, oh dearie me no not at all)”, then the “American pilot tortured into admitting he was wrong to promulgate the American government plot to persecute the noble Viet Cong” works against you there. Confessions procured by torture can be shown to be false, why should I believe this particular confession is true (unless you have other evidence to back it up, and if you have other evidence, why do you need torture?)

            I think there have been enough cases where the police beat a confession out of a suspect, only for later investigation to demonstrate that they were innocent, to say that torture may or may not work but it is not a dependable tool. And it is certainly not one you want to put in the public toolbox, because it will not be confined to “we’ll only use this for very hard cases in very limited circumstances and sparingly”.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @John

            There’s a pretty big difference between propagating something you believe to be true but isn’t and propagating something you know to be false. It’s not accurate to call the teachers of heliocentrism liars.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            What Wrong Species said. But also, I am a bit surprised that Harry Frankfurt’s celebrated essay hasn’t been mentioned yet.

          • Nornagest says:

            “we can use it to get true confessions out of those who would otherwise never talk (and we will never use it for any other purpose, oh dearie me no not at all)”

            I don’t think this is quite what torture proponents are going for — at least on this side of the pond, I don’t know about Ireland. Ideally, if we have enough evidence to torture a guy on, we have enough evidence to put him away without a confession; realistically this might not always be true, and accusations of coerced confession do come up pretty often, but our legal rules are set up such that forced confessions are inadmissible and I’ve never heard anyone agitating to change that.

            What I have heard seriously proposed is torture of people we already have dead to rights, as an intelligence-gathering tool. The usual scenario presented in the media is some kind of Hollywoodesque ticking-time-bomb deal, where the bad guys have been captured but their plot is already in motion, and can’t be stopped without vital information that the good guys just need to break a few fingers for.

            That probably doesn’t happen often if it’s ever happened at all, but it illustrates the kind of thing we’d be looking for: unique, valuable, specific, verifiable information. Lose any of those criteria and torture is either pointless or unreliable. But how likely we are to get information like that is an empirical question, albeit one I’ve never seen answers to that I trust.

      • Montfort says:

        Everyone who thinks they’re right about something thinks those who disagree are either lying or ignorant of crucial facts/arguments, but explicitly mentioning these things as if in moral judgment doesn’t seem helpful.

      • engleberg says:

        @We often hear that torture doesn’t work, so how do we explain its constant use over thousands of years-

        Work animals are still routinely struck to make them do what we want, and it gets worse when we really need something important done. A fellow who routinely pokes his favorite ox up the butt with a sharp ox-goad is not someone you’d want to bend over in front of when he’s mad at you. A milkman who’s had to flog a team of tired old horses he really likes to get the milk up an icy road is not a fellow who’d hesitate to strike annoying humans. (Dorothy Parker story, ‘Big Blonde’, 1930s when being shocked by this stuff showed that the big blonde was becoming mentally unstable). I could flog this dead horse, but there’s a happy ending: With internal combustion engines, everyone got nicer.
        Schilling’s argument against pious fraud ignores the power of pious fraud as a loyalty test, though he’s right that it’s intellectually corrupt.

    • CatCube says:

      An article that’s been posted here before, (which I can’t seem to find right now and might be remembering incorrectly) stated that torture was used in mainland Europe to force confessions because circumstantial evidence wasn’t permitted–only the testimony of direct witnesses or confessions could be allowed.

      So, if I understood this correctly, if a bunch of people saw somebody go into a house with a knife, heard screaming from within, and saw the guy walk out covered in blood, that wasn’t sufficient to convict because that’s all circumstantial evidence. So to convict almost anybody they needed a confession. The requirements for direct evidence or confessions were held to be a Biblical requirement and therefore couldn’t be changed, so they papered over this flaw by putting thumbscrews on suspects so they would confess. This then made their conviction legal.

      The original idea, I think, was that they would only do this when there existed enough evidence to be sure that the person being tortured was really guilty, and they just needed the paper for a legal conviction. Then it kind of got away from them and became (more) unjust.

      The article was actually relating this to the growth of plea bargaining in the US. Trials are now such elaborate and expensive affairs that plea bargaining became popular to handle cases where the prosecutor was sure they had the right guy. Aaand then became the most convenient way to handle their docket.

      • moscanarius says:

        Interesting. Could you post this link again, if possible?

        • CatCube says:

          David Friedman has it. I couldn’t recall the title, author, or the proper Google incantation to bring it back up.

      • I just posted one relevant link, to Langbein’s piece. I don’t know if the extreme bloody knife example is from that legal tradition or from Maimonides’ discussion of the similar requirement in Jewish law–which includes ways of evading it.

        One bit of the story that CatCube doesn’t mention is that the medieval law of torture arose as a result of the abandoning of ordeal as a method of proof. You start with the doctrine that you should never convict an innocent man. The early medieval solution was to ask God if he is innocent, via one of several tests. God is omniscient, so that should always work. Peter Leeson has a good piece on this, arguing that ordeals worked, although not for the supposed reason.

        Eventually the Church decided that that approach was for various reasons illegitimate and forced its abandonment. Conviction was now supposed to require evidence clear as the noonday sun–two eye witnesses to the crime or a voluntary confession. That meant that most guilty criminals could not be convicted. The solution was that with “half proof” you could torture someone. A confession under torture wasn’t voluntary. So you stop torturing him, ask him if he is willing to confess. If he doesn’t, you torture him again.

        • Acedia says:

          I really enjoyed that Peter Leeson piece, thanks for sharing it.

          • Leeson is often interesting. He’s my current example of the attraction of working the extensive margin–applying economics to something it hasn’t been applied to before instead of trying to do something original on a problem that smart people have been working on for a century or so.

    • Deiseach says:

      Torture is not used for simply one effect or result, there are various ways it is used.

      The testimony of slaves in Roman times would not be accepted unless it were obtained under torture, the rationale being that if your slave were in a position to know your secrets, they must be very trusted and so loyal. Let us say that you are torturing a slave to find out if Decius Mus were involved in a conspiracy. You apply torture and the slave says “No”. Do you (a) accept this is the truth (b) think maybe the slave can handle this much pain and is being loyal, so apply even more pain and see if the answer stays the same?

      Plainly, the way this can go wrong is if you keep torturing someone saying “No”, so they switch to saying “Yes” in order to get it to stop. You still can’t be sure whether “no” or “yes” is the right answer. If all you care about is getting Decius Mus convicted because he’s a political enemy, then the testimony you want is where the slave says “yes” and you torture them until they say “yes”. If you really want to know the truth but you’re not willing to take the first answer you get, you still can’t be sure: if the slave is saying “no” out of loyalty but Decius really is guilty, maybe they’re brave and loyal enough to keep saying “no” even to the point of death. If they’re not able to withstand pain, they may say “yes” to get the torture to stop, even if Decius is not guilty.

      But torture isn’t just for “get the answer”, it’s for punishment, it’s a deterrent (if you will be not alone executed but tortured to death if caught), it’s to humiliate and insult and degrade a captive or enemy, it’s the exercise of power, and many other reasons. The opposition to torture is not alone that it doesn’t work – plainly it does work in some instances, for example, if you want to make someone’s death as horrible and painful as possible, or if you want to dehumanise and degrade an enemy – but that it is inhumane and something that as a civilised world we should be leaving behind and growing out of, as well as that it is wrong just as maltreating prisoners (civilian and of war) or abusing the vulnerable (children, the elderly, animals) in our power is wrong.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        What I’ve never understood about that is why, if a slave testified against his master or in a completely unrelated matter, torture was still held to be necessary.

    • C_B says:

      Somewhat relevant writing on the mindset around torture and punishment for most of history:

      https://www.exurbe.com/?p=2339

      It is not entirely focused on torture-for-information, though.

    • Of possible relevance … . In Periclean Athens, the testimony of slaves could only be taken under torture, possibly on the theory that the information wanted was usually against the slave’s owner, who was in a position to punish him if he revealed it.

      The problems with torture as a source of information were discussed then. There are two surviving orations, one of which claims that evidence taken under torture is worthless for the obvious reason, one of which claims that such evidence has never turned out to be false.

      They were both written by the same orator–for different clients.

      The Visigoths had more or less the modern approach. If the testimony did not reveal information that the guilty party would have and an innocent would not, it was rejected. If there was no such information, the accused could not be tortured.

      The problem with that, then and now, is that it relies on the torturer being honest. Otherwise he can leak the information about the crime to the accused, then take his knowledge of that information as evidence of guilt.

    • Lillian says:

      It’s surprisingly difficult not to torture people whom you have sufficiently dehumanised, and hold helpless in your power with no authorities to answer to. It is even more difficult when you really need them to do something and they are refusing to cooperate. It can happen even if you and your compatriots are intelligent, rational, empirical people who sincerely believe torture is ineffective, and keep failing to get any positive results from it.

      This is something i learned from roleplaying, in a game in which we were the heroes but not the good guys. We tortured a lot of people in the course of securing a city after taking it over through a violent coup. (Memorable moment: my character imperiously demanding the streets be cleared because the troops she’s unloading are urgently needed at the bishop’s palace. By the time anyone realized what they were needed for, we were already storming it.) This despite none of the players believing torture is effective, nobody deliberately roleplaying their character as being misguided on the subject, and the fact that it literally never worked. A flip switched and suddenly everyone but the GM was all gung-ho about torture.

      It was just so frustrating to be constantly attacked by a cabal of mad flagellant seers, who we couldn’t fucking find because they were using their prophetic powers to coordinate their actions. If one of them would just tell us where to find at least one of their hideouts we could have made progress, but none would cooperate in the slightest. Oh they’d pretend to cooperate, but they could not really be reasoned with because they were both fanatics and literally insane, so all we ever got was religion, riddles, and nonsense. A situation like that makes you so angry and frustrated that you really want to hurt your captives irrespective of how productive doing so actually is. At least it makes you feel better, which in turn creates an illusion of making progress.

      So yeah we tortured the flagellants we captured, just like we tortured some of our other enemies, and we kept doing it despite the the GM’s not so subtle hints it was never going to work. You know how we finally found their hideout? One of my underlings used his hounds to sniff out the lot after a fruitless night spent interrogating one of them. It was only after finally eradicating the troublesome cabal that i was able to sit back and realize how much effort i’d been wasting trying to torture coherent answers out of mad men. It’s something that should have been obvious when literal mind control and mind reading magic wasn’t working either, but somehow it alway seemed like the next violation would yield results.

      Torture seems self-evidently foolish and counter-productive in the abstract. In the moment though, when it feels like one man’s intransigence is all that stands between you and victory, when all you have to do is somehow get him to talk, it really damn hard not to start hurting him. The false promises of torture are very seductive: all the answers you need, for the low price of being a monster for a little while. It’s both the easy way and the hard core way all at once.

      In all, the game was a very enlightening experience, and thanks to it can answer your question. The reason why people keep torturing each other is that humans are emotional, irrational, and cruel. The fact that it doesn’t work has little bearing on it, people get so caught up in the moment they lose sight of that. Everything else is just rationalisation. However the dehumanisation of the victim is a key component, since without it it’s much easier to avoid falling into the trap. It makes me glad that in my case, my sense of empathy is too strong to ever deliberately hurt real people, even if i did somehow believe torture was necessary and effective.

      • Ventrue Capital says:

        A fascinating story. What game was this? Your mention of “flagellant seers” makes me wonder if it was a GURPS game set in Megalos.

        • Lillian says:

          Vampire the Dark Ages, a game you are no doubt familiar with given your name. Which means the mad flagellant seers were Malkavians. You can imagine what an excercise in furtility it was trying to get straight answers out of god damned Malkavians.

          Honestly we were lucky to all came out of it with our sanities intact, Dementation is no joke. Though some of our men were not so lucky. A bunch of then were driven into a mad religious frenzy, tearing at themselves and each other, plucking out their own eyes. Had to drink from the dead to get enough blood to heal the crippled and the maimed. On the plus side, the survivors now think their liege-lady is some kind of saint or angel. I love having no Masquerade.

          • Jaskologist says:

            If you learned from roleplaying that torture doesn’t work, did you also learn that drinking the blood of the dead does? Seems like both rest on the same evidence.

            Evidence from roleplaying only tells us what your DM believes, not how the real world works.

          • Vorkon says:

            To be fair, they didn’t learn that torture doesn’t WORK per se, they learned that they, personally, are likely to resort to torture out of frustration, even though they know it is unlikely to work, and extrapolated that knowledge out to human nature, in general.

            The torture almost certainly WOULD have worked, if the people being tortured weren’t magically insane, with no actual knowledge of the information they were trying to torture out. But they didn’t learn a lesson about the efficacy of torture, (if mind reading and mind control didn’t get them the information they wanted, there was no logical way they could have imagined torture would) they learned a lesson about themselves, and how likely they might be to resort to torture.

            It’s not exactly a particularly accurate experiment, and trying to apply it to human nature as a whole overlooks some pretty key mitigating factors, (wouldn’t someone roleplaying as a vampire, of all things, be more likely to be evil than the average person? That’s a big problem I’ve always seen with the Stanford Prison Experiment, too; roleplaying can be a useful tool, but people WILL cut loose more when they are doing it than in a similar real-life situation) but overall, I think that’s a pretty valid lesson.

          • Randy M says:

            they learned that they, personally, are likely to resort to torture out of frustration,

            Eh, no they didn’t. They learned that they would torture fictional representations of their enemies, which might say something about what they would order at a far enough remove, but doesn’t say that they would actually enjoy getting their hands dirty.
            Fiction can be used to explain, or to propose plausibility, but not to provide evidence.

          • Lillian says:

            The point i was making is that even given a situation in which torture was clearly not working, it still happened. Sure it happened ficionally, but in my experience some roleplaying behaviour can be an good proxy for real life behaviour. Determining which is obviously a judgement call, and as such i acknowledge it can be wildly off the mark.

            Now, it seems to me that many people can in certain circumstances dehumanise others enough to guiltlessly inflict grave harm upon them. Many more can have it done at a far enough remove. What’s more, given the right emotional motivation, people in general can and will actively wish harm upon others. Finally people often engage in counter-productive behaviour if sufficiently emotionally invested.

            What the game demonstrated is how all these factors acting in concert can cause the need to gather information to be sublimated into the desire to hurt the subjects without the torturers consciously realizing it. If this failure mode can happen in real life, and i believe it can very easily, it would help explain why torture persists even though it is ineffective for accurate information gathering.

            That said, barring edge cases like literal delusional madmen, you can get results from torture. When i say i believe it’s ineffective, i mean in comparison to other interrogation and information gathering techniques. The problen with those is that they mostly require patience and skill, both of which are often in short supply. So you have all the aforementioned factors, and also some actual results to justify continuing the practice. Suboptimal behaviour is far more common and persistent than completely useless behaviour.

            Also, in the specific circumstances of readily verifiable information, such as lock combinations or nearby hiding places, torture can be an effective technique, potentially more so than any others. That is provided the subject actually knows the information, otherwise you can easily waste a hell of a lot of time trying to pump a dry well.

            EDIT – Oh hey, i found my favourite shory overview on the subject again. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/13/AR2007121301303.html

  35. OptimalSolver says:

    Anyone else watching Star Trek: Discovery?

    What do you think, so far?

    • Mr Mind says:

      Only the first three episodes, I don’t know if they are scheduled differently here in Italy.
      Anyway, as a life-long ST fan, obviously I’m super-excited! I like many things about the new show, and I dislike only a few.
      The aesthetics is gorgeous in my opinion, I love the way they were able to maintain something of the TOS-like consoles (with buttons and levers!) and yet update it with more polished surfaces. I also love the design of the Discovery, the three concentric rings of the saucer section is a nice choice… I like the fact that AT LAST we can have intra-crew conflict, it’s an important deviation and adds a lot of untapped potential. Add to the bucket of the things that I like the back-story of the Klingon empire, and that for them they didn’t choose the trite messiah route…
      The things I don’t like: in three episodes, Michael has been the sole focus of the show. ST should be a collective narrative, not only the first officer should be interesting. I hope to see more crew developement for the future. Ambivalent instead on the upgraded Vulcanians: yes, they deserved a better exploration of their history / motives / etc, and yes, I like the fact that they are no more seen as cowards… BUT aren’t they breaking it by making them too powerful? Time will tell…

      • John Schilling says:

        I like the fact that AT LAST we can have intra-crew conflict, it’s an important deviation and adds a lot of untapped potential.

        We’ve had intra-crew conflict since the first time Kirk, Spock, and McCoy stood together on the bridge; that was an important part of the original formula. So when you say “conflict”, I’m pretty sure you means something in the range of “emnity” to “open warfare”

        And you say that like it is so obviously a good thing as to go without question. Would it be an even better thing if, e.g., Captain Lorca were to rape Lt. Burnham to establish his dominance? That would be an important deviation, and it would certainly tap into a sort of potential that “Star Trek” has previously left to shows like “Game of Thrones”.

        And GoT is, in spite of its weaknesses this last season, a very good show. But, with or without explicit rape, it isn’t a model for every other show to follow. “Star Trek” is very nearly on the opposite end of the “do I want to watch these people literally or figuratively screw each other over?” axis from GoT. It is supposed to help fill the niche for stories about competent professionals working together as a team in spite of their occasional disagreements.

        If it’s not that, then I’m not interested – I’ve got more grimdark offerings to chose from than I can deal with, and I will not reward anyone who poisons one of the few traditional wells of hope in the name of more grimdarkness. “Star Trek: Beyond” lost me when it opened with an outright mutiny, presented as just one of those things that people do when they disagree with each other and don’t mind spending an intra-episode break in the brig over it.

        • MrApophenia says:

          I think the conflict thing is a reference to the TNG era – the writers were purportedly informed that no intercrew conflict was allowed because Star Trek was a utopia and everyone got along with everyone else.

          Obviously this was not always observed (see: Dr. Pulaski being a dick to Data, or Admiral Jellico being a Ronnie Cox character), but supposedly this was a stricture the TNG writers chafed under from time to time.

        • Mr Mind says:

          I don’t think that what we have had pre-Discovery was plot-relevant conflict. Yes, McCoy snarked at Spock. Poulasky snarked at Data. Trip snarked at T’Pol. But all in all, that’s only it was: snark, sarcasm. Besides this, everybody was competent at their own field, they respected each other boundaries, and made what the captain wanted. The only important conflict between crew I can recall was Chakotay vs Janeway about the scorpion pact, and even there Chakotay was in love with his captain.
          On Discovery, we have had mutiny! For the first time, a real divergence of opinions, people who are not transparent with their motives, people who lie to each other (even though the First Officer would say it was speaking ‘metaphorically’).
          This is not all necessarily good: it’s potential, and obviously it can be used improperly (eg: rape, although I would say Kirk was always much more at risk).
          On the grimdarkness, it’s a stylistic choice that has been used before with great effect (eg: the Dominion war), so it’s not alien to ST. The era that ST:D has chosen to portray is dark by itself, since it’s in the middle of the Klingon war, but as I’ve understood it will be only for the first season.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Spock did try to kill Kirk that one time.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t think that what we have had pre-Discovery was plot-relevant conflict

            There’s conflict in the sense of people disliking and disagreeing with each other, and there’s conflict in the sense of people trying to make each other fail. To say that it is not “plot-relevant” unless they are trying to make each other fail, strikes me as both short-sighted and depressing. To insist that this has to happen among the protagonists, doubly so.

            Stories about people who disagree with one another, managing to work together towards whatever goals they do have in common, are often quite good stories. They can even be good stories if the protagonists don’t disagree with each other because it is obvious that the Nazis/Commies/Klingons/whatever are the bad guys and the relevant conflict is going to be with them. And this has given us a huge amount of good, popular episodic television. Most of “Star Trek”, the entire “Law and Order” franchise and most police procedurals generally, “Mission Impossible” (but not the movies which had to make Jim Phelps a traitor because grimdark), “Doctor Who”, “Stargate: SG1”, “Firefly” occasionally excepting Jayne, and for that matter…

            The era that ST:D has chosen to portray is dark by itself, since it’s in the middle of the Klingon war

            …how about every non-revisionist war story, which is to say every war story ever told by a society capable of actually winning wars? Yes, there’s an unavoidable sort of darkness involved in a story set during e.g. World War II, because Nazis. But it is a very different kind of darkness than the one where any time two people disagree over the best technique for Nazi-punching they spend more time screwing each other over to make sure that their plan for Nazi-punching is chosen than they do actually defeating the Nazis.

            There’s room for stories like that; it clearly works for e.g. “Game of Thrones”. But the society that generally prefers stories like that, the society that puts a laudatory exclamation point after “mutiny!”, that sees the darkness of war as dramatically calling for unrestrained internecine conflict, count me out.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Stories about people who disagree with one another, managing to work together towards whatever goals they do have in common, are often quite good stories.

            Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.

          • Deiseach says:

            The era that ST:D has chosen to portray is dark by itself, since it’s in the middle of the Klingon war, but as I’ve understood it will be only for the first season.

            Mmmm – I keep dipping into Discovery then noping back out of it. Last episode where the Beastie was a tardigrade? Very clever, and the second I saw the silhouette I went “that’s a tardigrade?” and I imagine a lot of science nerd viewers were delighted. But then it chomped the security officer or whomever she was and I went “okay, fine, plot armour is protecting Michael from getting chomped but you know what? I’m perfectly fine not watching an episode of people getting chomped” and off I went.

            It looks fantastic, I’ll give them that. In fact, it looks a bit too good, so it doesn’t jibe with my mental version of the timeline that this is pre-TOS when it comes to the tech, but as I’ve mentioned, I understand why they’re doing this. And yeah, alternate timeline.

            Michael the Mutineer – not sold on her. There’s no real reason for having her be the step/foster daughter of Sarek and Amanda (except to do a knowing twist on the Vulcan First Officer Spock of TOS).

            My main gripe is that, like the Abrams reboot, I can see this ‘verse sliding down to Mirrorverse very easily and that does not interest me. The Mirrorverse has been done to death – every series, including Enterprise, felt it needed to do a Mirrorverse episode whether it made any sense or not, because the fans love Mirrorverse episodes. I don’t want to know how easily things can go crappy, I know that by living in this world of ours. I want the universe where people are trying to wash the blood off their hands and not get more back on them, trying to live up to a set of ideals about “we could be better than this”.

            I don’t want “introducing a female captain in the first episode only to kill her off”. I don’t want Captain Lorca and his oh-so-relevant PTSD and war-hardened pragmatism; I don’t want the “let us look at the gritty underbelly of the Federation under all the shiny gloss of its purported ideals”. I can get that anywhere.

            So it’s lovely and shiny tech and appropriately whatever the up-to-date term about grimdark is for this decade and all the interpretation over “are the Klingons meant to be Muslims or Trump voters?” can get argued out online and in media review thinkpieces, but I don’t think I’ll be watching.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Deiseach

            Come to the dark side the Orville we have optimism. (yes we have scatological jokes too but they’re optimisticly scatological ) 😉

            Edit to add: I still expect Fox to screw the pooch somehow.

          • cassander says:

            @Deiseach

            What if they do a mirror universe episode but when they arrive in the mirror, everyone is TNG style happy and helpful?

    • Bugmaster says:

      It’s one of very few (if any !) shows that I found myself physically unable to watch. The entire show consists of split-second jump-cut editing, combined with random camera angles, and sprinkled liberally with lens flares. It’s still possible to listen to the dialogue (such as it is), but the visuals are completely unwatchable. This is, in a way, an impressive cinematographic achievement in and of itself.

    • Wrong Species says:

      After being heavily skeptical about the show, it’s warming up on me. In the last episode, they made the characters more likeable. The main character acted like a Starfleet officer and the story is interesting. But some things I’m still not a fan of. The tone and aesthetic is still annoyingly grimdark which I’m not sure if I’ll ever get completely used to. And the Klingon scenes are still boring with them sounding like they have marbles in their mouth.

    • Mark says:

      Yeah, I like it. I’m not sure if it’s Star Trek, but it’s definitely something. Cool special effects.

      I like the main character, who is a black woman called “Michael” – I’m wondering if they wrote the role originally with a man in mind and then just decided to cast a woman? If so, that’s the kind of tokenism I approve of.
      The mutiny thing was a bit weird (maybe she was suffering from radiation sickness – and the captain’s strategy did fail), but I liked the way everyone blamed her for everyone dying in the battle, when it was absolutely nothing to do with her. Realistic.

      Also, I think it’s pretty funny that some of the more liberal reviewers were like, “Yes – eat that Trumpies – the Klingons are against open borders and the writers are going to be rubbing it in *all* season.” and I was just like, “hmmm… nice to have some interesting, relatable adversaries for a change…”

      • ParryHotter says:

        Apparently, this is a signature move of Bryan Fuller (who was originally on the show’s production team). See this for more: https://www.themarysue.com/michael-burnham/

      • Winter Shaker says:

        …woman called “Michael”

        Well, we have at least one real world example… kinda 🙂
        (seriously though, I’m not sure how that works – other people marrying into the British royal family don’t seem to take on their spouse’s first name as part of their title)

        • littskad says:

          There’s also Michael Learned, who played the mother on The Waltons.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Prince Michael has a FAQ. Royal titles are different from noble titles because they precede the name, but the complicated details seem pretty arbitrary. Other wives of princes could use such a title, but generally have other titles they prefer. For example, Prince Michael’s older brother is Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, so his wife could be called Princess Edward, Duchess of Kent, but prefers just Katharine, Duchess of Kent. But Prince is Michael’s only title.

          Prince of Wales is a mix of a royal and noble title. Some day Kate Middleton will be Catherine, Princess of Wales (not Princess Catherine, although you can already say Prince William), but for now you can call her Princess William of Wales. She prefers Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

          I’m not sure about husbands of princesses. Phillip was specifically granted his own princely title several years after Elizabeth’s coronation.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Correct on Prince Philip (who had been a Prince of Greece and Denmark but renounced those titles), except that before the wedding he had been granted the title of His Royal Highness and a dukedom. In that order, so for a day he was HRH but a commoner.

            Princess Margaret’s husband, Antony Armstrong-Jones was again granted a title (Earl of Snowdon) by the Queen shortly after their marriage. Until this point, he was just plain Mr. Armstrong-Jones. He also kept being Earl of Snowdon after they divorced- being deprived of a British noble title is almost unheard of in the modern era.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Fair enough, that does explain it. I guess that whenever anyone talked about ‘Princess Diana’, there wasn’t a ready supply of pedants around to insist that she be styled as … well, Princess Charles, presumably? So that leaves Princess Michael as the only person actually routinely referred to with this odd-sounding formula.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Though, to be fair, owing to some of the children’s sci-fi I grew up with, I didn’t realise that Kiryl would normally be a boy’s name.

          • Deiseach says:

            One such title that I do remember hearing in common usage was Lady Colin Campbell, who kept that style after her divorce and was so addressed because she obtained her rank through her husband and not by her own inheritance. So Princess Michael was not the only one, though probably the most notable.

            And of course from the Lord Peter Wimsey novels, when Harriet Vane married Peter her title would then be Lady Peter Wimsey.

            I guess that whenever anyone talked about ‘Princess Diana’, there wasn’t a ready supply of pedants around to insist that she be styled as … well, Princess Charles, presumably?

            From what I vaguely remember back in the days when they were divorcing, there was a lot of horse-trading over what her title would be post-divorce. As the daughter of an earl she had her own courtesy title, Lady Diana Spencer (or Windsor, if she kept the surname from marriage). She, naturally, wanted to hold on to the title of Princess. They, equally naturally, didn’t want to let her swan around as “the People’s Queen” which she already had a tendency to do as The People’s Princess, so they worked out a compromise where she would no longer be Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales but could be referred to as Diana, Princess of Wales (as mother of the heir to the throne after Charles, she kept her precedence gained during marriage).

            Titles and precedence and “Is Lady Smith the wife of an earl or a knight?” are confusing 🙂 I have only the vaguest notion of it, but it does stick out when reading American writers writing Victorian detective stories set in England, where they’re likely to have someone speak of “Sir Smith” instead of either “Sir John” or “Lord Smith”, depending on his exact rank.

      • All I Do Is Win says:

        I knew a girl named Michael in real life. Beautiful girl, solid family, from North Carolina. Standard Republican/WASP/Christian parents.

      • Jaskologist says:

        It’s really strange to me seeing people get excited about a girl being named “Michael,” but if that’s what you’re into, might I recommend giving the Bible a try? It’s not as preachy as Star Trek, but I think you’ll still get a lot out of it.

        • I believe I have known two women named “Michal.” One of them an Israeli.

          • quaelegit says:

            Its one of the most popular girls names in Israel (8th on a list from 2008 on baby names wizard). Its my mom’s name, but she’s lived in the US since she small and usually just goes by Michelle (pronunciation-wise — she also got some benefit from being assumed to be a “Michael” when working in tech in the 80s and 90s).

  36. Vamair says:

    I’m probably late to the party, but I’ve only just realized Donald is the same name as Vladimir. Both mean “the ruler of the world”. Except that “Trump” means winning against tough opponents while “Putin” means (probably something like) “born at the time of change” (travelling somewhere, usually). Count me converted to nominative determinism. Should have done that sooner.

    • timujin says:

      “Born at the time of change” is a very creative translation. It’s just the word “way” (путь, put) converted into a surname. The closest English analogue would be “Donald Way”.

      • Vamair says:

        Yeah, I’m being a bit into cabbalistic implications there. The site I was looking at was saying it’s derived from a name usually given to children that were born at the time of traveling, though.
        Going from “traveling” to “transitional period” is not that much of a stretch.

      • bzium says:

        Thus we can conclude that Vladimir Putin is a vampire. We derive this from kabbalistic correspondence with Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way.

    • aNeopuritan says:

      “Trump is a German surname derived from a word for ‘drum’.” – though “nominative determinism” would be usually argued to spring from whatever the owner’s environment thinks the name means, yes.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Anyone here take JBP’s 10bux personality test? Any good?

  38. timujin says:

    Some antipsychotics, like olanzapine\Zyprexa, reduce or eliminate the effects of LSD. Can this be meaningfully understood as them being essentially negative LSD, making people less creative and crazy? I keep hearing about the amazing positive effects of LSD, like permanently boosting your Openness stat, or relieving depression. Would taking antipsychotics lower your Openness?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Zyprexa is a 5-HT2A antagonist, and LSD works through 5-HT2A agonism. It looks like 5-HT2A might increase brain “plasticity” in some complicated way. Zyprexa might decrease this in some complicated way, but the dopaminergic effects are so much bigger that it’s hard to tell. Post on this soon.

      • timujin says:

        Post on this soon.

        Really looking ahead to this one, Scott! I am currently on 5mg of Zyprexa daily for my depression, and I have some LSD that I would really, really like to have for the benefits. This is a conundrum I can’t solve on my own.

      • genocidebunnies says:

        Would this have any implications for HPPD?

    • Yashabird says:

      Take LSD and Zyprexa at the same time, if you’re curious. There will be attenuation of some of the visual brilliancy and probably less “ego dissolution,” but the counter-effects definitely are not linear, and you will probably not feel default normal.

      Look at the pharmacodynamics. LSD is active at such low doses that the amount of olanzapine necessary to compete for those 5-HT2A receptors is going to have massive spill-over effects at other receptors. It’s an interesting and worthwhile experiment, but ultimately most *trip terminators work by helping you sleep, which is arguably an induced delirium.

      *http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hup.2431/abstract

  39. WashedOut says:

    I have a peculiar condition or quirk that I’d like help ‘diagnosing’ and/or overcoming.

    The problem arises when I am carrying one or more ordinary objects in my hands, and need to pick up/put down objects in different locations in a certain order. I always end up carrying things for the entire route unnecessarily when I should have placed them earlier, and I often go though a room forgetting to put one of the things down that I meant to, carrying it past it’s drop-off point.

    Say i’m getting something out of the back seat car after I’ve parked. I will take the keys out of the ignition and with the same hand pick up a water bottle from the centre console. While im trying to shut the driver’s door (with my knuckle or wrist) with these two things in my hand, i’ll be reaching onto the back seat to pick up a grocery bag. Once I get the bag, I have to knee the door shut, then I get to the house and realise that the bottle is empty and I just wanted to throw it in the trash on the way or leave it in the car after all – now I can’t open the door because my hands are full, and I don’t want to set the bags and keys down because i’ll have to pick them up again. So I go back to the trash with the bottle…..

    Argh…It’s hard to explain. Is there a word or phrase for difficulty with the everyday travelling-salesman problem? I’m in my late 20’s with no relevant medical history.

    I live in a two-storey house and I probably carry objects up and down stairs for no reason, (sub-consciously?) every day.

    • Yashabird says:

      What you’re describing is technically “ideational apraxia,” although that’s a junk term if you haven’t had a stroke. If it’s a lifelong difficulty, look into “developmental dyspraxia,” which as far as I can tell is basically on the autism spectrum. I’ve also seen something similar as a manifestation of acute mania, but basically you’re just describing a general dysfunction of executive control. cf. “Highway hypnosis”

      Whether you need a stimulant or occupational therapy or are just curious about yourself, remind yourself of the truism that everything you do in life is dependent on successful “sequencing, sequencing, sequencing.”

    • liskantope says:

      I think I have a similar issue, although I haven’t analyzed it as meticulously as you have. It also comes with an apparent difficulty with remembering to pick something up that I should pick up when leaving an area, so that I have a lifelong tendency to leave my belongings places. I’ve managed to improve at this as I’ve gotten older, but only marginally.

      • Anonymousse says:

        Just chiming in to say I struggle with both the order thing and the leaving things behind! I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, and though I don’t currently take medication, I found it helped slightly with these when I was on it (“it” being methylphenidate). I still left things behind, but I was better at accomplishing tasks in the right order.

        I currently have several lists that cover basic things I have to accomplish before leaving the house, going to bed, etc. that, as I understand it, most people remember unconsciously.

  40. yodelyak says:

    Today I’m angry about elder abuse. Anyone here know a lot more than I do about elder abuse, and want to tell me what the best orgs to follow / books to read are on the subject?

    • yodelyak says:

      I’m angry because an article in this week’s New Yorker (paywall link here) made me angry. The article is a very awful story of legalized kidnapping of old people who are arguably not managing their estates well, (the legal standard doesn’t seem to have been much more searching than “would a hedge fund invest your money better?”) where the same social worker who solicits from medical professionals a signature that both partners in an aging couple are unwell is also the social worker who gets the lucrative job of managing the couple’s care, and also the social worker who gets the very lucrative job of managing all their assets, after they are forced into a retirement home on a half-hour’s notice, to then endure having someone else control their medical treatment and choice of residence, and watch as their assets are liquidated to pay for spurious attorney fees and etc., and all this when they have adult children or other close family/friends willing and able to care for them. Yuck.

    • Garrett says:

      If you consider neglect a form of abuse, the problem is worse than you might suspect. I volunteer in EMS and frequently pick up patients from nursing homes. Pretty much everybody I work with has asked that in the event they get sent to a nursing home to come in and kill them. Unless you have good money (at least $500k), those places are horrible. And they are where a lot of the older population ends up.

  41. . says:

    One reason to think that gun control might be ineffective is that, under a plausible gun control regime, it would still be possible for someone who really wanted a gun to get one. We are interested in decreasing violence on the margin. Gun regulation increases the cost of guns (if only because they would be more annoying to obtain), so this argument amounts to saying that the demand curve for guns, at least among those who intend to misuse them, is pretty flat.

    Similarly, some object that if guns were too costly, knives would suffice. Using a knife instead of a gun is less pleasant, so if only knives are available, the cost of killing someone has gone up. This argument amounts to saying that the demand curve for the death of one’s enemies, at least among those who really want that, is pretty flat.

    So, is it? How could you tell? This seems true of Al Quaeda and MS-18. But my stereotype of a gang-member is not agentic enough to learn how to multiply. My stereotype of a suicide is too depressed to leave his apartment. My stereotype of a spree-killer would find that his need are better met with a cool trenchcoat and a well-researched music collection. A minor inconvenience could make the last three less likely to act.

    • Seppo says:

      A minor inconvenience could make the last three less likely to act.

      For suicide this is well researched. Demand for suicide turns out to be almost comically elastic:

      The [would-be suicide] was grabbed on the eastern promenade of the bridge after passers-by noticed him pacing and growing increasingly despondent. The reason? He had picked out a spot on the western promenade that he wanted to jump from, but separated by six lanes of traffic, he was afraid of getting hit by a car on his way there.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Possibly inspired by the ‘British coal-gas story’ mentioned in your link, Britain requires paracetamol (acetaminophen to Americans) to be sold in blister packs rather than bottles and strictly limits both the size of the pack and the number of packs that can be bought in one transaction without a prescription.

        Apparently both the extra effort involved in going to several different shops to buy enough paracetamol for an overdose and the effort involved in popping the pills out of the blister pack have had a noticeable effect on the suicide rate.

        • Thegnskald says:

          No it hasn’t.

          The overall UK suicide rate trend didn’t change because of the legislation; it continued the same slow bumpy decline it was following before the law passed.

      • Aapje says:

        @Seppo

        That person may simply have had the following preferences:
        1. Death
        2. Healthy in body and depressed
        3. Wounded and depressed

        I’ve seen other evidence that suggests much more strongly that the desire is highly elastic, like the example from AlphaGamma’s comment.

        • AlphaGamma’s “apparently” doesn’t provide any actual support for the claim. What his post tells us is that the people making the rules believe the demand is elastic, not that they are correct.

          Unless this particular way of committing suicide represented a sizable fraction of all suicides before the requirements came in, it would be very had to demonstrate that the requirements reduced the suicide rate, which is going to be changing, as Thegnskald suggests, for a variety of other reasons. You might be able to demonstrate that the requirement reduced suicides via paracetamol overdose, but that doesn’t tell you whether there was an effect on total suicides.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            While I may have been wrong about paracetamol, the coal-gas story *is* evidence for elasticity.

            Until the 1960s, British households used coal gas for heating and cooking (including in ovens). This is a mixture of carbon monoxide, hydrogen and methane produced, as the name suggests, from coal. Due to the discovery of North Sea gas in the mid-1960s, the government (gas supply had been nationalised in 1948) decided, mainly for economic rather than public safety reasons, to switch from coal gas to natural gas, which involved paying to modify everyone’s household appliances.

            In the 1950s, almost half of successful suicides in Britain used gas ovens. After the switch to natural gas, the suicide rate dropped by a third- suggesting that some people found other ways to kill themselves, but many did not.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Alpha –

            Probably. But probably not for the reason you might expect.

            Chronic exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide causes mood swings and depression.

            Removing the devices probably actually reduced the suicidal tendencies of the population, rather than removing the easier mechanism.

        • Seppo says:

          @Aapje, you’re right. I think I accidentally optimized for “most striking story” instead of “most compelling evidence” when I selected that quote. Thanks!

      • Murphy says:

        I suspect there’s a certain element of looking for what they want to find.

        Given americans sky-high gun ownership rate if anything america has a very pedestrian suicide rate compared to similar western nations. It reminds me of various studies on video games and violence. It’s easy to show people acted very slightly more violent in the 5 minutes after X or less suicidal in the 2 hours after Y but then it all falls apart when you look outside at anyone else.

        I’ve often seen it claimed that Americas 4X higher suicide rate among men is due to men using guns for suicide more with similar “research” back it up….

        But then you look at any other countries and it’s the same, the radio remains. Whether the method is hanging, poisoning etc long term it seems unaffected when the factors people are blaming are subtracted.

        It also sometimes seem absurdly minor things like hearing about a celebrity committing suicide is enough to prompt dozens of people to kill themselves.

        • S_J says:

          RE: suicide and gun ownership in the United States.

          When someone says America has 4X the suicide rate, what other country are they using for comparison?

          From a cursory read of international data that can be found on Wikipedia, both South Korea and Japan have much higher suicide rates than the United States. Is gun ownership such a common thing in those nations?

          Countries that have suicide rates within 1% of the United States include Sweden, Comoros, France, New Zealand, South Africa, Croatia, and Iceland.

          What is the gun-ownership rate in those nations? Does it compare to the United States?

          Nations for which it is true to say “The United States has 4x the suicide rate) include Iraq, Kuwait, Tonga, Cyprus, Jordan, the Philippines, Greece, and Syria.

          If you wish to study English-speaking countries, the order appears to be United States, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom.

          I’ve already mentioned New Zealand above. The suicide rate in the United States appears to be 1.2X that of Canada/Australia, and 1.5X that in the United Kingdom.

          It’s highly likely that the United States has 4x the suicide-by-gun rate of many comparable nations. But it doesn’t appear that availability of guns has much effect on the suicide rate in the country.

          • Thegnskald says:

            “by men” is the important qualifier there; I believe the comparison is against women, not other countries.

            There is a lot of argument about what it means; either way,

    • S_J says:

      Is the demand curve for guns that flat?

      I think this is equivalent to asking if the gray-market (or black market) for firearms is costly enough that everyone who wants a firearms has to attempt to use the legal market.

      In the United States at least, I think this is false.

      Admittedly, the best data I have are the Firearm Trace Reports published by the ATF.

      The guns traced in those reports may not be a good sample of guns used in crimes in the U.S. However, they are closest sample to that set: they are a guns which Police attempt to trace to the point of original purchase. Generally, there are guns found at crime scenes, or in the possession of criminals.

      These reports show two things: most such guns traced by Police are at least 10 years old. (Or were first sold by a licensed dealer 10 years ago. The charts show values for 1/2/3-or-more years, but one of the downloadable tables shows an average value of 10.46 years nationwide, with various states having values between 8 and 14 years.)

      My take from this is that the black market for firearms is large enough that once guns enter it (by theft or non-reported private party sale), they can circulate in that environment for years.

      But this barely rises to educated guess.

      • bean says:

        My take from this is that the black market for firearms is large enough that once guns enter it (by theft or non-reported private party sale), they can circulate in that environment for years.

        I think the numbers say the opposite. Eyeballing the numbers, 20-40% (varies by state) of guns are <3 years old when used in crimes, but the average age is more like 10 years. And the distribution among the weapons we have good categories for isn’t flat, either. The sum of weapons <1 year is usually about twice the 1-2 year category. That seems to me to indicate that weapons get cleared relatively quickly from the black market, which makes sense. Guns used in crime are not likely to have been bought by the criminal and left on the shelf for a long time. (This is probably distinct from guns bought illegally by people who couldn’t get legal guns but weren’t criminals. I have no idea of the size of this market, or the interchange between the two.) Older guns were probably legally owned up through a few months or years before they turned up at the crime.

        • John Schilling says:

          Part of the reason guns don’t (usually) circulate on the black market for decades in the US is that if a gun is used in a crime it is in the best interest of both the criminal and his favorite black-market gun dealer for that particular gun to wind up at the bottom of a river ASAP. Easier, at least in the US, to simply get a new clean(ish) gun than to deal with the ongoing risk of holding on to a gun that might be linked to a serious crime.

          In the UK, where new guns are harder to come by, black-market dealers have shifted in part to a rental model where they want the gun back when you’re done holding up a liquor store (or whatever), and they’re holding on to a hefty security deposit to make sure. I don’t know if that holds true in Continental Europe, and the reports I have heard of a similar model in Japan are too sparse for me to be confident, but it does suggest the black market has a fair degree of adaptability to the level of access to new guns.

          So now I want to see the episode of a British police procedural where Scotland Yard gets hold of a gun that can be ballistically linked to a high-profile murder, but they have to figure out which of the dealer’s last fifty rental customers might be responsible…

          • AlphaGamma says:

            From what I’ve heard of the “rental” model, it only covers the gun being used to threaten, not actually fired. If the renter fires the gun they have to get rid of it and lose the deposit.

          • John Schilling says:

            Or clean the and reload the gun and then lie about it, but that would never happen because armed criminals are such honest folk. In any event, most gun crime is about threatening people rather than shooting them. Or about just having a gun close at hand when you’re making a big drug deal with someone you’re afraid might threaten or shoot you.

          • bean says:

            So now I want to see the episode of a British police procedural where Scotland Yard gets hold of a gun that can be ballistically linked to a high-profile murder, but they have to figure out which of the dealer’s last fifty rental customers might be responsible…

            Do the police not have times on that customer list? Or do they not know when the murder was done? I suspect that the gun becoming hot gets it thrown out, and possibly gets you in trouble with the dealer if you got it under false pretenses.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @John Schilling- Where are they going to get the ammunition to reload with? Sales of ammunition in the UK are restricted to license holders. Plus shootings are rare enough that if you actually hit someone, especially if you kill them, then it will make the news.

            Speaking of ammunition, there is a case currently on trial where a licensed firearms dealer was supplying guns to criminals on the side. Where it gets interesting is that he was making ammunition for weapons in obsolete calibres, which are not restricted as long as the intent is only to keep them as a curiosity (and not to fire them or have ammunition for them).

          • John Schilling says:

            @John Schilling- Where are they going to get the ammunition to reload with? Sales of ammunition in the UK are restricted to license holders.

            Or to people with black-market contacts, which by definition we are dealing with here. I expect black-market dealer Joe would be more than happy to sell a few cartridges to criminal Bob if he knows that this results in competing black market dealer Edgar unknowingly holding a hot gun.

            And for that matter, the criminal can just as well reload with dummy rounds. For that matter, the dealers could just rent out their guns with dummy rounds, if the rule were really “no shooting ever”.

            Plus shootings are rare enough that if you actually hit someone, especially if you kill them, then it will make the news.

            Most crimes in which guns are fired, nobody gets hit – and I’m skeptical that dealers will refuse to accept a return just because this time the guy who held up a liquor store had to fire a round into the ceiling to prove the gun was real. Even more skeptical that, on the day after someone does get shot, every black-market dealer in the area writes off their entire outstanding inventory on the grounds that they can’t be sure that the criminal turning in his gun for the security deposit isn’t the one who did the shooting and is willing to lie about it. That leaves you with a whole lot of violent criminals who each expected to have a wad of cash in their pocket and instead has nothing better to do than ponder the loaded gun they have instead and the guy who screwed them out of their cash…

            Much as the dealers would prefer all the really “hot” guns immediately vanish to the bottom of the Thames, I don’t think this business can work as cleanly as you are describing.

        • S_J says:

          I look at this again, and I realize that the information I want just isn’t in those reports.

          Suppose a pair of friends enter a store that is in the business of selling guns, and thus has to have an FFL to operate legally.

          (A) one of the two purchases a brand-new pistol (probably chambered in 9mm), while the other purchases a used Police Special revolver (probably in 0.38 Special) that was manufactured 30 years ago.

          (B) These two friends go to the pistol range together occasionally. A year later, after a session at the pistol range, they put their pistols in the trunk of their car and drive to a nearby bar to watch some sports and drink.

          (C) A thief who is casing the bar parking lot notices their car for some reason. He smashes the window, pushes the open-trunk button on the dash, and grabs anything that looks valuable.

          (D) The thief re-sells the pistol and revolver to some other ne’er-do-well with a record of theft and small-time drug use.

          (E) The revolver is traded as a cash-equivalent in payment for drugs.

          (F) Police raid the drug dealer a year later, and find the revolver. They trace the gun.

          (G) During that same year, the rob-the-liquor-store guy gets caught after someone IDs him off of a camera feed, and Police find the pistol in his possession.

          The record of the pistol says it was sold 2 years ago.

          The record of the revolver includes an original sale 30 years ago, but a sale to the gun dealer sometime more than 2 years ago, and another sale to a client at that dealer 2 years ago. Is it recorded in the 2-years column, or the more-than-10-years column on that ATF report?

          Another question: most criminologists are interested in the time span from legal-sale at store to first-transfer-to-a-prohobited-person. [1] That timeline is at point (C) in the story above.

          However, the ATF reports mostly likely give the timeline from point (A) above…and there isn’t an easy-to-generate report for the average time from point (A) to point (C).

          Worse, if either of the guns was sold on the private market by a non-dealer, the trace doesn’t include that.

          We don’t know how many guns enter the world of criminal use to due to theft, or borrowed-by-friend-who-might-have-shady-past, or sold-to-someone-on-the-street…

          [1] Using the definition of “Prohibited Persons” from the 1968 Gun Control Act…generally any criminal conviction that carries a sentence of more than a year, any use of narcotics, any adjudication of mental-defect, any domestic-abuse conviction, and sundry other criminal charges.

    • MrApophenia says:

      Why do we always talk in hypotheticals about why gun control might or might not work at controlling guns? We have a bunch of actual evidence from other countries with strict gun control regimes. It works at controlling ownership of guns and reducing gun violence. The exact results vary by place and by particular enforcement method, but basically everywhere with strict gun control laws has far less gun violence and gun related deaths.

      There are perfectly reasonable grounds for debate on the values questions around whether to do this – should our freedom to be armed override safety concerns, etc. But the basic fact question of “Does gun control work at controlling guns?” has been repeatedly tested and the answer is pretty much always yes.

      • keranih says:

        We have a bunch of actual evidence from other countries with strict gun control regimes. It works at controlling ownership of guns and reducing gun violence. The exact results vary by place and by particular enforcement method, but basically everywhere with strict gun control laws has far less gun violence and gun related deaths.

        No. Not correct. Nearly all European countries have strict gun control laws, and nearly all European countries have less homicide, period.

        The assumption is that these two things are causally related, and I don’t think the data shows that.

        The ability to make a law, and have that law obeyed across the relevant population, varies considerably from place to place. So does the underlying tendency of that population to commit the act that is being made illegal.

        • rahien.din says:

          The assumption is that [the strictness of gun control laws and the rate of gun crimes] are causally related, and I don’t think the data shows that.

          The ability to make a law, and have that law obeyed across the relevant population, varies considerably from place to place. So does the underlying tendency of that population to commit the act that is being made illegal.

          If they aren’t causally related, what are you even claiming?

          America has a much higher base rate of gun violence than Europe, and it makes sense that we have less strict gun control laws?

          Europe has much stricter gun control laws, even though they have no great need of gun control?

          • Thegnskald says:

            Why would it surprise you that countries that pass gun control wouldn’t change much as a result?

            The resistance to gun control in the US isn’t because there are a bunch of violent criminals wanting guns; it is because guns have a historic relevance in US culture.

            If Europe took guns as significantly as the US takes them, they wouldn’t have been able to pass gun control in the first place.

          • keranih says:

            @ rahien.din

            If they aren’t causally related, what are you even claiming?

            I’m not claiming anything. (note: edited below to correct stupid reading error on my part.)

            What I am reporting is that in 2014 the US rate of homicide by hands, feet and pushing was about 2.4 homicides per million people, and that in the UK, in 2014, the total homicide rate was 0.9 9 homicides per million people.

            (Note: in US population health, the standard is reporting per 100,000 people, plus there is always the issue of normalizing two populations by age and other factors, because ‘other factors’ can have huge impacts. Much of the art of population health study is figuring out what to normalize for and how to do it ‘accurately’. So to get the US-UK comparison, I used the ‘personal weapons’ line off the linked FBI webpage, divided by the US population given by Google, to get a per million number.)

            As to whether or not a population “has a need” for anything – well, that depends on what you’re optimizing for. Which depends on the population, and what they value. Populations with different value sets – one might describe these value sets as being diverse – are going to struggle more to find solutions that make as many people happy than will populations with more homogeneous populations. Whether or not that makes people happy depends on whether the population as a whole more values differences or happiness across the board.

            But back to my point: I am a 2A supporter, but it is not clear to me that we “need” government respect for the right to bear arms any more than we “need” government respect for the right to peaceably assemble and the right of free expression. What *is* far more clear to me is that we don’t have (yet) a solution that will reduce violence & death rates to what is considered “acceptable” levels without side effects that are arguably more “horrible” – with both ‘horrible’ and ‘acceptable’ painted by differing values.

            (Note: lightly edited to clarify numbers and where I got them.)

            (Second note: and then re-edited to show decimal number error caught by alphagamma)

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @ keranih

            You’re an order of magnitude out. From your UK link:

            In the year ending March 2015, there were 9.0 offences of homicide per million population.

            (my emphasis).

            The equivalent non-firearms figure for the US is 12.1 per million. Firearm homicides in the UK are less than 5% of the total.

            (incidentally, the UK unarmed homicide rate was 1.5 per million)

          • rahien.din says:

            Thegnskald,

            Why would it surprise you that countries that pass gun control wouldn’t change much as a result?

            Those are not my words or thoughts. Moreover, this question is a fallacy, as “countries that pass gun control don’t change much as a result” is precisely the claim we are discussing.

            More clarity : to say that gun crime rates are primarily the effect of culture rather than a response to gun crime laws, and to hold up Europe as evidence thereof, is necessarily to claim that Europeans passed strict gun control laws in the absence of a need for gun control.

            It would not surprise me if a needless law failed to change society!

            What I find implausible is the claim that Europeans (hell, everywhere else) passed strict gun control in the relative absence of gun violence.

            Point me to data.

            The resistance to gun control in the US isn’t because there are a bunch of violent criminals wanting guns, it is because guns have a historic relevance in US culture.

            I beg your pardon? I have been told over and over that “gun control won’t work in America because criminals who want guns will break the law.” Over, and over, and most litanously over.

            This is the exact first time I have ever seen anyone resort to historicity.

            I don’t find that plausibly different from “people just want the guns real bad,” which is not a valid rationale for opposing gun control. And, to the extent that such a difference does exist, I don’t find historicity to be a valid rationale for opposing gun control.

          • bean says:

            What I find implausible is the claim that Europeans (hell, everywhere else) passed strict gun control in the relative absence of gun violence.

            This isn’t at all hard to prove. We know mass shootings are a small proportion of gun violence. The UK’s current gun control laws are a result of Dunblane, not a result of day-to-day killings on the streets. The US doesn’t have similar laws despite our laundry list of mass shootings because there were people who lobbied against them. The existence of those people is probably not totally uncorrelated with the level of gun violence in the US, even though they aren’t the same people. In the UK, nobody was willing to make an argument against gun control, or nobody who was willing to argue loudly enough to get the laws stopped.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Assuming you think the UK has relatively little gun violence today –

            In1990, there were ~60 gun homicides in the UK. In 2011, there were… ~60 gun homicides in the UK.

            So the handgun ban was, by that standard, unnecessary.

            There is, on net, zero evidence gun control reduces homicides; the best thing we can say about gun control is that it probably does not increase overall violence and crime. Countries with historically low homicide rates continue to have relatively low homicide rates, countries with historically high homicide rates continue to have relatively high homicide rates.

            Gun control isn’t a scientific stance; its proponents are left comparing “gun deaths”, as if suicide by gun is worse than suicide by hanging. I am left with the impression that the entire argument boils down to an aesthetic preference, this idea that guns are ugly, and that gun possession is ugly, that gun deaths are uglier than other deaths.

          • rahien.din says:

            bean,

            I will need to read more on that, as it does not square with what I have read before.

            If true, that is all the more depressing. It’s hard for me not to interpret our culture as an utter failure in this regard. We do a lot of things so very right, but we are so abjectly and unrepentantly bad at firearms with respect to our peers.

          • keranih says:

            @ alphagmma –

            Thank you. My hand to god, I read that as 0.9/mill – looking at my envelope notes, it was from trying to make the US rates/100,000 match the UK /million rates.

            I appreciate the (fast) correction of my error.

            (I am disappointed both that the level of murder in the UK is higher than I thought, and that my point still stands.)

          • keranih says:

            What I find implausible is the claim that Europeans (hell, everywhere else) passed strict gun control in the relative absence of gun violence.

            This, ah, this actually kinda makes sense for a democratic society. The laws that are passed are that subset of proposed laws which may then be actually passed. And things forbidden by laws are a subset of things which are forbidden by any subsection of society – see, there is no law against picking your nose in public.(*)

            Things that are widely accepted in a democratic society don’t get laws passed against them. Things that are nearly universally condemned (with little upside for the actor) don’t need laws against them. It’s things that fall into a grey area of “condemned but not by all people” that get majority support to get proposed and then passed.

            But to be clear – not all places that have passed strict laws abriging the right of individuals to have firearms *do* have a low level of violence. Most of those places, though, have poor enforcement capability. Which is how we get Chicago (high violence, strict laws, low capability for enforcement) and Indiana (low violence, non strict laws, unknown (to me) capability to enforce the laws they have on the books) and New York City (high-but-falling violence, strict laws, very high capability for enforcement.)

            (*) There is probably some township someplace with such a law. But not US society wide.

          • bean says:

            @rahien.din
            I think Thegnskald nailed this one. UK gun homicides are flat despite increased gun control. It used to be possible to mail-order guns in the US with no checks at all, and yet most people survived the 1960s. What happens day-to-day and what triggers lawmaking are not the same thing. The US gun and violence cultures come from the same place (edit: thinking this over, maybe not), but they aren’t the same thing, and while they may affect the rate of crazies with guns shooting lots of people, that can happen anywhere.
            Edit:
            Actually, I’m not sure that this is right. Mexico has a much higher gun homicide rate than the US does, and we also know of the black gang problems. There are gun cultures in the US stopping gun control legislation, but they aren’t the ones committing the gun violence.

          • Thegnskald says:

            There are at least four gun cultures in the US:

            Appalachian gun culture is -weird-. They are used as a form of barter; people literally trade guns for dogs. I don’t really understand this one, not having interacted with them much.

            Western gun culture tends to be “Get the fuck off my land” gun culture; guns are a substitute good for government; it tends to be individualistic. They tend to favor open carry, and prosletyze gun ownership as a “personal responsibility for your own safety” thing. Because they use guns as a substitute good for police, they tend to favor laws which allow defense of property.

            Southern gun culture is more civic-minded than Western gun culture; Southern states tend to ban open carry and favor concealed carry, with the idea that, if criminals don’t know who is armed, they are less likely to engage in crime. Shooting ranges tend to be social places where people hang out and bullshit, and people do more stupid shit to show off. Like Western gun culture, Southern gun culture tends to permit defense of property, but more because they see it as a way to discourage crime than because they think you should shoot somebody for stealing your TV.

            Midwestern gun culture is more hunting oriented; handguns are less popular, and self-defense tends to be “home defense”. They frown on self defensive use of guns to some extent, and tend to regard people who do carry guns for self defense as vigilantes. Defense of property is regarded very poorly.

          • rahien.din says:

            There are gun cultures in the US stopping gun control legislation, but they aren’t the ones committing the gun violence

            I don’t think they can be divorced from one another.

            If the NRA successfully lobbied for the repeal of the National Firearms Act, and MS-13 started deploying 40mm grenade launchers in American cities, the NRA would have enabled that increase in violence.

            So yeah. Two gun cultures. The latter are the direct perpetrators. To the degree that firearms controls have effect, the former are abetting the crime.

          • Thegnskald says:

            rahien –

            Ok. If there is a 1% increase in home invasion deaths after a gun ban, did you abet those murders?

          • rahien.din says:

            Thegnskald,

            Sure. Bullet bitten.

            If there were 1% more deaths from home invasions, but an overall persistent decrease in gun violence, I might go so far as to consider that abetting worth it to our society. (Especially because the answer to this increase in home-invasion-deaths might not even involve guns.)

            I’ll do you better : if despite every reasonable effort, the sum effect of gun control was to increase gun violence, then put everything back the way it was.

            Likewise, I am sure that if gun control was put into place and there was less violence than before as a result, you would reconsider your opposition to gun control.

          • The obvious test here is to compare countries prior to the laws that currently restrict gun ownership. The first serious restriction in the U.K. seems to be the firearms act of 1920–at least, the Wiki page says the Pistol Act of 1903 was ineffective.

            The Act was more or less ineffective, as anyone wishing to buy a pistol commercially merely had to purchase a licence on demand over the counter from a Post Office before doing so. In addition, it did not regulate private sales of such firearms.

            In 1910s, the U.S. homicide rate was 4.6, the U.K. rate was .81.

            Oddly enough, the U.K. rate was much higher in the previous decade–I don’t know why. But from 1910 on, the basic pattern is a U.S. homicide rate from five to ten times as high as that in the U.K., so it doesn’t look as though the increasingly strict regulation in the U.K. affected it–indeed, at the moment the ratio is down to about three to one. (Wiki page)

          • bean says:

            Likewise, I am sure that if gun control was put into place and there was less violence than before as a result, you would reconsider your opposition to gun control.

            How much less violence are we talking about? Banning alcohol would reduce drunk driving deaths, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good idea. (Yes, you might be able to argue that other violence deaths would outweigh the gain. Say it doesn’t.) Outside of the coasts, there are lots of people that really like guns, just like there are people who like alcohol.

          • rahien.din says:

            bean,

            I am sure that if gun control was put into place and there was less violence than before as a result, you would reconsider your opposition to gun control.

            How much less violence are we talking about?

            Jesus Christ, bean, that was intended as charity!

            If you want to wring a fight out of my acknowledgment of everyone else’s rationality regardless of stance, then please consider it an exercise for the reader :

            At what level of overall violence reduction would you accept some greater degree of gun control? (Yes, you might be able to argue that an overall reduction in violence might shift the burdens of violence in ways we wouldn’t like. Say it doesn’t.)

            Let’s say that banning alcohol would reduce drunk driving deaths, without an overall increase in violence. Would you claim that banning alcohol would necessarily be a good idea? I wouldn’t necessarily.

            I mean, if preventing deaths is our only object… is it? You don’t specify. Similar exercise as before:

            How many lives would have to be saved for you/we/anyone to give up the various benefits of alcohol consumption? (Same spirit of least-convenient world.)

            There are lots of people that really like guns.

            For me, this is precisely what the whole debate boils down to. There are just lots of people who are really, really attached to their gun hobby.

          • bean says:

            For me, this is precisely what the whole debate boils down to. There are just lots of people who are really, really attached to their gun hobby.

            And? This seems like an almost exact mirror of the divide over marijuana. From the perspective of a lot of the right, marijuana is a terrible thing, and the other side is opposing them because they’re really really attached to their drug hobby.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            My dataless intuition is that, rather than as an anti-homicide measure, European gun laws have their roots in anti-militia/rebellion objectives.

            The Cold War era had, shall we say, a smattering of ideological differences that risked boiling over. To drive further into reckless speculation since I can’t be arsed to look up a dozen or two different gun law histories right now, I’ll just gesture vaguely at the long storied history of Various Uprisings in Europe, stretching from the WW-era on back to long before firearms were even invented, and suggest that, just maybe, this could result in cultural memory of “armed civilians bad” (cue Swiss “we’re the exception!” clip).

            Whereas the US is young and has only had one major insurrection. Two if you count the one it was born in, which would be a good just-so story for where an “armed civilians good” attitude comes from.

            Epistemic status: brazenly slapdash

          • rahien.din says:

            bean,

            I see your point that either case consists of the product/device is good, it is only harmful if misused.

            The difference for me is that the right considers marijuana use a wrong in and of itself, such that there are basically no worthy uses of the substance. Personally, I acknowledge that there are good uses to which guns are put, all the time. My argument is that those good uses are not worth it if widespread access to firearms leads to their general misuse.

            I would be really happy with a gun culture in America that matches what I have heard of Australia – a vibrant hunting and sport shooting culture with a low rate of gun crime. That sounds pretty awesome.

          • keranih says:

            I would be really happy with a gun culture in America that matches what I have heard of Australia – a vibrant hunting and sport shooting culture with a low rate of gun crime. That sounds pretty awesome.

            It sounds super great!

            Alas, I don’t think one can get there from here.

            The overall murder rate in Australia in 2014 was either 1.8 or 1.0 per 100,000 people. (Which is 0.18 per million, *if* my math is right this time.) In other words, in Australia, there are fewer people murdered *overall* than in the UK by something around 150X, and fewer than are murdered just by hands, feet, and pushing in the US, by about 10x.

            So….yeah. I think that there is more this stat: Over three-quarters (77%) of all murder investigations (184 victims) were finalised by police within 30 days.

            The rate of deaths of young black men being closed in the US is (depending on location) somewhere around 20% – over a much longer time span. (I think it’s a year.) I think that is both a product of and a cause of the higher murder rate among those populations.

            What is interesting to me, and imo needs more looking into, is how Australia was disproportionately populated by criminals out of the UK (compared to the US) but ended up at a different place, crime-rate-wise.

          • John Schilling says:

            My dataless intuition is that, rather than as an anti-homicide measure, European gun laws have their roots in anti-militia/rebellion objectives.

            W/re the UK specifically, the original round of gun control laws ca. 1920 were fairly explicitly for making sure that a bunch of lower-class yobs coming home from WWI didn’t get uppity, get hold of some cheap miltary-surplus small arms, and get up to something. Particularly the Irish, because (insert stereotype here). These are the laws that established the reputation of the UK as a “civilized” country where nobody has guns (especially once they kicked out the Irish).

            The 1990s round of gun control laws were just as explicitly a matter of Doing Something about the Dunblane massacre, committed by the sort of respectable white-collar gentleman who was never expected to be covered by the 1920s laws. These had little practical effect other than to re-signal the UK’s now 99.44% gun-free(*) status.

            Source: “The Samurai, the Mountie, and the Cowboy”, David B. Kopel, 1992. Also discusses the Swiss exception, which seems to be along the lines of “our militia will hold a very properly organized resistance or rebellion if it is ever necessary, so we trust that you will not make it necessary”.

            * Double-barreled shotguns IIRC do not count as “firearms”, because reasons. And there are still a few hunting rifles around.

          • rahien.din says:

            Alas, I don’t think one can get there from here.

            Rather blithe of you. You’ll forgive me if this feels like Alas, I can’t be bothered to help.

            In response to your edits below : this was not fair of me, either.

          • keranih says:

            Okay, so then tell me what on earth you think will drop the rate of violence in the US to that of Oz aside from entirely replacing the population of the US with the population of Australia.

            Because otherwise you’re just pretending your solutions will magically work.

            Okay, that was an unhelpful reply, and didn’t do anything to keep the discussion rational.

            Gimme a minute and I’ll try again.

            (minute later:)

            Okay, so I wish that I said didn’t come off as being dismissive of wanting a national ethos of being against the use of violence against fellow citizens, +/- coupled with a healthy dose of hunting and plinking are cool and/or harmless hobbies that might not be my cuppa but if it warms the cockles of your cold little heart, have at it.

            I am actually good with that pov. It’s not my perspective, but I am good with it. (We’ll leave aside the apathy-to-hostility that many liberals have for hunting, for the purposes of this discussion.)

            So the problem is the willingness of (some of?) the population to use violence against each other. Are we agree on this? Is this the problem that we should “be bothered” to work against?

            Please correct me if you feel differently.

          • rahien.din says:

            Thanks for your edits and for your patience. I could stand to cool off, honestly.

            You’ve basically articulated my position. I think we are largely in agreement about all of that. I even believe that some of our society’s tendency toward violence may be insurmountable in the near term.

            The one other thing I believe is : if our society, whatever the reason, is naturally more inclined to use violence, and if we don’t stand much of a chance of solving that problem anytime soon, then it does not make sense to ensure we are all well-armed with ballistic weapons.

            (I’ll just register my skepticism of guns are useful for citizen defense and leave it at that.)

            I absolutely acknowledge that there are many worthwhile purposes for guns, including the mere fun and skill of shooting. (And hunting is great!)

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @Rahien.Din

            What I find implausible is the claim that Europeans (hell, everywhere else) passed strict gun control in the relative absence of gun violence. Point me to data.


            UK Homicide rates, 1967-2015
            . Please direct your attention to Figure 2.1 We see a slow, mostly steady rise from 0.73 per 100K to 0.9 per 100K. Major gun control legislation was passed in 1988, and handguns were effectively completely banned in 1997. And my, what an inflection points those created in the graph….or, didn’t, really. Certainly not in the direction gun control proponents want.

            More interestingly, It’s silly to talk of “European” gun control when even after the various harmonization efforts there is such a wide range of regulatory schemas, from total handgun bans to may-issue firearm licenses to shall-issue licenses and even national concealed carry. Amusingly enough the country with fairly broad shall-issue schemes and national concealed carry licensing available has a lower homicide rate than the total handgun ban country.

            If you’d like more data, I will happily provide it, but the short version is that countries that have lower levels of violent crime now had lower levels of violent crime before their gun control legislation too, with no signs of inflection points in the long-term trends that correlate with major gun control legislation.

          • toastengineer says:

            I’d also like to just swooce in for a second and mention that, while you can argue how helpful firearms really are for the problem of human criminals, I don’t… think anyone here would deny that they’re great to have around if you’re at risk of being killed by wildlife, which more Americans are than most folks seem to realize.

            I’d also like to question how much sense it makes to have a gun ban fo

          • Mark says:

            either 1.8 or 1.0 per 100,000 people. (Which is 0.18 per million…

            18 isn’t it?

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @David Friedman on UK homicide rates:

            Oddly enough, the U.K. rate was much higher in the previous decade–I don’t know why. But from 1910 on, the basic pattern is a U.S. homicide rate from five to ten times as high as that in the U.K., so it doesn’t look as though the increasingly strict regulation in the U.K. affected it–indeed, at the moment the ratio is down to about three to one. (Wiki page)

            What it looks like to me is that there was a rapid increase in the US rate starting in about 1905. US homicide rates then increased, peaking in 1933 (Prohibition ended in December of that year).

            There was a slight drop in the UK rate (actually England & Wales, excluding Scotland and importantly Ireland) for the 1910s. Might this have been due to large numbers of young men, who commit most homicides, being conscripted for WW1?

            But most of the change seems to be from this increase in the US homicide rate.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @John Schilling on UK gun control

            Double-barreled shotguns IIRC do not count as “firearms”, because reasons. And there are still a few hunting rifles around.

            The difference is that (in Britain, Northern Ireland is different in that it allows pistols and also gun ownership/carry for self-defence in a few specific cases) there are two sorts of gun licence. The “Shotgun certificate” is considerably easier to get than a “Firearms certificate”, the main difference being that you don’t have to convince the police that you have a good reason to own a shotgun, you just need to say you want one and show that you can be trusted with it (criminal records check, character reference, etc) and have a safe place to store it. It allows ownership of shotguns above a certain length holding 3 or fewer shells.

            From the most recent government statistics (covering only England and Wales- I imagine there are quite a few deer rifles in Scotland), there are 1.35 million legal shotguns and 560,000 ‘firearms’. However, note that suppressors are registered as firearms and account for 165,000 of these. 325,000 are rifles. The rest are either shotguns which come into the ‘firearms’ category for one reason or another, or various other things (muzzle-loading pistols, etc.)

            Ownership of all categories of firearm (including shotguns) is increasing at a slightly higher rate than the population, though there was a small decline in the number of people with shotgun certificates.

          • he Dunblane massacre, committed by the sort of respectable white-collar gentleman

            Given Hamilton’s background, and the kind of concerns people had about him, that’s quire a stretch to the meaning of the word “respectable”,

        • rlms says:

          Yes, the relevant question is how the difference in gun violence between the US and e.g. the UK compares with the difference in violence in general.

        • MrApophenia says:

          The discussion of the Australian murder rate was brought up – since they were also one of the most recent countries to institute major gun control legislation, let’s look at the before and after there:

          http://andrewleigh.org/pdf/GunBuyback_Panel.pdf

          Money shot: “We find that the buyback led to a drop in the firearm suicide rates of almost 80%, with no significant effect on non-firearm death rates. The effect on firearm homicides is of similar magnitude but is less precise [somewhere between 35% and 50%].”

          From further Googling around, there seems to be very strong evidence that whether they started out lower, Australian gun control did drastically reduce gun violence. (Especially if you count suicide, which dropped by a shocking amount.)

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc.

            Australian Homicide rates were declining for years before their late 90s gun control laws.

            Source: http://www.aic.gov.au/statistics/homicide.html

            There is no inflection point. I can provide similar evidence for other violent crimes.

            So, it may be true that they reduced “firearm crime”, but only as a share of overall crime, without changing the overall long term trend that pre-dated the legislation.

            In other words: No Effect. For extra fun, note the graph showing the prevalence of firearm use in homicides, and the trendline. Again, note the inflection points.

          • @Trofim:

            Looking at the page you linked to, I don’t see a downward trend before the 1996 law. It looks to me as though the homicide rate was reasonably stable until about 2002, if anything rising a little, and has been falling since then. What am I missing?

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @David Friedman

            Second Graph trendline. The raw data is available on the sidebar. You can also see the breakouts by offending rate such as here:

            http://www.aic.gov.au/statistics/homicide/offenders.html

            I’m still looking for the pre 1989 numbers, which I’m pretty sure I used to have for purposes of internet argumentation but lost the link to when I had to switch computers this year.

            I’ll grant that the slope is very shallow, but it’s there, though I’ll also grant that I don’t know how one would accurately calculate the margin of error on police recorded offenses.

          • @ Trofim:

            The trendline is fitting the data to a straight line. The slope of the straight line at the beginning is due to the decline at the end, not evidence that there was a downward trend prior to about 2002. Do the same fit from 1990 to 2002 and the trend line would be about flat.

          • Ketil says:

            One obvious objection is that they need to separate out firearm suicide and violence from overall suicide and violence rates. Why? What was the reduction in total homicides and suicides? I don’t have time to dig out the references, but the decline of suicide rates in Australia has been similar to most other Western countries, and I think the same holds for homicides.

            (Elsewhere, it was claimed that the buyback was for semiautomatics only, and only 20% successful. If correct, probably not enough to make much of a difference.)

          • Vorkon says:

            Speaking of Australia, I recently noticed that, according to Wikipedia, at any rate, while there were certainly more mass shootings before the 1996 ban, there seem to have been a similar number of mass KILLINGS since the ban, just that the primary weapons of choice seem to have shifted to arson, bombs, and vehicles, of which there were fewer before 1996.

            I’m still not 100% sure how to interpret the overall violent crime rate, but based on that one little list, at least, it doesn’t seem like the 1996 ban has done much to reduce mass killings.

            If anything, I’d guess that the Port Arthur massacre (and not any legislation inspired by it) set off a general trend of disdain in Australian culture toward the idea of violence committed WITH a gun, but didn’t do much to curb violence in general; One notable killing I noticed on that list was one where a father killed his family with a knife, and then shot himself. Why not just use a gun for all the murders, if he had one available? Obviously it wasn’t the lack of availability of guns that prevented the killing. Similarly, several failed mass shootings that just happen to have been stopped before the killer hit the 4 death threshold, seem to imply to me that all the arsonists COULD have acquired a gun if they really wanted to, just like those guys, but that they just didn’t want to.

            (Note, I actually just posted this in the previous open thread, which I was reading through when I looked into it, but figured I’d post it here as well, since the discussion here still seems to be moving to some extent, and I didn’t want to drag the latest open thread into yet ANOTHER gun control debate. Though, I’d sort of like to, considering the ridiculously-worded bumpfire bill that they somehow managed to get a Republican, of all people to propose…)

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Of course you should make such a comparison, but this list is poor. Wikipedia always has a recency bias and usually no standard.

            It is widely claimed that the Australian police count 13 gun massacres 1979-1996 meeting the Australian police standard of 5+ murders, not including the gunman. Wikipedia is probably trying to list them all because this count is famous. (1979 vs 1981? I don’t know.) There may well have been non-gun massacres in that time frame, but I don’t know. After 1996, standards go out the window. Only 5 of the massacres listed meet the 5+ standard. Several say 5, but that includes the murderer. So maybe it’s 13 vs 5, but probably 13 is an undercount.

          • Vorkon says:

            Oh, certainly, I don’t think that list proves much of anything, I just found it interesting, since in the previous open thread people were talking about comparing 13 to 0.

            And for what it’s worth, the list does include at least one arson attack in the pre-1996 numbers, so it’s not like it’s COMPLETELY ignoring them. But yeah, it’s possible there are some things left out.

            Also, isn’t the standard for a mass shooting 4+, or is that just an American thing?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Yes, the standard is 4+, everywhere but Australia. (Edited above, to slightly clarify that.)

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            It’s also worth noting that the 4+ standard is itself under fire (if you’ll pardon the expression). Various sources have noted that many instances of 4+ people killed do not jibe with the instances that tend to make people nervous. Many are domestic disputes or gang conflicts. People worry about these, but in a very different way from how they worry about, say, Newtown or VTech or Edgewater.

            If we only count mass killings of the variety of “surprise! you’re dead even though there were no reasonable warning signs of angry or crazy people whatsoever”, the numbers go way down, and it looks much less like an epidemic. Count them in again, and it tends to be obvious that the remedy is different.

          • Vorkon says:

            Yeah, I tend to prefer to define “mass shooting/killing” less by numbers than by intent. Is the person’s goal to kill indiscriminately, or to keep killing until they are stopped, or there is no one else around to kill? Then it’s a mass shooting, no matter how many people are actually killed. It’s basically just like intent being the difference between murder and manslaughter.

            By that standard, a couple items on that list (like the Hells Angels feud) are still bullshit, but others, like the school shooting that was stopped with only two deaths, pretty clearly belong there. The siege is questionable, since the guy might not have killed anyone if he got his demands, but otherwise would have kept going.

            That also ignores the fact that, like Douglas Knight said, the pre-1996 numbers might include a whole bunch of situations with fewer than 5 deaths but meet that criteria as well, though.

          • Matt M says:

            Various sources have noted that many instances of 4+ people killed do not jibe with the instances that tend to make people nervous. Many are domestic disputes or gang conflicts. People worry about these, but in a very different way from how they worry about, say, Newtown or VTech or Edgewater.

            It’s been a few years since I’ve read it, but IIRC in one of the early chapters of More Guns, Less Crime, John Lott basically says “If you don’t count gang violence, the problem in America is not nearly as bad as everyone thinks it is, and stacks up favorably to many other countries”

      • Thegnskald says:

        In the US, gun control doesn’t correlate well with gun violence.

        The cultural differences that permit gun control to be enacted in the first place are.probably causally related to both things.

      • John Schilling says:

        We have a bunch of actual evidence from other countries with strict gun control regimes.

        Countries like Mexico and Brazil?

        It works at controlling ownership of guns and reducing gun violence.

        US homicide rate (2015): 4.88 per 100,000
        Mexico homicide rate (2015): 16.35 per 100,000
        Brazil homicide rate (2015): 26.74 per 100,000

        Oh, wait, Mexico and Brazil obviously don’t count. You want to count only a select list of countries like the UK, Canada, and Japan, while excluding others that don’t support your narrative, and you’re going to handwave something about “industrialized nations” as if the number of factories is somehow relevant to this.

        • If there is a solution somewhere, there is a solution. That fact is not cancelled out by failure elsewhere.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            If a proposed solution fails as often as it succeeds, how exactly do you know that it’s solving anything?

            That’s just the Texas sharpshooter fallacy: painting bullseyes around your bullet holes.

            One observes that Swedes and Japanese in the US commit gun crimes at roughly the same rates as Sweden and Japan. So it seems like the law is less relevant here than some combination of hereditary traits and culture.

          • rahien.din says:

            Nabil ad Dajjal,

            it seems like the law is less relevant here than some combination of hereditary traits and culture.

            This is just weird.

            If a group of people, [X], are demonstrably more murderous in general, that provides a rationale for keeping [X group of people] from easily accessing firearms.

            If [X] = convicted terrorists, few people have a problem with restricting their access to firearms.

            But when [X] = uniquely-and-admittedly-murderous Americans, suddenly their right to have their finger on a trigger is inviolable.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @rahien.din,

            There are two problems with your reasoning.

            Firstly, the point about population is that gun control isn’t doing anything. Peaceable people won’t murder one another with legal guns, and unruly people will continue to murder one another with them.

            Secondly, Americans are extremely heterogeneous. Rural Pennsylvania has a lot more legal guns than the South Bronx and a lot fewer murders. Enforcing NYC’s gun laws on Pennsylvania, as a lot of people here suggest, isn’t going to help the South Bronx but it will hurt rural Pennsylvania.

            I’ve never fired a gun and don’t anticipate doing so anytime soon. I’m very satisfied with the NYPD, especially where I’m living now. But the second amendment is very valuable because it means that, if my perception of the situation changes, I can do something about it. The security of my person and property isn’t at the mercy of the government unless I so choose, which is more democratic than any election.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            @AncientGeek:

            If the solution to getting Japanese-level gun deaths is “be Japan, with Japan’s culture and people”, then that’s great for Japan but not very useful for anyone else.

            So it’s important to figure out how much of Japan’s gun death rate has to do with their gun control laws, and how much of it has to do with them being Japan. We can implement the first but not the second in the United States.

            If similar gun control laws fail elsewhere, that’s evidence towards more of it having to do with Japan being Japan.

          • John Schilling says:

            But when [X] = uniquely-and-admittedly-murderous Americans, suddenly their right to have their finger on a trigger is inviolable.

            Really, rahien? Just three posts up:

            US homicide rate (2015): 4.88 per 100,000
            Mexico homicide rate (2015): 16.35 per 100,000
            Brazil homicide rate (2015): 26.74 per 100,000

            But just to make it clear:

            Global homicide rate (2012): 6.2 per 100,000

            The United States is not “uniquely and admittedly murderous”, the United States is significantly less murderous than humans in general.

            Furthermore, those of us who actually live here have no difficulty distinguishing two different subpopulations of Americans, one of which about as murderous than the average Mexican or Brazilian and the other about as murderous as the average European or Canadian. We can even pass laws saying that the murderous Americans aren’t allowed to have guns, and we have from time to time, but the murderous subpopulation somehow never obeys those laws.

            If I have to share a country with these people, my right to shoot back damn well will be inviolate. And I damn well will not accept criticism or even question from someone who slanders my nation as “uniquely-and-admittedly-murderous”.

          • keranih says:

            If a group of people, [X], are demonstrably more murderous in general, that provides a rationale for keeping [X group of people] from easily accessing firearms.

            I actually don’t disagree with this in theory.

            However, in practicallity, in the United States this is what it looks like:

            A typical city-level finding is that groups collectively representing under 0.5% of the city’s population will be connected as offenders, victims or both, with between half and three quarters of all homicide in the city.[9] This is likely an underestimate and the lower bounds, since only incidents known to be street group connected are counted as such. This means that some substantial portion of those not known will also be group connected.[9] In Boston, for example, which at the time had a population of roughly 556,180 people, approximately 1,500 individuals were identified as comprising 61 separate groups. This 0.3% of the population was responsible for 60% of the city’s homicides.

            (From the WP entry on Operation Ceasefire.)

            Those 0.3% of the population were overwhelmingly young black men. Just how on earth do you propose to keep this [X] group from getting firearms? I mean, we *can* do that, but the process would be, in practical effect, a set of draconian discriminatory actions by the blunt, stupid hammer of the state that I am not prepared to accept.

            (The rate of violence by Euro-descent Americans is markedly lower than that of African-Americans, but the actual figure is distorted by data sorting problems with regards to Hispanic population. To my understanding, right now the best figure is that violence by Euro-descent Americans is higher than the Western Europe rate, but by no more than 2x the European mean, which is within the standard deviation for Europe.) (I am open to more data.)

          • I see everyone has fallen back to blaming culture. But culture is not fixed long-term, and is affected by a host of things , including regulation. Smoking became less acceptable as it became more restricted.

          • John Schilling says:

            I see everyone has fallen back to blaming culture.

            When did the “everyone” to whom you are speaking, blame anything but culture?

          • rahien.din says:

            Nabil ad Dajjal,

            Firstly, the point about population is that gun control isn’t doing anything. Peaceable people won’t murder one another with legal guns, and unruly people will continue to murder one another with them.

            I was responding to the basis that you provide for that point, namely, the relevance of some combination of hereditary traits and culture. My objection is : whatever its source, this “unruliness” constitutes a rationale for restricting access to firearms. IE, I don’t think you are permitted to blanket-resort to “some combination of hereditary traits and culture.” Okay fine but what are you going to do?

            Even if we grant that “nothing has worked so far,” this is not a reason to stop trying.

            Secondly, Americans are extremely heterogeneous.

            So? That’s what makes a law a law – it is a rule that everybody is under, whether or not they intend to perform the action made illegal.

            It is implausible that the typical rural Pennsylvanian will commit wire fraud. Arguendo, the laws that make it harder to commit wire fraud constitute some inconvenience to the typical rural Pennsylvanian, hard at work at their small business. And yet, this inconvenience is not a rationale for not having laws that make it harder to commit wire fraud.

            Furthermore, if rural Pennsylvanians were to successfully advocate for the repeal of wire fraud laws on the grounds you suggest, merely to make their own lives more convenient, then they have effectively abetted the perpetration of wire fraud.

            John Schilling,

            You might note the quotation I replied to. I hope the above may be clarifying.

          • bean says:

            It is implausible that the typical rural Pennsylvanian will commit wire fraud. Arguendo, the laws that make it harder to commit wire fraud constitute some inconvenience to the typical rural Pennsylvanian, hard at work at their small business. And yet, this inconvenience is not a rationale for not having laws that make it harder to commit wire fraud.

            It’s pretty easy for a typical wire fraudster to move to rural Pennsylvania and commit wire fraud there. It’s somewhat more difficult for someone from South Bronx to move to rural Pennsylvania and then commit violence in the South Bronx. Ballistic missiles and long-range artillery are already very restricted. And there’s no reason for someone from South Bronx to move to rural Pennsylvania and commit violence there, as the people they want to kill are still in South Bronx.

          • bean says:

            @rahien.din
            We’re looking at policy proposals for our world, not doing philosophy. Unless you can show that letting people in rural PA have guns is a direct driver of violence in South Bronx, then I’m not sure what your point is. (And there are already laws to stop that from happening. The last time the ATF paid any attention to the issue, they just gave the cartels a bunch of guns.) Or is this a hypothetical world where the NRA is lobbying to derestrict artillery and Scuds?

          • Matt M says:

            But the second amendment is very valuable because it means that, if my perception of the situation changes, I can do something about it.

            I recommend you purchase a firearm immediately.

            The government will likely ban guns before your perception changes. By the time you realize “holy shit I need a gun” it will already be too late.

          • Matt M says:

            Smoking became less acceptable as it became more restricted.

            No, politics is downstream. It became possible to regulate smoking as it became less acceptable in society.

          • rahien.din says:

            bean,

            I do not think that gun ownership in rural Pennsylvania is a direct driver of gun violence in the South Bronx – nor am I required to.

            I admit that the types of laws required to address gun violence are likely to cause some indirect inconvenience to certain unrelated parties. My claim is : this fact would not invalidate gun control laws, nor would it pose a serious challenge to their rationale.*

            This is the point of my example. Yes, laws combating wire fraud do inconvenience certain people who will never, ever commit wire fraud, but in no way should this stop our attempts to combat wire fraud.

            * I have already bitten the bullet you’re thinking of.

            ETA : clarity

          • bean says:

            This is the point of my example. Yes, laws combating wire fraud do inconvenience certain people who will never, ever commit wire fraud, but in no way should this stop our attempts to combat wire fraud.

            Bad analogy. Wire fraud is an inherently mobile crime. Gun violence is disproportionately concentrated in a few areas. Why not just restrict guns where they are causing problems? (Oh, wait. We’ve already tried that, and it isn’t working well.) Basically, the appropriate control group for your comments on ‘inconveniencing innocents’ are the residents of South Bronx, not rural Pennsylvania, because it’s really easy to exclude the later from your restrictions.

          • rahien.din says:

            bean,

            I admit that the types of laws required to address gun violence are likely to cause some indirect inconvenience to certain unrelated parties. My claim is : this fact would not invalidate gun control laws, nor would it pose a serious challenge to their rationale.

          • bean says:

            @rahien.din
            You have yet to explain why it’s necessary to restrict guns in rural Pennsylvania to combat gun violence in South Bronx. I’ll admit in principle that you can restrict guns when there is a problem with gun violence. (In practice, not so much, because it doesn’t seem to work.) But rural Pennsylvania does not have a gun violence problem, and the people there really like their guns. Justify why that’s necessary collateral damage, as I’ve agreed that people who are not violent in South Bronx might be, if gun control worked.

          • Brad says:

            Because we have no internal borders. It’s difficult, but not impossible, to slow the flow of contraband across international borders and to slow the rate of manufacturing contraband. It’s well nigh impossible to slow the flow of something that’s legal in one state to a neighboring state where it is illegal. That’s why Oklahoma and Nebraska sued Colorado over its legalized pot.

            Despite claims about how easy it is to 3d print a gun that’s not where guns being used for crimes in the South Bronx are coming from. Nor are they by and large being smuggled in from abroad via JFK. They are being purchased in places like Virginia.

            Maybe your answer is tough tittes, but if you want to know why someone concerned about gun violence in the South Bronx could possibly care about how easy or hard it is to buy a gun in bumblefuck Pennsylvania, that’s why.

          • rahien.din says:

            Nabil ad Dajjal : America is a heterogeneous society,
            and it is not permissible that the burdens of gun control would fall on violent and non-violent subgroups that are geographically distant.

            rahien.din : These collateral burdens are indeed permissible. Many laws impose such burdens. Declaring these collateral burdens impermissible would invalidate many perfectly good laws.

            That is the extent of what I want to say in this particular subthread.

            bean : I demand that you support the position that collateral burdens are not just permissible, but necessary.

            We are basically discussing this elsewhere in the thread.

          • bean says:

            Despite claims about how easy it is to 3d print a gun that’s not where guns being used for crimes in the South Bronx are coming from. Nor are they by and large being smuggled in from abroad via JFK. They are being purchased in places like Virginia.

            Care to guess what the top state for gun traces in New York was in 2015? That’s right. New York (1350). VA was second (441). Pennsylvania (412) and Georgia (401) were also major sources. The only states west of the Mississippi that showed up were California (59) and Texas (102). The total traces with identified sources was 4,863. So they’re coming from all over, but the top 15 states accounted for about 4,200 of the weapons. Kentucky, #15, had 56.

          • Brad says:

            @bean

            I’m a little puzzled by the tone I perceive in your first two sentences. It seems like the facts you present thereafter, which I have every reason to believe are accurate, are not to the contrary of the thrust of the argument I made.

          • bean says:

            I’m a little puzzled by the tone I perceive in your response. It seems like the facts you present, which I have every reason to believe are accurate, are not to the contrary of the thrust of the argument I made.

            You suggested that Virginia’s liberal gun laws were causing gun violence in New York. But a quarter of New York guns were from New York, with no other state contributing more than 10%. If guns are so easy to get in Virginia, or Texas or wherever, why aren’t more guns coming from those places into New York?
            There are mechanisms in place to stop someone from driving down from New York to Virginia, filling their trunk up with guns, and driving back. So far as I can see, they work pretty well.
            I also decided to look at California. 69.7% of guns traced in California were from in-state. This is despite Nevada and Arizona, both with much less stringent laws, being fairly close. Arizona, the second state, provided 6.2% of traced guns in California. Texas provided 83.8% of its own guns as a third check. But the third state in the supplier ranking for guns in Texas? California, behind only Louisiana and Oklahoma. Basically, the gun market is not dominated by people showing up with cash in low-restriction states and taking the guns to high-restriction states. I’m not going to spend a huge amount of time painstakingly recreating the paths that guns take from production to criminal use, but it doesn’t look quite like your narrative.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Brad: You’re putting a lot of weight on the distinction between “difficult but not impossible” and “well-nigh impossible” there, when “well-nigh” is basically a synonym for “not really” in this context. Also being vague about the level of “slowing” you are anticipating, and why we should care.

            It would be one thing if there were, I don’t know, maybe some impenetrable wall at the nation’s borders, or if the people proposing gun control at the national level were also proposing such a wall.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @rahien.din

            My claim is : this fact would not invalidate gun control laws, nor would it pose a serious challenge to their rationale

            I mean, if you just wave away any harm to other people as not mattering, it’s an easy problem. You might not be surprised that this makes it difficult to get those other people on board, and they might even take extreme actions (such as voting for Donald Trump for the sake of a Supreme Court justice) to stop you.

          • rahien.din says:

            The Nybbler,

            I mean, if you just wave away any harm to other people as not mattering, it’s an easy problem.

            Careful there. One could just as easily accuse gun advocates of the same : if you just wave away all the gun deaths, mass shootings, and shot-by-toddlers as not mattering as much as your gun hobby, it’s an easy problem.

            Moreover, as I have repeatedly said, these collateral burdens are features of many perfectly good laws. They do not invalidate those laws.

            You might not be surprised that this makes it difficult to get those other people on board, and they might even take extreme actions (such as voting for Donald Trump for the sake of a Supreme Court justice) to stop you.

            When the harms (as far as I see them) amount to “guns are costlier and less convenient to buy or transfer” and “you must register your guns” but not “you have to hand over your guns and you never get to hunt or shoot skeet anymore,” political retaliation starts to look rather selfish.

          • Brad says:

            @bean

            You suggested that Virginia’s liberal gun laws were causing gun violence in New York. But a quarter of New York guns were from New York, with no other state contributing more than 10%. If guns are so easy to get in Virginia, or Texas or wherever, why aren’t more guns coming from those places into New York?

            If guns are so easy to get in New York, why are any guns coming from those places? That’s a long schlep.

            The point is that it is rational to want to pass laws not just in New York City, where they are strictest, but also in New York State, where they are less strict, and the country as a whole, where they are least strict. Insisting that the laws in New York City be perfect and perfectly enforced before ever considering touching the other laws is just yet another way of saying no.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Just a bit of amusing information: 2.2% of guns traced to out-of-state sources in Virginia came from New York.

          • Garrett says:

            There are roughly 100 million gun owners in the US. Certainly a good number of them don’t really care. But good percentage do. At the low end, let’s assume that only 10 million gun owners really care. How effective would any of your proposals for gun ownership restrictions need to be in order to equal the severe unhappiness generated for 10 million people? And by what mechanism can you be assured that your proposals will be that effective?

          • Montfort says:

            Bean, what is the level you would expect if Brad is right? 80%? 90%? The national average for guns used in crimes imported is about 29%.

            If you click around an interactive infographic provided by the Baltimore Sun, you can see states where it’s easier to purchase guns, e.g. Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arizona, etc, tend to import fewer guns to use in crimes, whereas states where it’s harder to buy guns, e.g. Hawaii, New Jersey, New York tend to import much more, many around 70%.

            Now, this isn’t really rigorous enough for me to say it’s strong evidence – there are a number of outliers, e.g. California (29%) and Maryland (43%), and in general states with many gun sales are probably going to export more guns (in raw numbers, maybe not proportionately) to the black market even if all states had the same laws.
            But the basic picture of the data seems at least consistent with what he proposes. And I’m not really sure what the alternate reading of the data you propose is.

            To be explicit, New York looks about how I think Brad would predict. Texas likewise – easy to buy a gun there, so no need to get them from Louisiana. One of the major sources is California, you say, but so what? With the population and volume of gun sales in the state, it’s bound to be large in markets (in 2014, California had 1.47M NICS checks, Louisiana 315k, NICS checks aren’t all sales, but that’s the data I have). California’s imports are a strike against, I agree, much fewer than expected.

          • bean says:

            If you click around an interactive infographic provided by the Baltimore Sun, you can see states where it’s easier to purchase guns, e.g. Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arizona, etc, tend to import fewer guns to use in crimes,

            Thanks for finding that. I was working off the raw ATF trace numbers, which only look at the receiving state in the format I found.

            whereas states where it’s harder to buy guns, e.g. Hawaii, New Jersey, New York tend to import much more, many around 70%.

            One of these is not quite like the others. Yes, Hawaii does import most of its guns (although it also bears pointing out that it’s the one state with restrictive gun laws that’s isolated), but it also exports more guns than it imports for some reason. On the other hand, North Dakota, not exactly known for being a hotbed of gun control, imports 2.5 per export, the same as Massachusetts. I suspect this is a result of the fracking boom there.

            Bean, what is the level you would expect if Brad is right? 80%? 90%? The national average for guns used in crimes imported is about 29%.

            The one place the data is definitely not fitting what I think Brad expects (or, frankly, what I expected) was the ratio of exports to local use. Basically, if a gun is bought criminally, how likely is it to end up in the hands of an in-state criminal vs an out-of-state criminal. In New York, this ratio is about .4. In Virginia, it’s .63. (Note that the majority of crimes committed with Virginia guns are still in Virginia.) In Texas it’s .28. The only state I can find that’s lower is California at .12. Hawaii is 1.95, nearly the highest I can find. So a gun bought in Hawaii is about twice as likely to be used in a crime outside of Hawaii as it is inside Hawaii.
            Basically, the states which export more guns than they use internally seem to generally be low-population low-crime states. The winner here seems to be New Hampshire, closely followed by Maine.
            But if we’re looking at out-of-state purchases, then New York is worse than Texas relative to its internal use. That’s very odd.

            My takeaway from the data is this. The restrictions on the interstate sale and transfer of guns seem to work pretty well. You can’t just go buy handguns in Virginia and take them back with you to New York. In fact, you can’t do interstate transfers of handguns at all unless you’re an FFL. Obvious counterpoint is straw purchasing, but that’s a one-time thing for a given person, and I suspect the system checks if you suddenly decide to buy a couple dozen handguns.

          • Montfort says:

            Basically, if a gun is bought criminally, how likely is it to end up in the hands of an in-state criminal vs an out-of-state criminal. In New York, this ratio is about .4

            I don’t think this data is available from the sources listed so far, where are you getting numbers of bought illegally? What we do have, and maybe what you meant, is the likelihood of a New-York-bought gun that was used in a crime in 2014 being used in NY vs. elsewhere. Using the Sun’s data, we can see 1,397 traced guns in NY were from New York, and 572 traced guns originally from NY were used elsewhere. That’s ~71% in NY.

          • John Schilling says:

            On the other hand, North Dakota, not exactly known for being a hotbed of gun control, imports 2.5 per export, the same as Massachusetts. I suspect this is a result of the fracking boom there.

            Worth considering is that it isn’t just guns that move across state lines, but criminals. While there is no doubt some intrastate gun trafficking going on, the noise and inconsistencies in the data w/re that theory suggest that what we are mostly seeing is criminals in State X buying a gun in State X and then later moving, with gun, to State Y.

          • bean says:

            @Montfort
            That is what I meant, although I said it rather poorly. I was taking NY-bought-used-elsewhere/NY-bought-used-NY, to avoid having to add to do percentages properly.

            @John
            That’s pretty much what I was getting at. I’d expect oil booms to drive some level of criminal behavior, and to bring people with guns from other states.

          • Montfort says:

            Here’s the numbers for the other states with the same methodology:
            VA – 61%
            TX – 78%
            CA – 91%
            HI – 33%

            California’s keeping their crime-guns, Hawaii’s practically giving them away.
            But I’m not sure I’m sold on this method of comparison – say, for the sake of argument, that TX is riddled with gun crime. Then when easy texas guns flow out to other states, this effect is masked by the (hypothetical) fact that TX’s gun policies are making TX’s crime worse too. In other words, TX looks the same if it’s a low-crime state that exports few guns vs a state with 10x the crime rate and 10x the exports. But if TX is a hive of villainy, we want a very different response than if it’s a sleepy, peaceful state.

            Or, for another point, take DC. It imports 96% of the guns used in crime there, mostly from neighbors VA and MD. But if you run this test, ~51% of DC guns are used elsewhere. But DC isn’t a net exporter. I’m pretty sure DC criminals don’t find it about as easy to get DC guns as MD or VA guns. The problem here is that the population who can get a DC gun (512 NICS checks in 2014) is different from the population that typically uses guns for criminal purposes in DC.

            @John Schilling, perhaps. I think this is definitely in play, but it’s hard to tell how big the effect is compared to the black market transfers. E.g. KS-MO is probably St. Louis commuters, MD-VA-DC is some of this (though the numbers are extreme enough I’m pretty sure even the DC natives are buying out-of-“state”), CT-NY, etc. But others like TN-MI seem less plausible, even for permanent migration. And it’s plausible that, e.g. if you made it harder to get guns in VA, fewer Virginians would commit crimes with guns once they entered Washington city limits.

          • The Nybbler says:

            When the harms (as far as I see them) amount to “guns are costlier and less convenient to buy or transfer” and “you must register your guns” but not “you have to hand over your guns and you never get to hunt or shoot skeet anymore,” political retaliation starts to look rather selfish.

            Yeah, so I have to go to the police station and get fingerprinted and get two unrelated adults from my state to vouch for me every time I want to buy a gun, or if I want to buy ammunition at all. That effectively keeps me from getting a gun, and it falls under “less convenient to buy or transfer”. But the late Mr. Paddock, he’d have no trouble with any of that. Nor do any criminals.

          • bean says:

            But I’m not sure I’m sold on this method of comparison – say, for the sake of argument, that TX is riddled with gun crime.

            Fair