THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Open Thread 92.5

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

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487 Responses to Open Thread 92.5

  1. Le Maistre Chat says:

    What’s the greatest epic poem? The Iliad or Odyssey, Paradise Lost, or what?
    The Mahabharata deserves some sort of award for still filling the Indian consciousness the way a pop culture franchise does in the West.

    • DavidS says:

      Does the Mahabharata do that more than the Ramayana? I always got the impression the Mahabharata was more ‘meaty’ in some ways (and includes the Bhagavad Gita, which is a pretty big deal) but that Ramayana had more of that pop presence.

    • Michael Handy says:

      I used to sat Milton. but the War Nerd Illiad has made it a strong contender

    • cmurdock says:

      Bibek Debroy says in the Introduction to his Mahabharata that it’s mostly in prose, and that only parts are in poetry. I don’t know Sanskrit or by what criteria he’s making that judgement, but assuming he’s right then the Mahabharata isn’t exactly an “epic poem”.

      (And btw, the answer is obviously Oppian’s Halieutika.)

    • cassander says:

      Certainly the odyssey isn’t serious competition for the illiad, is it? It’s fun and all, but has no where near the depth.

    • S_J says:

      I find more pleasure in Beowulf than in Oddysey, Iliad. or Aenid.

      It took me some time to realize that Job, in the Bible, is a poem about an epic theological argument. I doubt that many people consider it epic poetry. But I think it ought to be at least mentioned as a long-form poetic narrative which is an important cultural reference-point for certain religions.

    • powerfuller says:

      Hmm… my personal favorite is probably Paradise Lost, though the argument that Homer beats Milton because he came first is a pretty strong one. I can’t read Greek, so it’s hard to actually compare the two, though Samuel Johnson did think Pope’s Illiad was the best thing ever. Depending on how loose you are with the definition, I’d argue Moby-Dick is better understood as an epic prose poem than a novel, in which case I might choose that over Paradise Lost (or if you consider something like all of Shakespeare’s English history plays as one work, that might win). Since this question usually is reduced to Homer-Virgil-Dante-Milton, I’ll list a few less likely contenders:

      Wordsworth’s The Prelude: The accusation that Wordsworth’s blank verse is basically prose is overstated, but it’s honestly harder for me to care about a theme like the growth of a poet’s mind than dudes fighting each other; I think Wordworth is at his best in his mid-length poems like The Ruined Cottage (which I think may be the only serious contender to Milton’s Lycidas in that category).

      Spencer’s The Faerie Queene: Scans as smooth as milk, but gets to be a bit of a slog; I gave up for a long while after finishing the second. Allegory is so out of taste that this poem has sunk a great deal.

      Geothe’s Faust: Faust strikes me as a sort of paragon of the Western mind, like Hamlet. I can’t read German, but I enjoyed David Luke’s translation. I found the ending of the second book (minus the very end) disappointing; the thing that finally satisfies Faust’s endless ambition is such a let down.

      James Merrill’s The Book of Ephraim: Merrill talks to ghosts about a humanistic afterlife and some vague threat to the world; the poetry exhibits extreme finesse and skill, but there’s not much of a driving narrative behind it.

      Shelley’s Laon and Cynthia (or The Revolt of Islam, or The Revolution of the Golden City): Didn’t make much of an impression on me; it has a college freshman idealism about social change that fails to convince.

      Pound’s Cantos: Something something Italian economics and Chinese philosophy something… impossibly ambitious, but that’s its charm, right?

      Eliot’s The Waste Land: Somebody wrote the poem could be understood as a “condensed epic,” in which case I think I’d still prefer a fresh-squeezed one.

      Blake’s epics: I have yet to make heads or tails of any of them…

      Honorable mentions:
      Yeat’s The Wanderings of Oisin: Too short to be a real epic, but very beautifully written, especially the 3rd book.
      Pope’s The Rape of the Lock: Maybe the best parody of an epic?
      Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno: Not an epic in any sense but length, but I fucking this poem; it’s one of the most bizarre things ever written.

      Also, a shout out to Laurence Binyon’s translation of the Divine Comedy: he does the whole thing in terza rima. While I assume it’s a far cry from the original, doing it as competently as Binyon does I’d liken to playing a decently faithful rendition of Jimi Hendrix on an acoustic guitar (which is to say, very impressive).

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        What do you think of Dorothy Sayers’ terza rima translation of the Divine Comedy?

      • Sfoil says:

        I regard Spenser and Shakespeare as being on two sides of a dividing line between “won’t be appreciated without being an antiquarian” and “old-fashioned but still normally comprehensible by a casual user of English”. I think Spenser was often intentionally archaic, but “intentionally archaic” in 1590 is “extinct language” now. Maybe this explains the relative popularity of rendering Spenser in non-modernized spelling.

    • Urstoff says:

      I’d still go with the Iliad, in the Lattimore or Lombardo translations.

    • James says:

      Followup question: which epic would y’all recommend to a baby poetry reader who reads a lot of short-form poetry but has never read anything long-form?

      • Sfoil says:

        It’s not technically an epic, but Longfellow’s Tales from a Wayside Inn. If you want an actual epic and have a large vocabulary, just go straight for Paradise Lost. If you don’t, Longfellow’s Evangeline.

        • James says:

          Yeah, my vocab’s OK. I am slightly limited in not knowing any languages apart from English, so I’m stuck with translations for anything in other languages. Paradise Lost sounds like a good option. Evangeline sounds like fun though one doesn’t often hear of or see copies of Longfellow around here (England)—I would guess he’s one of those Americans who are better known there than here.

        • JohnBuridan says:

          I have always thought Evangeline is criminally underrated. It’s absolutely beautiful.

      • “The Ballad of the White Horse” by G.K. Chesterton.

    • Sfoil says:

      Although I’m biased by being a native English speaker, Paradise Lost. It builds on the previous, ancient epics in an identifiable manner, for instance the roll call of heroes, the hero’s journey through the underworld, his opposition by insurmountable Fate (God). I believe the moral and spiritual issues involved in Paradise Lost to be more profound then those of the older epics (cf. theodicy, the Fall of Man, the logic and allure of evil vs. the Wrath of Achilles, respect for the dead, filial piety). Further, nothing has superseded it.

      While this is the part most subject to personal idiosyncracy, I think PL’s use of language is superior to the ancient epics. It certainly exceeds anything of its length in English. A long time ago I was able to read parts of the Aeneid in Latin; while Virgil excels in imagery he can’t match the range of emotions Milton evokes (also: HE DIDN’T FINISH). This comes with the enormous caveat that “cleverness” in Latin would have scanned as “frustrating” to younger-me and I neither had native command of the language nor did I read the whole thing. On the other hand, I don’t know of anyone more knowledgeable who’s claimed Virgil (or Homer) exceeds Milton in this regard. On the gripping hand, getting an objective opinion may be impossible.

    • JohnBuridan says:

      I always give my signalling answer to this question: “Vergil’s Aeneid is the best book of all time.”
      People, like me, who say this are signalling that they are part of the tribe of humanist Classicists.
      Plus, I get to read it Latin so there’s that advantage.

      More seriously, Paradise Lost is probably the best. He uses English with an impossible to replicate sophistication. Teaching it again this year, though, really reinforced my belief in Paradise Lost.

      Canterbury Tales, technically isn’t an epic, but it is still awesome.

      And Evangeline is the best intro to epics, IMO.

  2. Sichu Lu says:

    https://nintil.com/2017/12/28/a-breakthrough-in-moral-psychology/amp/?__twitter_impression=true
    Actual paper: http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2017-57422-001?utm_content=buffere5ed2&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
    I thought this paper/discussion will be interesting to the people here. thoughts?
    Edit: tl;dr summary version: a new scale of utilitarianism is developed to tease out negative and positive aspects. Two subscales are developed, the Impartial Beneficence subcomponent and the Instrumental Harm subcomponent.

  3. bean says:

    A description of the 80s reactivation of the Iowas is now up at Naval Gazing.

  4. gedymin says:

    What are your thoughts on cryptocurrencies? Long-term / short-term?

    I personally think they’re here to stay, and I also think way way more people should be worried about their deflationary nature (as John Schilling is worried here). In the long-term, the right thing to do would be adopt some sort of inflationary cryptocurrency over bitcoin to discourage hoarding and encourage investing back in the real economy.

    Also, do you know if anyone is seriously thinking about / researching how cryptos and smart contracts change the predictions on AI risks? Self-owning, self-driving cars and “autonomous, self-optimizing” companies certainly seem to be much more feasible now than in the pre-bitcoin era. (A bit of Google search tells that this connection was noticed by LW already in 2011).

    • fortaleza84 says:

      I don’t know a lot about them, but it occurs to me that without some central authority, how do you stop bankers from doing exit scams or stealing customers’ money and claiming they were hacked?

      By “bankers,” I mean anyone who is holding money which belongs to another person.

      And without bankers, how can you do large transactions?

      • zenith says:

        Controlling and securing ownership of currency is usually accomplished (at least in theory) by the same means that the currency itself is — using cryptography. For instance, bitcoin users often send their coins to a multi-signature address if they need to entrust their coins to a third party, and then the coins require the agreement of some or all of the multiple key-holders to be spent. For instance, this method is used to hold payment in escrow on markets so that the buyer needs send the funds immediately, but has to sign off on receiving the product before the seller receives payment.

        Smart contract platforms like Ethereum allow much more sohpisticated logic to control the transfer of funds by allowing the coins to be controlled by code which runs on the blockchain itself without having a single person or organization with exclusive control over them. This allows any sort of scheme for controlling and authorizing transactions to be put into place as long as it can be represented using cryptography and code. While the potential for coins to be stolen though hacking is still possible with smart contracts, of course, it does eliminate the possibility for a centralized banking or finance entity to simply take its customers’ coins or refuse to act in accordance to its customers wishes. In some cases there doesn’t even need to be a centralized entity to own the contract at all.

        As mentioned, this doesn’t make coins immune to being hacked. For instance, shortly after Ethereum was launched, a contract called TheDAO was hacked, resulting in a controversial rollback of the entire blockchain to reverse the hack. But the open decentralized nature of smart contracts and other cryptographic solutions does make it more accountable to users, and as the these platforms grow I’d expect to see it become much more common for such projects to be thoroughly audited before users will entrust their funds to them.

        It should also be noted that the problems you mentioned are currently still widespread, despite the potential to mitigate them using further blockchain technology in most cases. The vast majority of cryptocurrency exchanges, for instance, are still centralized and thus could easily run off with customers’ money if they choose to.

        • fortaleza84 says:

          If I understand you correctly, you are saying that crypto-currencies allow for co-trustees over peoples’ money with consensus among the co-trustees required to do anything with the money. Is that right?

          • zenith says:

            Yes. This includes more complicated systems too. For example, a smart contract could be written to allow a user to withdraw up to 5% from an automated account each month, as long as at least 10% of the withdrawal is distributed among a set of pre-approved addresses belonging to charitable organizations, but also allowing a separate administrator to withdraw the full value of the account provided that they have approvals from at least 3 of 5 mutually trusted third parties; the administrator is elected every three months by users who have paid a membership fee into the account.

            Granted, I’m sure sure what that particular example would be useful for, but it illustrates some of the consensus logic that can be implemented.

            The underlying technology does vary dramatically between different cryptocurrencies. Many, including bitcoin, do not support smart contracts or arbitrary code, which would be necessary for the example above to work. Others are actually just tokens represented as a value on a blockchain that does include these functions – there are hundreds of different tokens on the Ethereum blockchain which use the mutually compatible ERC-20 interface, for instance. The majority of cryptocurrencies have some mechanism for coordination beyond just sending and receiving, however.

    • toastengineer says:

      My highly underinformed opinion:

      Will cryptocurrency in general be commonly used in the future? Probably. The fundamental idea is really useful and in practice digital currency is a lot handier than physical; adding in some of the advantages of physical currency is an interesting proposition.

      Will any cryptocurrency existent today be commonly used in the future? Very probably not. And I’m 99.9% sure it won’t be Bitcoin. Bitcoin’s lack of ASIC resistance defeats the “non-centralizable currency” thing, it’s getting busted up by internal political issues, and… well, the very first of something, not counting totally impractical prototypes, is rarely the one that really takes off. Call it the Hydrox/Infiniminer effect. 😛

      Will cryptocurrency replace fiat currency? No, unless a government names a cryptocurrency as its fiat currency (or all governments collapse and we go full Snow Crash or something.) That’s why it’s called fiat currency, you need it to pay your taxes and the government demands that you accept it.

      Will cryptocurrency remain relevant as a means of transfer? Don’t see why not.

      Will a cryptocurrency become relevant as a store of wealth? Maybe, if one sticks around long enough for its value to stabilize.

      Is cryptocurrency speculation a bad idea for the general population? Hell yes. Remember the efficient markets hypothesis.

      Is the crypto-mining-on-other-people’s-computers-without-their-permission dickery just beginning? Hell yes.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Have a side issue– the people who maintain Bitcoin code apparently have no obvious way of getting paid.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        They get paid because they board hoard Bitcoin and Bitcoin goes up in value.

        I’ve been watching Bitcoin for a long time and it seems to be good at, at most, just one of rising in value or for easy exchange, but never both at the same time.

        /r/bitcoin used to love making fun of Western Union charging $5 or $22 for an expedited wire, but from a recent thread here at SSC it’s around $30 to get merely a good chance that your transaction gets executed in 30 minutes.

        The design decisions that make Bitcoin good for hoarding tend to be different than the design decisions that make Bitcoin good for trading, and since the design decisions are made by hoarders, it’s gotten worse and worse and worse over the years at trading.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I’ve seen a claim that the early programmers for bitcoin have bitcoin(s), but this doesn’t say anything about how their successors will be paid.

        • Brad says:

          I’ve been watching Bitcoin for a long time and it seems to be good at, at most, just one of rising in value or for easy exchange, but never both at the same time.

          Obviously no one is upset when something they own becomes more valuable but it is worth noting that “increasing in value for no apparent reason” is not especially desirable characteristic in either of the two mooted uses for crytocurrencies — viz. 1) a medium for transactions and 2) a store of value.

          For both those use cases stability is what you’d want. Possibly not in terms of any one particular other currency or even a basket of other currencies, but in terms of some basket of good and services.

          Given that we are in a remarkable stable period in terms of currency fluxuations and have been for a while and that gold is out there, it is hard to see the argument for a burning need for a store of value. I suppose there are useful for evading capital controls arguments, but the switchover to SoV en masse by bitcoin advocates just looks a lot like wanting to keep the party going to me.

          On the other hand a low cost transaction medium does seem like a genuine need out in the world. Both cross border, especially for small amounts–remittances face very high implicit and explicit fees, and within the developed world–visa and mastercard are ripe for disruption under the “your margin is my opportunity” attitude IMO.

          But again that wants value stability, low transaction costs, high speed, reliability, and ease of use. It doesn’t especially want smart contracts and certainly doesn’t want 10% hourly swings.

          • But again that wants value stability, low transaction costs, high speed, reliability, and ease of use.

            For transactions value stability isn’t very important unless the instability is on a scale of minutes, not days or weeks. Computers are very good at doing exchange rate calculations.

          • Brad says:

            First, the instability is on the order of minutes. At different points over the last 24 hours bitcoin was trading at $14208.20 and $16673.40.

            Second, while it might not be absolutely necessary to have value stability for a medium of exchange it is certainly a nice to have. It means that you don’t have to do a round trip conversion every time. You can keep some $medium_of_exchange in your account for when you want to buy something with it. It simplifies things like refunds (if you buy a shirt from Poland, you pay with us dollars, the transaction is made in over bitcoin and the vendor gets zlotys, what should be refunded to you if the shirt doesn’t fit and you send it back?)

          • gedymin says:

            > For both those use cases stability is what you’d want.

            For long term store of value / investment short term volatility does not matter much and the deflationary properties are obviously attractive.

            Stability is an important property for services like escrow. E.g. if I sell my apartment, especially to someone I don’t know / don’t trust, I would like to have a guarantee that I’ll be paid the exact amount agreed on the specific date agreed. Bitcoin cannot achieve this, but I don’t see why this couldn’t be done – at least in theory – by putting it down in a smart contract. The contract would say something like “I’ll pay you the equivalent of 100k USD in BTC according to the rate in a specific BTC exchange no later than 1 day after the apartment is added on a land registry with me as the owner”. Furthermore, if this works, it also removes the need for a trusted third party.

            > Given that we are in a remarkable stable period in terms of currency fluxuations and have been for a while

            Not everyone lives in the USA. I’m (barely) old enough to remember the hyperinflation after the fall of USSR and how many lost their life’s savings. That happened a while back, sure, I give you that. For a more recent example, I receive my current salary in GBP, but spend mostly in EUR. During June 2016, my real income and the value of GBP savings suddenly dropped almost 15% overnight.

            > But again that wants value stability, low transaction costs, high speed, reliability, and ease of use.

            I don’t think there’s ever going to be a single cryptocurrency with all the nice properties. There will be a few big ones and hundreds of small ones (thousands-to-millions, if including tokens). Scalability and other problems are already being solved by cryptocurrency developers; bitcoin is not the only one and definitely not the most advanced one. Don’t underestimate the engineering work that still needs to be done, but I think that there are at least two game-changing innovations that will see mainstream adoption soon. The first is the move away from the obviously wasteful proof-of-work; proof-of-stake is a working candidate to replace it. The second is the mass adoption of a “beyond blockchain” currency (IOTA, RaiBlocks, HyperGraph are a few candidates). A network that uses a DAGinstead of a blockchain would obviously scale much better, simply because it doesn’t require that every node verifies every transaction.

          • Brad says:

            The escrow example is a good one. If I have a smart contract that says that I need to pay USD $250,000 the day that deed transfer takes place (assume an oracle), how many ETH do I need to put in escrow? What if the ETH/USD drops, can the contract issue a margin call? And who takes that loss? The situation would be much less sticky if we could count on ETH not swinging wildly while the sale was pending. As it stands I think most people would rather risk the trusted third party over that.

            I guess it is fine if one coin doesn’t have all those properties, but is there any theory out there at all about how to create value stability? I vaguely recall hearing about some Chinese coin that was supposed to trade at $1 with some kind of intervention incentive scheme to keep it that way, but I’m pretty sure it was the context of someone complaining that it was being used to manipulate the price of BTC.

            Edited to add:

            For long term store of value / investment short term volatility does not matter much and the deflationary properties are obviously attractive.

            See this is worrying. Eventually the world is going to run out of greater fools. BTC is not going to keep on appreciating forever. Eventually it is going to have to be valued for it’s usefulness and not speculation. If there was a story for how it was likely to eventually stabilize and stay that way, that’s be something useful that its ultimate value could rest on. An asset class that was more likely to be stable in terms of a basic of goods and services than any current asset would be very useful. But if the answer from advocates is that we don’t need a story about how and why it will stabilize because it is going to keep on growing in value forever … yeah.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            unless the instability is on a scale of minutes

            The stability needs to be on the order of the time it takes to transfer in/out of the crypto-currency to the one I need. And it’s not always easy to get money out of crypto.

            Also, if your plan is to just convert from bitcoin to dollars, then you need to add that as a transaction cost layer to the crypto-layer transfer fees.

          • baconbits9 says:

            First, the instability is on the order of minutes. At different points over the last 24 hours bitcoin was trading at $14208.20 and $16673.40.

            It is not the min by min that matters for stability it is the time you expect to hold the currency between transactions. If you owe the mob $30,000 it would be a bad idea to sell your car for 2 bitcoins and then try to convert those coins into dollars to pay them off. However if you get paid in bitcoin and hold it until you decide to spend it what matters is that it is worth at least X when it comes time to spend it.

          • albatross11 says:

            Long-term, there will probably be one or more cryptocurrencies that are pretty stable and predictable in value–at least as stable as commonly-used currencies. You can (and people have) get screwed over because you’re paid in Euros and your bills are in US Dollars or Yen or something, but it’s not all that big a risk, and it’s not all that hard a problem to solve.

            The instability is because cryptocurrencies are in a huge bubble right now, not because of some inherent property of cryptocurrencies. And that bubble is ultimately because there’s some small chance that one of these cryptocurrencies will end up being a key part of the economy in the future, and people who got in at the beginning will have a lot of wealth. OTOH, most of them will end up as valuable as Zimbabwian Dollars….

          • albatross11 says:

            Bitcoin pretty much can’t be low-cost (or low-latency) for any substantial fraction of the world’s economy. It’s hitting the limits of its original design, which was some combination of brilliant/inspired and very lucky in terms of allowing a lot of growth, but which isn’t workable without major surgery (very hard to carry out given the lack of a working governance structure and the power of the big mining groups) for what we’ll need over the next 20+ years.

      • dodrian says:

        Not Bitcoin specifically, but there are plenty of examples of open source succeeding because people believe in the project (other motivations mixed in with this might include wanting to control something important and used by many people, or to improve career by being connected with a high-profile project).

        Additionally, software like Firefox gets revenue from ads (mainly internet searches via a search bar). That might not work for something like bitcoin, but there are some projects supported by donations (smaller linux distros and niche open-source software like Calibre), and big projects supported because for-profit companies rely on them (RedHat springs to mind: a for-profit company that invests heavily in open-source linux work, I’m sure there are better examples). A little digging shows that Linus Torvalds is paid $10M a year by the Linux Foundation, which is supported by all sorts of corporate sponsors which rely on Linux.

        I imagine investing in the [successful cryptocurrency] source/maintenance would end up being valuable for cryptocurrency exchanges in the intermediate term, and whoever ends wants to fill the role of Visa/Mastercard/Paypal/Stripe in the future.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          $10M is a lot of money. How much the Linux Foundation pays him is public information and yet google gives you obvious lies.

          • and yet google gives you obvious lies.

            Googling I found one source that said “estimated annual salary of $10 million. ” It doesn’t say where from. Your link tells us what the Linux Foundation pays him, but the estimate may include income from other sources.

            Why would you be surprised if googling for information sometimes gives you information that isn’t true? The web is an open medium and Google doesn’t control it.

          • dodrian says:

            My apologies, I suspected the amount was public information, but did not know how to obtain it and trusted a quick google for the purposes of an example. If I’m reading that document correctly, he gets compensated just over $700k from the Linux Foundation.

            Nevertheless it still serves as an example of a way of indirectly paying people to maintain something publicly available.

    • onyomi says:

      I don’t understand the problem with having a deflationary money (actually, will be a money with a roughly stable supply, but prices will go down assuming continued economic growth).

      The idea that people will just hoard money and never spend because they know their money will be worth more in the future makes no sense to me. By that logic, why has anyone bought a computer or tv in the past thirty years? At any time you could have known with a high degree of confidence that the same dollar sum could buy you a better tv in a year, or that you could have the same tv for less in a year. Yet people have to live now, so they buy. And plus, does it really seem, psychologically, as if people err on the side of saving rather than on the side of going into debt?

      To steelman I guess you could say it’s not so much about consumer spending as investment: if you know with a high degree of certainty that bitcoin always goes up in value at least 10% every year then why would you invest in anything other than bitcoin, barring cases where you expect x will go up a lot more than 10% per year (a pretty unusual ROI).

      But in the relatively unlikely case this is happening, it seems not to be a bad economic development. Either a: bitcoin is gaining widespread adoption around the world and the trend will abate once that trend abates (in the meantime, the rising price represents utility) and/or b: the number of goods and services being produced is still going up relative to a fixed money supply, meaning the economy (the world economy, at least) is still doing well?

      • John Schilling says:

        We have discussed the many problems with deflation at great length here before; I’d rather not repeat the whole exercise.

        • onyomi says:

          I’ve many times heard people like Obama state matter-of-factly “(cheap, short term?) credit is the lifeblood of the (modern?) economy,” but I don’t really understand why it has to be that way.

          In your Honda example, Honda’s decision not to keep enough cash on hand to pay for their next shipment of steel seems a function of their knowledge that they can easily, cheaply borrow the money necessary. If they didn’t know that why wouldn’t they simply keep more cash on hand? It’s not as if Honda lacks the resources.

          The Chinese economy, for example, seems much less credit-based than ours, yet is certainly enjoying solid growth: despite much lower incomes than Americans, Chinese are much less likely to take out an auto loan, more likely to pay cash even for a house. This admittedly involves a fair amount of parents buying houses for children with the understanding that parents get a room to live in when they’re old, etc. but it doesn’t generally seem everyone shares the idea “cheap credit is an indispensable part of a modern economy.”

          The one place where it would seem to apply is at step 1: if you’ve not previously had one successful product release then where do you get the seed capital? Yet because start-ups tend to be high-risk-high-reward propositions it doesn’t seem like a mildly deflationary currency would dissuade anyone from investing.

          To take an admittedly bubbly example, all these ICOs right now have no trouble raising millions of dollars so long as they have a vaguely plausible sounding business plan and shiny website.* Obviously there is probably a bit of irrational exuberance going on there right now, but in a world where value exchange and contracts are made so easy it seems less and less likely many serious value propositions will go unrealized for lack of startup funding, even with a mildly deflationary currency.

          *A friend posted this recently:
          “Today we’re launching ScamCoin, a cloud-enabled machine learning VR blockchain solution. If you invest today, you can expect 5,000x returns (on the low end) within 3 months. Please make checks payable to me and do not ask any questions about how it works. Don’t miss out!”

          • John Schilling says:

            In your Honda example, Honda’s decision not to keep enough cash on hand to pay for their next shipment of steel seems a function of their knowledge that they can easily, cheaply borrow the money necessary. If they didn’t know that why wouldn’t they simply keep more cash on hand? It’s not as if Honda lacks the resources.

            Because there isn’t enough money in the world for that. Looking specifically at the United States, the GDP is 18.75 trillion dollars, so if everyone has to keep say three months’ cash on hand, that means 4.7 trillion dollars sitting in banks as cash or demand deposits. The total US M1 money supply is only 3.6 trillion dollars. You’d have to print an extra trillion dollars worth of cash to cover the reserves before you have any left over for ordinary circulation.

            And that’s not just 4.7 trillion dollars of potential wealth taken out of circulation; assuming a 5% ROI that’s $235 billion of GDP being left on the table by people hoarding cash instead of reserving it. You may think that’s a price worth paying for what you imagine to be the benefits of deflation. But the people who collectively have to sit on the piles of cash to make that work, won’t. They’ll look at the $235 billion per year they are leaving on the table by operating on a hoarded-cash basis and each say “I’ll get a leg up on the competition by operating on a commercial-credit basis, yay me, I win!”

            And they will win, over the people who you would have “prudently” hoard cash, unless there is a financial collapse that cuts off the supply of commercial credit. The people who actually make the decisions in a period of prolonged economic growth, are almost by definition not people dominated by a fear of economic collapse.

            If you have regular financial collapses, panics, recessions severe enough to drive major firms into bankruptcy, sure, people will adopt that sort of discipline in self-defense. That’s the requirement for a cash-based, potentially deflation-tolerant economy. A quarter of a trillion dollars a year left on the table, and regular economic catastrophes to warn people not to touch it.

            Otherwise, if things are going well for a prolonged period, all that cash you printed to enable a deflation-tolerant hoarded-cash economy, leaks into circulation with massive inflationary effects. And you wind up with an economy that cannot tolerate deflation without great harm, unless you print still more money (which will leak into circulation, ad infinitum).

      • As I may have mentioned here before there is an old article by my father on the optimal quantity of money in which he argues, on somewhat technical grounds, that the ideal currency is mildly deflationary, enough to bring the nominal interest rate down to zero.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        If I own 1 billionth of the economy, and I sit around and do nothing for 50 years, there is no reason I should still own 1 billionth of the economy at that time, which has grown considerably through no effort or investment of my own.

        It sounds super appealing for the person sitting around doing nothing, but so do lots of really horrible policies to the person who thinks they are gaining a benefit.

        • onyomi says:

          I have done something for that fifty years: I have, in effect, “loaned” all the goods and services I could have had fifty years ago to those choosing to spend. Everyone else enjoyed slightly lower prices since I wasn’t enjoying the time value of my money.

  5. Well... says:

    Let’s talk about anonymity on SSC. Hopefully this does not tread on CW territory (I don’t think it does).

    I know a few people post here under their real names, and some of them are even somewhat public figures. Have those people experienced any negative effects in meatspace from being associated with SSC?

    If I occasionally give talks at conferences and this is something I aspire to do more of, along with possibly writing a book or two (not about politics), do you think posting here non-anonymously is a good idea?

    Other thoughts on maybe doxxing myself at some point in the future?

    I’m actually a bit weirded out by the idea of being recognizable to strangers in general but that probably comes with the territory of success when you give talks and write books, so if any of you are public figures, can you tell me what that’s like and whether it’s something I ought to be weirded out by?

    • Have those people experienced any negative effects in meatspace from being associated with SSC?

      I haven’t.

      • Well... says:

        Edward Scizorhands points out there are a lot [how many?] of people who hate SSC and everyone associated with it. Why do you think you have avoided the negative effects of the association?

        • Well... says:

          Oops, sorry. Fixed.

        • bean says:

          Who are these people? How many of them are there really, and how much power do they have? I can totally believe there are people on the internet who hate our guts. But I don’t see any reason to assume that they have any real power. The worst that happens is someone who sits on, say, a hiring committee decides not to give you a job. Which is irritating, but not generally life-ruining. And that’s a fairly small chance.
          There is the risk that for some reason the level of hate gets turned way up, and things get much worse. But that seems even less likely.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It’s quite possible I’m over risk-averse on being burnt as a witch.

          • Well... says:

            I’m just imagining here (and hopefully this doesn’t fall afoul of the CW ban), but what about this unfortunately plausible hypothetical scenario:

            Some critical mass of some online community hates our guts, and makes a stink. Somehow, maybe because a journalist is among their membership or because they have the ear (or Twitt-ear?) of some journalist, a piece gets written up in a Jezebel- or Buzzfeed-like publication. The piece basically paints SSC as an all-trite den of sin, where the nerdier species of Deplorables go to debate (using Pseudoscience™ of course) whether women are as dumb as chickens or just bonobos. Through the game of journo-telephone, an even more ridiculous version of this piece eventually courses its way through the news cycle where it becomes common knowledge before being shat out the other end, just like how most people who ever heard of him probably think James Damore is a woman-hating Nazi who perfectly represents the most misogynistic Problems in Tech.

            In that case I don’t have to worry about one person on a hiring committee being a private hater of SSC, I have to worry about entire organizations’ leaderships, conference planning committees, etc. being comprised of people who the news and are influenced by it in the way most people are.

            The question is, is the community of people who hate SSC large and/or influential enough to initialize that kind of chain of events?

          • John Schilling says:

            Through the game of journo-telephone, an even more ridiculous version of this piece eventually courses its way through the news cycle where it becomes common knowledge before being shat out the other end, just like how most people who ever heard of him probably think James Damore is a woman-hating Nazi who perfectly represents the most misogynistic Problems in Tech.

            James Damore is by definition a unique, and as it turns out infamous, example. As might be “Scott Alexander” if he were ever openly doxxed. But a random SSC poster isn’t unique or infamous, and his or her name can’t be common knowledge because there are too many of us for the common man to keep track of. So even though my real name is know here, there is approximately zero possibility that anyone looking at my resume will say, “Ah, but I know that John Schilling is one of the nogoodniks that posts to SSC, therefore I shall reject him and all his works!”. Even if, for some reason, I were to apply for a job somewhere on Team Social Justice’s home turf, they would not recognize me.

            The theory that, whenever you apply for a job, the hiring manager and/or HR department do a deep search of your online social presence to see if you are part of the Wrong Tribe or have made the Wrong Enemies, has little correspondence with reality. HR will sometimes make a quick check to see if you are blabbing all over Facebook about how horrible your last job is, because that’s a solid professional warning sign. Personal politics, they almost never care outside of places you don’t want to be working unless you’re part of the Right Tribe anyway.

          • Well... says:

            OK, I think I see your point. Even in a worst case scenario where someone with the power to do professional harm to me…

            1) somehow came to learn my political views (the few of them that are controversial anyway);

            2) found my political views objectionable enough to motivate doing professional harm to me; and

            3) somehow knew about SSC and associated it with objectionable political views,

            he would still have to decide to go to SSC and ctrl+F for my name on the open threads (which is where I comment almost exclusively). Since I probably will never, for example, say during a presentation at a conference “Oh, by the way, I often write comments in the open threads at Slatestarcodex.com” this hypothetical person is extremely unlikely to ever make that leap to where he is scanning SSC OTs for my name.

            In other words, the two worlds will stay separate on their own.

            But what about a Google search for my name? If I don’t have a big online presence elsewhere (e.g. I don’t use social media) could that bump my SSC comments up to the first page of Google results?

            [Edit: arguing with myself now] If the answer to the above question is yes, then I could get around this by simply not writing my name exactly perfectly. For instance, David Friedman omits the space between his first and last name, as well as the middle initial “D” he seems to often include in other contexts (though obviously he doesn’t do that for the reasons I’m talking about). I could similarly omit a space, or use some creative version of my first or last name, and then a normal Google search for my name would not turn up my SSC comments.

          • dodrian says:

            My concerns would be less about a hiring team googling my name, and more about an upset coworker doing some digging trying to find ammunition. While I make it a point to not say something online that I wouldn’t say in person, and even more of a point not to talk politics at work, the Damore incident at least appeared as if someone thought they were being encouraged to openly discuss something which turned out to be taboo. I can easily imagine myself in those shoes—not recognizing when I should shut up (in fact it happened pretty recently where said something that would be normal in UK company culture, but is less accepted in the region of the US where I now live, thankfully those around me recognized where I was coming from and didn’t press the matter).

            SSC is a place where I often hear people say that they are more willing to talk about controversial topics openly and lay out their views to have them challenged. With the speed that cultural norms are changing, it’s not hard to imagine a fairly innocuous comment now, for example “I’m concerned about what second order effects introducing UBI would have on the class divide”, might be considered distasteful ten or twenty years from now.

            Some of the bigger names on SSC have already made reputations for themselves and could probably weather most storms, but those of us nearer the beginning of our careers might not have an employer willing to go to bat for us if someone made a social media ruckus.

            It’s hard to predict what the future will be like, and if having a (somewhat) anonymous online identity can protect a little against some of those futures, I’d need a compelling reason to intentionally reveal my real name on most online communities.

          • Well... says:

            The takeaway from what I’m hearing is this:

            It’s probably safe to use my real name here because cross referencing my professional online presence with my SSC one is extremely unlikely for any random person, but there are still risks so if I avoid saying anything political under my real name I can avoid trouble with near certainty.

            The main benefit to using my real name, by the way, is because then I can access this community in a professional capacity.

          • Fahundo says:

            But what about a Google search for my name? If I don’t have a big online presence elsewhere (e.g. I don’t use social media) could that bump my SSC comments up to the first page of Google results?

            I searched my own pseudonym on Bing. Unsurprisingly, two of the top results were SSC comment threads. Surprisingly, one of the results was a pastebin that lists SSC commenters. Anyone know who’s creating pastebins like that, and why?

          • Brad says:

            Yes, I remember seeing that before. It was the justifying data for a list of most prolific posters (by posts and words).

            I want to say rlms, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

          • Nick says:

            That pastebin was measuring who’s written the most words in their comments, as I recall. I don’t remember who made it, though.

            ETA: Ninja’d by Brad.

          • Jaskologist says:

            (This is why you always title your notes, people.)

            A few different pastebins have been created like that, for a few purposes. That one might be a comment or word count. There are some others that were trying to assess the political tilt of the comments by classifying us and then weighting by comment count.

            We’ve had a few comment scraping and statistics endeavors; you will probably pop up on some others.

          • John Schilling says:

            My concerns would be less about a hiring team googling my name, and more about an upset coworker doing some digging trying to find ammunition.

            If Alice goes to HR with, “Bob said something Very Bad on the internet, look, see, here you must Do Something”, then for non-Stormfront levels of internet badness HR is going to regard Alice, not Bob, as the troublemaker about which something must be done. Or else the company is on a downward spiral and you need to get out now; no firm can survive indulging that sort of behavior.

            In the first case, Doing Something about Alice may include being officially shocked, shocked!, that there is Internet Badness going on, and mandating a round of extra “diversity” training or whatever, but this will likely as not be mandated across the firm or facility so you probably can’t evade it by being personally fastidious about such things – you’ll still be burdened with the training when Alice gets upset with one of your coworkers.

          • Well... says:

            I’ve already said I’m mostly over my fears and understand now how to mitigate any risks should I post under my real name.

            However, I think some of the remaining concerns are valid if slightly misdirected. De-platforming does happen after all (see Gubdlom Suicnem–oops I wrote that backward) and I’m pretty sure people like the aforementioned hypothetical Alice have something to do with it. Maybe she isn’t a coworker but someone else at a conference, etc.

          • Nornagest says:

            “Mencius Moldbug” is, for some reason, not a banned phrase.

          • Well... says:

            I was just trying to do my part to reduce Googleability.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            “Moldbug” is only a stone’s throw from “Beetlejuice”, apparently.

          • Nick says:

            If you say his name three times and spin around in front of a mirror, you can summon a Twitter mob.

          • Vorkon says:

            If you say his name three times and spin around in front of a mirror, you can summon a Twitter mob.

            And maybe get kicked off the Google campus. :p

        • Because none of them, so far as I know, are of any importance to me.

          And if people want to hate me for my political views they don’t need my association with SSC to do it.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I post pseudonymously, but many of my enemies know who I am. Also I think my style’s pretty easy to spot. Gotten nothing for being associated with SSC (though I think pre-registration there was the reverse, a troll who followed me here from my workplace).

      Still, I post pseudonymously (and don’t mention my real name or current employer) so no rando with a search engine can easily find my posts on subjects which might be trouble* whether they’re looking to cause me trouble personally or just nosy people looking for trouble in general. So I would recommend against using your real name.

      * Nowadays this is _all_ of them, except maybe very technical stuff. Battleships would probably be OK except I know nothing about them I didn’t learn here, C++ or P=NP or ())( palindromes also.

    • Robert Liguori says:

      I am not a public figure, in that I don’t give talks and have a very minimal social media profile. But I do post under my real name, and given that I’ve been free with my location and my field of employment, I’m sure people could find out my employer and such if they wanted.

      I have not experienced any negative fallout from posting under my real name. However, given the ease with which some of what you write (under your blog specifically) can be pattern-matched to badness, and the popularization of conferences as a Culture War battleground, I might actually be leerier than I am in your case.

      Part of my own position is that I’ve got a fairly wide and diverse circle of friends, and that my company is hidebound and not really in on social media, and so I anticipate no consequences even if I did run into 15 Minutes of Hate-Fame. You may have more exposed attack area, especially with the conference thing.

      • Well... says:

        If I were to use my real name here I don’t think I’d associate myself with Well….

        Even though both my pseudonymous blog and my comments under that pseudonym have gotten way less bombastic and inflammatory over the years, it still isn’t on-brand with my actual name and the public identity I’m cultivating around it.

      • A1987dM says:

        conferences as a Culture War battleground

        What? I attend several conferences a year and I very seldom see anything that could be seen as culture war-y even if I squint hard. As far I can remember I’ve never seen anything explicitly culture war-y except for the occasional humorous throwaway remark.

    • skef says:

      I’m pretty disambiguated by my handle, and so far have experienced no offline drawbacks or benefits. And no one I know personally has asked me about or noted my commenting here.

      • Well... says:

        I’m pretty disambiguated by my handle

        I disagree.

        • skef says:

          My point isn’t that someone could identify me by reading my handle (although it’s pretty straightforward with the information I have shared here). It’s that someone who knows or meets me and is familiar with the comments here would be as likely to make the connection as with the other here people who post using their full names.

    • Chalid says:

      I’ve thought about posting under my real name, the advantage being that if I happened to be introduced to a fellow SSC reader, we might have a chance of recognizing each other as such and actually having an interesting conversation.

      The main reason I don’t is that I have multiple coworkers who read SSC and it’d be kind of embarrassing to have them see me post during work hours.

      • Well... says:

        I wish I had the kind of coworkers who read SSC. Instead, the other employees under my supervisor are like walking Jezebel articles.

      • quaelegit says:

        When my sister started reading SSC I solved this by pointing out some of my comments (also I’ve used this user handle on other websites that I think she’s familiar with). She doesn’t comment on SSC (or read the open threads I don’t think), and we mostly discuss articles on instant messaging or voice chat, so it ended up not mattering. (Also I guess this only works if you already know a person reads SSC.)

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      If you are considering going un-anonymous, you should know there are people out there who openly despise this place and want it burned to the ground with everyone locked inside. I don’t mean to scare you off, but I just want you to have the information.

      • Well... says:

        I already knew that, I was kinda curious about whether any of the non-anonymous commenters here have encountered the wrath of those people.

        For instance, David Friedman says he has not. I’ll ask him why not.

      • Chalid says:

        Who are these people?

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          EngvbanyJvxv ungrf guvf cynpr. Qnivq Treneq znqr na negvpyr nobhg Fpbgg naq jbhyq qbk uvz tvira n punapr. uggcf://engvbanyjvxv.bet/jvxv/Fpbgg_Nyrknaqre

          Fbzrbar cebzvarag ba Gjvggre rkcerffrq qvfznl gung Fpbgg Nnebafba jbhyq ybjre uvzfrys gb rira ernq gur negvpyrf urer naq jnagrq Nnebafba gb fgbc vzzrqvngryl. V pna’g erzrzore gur yvax naq V’ir rkvyrq zlfrys sebz Gjvggre orpnhfr vg’f unezshy sbe zl zragny urnygu.

          Gubfr ner whfg gur gvc bs zl urnq.

          • j1000000 says:

            how do i translate this dammit

            Edit: Thank you Brad. I actually figured it out myself right after asking that. Took a few seconds worth of Googling. I am basically Alan Turing reincarnated.

          • Brad says:

            google rot13, click the first link, paste it into the top box

            the deobfuscated text will appear in the bottom box

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            EngvbanyJvxv ungrf guvf cynpr. Qnivq Treneq znqr na negvpyr nobhg Fpbgg naq jbhyq qbk uvz tvira n punapr. uggcf://engvbanyjvxv.bet/jvxv/Fpbgg_Nyrknaqre

            Gung fbhaqf ynhtunoyr: Fpbgg vf irel rnfl gb qbk vs fbzrbar vf zbgvingrq gb erfrnepu vg. V’z snveyl pbasvqrag gung V’ir znantrq gb svaq bhg uvf erny vqragvgl, naq gung jnf cenpgvpnyyl ol nppvqrag.

            Nyfb, vg’f abg yvxr gur EngvbanyJvxv negvpyr zvfercerfragf nalguvat be vf cnegvphyneyl ungrshy? V graq gb nterr jvgu vgf nanylfvf bs gur fhoerqqvg; fbhaqf cresrpgyl qrfpevcgvir bs gur phygher jne guernqf jura V ynfg gvzr qnerq gb ybbx ng gurz.

            Jul jr ner gnyxvat ebg13 naljnl?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I rot13’d because I don’t want any of the people I’m worried about to find themselves via google and get a bug back up their nose about us.

            Also, there is some evidence that I’m overly paranoid about this.

    • Randy M says:

      Real name & initial, real picture (though not too readily identifiable from it, admittedly). No other significant public profile, though, so nothing is likely to come of it.

      I don’t think being connected with some random internet opinions is going to come back to bite you too hard unless you are in a deeply ideologically homogeneous environment that also has a volunteer though police contingent, like perhaps some universities or a corporation with a very high profile. After all, lots of people comment on news sites with their facebook accounts with much more firmly stated viewpoints than anyone here commonly expresses.

      • Well... says:

        After all, lots of people comment on news sites with their facebook accounts with much more firmly stated viewpoints than anyone here commonly expresses.

        That, along with political discussion on Twitter and Facebook, has always bewildered me.

        • I taught for 22 years at the law school of a Jesuit university (and occasionally for the econ department), one with what I describe as a soft left ideology–big into sustainability of diversity and such. I never made any secret of my political views and it was never a problem.

          No doubt there are other schools where it would have been.

          • Randy M says:

            I never made any secret of my political views and it was never a problem.

            Your testimony on this is part of the reason I qualified that as “perhaps some universities”

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      I don’t believe merely commenting here would have seriously harmful effects, were Scott declared persona non grata in the current political climate. The contents of the comments might make a difference.

      Anyhow, visions where mere association with this blog will taint you … that sounds too dystopic to be realistic. (And if you are fearful of an outright dystopia, then all bets are off. Maybe you will be judged for your google search history or having certain books in your possession or who knows what. By the way, the “reading wrong books being punished” thing actually has a precedent, and I’m not letting that have influence on what books I buy or get from library, because what point there would be in having freedom of press today if you act like you didn’t have it because you fear you won’t have it in future?)

      Why I use pseudonym: I’m not a public figure, so I don’t like the idea that the first thing people would find while googling my name would be tons of … not particularly exceptional … comments on random blog. (And SSC nowadays ranks quite highly on Google index?) I might be willing to post under my real name if I had enough of other public presence (on internet and elsewhere) so that the comments on this blog would be buried amongst everything else.

      • Matt M says:

        The contents of the comments might make a difference.

        I tend to agree with this. Short of The Daily Stormer, I don’t think there are any websites where commenting at all would get you on the wrong side of some sort of blacklist. Surely the people who comment on here for the express purposes of arguing in favor of blue tribe and SJW positions wouldn’t get in trouble for that…

        • The Nybbler says:

          I tend to agree with this. Short of The Daily Stormer, I don’t think there are any websites where commenting at all would get you on the wrong side of some sort of blacklist.

          Perhaps http://reddit.com/r/KotakuInAction

        • The Nybbler says:

          I tend to agree with this. Short of The Daily Stormer, I don’t think there are any websites where commenting at all would get you on the wrong side of some sort of blacklist.

          Perhaps the reproductive worker ant subreddit (KiA). It appears its full name is a banned word here now.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m pretty certain that if members of that subreddit had been rendered substantially unemployable, we’d have heard the screaming by now.

          • quaelegit says:

            There’s also the fact that using you’re real name on reddit seems to have its own dangers (at least the site itself is pretty aggressive about warning against and trying to prevent doxing).

    • pontifex says:

      I never post anything remotely political or controversial under my real name. There’s just no reason to do it. Maybe if I were a public figure like a politician or a noted academic, I could at least hope to impress people. “Aha, pontifex thinks this, it must be good!” But I’m not known to the public. My name does not impress. The only thing attaching a political view to my real name gets me is a modicum of risk.

      It’s important to understand what the threat model is and is not. I’m not worried about the CIA coming after me for being a Republican. I am worried about not getting a job at some big company because of some political post I made. It’s a pretty reasonable threat model. And to counter it, the only thing I need is deniability, not even anonymity.

      • Well... says:

        My concern is even more far-fetched than that; if I posted under my real name I would likely not write anything political. I’m given pause merely by potential the association of my name with SSC and the politics found here (whether Scott’s or the commentariat’s). The more I think about it, the smaller of a problem it sounds like.

      • I am worried about not getting a job at some big company because of some political post I made.

        The flip side of this is that you might prefer not to work at the sort of company that would be hostile to you because of your views–as per the description of Damore’s experience in his recent law suit.

        Obviously the tradeoff here depends on how many potential employers you have. If it’s down to one, your argument makes sense. If it’s many, mine does.

        Back when I was setting up my web page, twenty some years ago, I thought about whether it was a mistake to have one web page which covered all of my interests. I concluded that a university that didn’t want to hire the sort of person who wasted his time researching medieval recipes or offered arguments in favor of propertarian anarchy was probably not the sort of university I wanted to be hired by.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Obviously the tradeoff here depends on how many potential employers you have. If it’s down to one, your argument makes sense. If it’s many, mine does.

          Yeah, there’s a big difference between being David Friedman and absolutely nobody.

          Google was certainly hostile to me, but at this point in time almost any major employer in the tech field would be. The best I can hope for is one where the hostility is in the background and not in-your-face, and for that to be possible I have to at least make it difficult for my views to be discovered easily, if not by HR or a hiring manager before I’m (not) hired, by a hostile co-worker. That means staying pseudonymous at the least.

          • I think your “almost any employer in the tech field” is a little strong. Peter Thiel does tech things and is very far from being an SJW. Cypress Semiconductor is run by a libertarian. I expect there are other examples I am not aware of.

            I wonder if perhaps the right tactic in your situation is to look at small firms on the theory that they are likely to vary much more in their ideological slant than large firms, the latter in effect averaging out differences.

          • Well... says:

            look at small firms on the theory that they are likely to vary much more in their ideological slant than large firms, the latter in effect averaging out differences.

            This matches my anecdotal, local-only-to-the-Midwest experience. Do you think it holds true in the Bay Area?

            Anyway, the issue probably isn’t the personal ideological slant of firms’ chief executives or owners so much as the willingness to act on one’s ideological slant that pervades HR departments. It could also be fear: “I don’t personally have anything against conservatives, but it would hurt our company’s public image if we hired too many of them.”

          • JayT says:

            I work in tech, in the Bay Area, for a medium-to-large firm, and I’ve never hidden my politics in the office, and I discuss politics with my coworkers often.

            I am mostly libertarian, and I was very critical of Bernie Sanders during the primaries.

          • Matt M says:

            It could also be fear: “I don’t personally have anything against conservatives, but it would hurt our company’s public image if we hired too many of them.”

            I have a lot more to say on this, but I probably can’t without crossing into CW territory. I’ll just briefly state that I think a whole lot of what we’re seeing about policing conservative politics in the workplace is of the “I’ve been told that lots of people find this thing offensive” variety, rather than the “These specific people have complained that this behavior is offensive” variety.

          • Deiseach says:

            policing conservative politics in the workplace is of the “I’ve been told that lots of people find this thing offensive” variety, rather than the “These specific people have complained that this behavior is offensive” variety

            Relevant to which, possibly, is the law suit James Damore, with David Gudeman, is taking against Google (link to brief here). I’ve only seen cherry-picked extracts from sites with ideological axes to grind (or who just relish the sheer drama and don’t care strongly one way or the other) and so it’s hard to tell the actual merits of the suit, but the HR department/internal Google lists seem to have served themselves up on a platter for a discrimination suit if some of what is quoted and alleged is true.

            EDIT: To be fair, the co-plaintiff, Mr Gudeman, sounds like a right pill from some of his quoted comments. But Google HR sounded very 1984 in return with “well you haven’t technically violated any policy but we trust you didn’t mean what you appear to be saying so we’re giving you this feedback to tell you what is Goodthink round here”.

            DOUBLE EDIT: Crap, this is the culture war free thread, and this topic is dangerously close to culture war, right? If I have transgressed, feel free to delete this.

          • Well... says:

            I work in tech, in the Bay Area, for a medium-to-large firm, and I’ve never hidden my politics in the office, and I discuss politics with my coworkers often.

            I am mostly libertarian, and I was very critical of Bernie Sanders during the primaries.

            I’ll wait for the CW-friendly thread to get into this more, but in the meantime y’all’s homework is to consider the notion that libertarianism is more considered kooky than threatening or offensive.

          • JayT says:

            I don’t disagree in general, but that’s why I tossed in the comment about Bernie Sanders. He was deified by a lot of the people I work with, and I told them that I would absolutely rather have Trump than Sanders. I often defend gun rights in conversations. I am against socialized healthcare. I have a lot of views that, if the stories that make the news were the rule, would be considered fireable offenses.

    • WashedOut says:

      To my mind, OP’s question assumes SSC is:
      -more deliberately subversive that it actually is
      -more popular/high-exposure than it actually is
      -more willing to fuel online culture wars with other websites than it actually is
      -easier to read and interpret to the causal slate/salon/jezebel/huffpo reader than it actually is
      -more able to readily impute guilt by association (with Scott) to its regular posters than it actually is

      Basis: 3+ years of near-constant lurking and occasional posting.

      • Well... says:

        -more deliberately subversive that it actually is

        If by deliberately subversive you basically mean “outside the Overton window”, I think I have a fairly realistic picture of this: Actual SSC posts range from totally within the Overton window (e.g. posts about medication, which few outside particular communities have strong feelings about, or posts about how we need a better healthcare system that cares for the disadvantaged, which is a pretty uncontroversial viewpoint) to mostly outside it (e.g. criticism of feminism). Comments in the OTs have a similar range as the SSC posts, but tend to be less controversial than comments on the actual posts since the most extreme/notorious commenters seem to for whatever reason not trickle into the OTs as often.

        -more popular/high-exposure than it actually is

        That’s totally possible. To me SSC looks like a huge community but the internet has a way of distorting reality to make you think every little niche community you take part in is half the country when in reality it isn’t that much broader than the actual users you see logged into it.

        -more willing to fuel online culture wars with other websites than it actually is

        I don’t think it’s about willingness to fuel per se. It does seem like SSC/those associated with it are often engaged in culture wars in some way or another, within SSC if not with other communities. Who is more willing, who fuels, are not relevant so long as it’s going on, because those within the Overton window ultimately get the official call on who was willing/who fueled it.

        -easier to read and interpret to the causal slate/salon/jezebel/huffpo reader than it actually is

        I’m not worried about the casual readers, I’m worried about the very engaged and articulate ones who are motivated to unleash their wrath (as such) on those they disapprove of. There are many of these Jezebel-reader types in my professional field.

        -more able to readily impute guilt by association (with Scott) to its regular posters than it actually is

        See above.

        • Nick says:

          To me SSC looks like a huge community but the internet has a way of distorting reality to make you think every little niche community you take part in is half the country when in reality it isn’t that much broader than the actual users you see logged into it.

          It’s a small world, though; I’ve met folks in meatspace who shared my weird Internet hangouts, where we had mutual friends and everything, and I’ve even run into the same folks multiple times in (to my mind ought-to-be-unrelated) places. But it’s only happened a few times, and I could believe I’m an outlier in this respect.

    • Brad says:

      I don’t see much downside, though I suppose I could be SWATted or something by someone angry at what I had written. But on the other hand I don’t see any upside either. Pseudoanonymity is the internet default.

      • Well... says:

        As an aside, the whole SWATing thing is insane. People actually do this apparently! I know it’s not that hard to find someone’s address if you’re savvy, but it does take more than just a Google search, especially if there are multiple people with that same first and last name in the same city (which for most people in most cities I’d guess there are).

        • CatCube says:

          Edit: My comment itself was anodyne and on-point with Well… above, but it occurs to me that it could easily become a culture-war seed, and this is the wrong OT for that.

        • Deiseach says:

          I saw something about this and – what? You can just ring up the police department and have a SWAT team go round to someone’s house and shoot them?

          Don’t the cops even bother checking if this is a genuine or a hoax call? Or if this is indeed the kind of “prank” (again, a bad choice of term) that is common enough to be used as a reference that everyone should know, shouldn’t the police at least be informed by some kind of workplace training that “Yes, there’s a chance that a hoaxer will try and get you to harm an enemy or rival” so they don’t turn up after an anonymous call with no other corroboration with itchy trigger fingers and guns blazing?

          What is wrong with you, America?

          • bean says:

            What is wrong with you, America?

            We spent a couple centuries as the dumping ground for everyone who got kicked out of somewhere else.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Our police have no accountability for their misdeeds. So nothing to keep them honest or competent. I mean, even if the call had been true, did the police consider the hostage taker might force a hostage to answer the door?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            What is wrong with you, America?

            Not an American, but I’ve heard people who are blame an excessive focus on the doctrine of officer safety. Of course, keeping your police officers safe is important, but if you make it your over-riding concern, you get cases like the one you mentioned, or like this one (warning: graphic content), where a police officer felt totally justified shooting a guy who was literally crawling on the floor, weeping and begging for mercy, because apparently he moved his hand back a bit, which might conceivably have meant that he was reaching for a gun.

          • Brad says:

            When the The Nybbler says no accountability, he really means no accountability. It isn’t just that a cop won’t go to prison for murdering someone. He won’t so much as lose a single paycheck. At worst he’ll get “modified duty” for a year or so, which means getting paid to do nothing, sometimes even at home.

          • albatross11 says:

            Brad:

            Certainly, the news stories I’ve read make it look like when the police screw up or even violate the law and get caught, there are often not many consequences. But I’m worried about selection bias.

            Is there a good source of data for this? Like, a survey done by someone trying to get as good data as possible on what happens after a cop shoots a civilian, or after a successful lawsuit for police brutality/misconduct? I occasionally read outrageous stories about cops getting away with a lot, but I don’t even remotely trust that the newspapers are getting a good random sample of the incidents–instead, they’re surely finding the most outrageous cases to publicize.

          • albatross11 says:

            If a credible-sounding phone call comes in saying that there’s a crazy guy with a gun holding a bunch of people hostage in some house, I think you’re going to want to send a bunch of armed policemen to check it out. I think this was the first SWATing case where someone got shot–mostly, they show up and eventually (after pointing guns at and generally scaring the hell out of the victims) figure out they’ve been hoaxed.

          • Brad says:

            @albatross11
            I have seen at least one or two law review papers on the aftermaths of 1983 awards/settlements. I’ll see if I can dig something up, but it might be next OT.

          • John Schilling says:

            I saw something about this and – what? You can just ring up the police department and have a SWAT team go round to someone’s house and shoot them?

            No. You can call the police department and have a SWAT team go round to someone’s house and investigate them. This happens quite frequently, almost always without anyone being shot. Sending police out with the specific intention of shooting people is a British thing, and probably quite a few other countries, but it is illegal in the United States.

            Don’t the cops even bother checking if this is a genuine or a hoax call?

            That’s what the police were doing, when they shot Mr. Finch. They got it wrong. There will be lots of talk about how they could have done it better, and maybe some changes, and maybe even some disciplinary action for the policeman who got it wrong.

            But do put some thought into how “bother checking if this is genuine”, has to work in practice. Because if you just have an unarmed constable knock on the front door to ask if there is anyone in the house with a gun who just committed murder in the past few minutes, that either wastes everyone’s time or adds a dead policeman to the mix.

            Checking whether there is a violent armed criminal in the area, tends to provoke violent crime if the armed criminal decides not to quietly march off to jail today. So the process will necessarily involve armed policemen standing ready to shoot armed criminals the second they look to be doing something violent. No matter how good the police are at that, sometimes they are going to get it wrong.

            This happens more often here than in Ireland, for the reason bean already noted. “God bless the Irish – without them, New York wouldn’t have a police department. Of course, without the Irish, New York wouldn’t need a police department”.

          • CatCube says:

            Huh. This was the exact incident I deleted from my reply, above.

            Edit: I suppose to comment on the incident itself, I’ve not seen enough yet to know if the officer was in the wrong. Officers are in the wrong often enough that I could believe it (see the incident that Brad referenced), but will need some specific evidence in this particular case.

            The reason SWATting puts the cops in an awkward place is that if you have a report of a violent incident or mass shooting in the process of going down, a fast response with violence of action is the best way to save lives. Back in 1999, the Jefferson County Sherriff’s response was heavily criticized for setting up a perimeter and waiting for more information during the Columbine High School massacre. The response has shifted to Immediate Action Rapid Deployment, since it turns out that most of these guys will shoot themselves upon confrontation with responding officers moving through the building, and this is the quickest way to end an incident with no further casualties.

            So if we want the cops to wait and take their time during a hostage situation or active shooter (which is what these SWATting false reports generally are), we’re trading off people accidentally getting killed by cops with people getting deliberately killed by active shooters. Maybe that’s a good tradeoff! But we need to be clear that we’re making it so we properly analyze it. Just huffing about how the cops are stupid, violent idiots isn’t the last word.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            In the case under discussion, there was IIRC at least one warning sign that the call was fake/the police had got the wrong address (namely, the phone call talked about an apartment, but the address the SWAT team turned up at was a detached house; or possibly vice versa).

    • Drew says:

      I see pseudo-anonymity as good etiquette. To paraphrase Dan Savage, there a things that people have a right to not-know.

      I assume that my co-workers have romantic lives, for instance. But I’m blissfully unaware that Director Smith has a taste for [details here]. Similarly, I’m happy to not-know Job Candidate Jones is a devoutly religious, or that they’re a committed communist.

      The truce that I support is basically don’t ask / don’t tell. I don’t put politically-charged things where people will stumble across them. And, in return, I assume that everyone around me has sane and reasonable views.

      This means that political and religious debates are a purely opt-in thing, as they should be.

      • Well... says:

        I agree with this exactly. If I went non-anonymous (nonymous?) here it would be so I could access this community in a professional capacity, not so I could talk politics.

        For example, in the classifieds threads you can’t solicit work as easily while remaining anonymous.

        • Aapje says:

          You can always make a separate account under your real name just for those things and then make all your heterodox or statements that may become heterodox in the future with this account.

  6. Robert Liguori says:

    So! Louis McMaster Bujold’s Miles books! I got a bunch of ’em over the holidays and have been knocking them out!

    They are really quite good so far. If you liked the Tyrion sections of the Song of Ice and Fire books, these should be right up your alley (but they’re sci-fi, not fantasy.)

    Anyone else read ’em? Anyone else got any thoughts on ’em? And what is our Grand Unified Spoiler Policy for books over two decades old?

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’ve read them all. I actually started with _Cetaganda_, which is one of the weaker ones. Most of them are really, really good, including the Cordelia/Aral novels (Shards of Honor and Barrayar). The side novels (Ethan of Athos, Falling Free, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance) aren’t as good but are still good. I think the later novels after _Komarr_ got weaker. The last one (Gentleman Jolie) is pure epilogue and quite poor for a Bujold novel. I recommend reading according to internal chronology.

      • John Schilling says:

        Cetaganda is one of the better places to start the series because it is largely independent of continuity. Doesn’t spoil anything beyond the fact that Miles Vorkosigan exists (which is technically a spoiler for the two Cordelia-centric books, but come on…). Doesn’t require knowing anything about what has gone on before. And it was written after Bujold had gotten most of the new-author weaknesses out of her system. It can’t be as good as the ones which are integrated into a generational saga, but if you’re a new reader who isn’t sure they are up to starting twenty volumes of generational saga, it’s a good place to start.

        The comparison to Tyrion Lannister is also apt, though Miles drinks less and has more fun.

      • Robert Liguori says:

        I just finished the omnibus with Ethan of Athos in, and was quite impressed by the whole thing.

        I was amazed by how…non-culture-warry they are. It’s not just that they were written from a very different time period, it’s that Bujold seems genuinely interested in portraying a complex, nuanced world full of varied interesting characters, and is not at all interested in scoring factional points.

        And this makes the books so much better. Miles’s obstacles are thrown into so much sharper relief by putting him next to Ivan Vorpatil, and not having Ivan be a bro-cariacture or a punching bag for the narrative, but to actually be an exemplar of masculine virtues (both dubious and genuine).

        It sounds like they stay good for quite some time; I look forward to continuing my read.

        • John Schilling says:

          not having Ivan be a bro-cariacture or a punching bag for the narrative,

          Not a bro-caricature, no, but the formal conjugation of his name is,

          First person, DON’T say it!

          Second person, Ivan You Idiot!

          Third person, (sigh) That Idiot Ivan.

          • albatross11 says:

            The fun bit is that Ivan isn’t an idiot in any normal company, but he’s hanging around with people like Miles, Aral, Cordelia, his mom, Simon, etc., around whom most normal humans would come off as idiots.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            Ivan isn’t even dumb, though. He’s just…completely absent in the drive to prove himself to anyone. He keeps getting cushy assignments and doing them well enough to keep getting cushy assignments. Hell, the book I’m on had Miles himself call him smart but lazy.

            And there’s also the division of labor between the two of them, based on (I think) a shared respect. When we see the two of them together against the world, we can see Miles delegate the “Rush in and solve the problem with manly fisticuffs.” tasks, consciously or unconsciously, because although he can do that, he’d really prefer not to. I think if we ever got an Ivan-centered book, he’d make a point out consciously letting Miles come up with the twisty backwards corkscrew plans whenever the two of them are together.

            He might get Flanderized in later books, but so far, he really seems like a good foil for Miles, and an entertaining character in his own right.

          • John Schilling says:

            He keeps getting cushy assignments and doing them well enough to keep getting cushy assignments.

            Also note that Ivan’s definition of “cushy assignment” includes not doing anything that would ever give anyone cause to remember he is Nth in line to the throne of the Barrayaran Empire, where N is a very small number and Ivan would like to avoid the whole bloody debate over just how small it might be.

            He does get some conspicuous blunders with potentially serious consequences when he is forced to on serious responsibilities, mostly through not having cultivated the habit of thinking things through. But then, if people ever get the idea that Ivan is thinking through clever plans N steps ahead…

            I think if we ever got an Ivan-centered book

            We got one, “Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance”, in 2012. Miles stays almost entirely out of it. Ivan still isn’t in the habit of thinking things through, but he’s learned to do it when he has to.

          • albatross11 says:

            Also note that when TSHTF, Ivan does pretty well. He’s well-trained and competent, but not driven the way his immediate family and friends are.

            But really, you have to see him in context with his family and friends. We have

            Aral — the most important political and military figure on the planet for several decades

            Cordelia — Betan Survey captain (like being an astronaut in the modern US) who became a major social figure and played a major role in a civil war.

            Miles — Miles

            Simon Illyan — the spymaster who intimidates the hell out of every scary SOB in Impsec and among potential threats to Barryaran stability outside of it.

            Alys — a major power behind the throne, constantly described as formidible and smart enough that someone like Cordelia values talking with her.

            Duv Galeni — history professor turned Impsec analyst, intimidatingly smart even by smart-people standards.

            Gregor — he doesn’t have to accomplish anything, just carry the weight of three planets’ worth of expectations and maintain the very shaky Barrayaran system intact.

            And so on. *Everyone in his intimate circle* is like a super-achieving super-smart hard-driven person. Maybe the Koudelka girls are somewhere closer to normal-person standards, but they’re neither shy nor unaccomplished. Even Byerly is pretty impressive when you get past his town-clown cover.

            In that company, 99%+ of humanity would seem lpretty unambitious, lazy, and not all that bright. It’s like looking at some random engineer brought in to keep the power plant running for the Manhattan Project–compared to normal people, that engineer is probably pretty competent and smart. But not compared to the movers and shakers on that project!

        • bean says:

          I was amazed by how…non-culture-warry they are.

          That’s a really good way of putting it. Ethan of Athos in particular is a book I’d assume was written by…someone trying to make a culture war point if you gave me the background. But it’s just not. It’s a look at possibilities opened by technology. Barrayar is treated sympathetically, despite being backwards even by our standards, without necessarily condoning it.

          (Overall, I liked the books quite a lot. The last few are not the best, but still worthwhile.)

          • Ethan of Athos in particular is a book I’d assume was written by…someone trying to make a culture war point if you gave me the background. But it’s just not.

            Another book of which the same is true is one of the Chanur novels by Cherryh, in which the supposed unsuitability of Hanni males for shipboard life is a plot element.

        • Mark Atwood says:

          On the other hand, the bujold-l discussion list was, back in the day, my first first hand exposure to seriously dangerous modern online culture war, before the conflagration blew up and destroyed LJ and rec.arts.sf.*

          It was the first place I encountered online people who completely without irony told me they hated me and wished I never existed because of my skin tone, sex, and social and political opinions.

          The author mostly sat those threads out, but I could tell she read them, because of the small handful of emails I got from her asking me to clarify aspects of my statements.

    • I like Bujold’s work very much, but I think the Miles books have more or less run their course. Her fantasy is also worth reading. Curse of Chalion is great, the sequel pretty good, the sequel to that less good. And I have greatly enjoyed the Penric series, set in the same world at a different time.

      • John Schilling says:

        but I think the Miles books have more or less run their course.

        I am pretty certain Bujold also feels the Miles books have more or less run their course, insofar as the last two books have been happily-ever-after codas for the surviving major characters not named Miles. Ivan I think got a fine send-off; I wasn’t as happy with Cordelia’s turn. Wouldn’t mind seeing Elli Quinn and the Dendarii one last time, and they’re still in a place where they could have a suitably adventurous send-off. And there’s Mark, of course. But it’s up to Lois if she wants to tell those stories.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I’ve believed for a long time that the dignity of the series required including Miles’ death.

          I certainly wouldn’t hassle Bujold about it– it’s a lot to ask, but I wonder whether not going that far is part of the problem.

          • I don’t agree, but I confess to being a softy. Miles now has a marriage and children and ought to have a few decades of relative peace and quiet. If he dies it should be much later, and I doubt that Bujold plans to cover another thirty years of the relevant history.

          • John Schilling says:

            I had the impression, but can’t find an explicit quote to that effect, that Bujold had originally intended to end the series with Aral’s death, as the last great growth experience for Miles and the transition to a life where he took up his father’s less adventurous responsibilities and so had little scope for having novels written about him.

            I don’t think I want to see Miles’ premature death, or half a lifetime’s worth of stories tapdancing around WTF a married middle-aged politician and father is doing running around having galactic adventures, or Lois Bujold trying to write the Barrayaran version of “The West Wing”.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I think of the series as very reality-based. People are difficult, but not impossibly so a lot of the time, there are no complete solutions*, things change.

            In that sense, main characters being inevitably mortal is part of the style of the books.

            Admittedly, I wasn’t thinking much about the practicalities of story-telling. I vaguely imagined Barrayar being attacked (not sure by whom, possibly a whole new culture) and Miles coming up with something clever and effective which doesn’t include his survival.

            *except in Falling Free, but that was an early work

          • The Nybbler says:

            Spoilers for the end of the series.

            Vg xvaqn qvq raq jvgu Neny’f qrngu — gung’f gur raq bs _Pelbohea_ naq _Pncgnva Ibecngevy’f Nyyvnapr_. _Tragyrzna Wbyvr_ jnf rcvybthr.

            I wouldn’t mind more Miles-as-Auditor books (with other characters to do the young man’s — or woman’s — part), but I can understand why Bujold wouldn’t want to write them.

        • albatross11 says:

          Yeah, to some extent the Miles stories were about Miles growing up, and he kind-of has. That’s why he’s not the main character in the last couple books.

          More fundamentally, Miles’ struggle in the series is ultimately about winning to prove he’s worthy to live–rehashing his interactions with both his grandfather and with bigger Barrayaran society. By the last couple books of the series, he’s accomplished that–if people still think he’s the mutie lord who should have been killed at birth, they don’t dare say so, and most everyone sees him as extremely powerful and successful. And the higher you go in the Barrayaran power structure, the more respect people have for him, since a lot of his exploits are classified or closely-held personal secrets. And the potential political complexities of his place in the succession have mostly gone away, since Gregor has married and had heirs. The underlying driver of all his struggles seems to be gone, and we’d need a new driver to make another story work. (I thought the last Vorkosigan-ish book was kind-of boring because there wasn’t a driver like that.)

          It’s not the place to start the series, but I really loved _Memory_. Part of that may have been an overlap between the story and some bits of my own life, but it really spoke to me.

          And I really enjoyed _Falling Free_, which isn’t a Vorkosigan book but is in the same universe, a few centuries earlier. I’d love to see her revisit the rest of that story, though again, the main source of tension in the story is gone.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I like the Vorkosigan books quite a bit, but agree that the last few (since Cryoburn, I think) weren’t as strong as the rest.

      There’s an excellent bit in Falling Free where an engineer has to be not political, but smuggles ethics into a lecture on safety.

    • Anatoly says:

      I read the Vorkosigan books many years ago and liked them all, but when I tried to read Bujold’s fantasy a few years ago (The Curse of Chalion), it was so soppy and weak that it made me doubt my earlier memories. Every time Bujold comes up here and people go “Yes, Vorkosigan was fantastic, but don’t miss her fantasy, that’s just as great!” those doubts are reinforced.

      • shakeddown says:

        I enjoyed the chalion books about as much as the weaker Vorkosigan books, so I’ll agree they’re probably not really your type of thing anymore.

    • shakeddown says:

      Something that bugged me about later books is Cordelia’s character. In her POV books, she’s somewhat socially inept but smart, and she comes from a liberal background but wasn’t ever really comfortable or accepted there (despite representing it on Barrayar). She’s interesting.
      In the late books, she had a tendency to be a champion of liberalism on backwards Barrayar, showing the poor fools the error of their ways in one or two sentences which convince everyone immediately. She got a bit more simplistic, culture warry, and mary-sue-ish.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Did she like Barrayar more in the earlier books?

      • JulieK says:

        A similar thing happened with Emperor Gregor. In the early books he made big mistakes, but now he’s almost as wise as Cordelia. When your powerful authority figures are wise and virtuous, you’re missing a big source of possible dramatic tension.

        • John Schilling says:

          Yes, but if your characters don’t learn from their mistakes, you’ll run the audience into Eight Deadly Words territory long before you get to sell twenty award-winning stories or whatever the current total is. Ivan has made enough mistakes to Not Be an Idiot by the time of Captain Vorpatril’s War, Gregor has earned his status as a Wise Emperor the hard way, and Miles had to undergo several domain changes to retain a plausibly entertaining level of fallibility.

    • Bujold is probably my favorite author. I think I’ve read everything she’s written, although I might have missed some later stuff. Even though I normally don’t like fantasy too much, I read those too, because she wrote them. And I loved them too. It is her characters that I like so much. Miles of course, but I really liked her fantasy main characters also.

      • I once asked Bujold, with reference to the Miles novels, how she managed to write such unbelievable plots and yet make the readers believe them.

        Her answer was that she put real people in them.

        • Aapje says:

          @DavidFriedman

          Truth is often stranger than fiction, so unbelievable plots can actually be more realistic.

  7. Odovacer says:

    Essays for School Admission

    On twitter a member of a graduate admissions committee recently posted an offhand remark implying that many personal essays/statements are very similar. The poster specifically mentioned people writing, “Since I was young, I’ve been curious…”. Some others tweeted similar cliches. However, there was a good amount of backlash. People defending that yes, they really were curious since they were young. Others stating that admissions essays are biased against those without access to certain things, etc.

    I can sympathize with both sides. Some people have been curious since they were young! Or been interested in a specific subject when they were a child. However, being on an admissions committee, it must be tedious to read many essays that are so similar. What’s the point of requiring personal statements? Just to make sure the person can write coherently?

    What do you think about admissions essays/personal statements?

    • The Nybbler says:

      What do you think about admissions essays/personal statements?

      They’re subject to Goodhart’s law same as anything else. People figure out what the admission committees want to hear, then tell it to them. I suspect their main use nowadays is to allow the committees an excuse for putting their thumb on the scale based on other criteria, but that’s going to get into culture war.

      • Matt M says:

        Tend to agree with this. Even on the face of it, without assuming any sinister motives, the stated purpose seems to be “Let’s evaluate whether you’re the type of person we want to have around here or not.” Which obviously has a lot of potential failure modes. It gives the school an entirely subjective criteria with which they can admit someone who wouldn’t otherwise get in, or refuse someone who otherwise would. And I would guess that’s probably what it’s mainly used for.

        • Brad says:

          What exactly is the problem with an entirely subjective criteria, at least for private schools? Why do these institutions owe you or anyone else objectivity? If you don’t like how a particular school goes about filing its class, don’t apply there, don’t donate there, or heck even lobby your congressman to deny them funding, but you really have no business telling them what criteria to use to fill their classes.

          Besides what does objectivity get them? Admitting the tallest students that apply would be objective, but objective to what end?

          If you have some objective criteria in mind that you think would make for the best school, you are free to found your own school and select solely on that basis. We’ll see how it works out.

          • Evan Þ says:

            The problem is increasing the stress and uncertainty of the high-stakes signalling arms race for applicants. Under objective criteria, a high school student who wants to go to a good university knows exactly what to do: get good grades, good SAT scores, be a member of at least six clubs, or whatever. Under subjective standards, you could do all that and still be denied in favor of someone else who’s caught the admissions committee’s eye. So, you’re forced to more and more desperate measures that degenerate into purer and purer signalling.

          • quanta413 says:

            I’ll play along for the moment and ignore the fact that public schools who clearly have some duty to the public often engage in the same sort of bullshit (example: suppressing Asian enrollment). CA ended up with a state amendment on the books just because of how much voters hate this sort of thing.

            The problem is that almost no private schools are meaningfully private in the same sense as individuals or many businesses.

            If there was a private school that didn’t consume enormous amounts of federal funding directly or wasn’t the beneficiary of amazing benefits like being able to run tax free hedge funds, your argument might hold water. So no R1’s, and nobody with a serious endowment. It’d have to be the rough school equivalent of a hypothetical private country club that operated only on member’s fees. Then your argument that they could almost do whatever the fuck they want w.r.t. membership and it wouldn’t be anyone’s business but their own would make sense. Major institutions that consume huge flows of government money and also shape government policy? Not so much. And they’re also highly regulated major institutions in a market with enormous barriers to entry (some governmental, but I think the stronger factor is a sort of perverse social capital)? You have got to be kidding me.

            EDIT: Although just to be clear, as dumb as current admissions often are it could get worse in the extreme case where the government decided admissions directly.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            What exactly is the problem with an entirely subjective criteria, at least for private schools? Why do these institutions owe you or anyone else objectivity?

            Assuming that the answer is “nothing,” what’s wrong with criticizing their conduct in a public forum? What’s wrong with exhorting these schools to adopt objective criteria?

          • Brad says:

            @Evan Þ
            The signalling arms race isn’t of the colleges’ making and is fairly detrimental to them as organizations (not in monetary terms, but in terms of distorting what they are). I don’t see why they should cater to it further. If anything they should try to resist it. Inasmuch as the best schools don’t use objective criteria that ought to weaken the signal strength over time. Which *I* would consider a good thing, and it sounds like you would too.

            @quanta413
            I think your argument is akin to the one where people say we need legislation to force people to eat better and not smoke because we have public health care and their bad habits are costing us money.

            If you want to talk about eliminating the 501(c)(3) status of universities (or eliminating the status altogether for the matter) you might find a lot of agreement from me. But I don’t think giving away a whole bunch of money purportedly without strings and then later on coming in and saying that you now have the right to control those institutions because look how much money you gave them is a reasonable thing to do.

            Despite whatever you may be insinuating with your first paragraph I think public school present an entirely separate question. Citizens of course have every reason to want and deserve input into what a branch of their own governments are doing. I’m not sure we need state schools, to be perfectly frank, but given that we do have them their admissions program and every other facet of their existence should be aimed at maximizing state interests.

          • albatross11 says:

            One potential issue is that it would be really easy for subjective evaluation of an admissions essay to turn into a kind of filter for eliminating Not One Of Us kids. That’s certainly within the realm of what a private school may choose to do, but I suspect it would be healthier to note it up front.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I don’t like things which cause massive amounts of stress to vulnerable populations. College-bound teenagers are still teenagers.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Brad

            My argument is more akin to regulating the contracts of corporations that the government pays to accomplish some public task (like building a road). Private universities are basically this. Taxing people who don’t exercise enough is more of a Pigovian tax.

            But I don’t think giving away a whole bunch of money purportedly without strings and then later on coming in and saying that you now have the right to control those institutions because look how much money you gave them is a reasonable thing to do.

            But that money was never “no strings attached”; anyone who thought so was a fool. Universities already have to follow a giant pile of federal regulations as a condition of funding; the precedent has been set. It wasn’t a one-shot exchange either; it’s multiple continuous programs every year. The situation you describe has never been the situation at hand. The money has always been strings attached, and the deal for future money may be changed at any time by political means. It would be complete insanity to not change things because… why exactly? Any already disbursed grants can continue working the same way. If private universities wanted to refuse all future federal money because they didn’t like the conditions attached, I would be ecstatic. This presumably means they feel they can get along well enough without government money. The taxpayers save a shitton of money; the private universities become more independent. Everyone wins (ok, not really, but good enough). But there isn’t much sign that the U.S. government is about to drastically cut federal loans or federal grants or research grants.

            Besides, some universities are already under Justice Department investigation for discrimination against Asians which is already illegal. If they are going to stonewall until kingdom come instead of admit to behavior that has been blatantly obvious in SAT and enrollment statistics since the 90’s, I see no reason the government shouldn’t play hardball.

            I too would vastly prefer that private universities did not have special tax status and weren’t deeply enmeshed with the government, but given that they are and will continue to be, it’s a mistake to let them engage in obvious discriminatory behavior in admissions.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Brad, I think going to objective admissions criteria will decrease the signaling arms race. Say a university announces it’ll admit on “just grades,” or “just SAT scores,” or “weighted average of X% grades, Y% SAT scores, and Z% the color of shirt you wear to the campus tour.” That means applicants don’t need to worry about anything else. They can focus their energy there, without worrying about short-term volunteer trips in Africa or founding new clubs or anything. Hopefully, the criteria chosen will have some relation to something besides signaling – but even if they don’t, they’ll help mitigate the effort.

          • Brad says:

            @Edward Scizorhands
            I don’t think the people responsible for that stress are the college amissions offices. Rather I think the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of parents and other adults in the lives of teens that explictly and implicitly teach them that life is a game and if you do all your homework and study really hard you can win the game, get the magic armor, the admiriation of your peers, and the prince or princess of your dreams. They are the ones setting up this notion that college admissions is a prize to be earned and if you don’t get into the top school then lost the tournament.

            I don’t think this sort of gamification and reductionism is good for the kids themselves or for our soceity. To the latter point it is the reason we have so many brilliant doctors, biglaw partners, and management consulatants. Frankly we as a society could do with fewer brilliant doctors, biglaw partners, and management consultants.

            @quanta413
            I didn’t realize that you considered this whole dicussion a stalking horse for talking about potential racial descrimination against Asian-Americans in college admissions. I don’t think that any US insistutions, and certainly none that receive public money, ought to discriminate on the basis. Not sure there is much more to be said in the context of a culture war free thread.

            @Evan thorn
            I don’t see how that follows. It makes the rules of the race easier for everyone to see, but it makes the race that much more important. If Havard had a repuputation for talking old money, and Brown a repuation for taking artistic types, and Stanford would-be entrepanours then there wouldn’t be an obvious ordering for anyone looking at resumes for the rest of people’s lives. They actually have to read the resume. But it is completely open and transparent that Harvard gets the smartest kids, then Stanford, then Brown the importance of that signal shoots up.

            If Harvard really cares about volunteer trips to Africa, yes the scrupulosity types are going to run to do that and drive themselves even more crazy, but the value of the Harvard name over a different one becomes that much less important.

            I don’t see why the whole system should be optimized around one narrow section of today’s teens’ hangups rather than the long term interests of society and the institutions, and even future teens with those hangups.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Brad

            Firstly, do you have any responses to my point that in fact the money is not no strings attached and future requirements may be changed at any point? This was the bulk of my post and my main point, but you didn’t respond to it.

            I brought up the effect on racial composition of admissions because it is the most obvious and quantifiable problem with the current system. Historically, a similar trick with adding admissions criteria was used to reduce the number of Jews in Ivy Leagues long ago. I bring these things up because the other bad effects of arbitrary and untransparent admissions criteria are hard to quantify and can be endlessly evaded as “you can’t really prove that’s a problem” or “well, that probably only affected a few people so it’s no big deal”. For example, Thomas Sowell said that when he was at Cornell (IIRC, might have been a different university), he saw that often better academically qualified African American candidates were rejected in favor of African American candidates with a certain outward political orientation. So not racial discrimination, but a (sort-of) political one. If this sort of thing is true on a broader scale with respect to how colleges do this and it affects their slide into being ideological monocultures (and I find it likely), the thing is that it’s too damn hard to go from anecdote to solid data.

            So unfortunately, I think that if I want to give solid evidence why current admissions criteria are bad, I have to bring up somewhat contentious topics. Because all the other bad things about college admissions are more of a death by a thousand little cuts. And I don’t want to play argument whack-a-mole forever.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            While there is definitely a systemic problem, the admissions office could reduce the stress by telling applicants what they need to do to get in, and not “just do the best you can, and crank that up to 12 because a bunch of other kids are cranking it up to 11.”

            Being selective improves a school’s standing in US News rankings, and so it is in the school’s interest to encourage as many students who have no realistic chance of getting in that they should still apply anyway. Schools could a) give students a realistic view of their chances of getting in, and b) establish some floor at which extra effort won’t help the student, maybe even a very high floor, and c) tell the student what that floor in step b was.

          • Brad says:

            @quanta413
            Yes it is true that there weren’t literally no strings attached, but they are strings have to do with what the money is supposed to be used for. And yes the government *can* attach many other strings in the future (but see Robert’s opinion in NFIB v Sebelius).

            However, to go in and say that you have what amounts to an aesthetic preference for using a linear combination of undergraduate gpa and SAT scores for admission and you are going to condition money for say research on that doesn’t strike me as something the government *ought* to do. YMMV.

            he saw that often better academically qualified African American candidates were rejected in favor of African American candidates with a certain outward political orientation. So not racial discrimination, but a (sort-of) political one. If this sort of thing is true on a broader scale with respect to how colleges do this and it affects their slide into being ideological monocultures (and I find it likely), the thing is that it’s too damn hard to go from anecdote to solid data.

            I don’t have any problem with that. I realize that you what you referred to as death by a 1000 cuts, but it is central to the point I am trying to make. I think private schools can and should use a whole variety of different strategies for filing their classes based on their own values and how they think best to go about maximizing them. Though they should not feel free to descriminate based on race.

            @Edward Scizorhands
            See my answer to Evan thorn, I think your first paragraph (“tell them what they need to do to get in”) is elevating the concerns of a small group of overly amibitious for status teenagers over the entire rest of society including future such teenagers.

            Inasmuch as it can be done, I have no problem with the suggestion in the second paragraph. If there really is an SAT cutoff then they should publicize that.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Brad

            A significant number of the strings also had to do with what they were allowed to do with admissions, disparate impact, etc. It’s not just research funds.

            However, to go in and say that you have what amounts to an aesthetic preference for using a linear combination of undergraduate gpa and SAT scores for admission and you are going to condition money for say research on that doesn’t strike me as something the government *ought* to do. YMMV.

            In my mind the government shouldn’t be funding education to the degree it is already, but that doesn’t mean I think all government input is strictly a negative past this point where the interference is already strong. I think there are multiple local maxima from a public point of view, and we’re not in one. Since the government is already paying through the nose, it should make sure that its policy priorities are being sufficiently met. I don’t think tying research funding to admissions is necessarily a needed threat, tying it as a criteria to any federal loans or grants that students use to pay for education is more in line with separation of concerns and makes more sense anyways. If Yale wants to cover the costs that a federal loan or pell grant would cover instead to avoid changing its admissions policy, then that’s at least somewhat of an improvement. If Yale wants to force any students who can’t afford their costs without federal help to go elsewhere, then they would be even more comically elitist than I think.

            Really though, it’s a terrible system that our research and teaching institutions are so inextricably linked. We’d be better off if they weren’t coupled. As is, money and resources are shuffled from research to teaching and vice versa through the university general fund (overhead and tuition charges on grants) and via having the same people attempt to be both master researchers and subject matter teachers of intro science to 18 year olds. But wishes are fishes and all that, so no decoupling is likely to happen anytime soon. Given current arrangements, research funding is not truly decoupled from universities teaching mission.

            I don’t have any problem with that. I realize that you what you referred to as death by a 1000 cuts, but it is central to the point I am trying to make. I think private schools can and should use a whole variety of different strategies for filing their classes based on their own values and how they think best to go about maximizing them. Though they should not feel free to descriminate based on race.

            I would not be so bothered if it was clear they actually used different strategies instead of basically all the same strategy with a few exceptions like MIT and CalTech.

            Berklee College of Music admitting students based upon music makes perfect sense, is transparent, and is a great idea. If the ivy leagues etc. want to actually differentiate themselves and attract different types of students that would be great, but they aren’t and they probably won’t.

    • rahien.din says:

      What can a high school senior plausibly claim beyond curiosity and studiousness?

      • quanta413 says:

        Ability to either recite or hire someone else to recite the appropriate credos in essay form? I expect this would occasionally rule a candidate out.

        More seriously, a high school senior could plausibly claim serious athletic ability. Given enough ability at the right athletics, #1 is why some students get into university.

        Also intelligence. Not totally possible to unentangle from studiousness, but a high GPA with basement level SAT scores is probably a sign something is up. I guess that’s the reverse of claiming something though.

      • Elephant says:

        I think the original post is asking about *graduate* admissions, not undergraduate. There’s a lot a senior undergrad should be able to write about.

        • rahien.din says:

          My mistake!

          Wait, prospective grad students write essays that begin “Since I was young, I was curious…” ???

      • johan_larson says:

        Accomplishment. Ambition. Intelligence. Moral conviction. Piety.

        A bunch of stuff, really.

      • JonathanD says:

        My wife got into an Ivy by doing her essay in French. She was also an otherwise accomplished high school kid, but she figures the essay made her stand out.

    • I think that the college admissions people have no way of knowing whether the applicant wrote the essay himself, wrote it with lots of help from others or had someone else write it. Given that the ability to write is an important qualification, I don’t understand why they don’t make a serious effort to test it.

      Many applicants visit the schools they want to go to and get a tour, courtesy of the admissions people. Include with that an hour spent in a room with a word processor and a list of topics. Applicant picks a topic, writes an essay.

      For applicants who don’t visit, arrange with an alumnus somewhere near where they live to have the applicant come over and compose an essay under similar constraints. Once this approach becomes common, someone will set up facilities in a variety of cities where applicants to many colleges can come and compose essays.

      So far as I know, no college does it that way.

      • Well... says:

        Many applicants visit the schools they want to go to and get a tour, courtesy of the admissions people. Include with that an hour spent in a room with a word processor and a list of topics. Applicant picks a topic, writes an essay.

        Yup. Make sure that room is in a basement with no cell phone reception too.

        Of course, this assumes, maybe naively, that the real reason colleges ask for essays is to see whether the student can write.

      • Brad says:

        So far as I know, no college does it that way.

        I understand (some?) Oxbridge colleges to do something along these lines.

        • DavidS says:

          Yep. Some colleges for some subjects, admissions is pretty varied in Oxbridge. Some have or used to have outright tests that applicants sat, others have/had essays you then discuss, or you get shown maths problems and have a go at them then discuss them etc. etc.

          Does seem sensible, especially but not exclusively if you don’t entirely trust the formal tests (or don’t think they’re sufficiently demanding)

        • rlms says:

          Some subjects/colleges have students sit tests in controlled conditions (either directly before interviews or beforehand at the students’ schools), others ask for essays done as schoolwork to be submitted.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        Applicant picks a topic, writes an essay.

        Once this approach becomes common, someone will set up facilities in a variety of cities where applicants to many colleges can come and compose essays.

        And then centralize and standardize the whole ordeal on national scale, and oh wait.

        In many countries the academic qualification exams either are or used to be more or less this (writing short-to-long essays in a standardized, controlled exam-like conditions). Classic example from this tradition would be French Baccalauréat (which also has oral sections). Though I assumed topics tend to be about testing student’s knowledge of various subjects rather than “Since birth I’ve been curious …”

        • johan_larson says:

          In many countries the academic qualification exams either are or used to be more or less this (writing short-to-long essays in a standardized, controlled exam-like conditions).

          Yes, I don’t know why the college application process has to be so complicated. The SAT II subject-specific tests are perfectly reasonable tests for what you should have learned in high school. You’d think the application process could just use those. Sometimes the US insists on doing things in the most complicated way imaginable.

          I wonder how much of the issue is racial. To speak rather frankly, when the Americans act strangely, the issue often seems to be race.

          • albatross11 says:

            Also class–we have a huge number of hang-ups about social class, but we’d prefer not to acknowledge that social class is an issue.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I think the answer is likely that 95% of schools do just use test scores and GPAs for admission. You don’t think every school is reading every portion of every application do you? They generally (one way or another) are being sorted by test scores with everyone below a minimum line being cut off (with the lines being known to guidance counselors who help by preventing a lot of those applications in the first place). Realistically once you have an established reputation you probably are getting applications in a pretty tight range and should just be figuring out the marginal cases with the extra stuff.

      • fortaleza84 says:

        Given that the ability to write is an important qualification, I don’t understand why they don’t make a serious effort to test it.

        Probably it correlates pretty well with one’s verbal SAT score. In fact, I would guess that writing ability correlates better with verbal SAT score than the subjective grade assigned by the person whose job it is to assess writing ability. My impression is that a lot of people confuse their own personal style with universal standards of good writing. Over the years, I’ve received a lot of contradictory criticism from different writing instructors and such.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        Given that the ability to write is an important qualification, I don’t understand why they don’t make a serious effort to test it.

        For years now, I’ve given talks and been asked advice on “how to get one of those awesome open source tech jobs”, and my #1 point has always been “learn how to write”.

        Well, my boss^3 (a man you’ve all heard of) seems to agree with me. A yuuge chunk of the application process for my current job was a writing assignment to be done in the internal house style. And then when I went through the interview panels, the contents of that writing assignment were used to guide the questions.

    • Elephant says:

      For graduate admissions, the point of the essays / personal statements should be to convey things about your undergraduate preparation and your aims for graduate school that are not otherwise evident — for example, how your undergraduate research directs your graduate school aims. Writing about how you fell in love with chemistry / physics / whatever when you were five years old is, though very common, not useful.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      I sometimes hire interns for my organization and there is a big problem with applicants who are not serious. I imagine colleges and grad schools have the same problem; requiring a personal statement probably discourages some of the tire-kickers. It may also catch a few applicants who are batsh*t crazy.

    • dodrian says:

      Admissions essays are an exercise in understanding what is expected of you, and composing something to meet those expectations (or getting help from someone who can). As such you’d expect a lot of cliches. I also know many science majors who struggle with non-technical writing, and would guess there are plenty of well-qualified candidates who wouldn’t be able to stand out in this area.

      It seems little different from writing a good CV/cover letter, another exercise which is less about your skills and more about knowing about what is expected in a good CV/letter (or you ability to find help in writing one). It can help weed out people who just don’t care, but it also removes those who don’t come from a background with the networks or resources to know what’s expected of the exercise.

      I suppose a plus of the personal statement would be that it encourages self-reflection. But if we get rid of it, can it be replaced by something that isn’t gamed in a similar way?

      • dodrian says:

        As a second reflection, I applied to both US and UK universities (undergraduate).

        For the UK application (one single application sent to all the universities I applied to) I was encouraged to use the personal statement to list achievements and explain why I was a good fit for higher education. This was fairly easy to write, and I imagine it was very similar in structure to everyone else’s, but I was given the impression that this didn’t matter. Exams and standardized testing were more important.

        The US application (the common application, sent to all universities I applied to, but with most also expecting a institution-specific supplement) expected me to be more creative. I feel like this was an opportunity to set my application apart from the others, and received a lot of help from my teachers to do so. This seems more open to accusations of cliches, and also more opportunity for selection based on background (those whose schools or families have alumni/connections to college administrators will do better irregardless of whether they are better candidates).

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I can’t comment on the graduate level. At the undergrad levels, I only applied to schools that did not require me to make a personal statement.

      To me, they are the equivalent of making a diorama.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      For biomedical graduate school programs I can’t imagine how you could replace an essay.

      Most serious applicants will have done research in undergrad or at least worked as technicians in a lab. Yet few of them will have authored papers and of those only a handful of those will have been first authors. There’s not much beyond the letter of recommendation to indicate what sort of scientist they are.

      A good essay is supposed to convey both the applicant’s interest in their field and what they bring to the table as a scientist. Other than an in-person interview for every applicant it’s not clear how else a grad school admissions committee could get that information.

      Plus as a practical matter it’s very important to know whether you can write properly. There’s an unbelievable amount of writing that you have to do in graduate school and even more if you intend to stay in academia.

      • Do you assume that someone who can’t write will write his own essay, either because he is honest or because he doesn’t realize that he can’t write, instead of getting someone else to write it for him?

        There’s a whole industry for producing papers to be handed in as a student’s own work and I presume they do application essays as well.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          I don’t assume anything after my undergraduate PI asked me to write a “first draft” of my letter of recommendation and sent it in untouched.

          That said, a requirement which weeds out people who are unaware of how bad their writing is while letting some portion of the aware through with a toll is still better than nothing. If you didn’t have the system you’d have all of the bad writers regardless of how self aware they are.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            I’ve been asked to write “first drafts” for other people. I refuse, for about that reason.

            I will redline edit text after they have written it, with a gloss for my reasons for each redline.

            As pointed out, this requirement eliminates the people who are not serious or who don’t have sufficient executive function, and then imparts useful information to the ones who can actually use it.

    • Randy M says:

      People defending that yes, they really were curious since they were young

      Curiosity is one of the defining traits of youth. Might as well say “as a teenager, I reconsidered some of the teachings of my parents” or “As a young adult I started pursuing gainful employment more seriously.” Probably true, and you might well want to mention it in the appropriate context, but hopefully people are not assuming this makes them unique.

    • rlms says:

      I think personal statements (at least as used in the UK) have some value in filtering out the ends of the spectrum of applicants. They admissions tutors distinguish people with genuinely impressive achievements, and people who just can’t write at all (if that hasn’t been done by standardised tests). Also, they provide a way for universities to impose extra requirements, for instance British med schools use them to filter out people who don’t have relevant work experience.

    • Controls Freak says:

      I don’t really know what the purpose of personal statements in admissions applications are, but this reminded me of something a buddy told me. He said that his advisor always had his students start off their theses with something along the lines of, “Since the dawn of time, mankind has been fascinated by…” In documents that were basically, “We tested some different airfoil shapes in different conditions for rotorcraft.”

      It’s like there’s some common pull to grand, overarching narratives which purport to cover everything.

      • Nick says:

        Slight tangent, but my classics professor once received a paper which began something like, “For millions of years, people have been fascinated by the Romans.”

  8. Well... says:

    Is the Discord link broken for everyone else too or is it just me?

  9. johan_larson says:

    I’d like to see your estimates of the chance that there will be a successful manned mission to Mars before 2050.

    My estimate is 10%. We could go to Mars if we wanted to badly enough. Credible estimates place the cost of a mission at some tens of billions of dollars, which is in the range of the largest private fortunes. The main problem seems to be that going to Mars doesn’t really get you much beyond bragging rights.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      I have no idea how to make estimates like that with these tech trends around us that far into the future.

      I mean. Right now is an easier question. We have the tech to get there and back, but we haven’t specked high enough into renewables to stay any longer period of time.

      • My estimate would be higher than that, mostly because I believe the future is more uncertain than most people realize. It might be 10% for the U.S. doing it. But by 2050 China might easily be richer than the U.S. and more inclined to such projects. India might be. Even Brazil might be. And there might be technological developments, most obviously in nanotech materials, that would substantially lower the cost.

    • Well... says:

      I don’t know what percentage I’d put on it–nor do I know how I’d measure the accuracy of such a percentage if a manned mission to Mars (M^3) did or didn’t happen. (For the record i think it is extremely unlikely by 2050, maybe something in the 1-5% range or even lower?)

      But I am curious what people here think about what the first M^3 will most likely be. Flyby? Land, plant a flag, take some samples, and leave a few hours later? Set up a permanent base?

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Flyby is easiest, but would only be taken because someone decided that “this counts as a manned mission to Mars” and wants to check it off a list. It doesn’t provide very much information for any future missions (besides clearing out bugaboos about radiation, which if you were worried about in the first place you weren’t going to be planning a mission to Mars anyway).

        There are some calls for going just to Phobos on the first mission. It’s not my choice but it’s defendable as reasonable.

        Staying for a few hours is extremely unlikely because there aren’t any mission designs where this makes sense. If you are going down to the surface, you are safer than in orbit, so you should stay for a while. You might stay for a month, or for 18 months, because there are mission designs for both of those.

        I think the 18-month mission is the most likely first mission.

      • John Schilling says:

        The orbital mechanics strongly favors 12-18 month stay times at Mars; leaving earlier costs you more fuel, possibly much more fuel. There is nonetheless a subset of mission profiles that call for 30-60 day stays to minimize “risk”, but the marginal risk for living an extra year in a Mars surface habitat that hasn’t failed in its first month is small and anyone so risk-averse as to prefer the short-duration missions is never actually going to believe it is safe enough to really go to Mars at all.

        There is, as Edward notes, a case to be made for spending your first 12-18 months on Phobos, exploring that world and also teleoperating rovers on Mars without the pesky half-hour-ish lightspeed delay. Saves you the trouble of having to design and test a manned lander, which is a significant fraction of the total budget, and there’s a good chance you’ll be able to set up a refueling base on Phobos which will make future lander operations much easier.

        Any plan that doesn’t involve setting up a refueling base, on either Mars or Phobos, is doomed to be an inconsequential footnote in history.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      The main problem seems to be that going to Mars doesn’t really get you much beyond bragging rights.

      Sure, but the Chinese would love those bragging rights.

  10. ContrarianSystem says:

    Is anyone aware of an ordered list of the best countries to gain dual citizenship for Americans (by marriage or other means) ranked by perks and difficulty of attaining citizenship?

    • Michael Handy says:

      No, but it’s generally considered that Ireland is a strong contender, then EU, then the Commonwealth.

      • At a considerable tangent, when I was in Brazil recently I discovered that a lot of Brazilians hold dual citizenship. Apparently both Italy and Spain have rules letting the descendant of a citizen claim citizenship even if he has never been in the country. The result is that a lot of Brazilians, descended from Spanish or Italian immigrants a few generations back, can claim dual citizenship.

        And since Brazil is part of a South American common market covering a good deal of the continent and Italy and Spain are in the E.U., that means that a Brazilian dual citizen has easy entry to most of Europe and more than half of South America.

    • Brad says:

      The UK used to be a pretty clear favorite — it got you EU + most favored nation status in the commonwealth. But since you won’t get EU anymore real soon now, it isn’t as strong. Michael Handy may be right that Ireland takes that spot now.

      In any event I’d have to imagine one or other EU country would top the list.

    • S_J says:

      When I was a child, I had a couple of friends who had a dual-citizenship option.

      The were children of a marriage between a Canadian citizen and a citizen of the United States. It’s highly likely that the Canadian-born parent also had dual-citizenship. The children had the option of choosing their citizenship after they turned 18 years old.

      The combination of Canadian/US dual-citizenship is likely the most common. I do not know if it is easier or harder to achieve than other forms of dual-citizenship.

      • Evan Þ says:

        The children had the option of choosing their citizenship after they turned 18 years old.

        Are you saying they could only choose one? If so, I think that’s changed – I’ve got a friend who’s a dual Canadian-US citizen thanks to his mother being born in Canada, and he says he’s still got both citizenships without having to do anything.

        • Long ago I had a friend who had, if I remember correctly, four countries trying to draft him. Fortunately they were all NATO countries, so if he served in one army that counted for all of them.

          He spent six months or so in the Greek army, that being the one with the shortest term of service.

        • S_J says:

          My memory of that discussion is hazy. (At the time, myself and the childhood-friends were all below the age of 10.) I do remember that the children in question resided in the States at the time, and that one parent was Canadian-born, while the other parent was a natural-born citizen of the U.S. The parents were married at the time of birth, and are still married (to my knowledge).

          I guess the big question relative to dual-citizenship is whether the children were born inside the U.S., or born inside Canada.

          However, in response to the original post: it is nearly impossible for a person who wants to acquire dual-citizenship to arrange for their parents to be citizens of the two distinct countries before they are born.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        Years ago, I had a coworker from Spain who married a woman from Ontario and their kids were born in the US. His kids had *THREE* passports.

    • SamChevre says:

      Americans generally, or some Americans?

      If you are descended from Irish immigrants, Ireland. If you are Jewish, Israel. I think Germany had something for Germans from places now outside Germany.

      • Well... says:

        I think Germany had something for Germans from places now outside Germany.

        Hahaha, like Poland?

        • SamChevre says:

          Yes–also the Ukraine, Crimea, Romania, and so forth. (I vaguely remember hearing about in the context the Russian Mennonites, who were in Ukraine, and in the context of the Sachsens in Romania.)

        • Brad says:

          Last I looked into it, Germany was pretty strict on dual citizenship. There were special provisions written into the West German constitution for ethnic Germans in Eastern Europe, but given those states stripped citizenship before expulsions I don’t think they involve dual citizenship very often.

          There is a wrinkle of German law that allows people that had their German citizenship stripped by the Nuremberg Laws and took a different citizenship during this suspension to be considered to have never relinquished their German citizenship. So they and their descendants can be dual citizens. At one point I thought I would fit in this catagory, but it turns out my grandfather, despite having been born in Germany, was considered a subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (edit: incorrect, see below) at the time the Nuremberg Laws were passed.

          Beyond that I remember reading that there was some talk about doing something that would allow dual Turkish/German citizenship but I don’t know if anything ever came of it.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Germany doesn’t like dual citizenship but it will look the other way if you have citizenship in both Germany and another country from birth. On the books you’re only a German citizen but they aren’t stupid and want a copy of your other passport(s).

            As long as you didn’t naturalize or serve in a foreign military voluntarily you won’t lose your German citizenship. Also you can’t enter Germany with your foreign passport: I think that’s actually a crime.

          • Brad says:

            Wow, totally forgot about that category. And it’s almost certainly the largest of them all.

            But I understood that you could only take advantage of that if your German citizen parent didn’t naturalize somewhere else before you were born. This is in contrast to, say, Italy which doesn’t terminate citizenship by descent if the ancestor naturalized.

          • but it turns out my grandfather, despite having been born in Germany, was considered a subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time the Nuremberg Laws were passed.

            How is that possible, given that the Nuremberg laws were passed almost twenty years after the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire? Was your grandfather considered still a subject of a non-existent state?

          • Brad says:

            Hmm. Good point. I just looked at the letter from the German consulate and it claims that my grandfather was Polish because they said his father was Polish, despite Poland not existing when he (my great-grandfather) was born or lived outside of Germany.

            I’m not sure exactly how they determined citizenship in the successor states of the A-H empire, but assume it had to do with which country the place you were from ended up.

            Interestingly it looks like my great-grandmother was a German citizen but she lost that citizenship by marrying a foreigner (i.e. my great-grandfather) before my grandfather was born.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            But I understood that you could only take advantage of that if your German citizen parent didn’t naturalize somewhere else before you were born.

            On paper, yes, but in practice there’s some wiggle room.

            My father was born in Germany to an American and a German. Then he moved to America and mistakenly went through the naturalization process because his parents didn’t understand how jus sanguis worked.

            The German government decided that it didn’t count as naturalization for their purposes. It raises eyebrows depending on which official I’m talking to and I wouldn’t ever try to run for office or get a government job in Germany but it’s good enough to get a passport.

          • Don P. says:

            In addition, if you are the child (at least) of someone who left Austria because of “persecution” (ahem), you might well be eligible for Austrian/US dual citizenship. Members of my family have done this. You’ll need a bunch of paperwork. In our case, the most interesting part (to me) was that we had to establish that my father was drafted into the US Army (early 1950s) rather than enlisting, because enlisting would be considered renouncing his Austrian citizenship.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        I think Germany had something for Germans from places now outside Germany.

        I’m pretty sure that nobody in the age range of the typical SSC reader would count under those rules.

        That said, if you were born to a German parent anywhere in the world you should check whether or not you are considered a German citizen. It’s a little bit of a pain if they didn’t inform the consulate when you were born but you can get your documents in a month or two.

  11. Andrew Hunter says:

    A request for John Schilling (or anyone, but he’s my best guess for Someone Who Should Know): recommendations for sci fi novels where propulsion tech and/or rocket engineering are a major topic? I don’t care about tech level: equally happy to have infodumps about ion drives powered by RTG or infodumps about the cooling of a total-conversion torchship. Or even FTL, so long as the underlying phlebotinum is discussed in depth. If the propulsion figures into the plot directly all the better.

    Two good examples, both by Stross: Saturn’s Children is about a sexbot gallivanting from Venus to Mercury to Mars to Jupiter to Pluto, and each step is done at different speed and rocket type, with extensive discussion of the consequences. Tall Tail is a short story that’s just ABOUT a fictional type of rocket (to say more would spoil it.)

    • dodrian says:

      Encounter with Tiber by John Barnes and Buzz Aldrin (yes, that Buzz Aldrin) springs to mind – it’s an interesting novel set up as a memoir from the late 21st century recalling the events leading up to our first interstellar voyage. I’m not an expert, but all the tech was fairly detailed and seemed plausible to me, in fact it reads more like a manifesto of how we should be doing things and putting a space agenda at the forefront (I haven’t read anything else by John Barnes, but I’d be willing to bit this was where Aldrin had a heavy hand in writing).

      • bean says:

        On the other hand, Aldrin was involved, which means there were probably cyclers. I don’t like cyclers. It’s a neat bit of astrodynamics, but in practical terms, there isn’t much point. The capital cost is pretty high, and they only make sense for moving humans around. Unless you have a tether system, in which case it could give you some interesting options for really cheap cargo. I’d only expect that to happen as a way of salvaging some value when people discover that cyclers are inefficient.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Yep, cyclers with humans involved. I think it makes sense in context for them to want humans on Mars with a low-quality-enough base to ship people back and forth.

          (And yes, I second the recommendation.)

        • John Schilling says:

          and they only make sense for moving humans around

          Which is about half of what science fiction cares about in its spaceships(*), so it’s not like they will be at all out of place in an SF story. And for that matter, moving humans about looks to be a particularly hard problem in real-life space travel, but one the O’Neillians at least will likely insist on solving in a big way.

          If you want to move people between two specific locations in space continuously over a period of decades, a cycler very likely would pay for itself if someone were to build it. But that only happens if, A: we get a great visionary to front the money, or B: the period of heavy continuous space travel lasts for many decades so that even cautious investors can point to 10-20 years of demonstrated market, and in either case C: we don’t experience a Singularity first. So, possible but not inevitable.

          * The other half being making evil bad guy spaceships explode in great pyrotechnic detail.

    • Well... says:

      Blog, not a novel, but toughsf.blogspot.com goes way more into depth about various forms of space propulsion than anything I’ve seen.

    • Incurian says:

      Seveneves isn’t strictly about propulsion, but it does go into a lot of detail of all the aspects of space flight/habitation.

    • MrApophenia says:

      The Expanse novels might be worth looking at. They don’t go super deep into the nuts and bolts of actual rocket engines but they deal with the effects of trying to do something like realistic zero-g thrust and momentum, and how they drive story events and necessitate actions by various characters.

      One aspect I found really striking is the way space battle is portrayed – basically ships at great distances launching missiles at each other, and then both sides sitting and waiting for several minutes while each side’s computers try to figure out what to do about it.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      Aurora by KSM has quite a bit on orbital dynamics and propulsion, I really enjoyed those bits.

      And though you’re no doubt aware, completion’s sake requires that I mention David Weber’s Honorverse – the unique propulsion tech there is key to pretty much all his space battles and advances in that technology make up a big part of the arms race that dominates the latter half of the series.

      • Urstoff says:

        Definitely one of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s best books

        • Well... says:

          I didn’t think Mr. Mohammed was all that specific about propulsion or orbital dynamics. He described their effects but there was a lot of handwaving, for example with propulsion he mentioned something about scissors and lasers or plasma or something but didn’t explain how we get from here to there.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          I misabbreviate KSR as KSM every time! And now it’s out of the edit window so my error is preserved for all time.

          Ah, well.

      • Algirdas Vėlyvis says:

        2312 by KSR has a great deal of intra Solar system travel; some ideas (such as converting small asteroids into terraria / space liners) are well fleshed out.

        Overall the novel is rather so-so. Sometimes KSR combines neat and silly stuff in the same chapter. One of the sillier ones was as follows (a very minor spoiler): a passenger liner is redirected to an urgent new mission. New mission requires constant acceleration @ 3g, while some of the passengers are evacuated through the airlocks. Scenes are described of people having difficulty moving or even crawling under such pseudogravity. So far so good. But then, the author insists that groups of people are jumping out of airlocks HOLDING HANDS! Seriously? Pseudogravity is so strong that I can’t stand upright, but somehow I am able to maintain grip on a person who tumbled out of the lock a few milliseconds before me? Or are we supposed to miraculously jump out simultaneously, again, while not even being able to stand up? Just as conveniently, KSR chooses to ignore the effects of the rocket exhaust on the jumpers, even though they will travel through that exhaust plume for duration of multiple seconds.

        Plus, I find Robinson’s environmentalism rather grating.

        • Well... says:

          Plus, I find Robinson’s environmentalism rather grating.

          I only read Aurora, which had very little of that in it, and it was grating even there.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Very little of it? Maybe by page count, but it was one of the huge themes of the novel. I found that even more grating than mere page count would’ve been.

          • Well... says:

            Oh, I thought “environmentalism” referred to Earth-centric environmentalism, e.g. global warming, ice caps melting, sea levels rising–which only became a minor background theme at the end. If you mean “our environment is a complex system and human activity has unintended consequences that might come back to bite us in the ass” then yeah that was a major theme in the first third of the book, but it was all about the system on a spaceship, and I seemed to get from it “and, Reader, how lucky are you to live on a planet where you don’t have to worry about that kind of thing?”

      • cassander says:

        I loved the first third of Aurora so much, I’ll never understand what could have possibly possessed KSM to abandon all those interesting themes in favor of letting the computer solve all their problems.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’ll check my bookshelves this evening to see what pops out at me. In the meantime, a few specifics and a general recommendation.

      The Martian, obviously, if you’ve somehow missed it.

      The Torchship Trilogy has been discussed here lately; I consider it pretty good but not great, and it has a modest focus on the technology and operations of the titular Torchship. And a bit on AI risk, though that wasn’t the strong point IMO.

      And since bean mentioned tether propulsion elswhere, Descent of Anansi by Niven and Barnes is an otherwise unremarkable story from 1982 that had what I recall as both a clever application and an eloquent description of tether propulsion central to the plot.

      But the general recommendation is, anything that Project Rho gives a Seal of Approval will have rocket science done right, central to the story.

    • Algirdas Vėlyvis says:

      Titan by Steven Baxter has detailed description of the spaceship for travel to … Titan (and it comes with Project Rho seal of approval).

      Do you insist on restricting yourself to fiction? There are some excellent non-fiction books. Frequently, historical accounts can’t help but delve into technical details. E.g., I heard that Rockets and People, a history of Soviet space program by Boris Chertok, is quite good (haven’t read it yet). English translation in electronic format is freely available from NASA.

      Ignition! by John D. Clark is extremely good – a history of development of rocket liquid propellants. Granted, it is predominantly about chemistry, but it is not very long and humor alone makes it worth any nerd’s time.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        Not only have I read Ignition, I was recently gifted a paper copy (it’s in print again!)

        It is, in fact, excellent.

        • Algirdas Vėlyvis says:

          I was recently gifted a paper copy (it’s in print again!)

          And you were complaining about your life in another thread? I’m green with envy!

        • bean says:

          It’s in print! This is fabulous. Seriously, an amazing book.
          Interestingly, Amazon doesn’t show it as out until May.

      • jchrieture says:

        Comparable to Ignition (which is outstandingly interesting for many reasons) is NASA’s Saturn V Flight Manual: SA03 (1968)

        Unless and until SpaceX’s BFR and/or Falcon Heavy are man-certified, the Saturn V remains the state-of-the-art in big rockets. This makes (for example) NASA’s candid discussion of Saturn V POGO-instabilities very relevant to SpaceX objectives.

        Steven B. Johnson’s The Secret of Apollo: Systems Management in American and European Space Programs (2002) explores both the technology and the psychology of large-scale systems engineering.

        Systems approaches emphasize integrative features and the elements of human cooperation necessary to organize complex activities and technologies.

        Believing that humans are irrational, I find the creation of huge, orderly, rational technologies almost miraculous. I had never pondered the deeper implications of cooperative efforts amid irrationality and conflict, and this project has enabled me to do so. …

        I sincerely hope that this work helps others recognize that the “systems” in which we all take part are our own creations. They help or hinder us, depending upon our individual and collective goals. Regardless of our feelings about them, they are among the pervasive bonds that hold our society together

        Apes riding to space? Yes, this is a technological miracle and a psychological miracle.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          Somehow I’m guessing that flight manual doesn’t have the wonderful conversational no-shit-there-I-was feel of ignition, but bookmarked anyway.

        • rlms says:

          If you see this comment while scrolling, you have been visited by [John Sidles’ latest pseudonym]. STEAM and topic-comment sentence structure will come to you, but only if you comment ‘thanks mr sidles’ (please do not actually do this). 🙂

    • jchrieture says:

      Physicist Robert L. Forward’s SF novel Timemaster (2001) considers in-depth the question “What spacecraft propulsion technologies are enabled by negative-mass density?”

      The scientific literature upon this topic is remarkably large. For details, see the Wikipedia page Negative_mass#Runaway_motion (which credits Forward).

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Just about all of Alastiar Reynolds’ novels feature close to realistic physics, and in the Revelation Space novels, the fact FTL travel is (almost) impossible features heavily into the plots. Travel between stars occurs with “lighthugger” ships that can accelerate constantly, “hugging” but obviously (almost) never reaching or exceeding c. The consequences of time dilation are integral to the plots.

      Also, the books are amazing and by far my favorite space operas, and Reynolds is my favorite sci-fi author.

  12. johan_larson says:

    The bikes Google provides at its headquarters in Mountain View keep getting stolen.

    Locals said they feel free to “rent” a Gbike whenever it’s convenient for them, with individuals who have taken the bikes including Mayor Ken Rosenberg.

    “It’s like a friendly gesture,” 68-year-old resident Sharon Veach, who often rides one of the bikes home from a train station and keeps it overnight, told the paper. “They don’t really want us to use it, but it’s OK if you do … You know, I rent it for a day.”

    Except “rent” here means “steal”, or at least “borrow without permission.”

    Meanwhile, some investors think dockless bike sharing is going to be the next big thing.

    The scale is simply stunning. In less than a year, Mobike alone has flooded the streets of 18 Chinese cities with what is thought to be more than a million new bikes. Since last April, the company has placed more than 100,000 of their trademark orange-and-silver bikes in each of the cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

    In just the three months of 2017, Mobike – co-founded by Hu Weiwei and Davis Wang, former head of Uber Shanghai – has launched in six more cities; Changsha, Hefei and Tianjin were added this past month. Already backed by the Chinese internet giant Tencent, a recent deal with Apple supplier Foxconn has doubled Mobike’s production capacity to 10m bikes a year.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Nothing new. I think it was several years before I actually was able to use a Gbike on my occasional trips to Mountain View, since they disappeared so fast

      One turned up in a TV commercial for the cosmetics brand Garnier; a Google employee noticed it when it aired.

      To be fair, this may not have been a stolen gbike. There are prop gbikes (e.g. used in _The Internship_).

    • Well... says:

      Is there anything special about Gbikes? They look like the sort of slugglish “cruiser” style bikes that old people ride in pharmaceutical commercials. And do they have gears? I imagine in a hilly place like the Bay area it would suck to have a bike without gears.

      • johan_larson says:

        They were made to be cheap, simple, and reliable.

        This picture has an early gBike (in yellow) and a slightly later one (in blue).

        http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-dJUc2sO0Hi0/T7KPtwASQTI/AAAAAAAABFc/VzrEQio6ViA/s1600/googleBike.jpg

        No handbrakes. No gears.

        • Well... says:

          Well, that makes sense. Good enough for pedaling around the Googleplex, but doesn’t seem like something you could commute or run errands with, much less ride for fun. I guess people will steal anything.

      • The Nybbler says:

        They’re pretty terrible to ride, but it beats walking the length of the Google campuses. I think there have been one-speed and 3-speed internal hub versions, as well as a “commuter” version which could be checked out and I think has 7 speed.

        The Valley proper really isn’t very hilly (my area of New Jersey has more slope). If you want hills you can ride up out of it, but Google is smack dab in the flat part.

      • Matt M says:

        I imagine they serve a really useful purpose as the type of bike you can steal without risking getting in trouble for stealing. The article doesn’t mention the police ever getting involved at all. If you take any random bike you come across, you’re risking legal trouble – but everyone local seems to know that if you take a Google bike, nobody will hassle you at all. Worst case scenario, a google employee will scold you, and it ends there.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I’ve noticed some share-bikes left near my office (not one of the 10 biggest cities in the US, but still in the top 50), and it was just sitting there begging to be used. I thought I’d be accused of stealing if I got on it and rode away so I didn’t do anything, but reading that article on dockless bike shares I might investigate next time and see where it takes me.

    • Matt M says:

      Except “rent” here means “steal”, or at least “borrow without permission.”

      I read the original piece on WSJ a few days ago, and I’d just like to add, in addition to this, I find it very distasteful that the WSJ of all sources would include lines like this:

      Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., can afford it. It won’t say what it pays for its bikes, which have yellow frames, red baskets and green and blue wheels. But such cruisers typically cost $100 to $300, meaning even losing a hundred or so a week would be barely a bump in the road for a company sitting on more than $100 billion of cash.

      How much cash they have is irrelevant. It’s not okay to steal something just because the owner is rich.

      • johan_larson says:

        That’s true.

        When they set up the program, they must have figured on losing some bikes to theft and mishandling. I wonder how their loss rate tracked against expectations.

      • tmk says:

        It explains why Google doesn’t seem to care much.

        • Matt M says:

          Not really. Wal-Mart cares if you shoplift. They also have a lot of cash.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            But shrinkage is a fundamental threat to WalMart.

            I agree that “it’s okay to take stuff from rich people” is obnoxious, especially from the WSJ.

          • A1987dM says:

            Sure, but Walmart would lose much much more money to thieves than Google if the two put similar amounts of effort into preventing it.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But Wal-Mart operates on 1-2% profit margins.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      Seattle is right now flooded with dockless share bikes. I just got a notification on my phone that LimeBike would be free for me for the rest of the month, which is neat, because I have started using them to get between buildings on the company campus.

      I actually put my own decently nice bike into storage this past weekend, because I’m not a spandex warrior or a weekend sport biker, and it’s so much easier to step onto a LimeBike, go somewhere, step off, and not have to worry about how to lock it up or worry about some Enthusiastic Urban Youth stealing it.

    • neciampater says:

      Charlotte is also flooded with them. Yellow, green, and red bikes littered all over!

    • rlms says:

      Obviously stealing is generally bad, but what did they think was going to happen? Given the predictable consequences and pretty low amount of harm, I find it difficult to feel too sorry for Google.

  13. Anon. says:

    What’s the best history of the protestant reformation?

    • Wrong Species says:

      I’m not qualified to answer the “best” but I highly recommend “Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650”. It covers the lead up to the Protestant Reformation, the Reformation itself and the Counter Reformation from the Catholics. Very readable and interesting.

    • SamChevre says:

      I would recommend Diarmaid Mccullough’s The Reformation. It does a good job of capturing the variety of actors involved, and the contingency of some of what happened. (They were planning to do X, a key person died, by the time X happened a decade later the political picture had changed–that kind of thing.)

    • quaelegit says:

      I don’t have a particular book to recommend, but a good place to check for recommendations is the AskHistorians booklist. (The URL should be something like “reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/wiki/books”). The recs are made by professional and amateur historians active in the community. Their list tends to include a range of topics and accessibility levels, from general overview history for a popular audience to academic-oriented books on very specific subjects and much in between.

  14. The Nybbler says:

    I just noticed there’s an IP-address SciHub link in the sidebar. ROTFL.

  15. We are having another South Bay meetup. Saturday January 27th, 3:00 P.M., 3806 Williams Rd, San Jose, CA 95117.

  16. tayfie says:

    What would you do in my financial position? I am intentionally leaving out my own goals because I don’t want to bias the responses and want a wide range of answers.

    At 23 years old, I have a significant amount of money already. My savings and investments total roughly $200,000. I’ve been working and investing since 16, and doing it for fun more than any pressing need. I graduated college last year with no debt, most of my college expenses were funded by scholarships and my parents were glad to pay the rest. On graduating, I took an entry level programming job for $70,000/year in Texas with a very affordable cost of living and minimal commute. Of that, 20% went to a 401k. After tax, I still saved a little more than $25,000 that mostly fed my brokerage account.

    I ask because, after completing college, I feel directionless and unsure what to do.

  17. tayfie says:

    I just posted asking personal advice given my financial situation. I got “duplicate comment” on trying to post again. Did the filter eat it?

    • johan_larson says:

      Try rephrasing and reposting. If necessary, start by posting a short summary and then successively editing the posting up. Sometimes the filter does weird things.

  18. johan_larson says:

    The US does a bunch of things really well, possibly better than anyone. The military is the most powerful in the world. Something like 18 of the top 20 universities in the world are American. Wall Street is hard to match for financial clout and expertise. Hollywood is tops in star power and relentless global marketing and distribution. The Houstion-centered oil industry is very powerful. And on it goes.

    Over in economics, they talk about comparative advantage, the idea that trade can be useful even between partners where one is better than the other at everything. The question becomes what the better partner is most best at. It makes sense for the better partner to specialize in what they are most best at and leave the other things to the lesser partner.

    With that in mind, where does the US’s comparative advantage lie? What is it most best at? We need to find an area that the US is in fact tops in, and second place is really far down.

    I’m thinking it might be Hollywood. No other country’s film industry has anything like Hollywood’s global reach. Bollywood, to be sure, produces more material, but it is a far more local phenomenon.

    Other ideas?

    • tmk says:

      I think there are many areas. The film industry is very visible, but doesn’t make all that much money.

    • dodrian says:

      Can you be a bit more specific about what you mean by Hollywood? The UK and New Zealand spring to mind as playing important roles in making modern movies.

      For example, The Last Jedi was filmed mostly on locations in the EU, and the sound-stages were all in the UK.

      • Matt M says:

        I’m not an expert on movies, but “where the movie is filmed” strikes me as one of the least important factors in how successful a movie is.

        Within the confines of the US, we’ve started to see film industry booms in places like Georgia, entirely due to favorable tax treatment.

    • smocc says:

      The US seems to dominate in postgraduate education, at least to my untrained eye. At the least, I know many more people who leave other countries to come to grad school in the US than vice versa.

    • John Schilling says:

      With that in mind, where does the US’s comparative advantage lie? What is it most best at? We need to find an area that the US is in fact tops in, and second place is really far down.

      You pegged that in your second sentence. Military power projection is something the US does better than approximately the entire rest of the world combined.

      Aerospace generally is a strong point, but less overwhelmingly so.

      • Matt M says:

        Disagree. I think we’re far more superior at cultural than military projection. Our military can’t even contain Iraq and Afghanistan properly at the same time. Despite the fact that we have “the largest” we’re nowhere close to like, world domination capability.

        That said, if this were Civilization, we’d have won a cultural victory a few decades ago. We’re certainly “influential”, to say the least, with every major developed nation on Earth. People in other countries are “wearing our blue jeans and listening to our rock music.” And that’s how we defeated the Soviets, not by having more missiles.

        I went to business school with Indian and Chinese students who had never spent a day in the US, yet knew how to dress more fashionably (by US trend standards) than I did, and could quote, from memory, episodes of Friends.

        I’d also suggest this is a large part of why our Universities are so attractive and highly rated. I have little doubt that you could get just as good of technical knowledge of physics at a Chinese, Russian, German, British, or Japanese university. But that’s not what people want. Having the “cultural context” of the US is important. Learning physics in New York has more value than learning physics in Seoul, not because the quality of physics instruction is better, but because New York itself is “better” in the sense that it provides far greater opportunities.

        • bean says:

          People in other countries are “wearing our blue jeans and listening to our rock music.” And that’s how we defeated the Soviets, not by having more missiles.

          Have to at least partially disagree with this. We defeated the Soviets by running them out of cash, because they couldn’t keep up with our production of smart missiles.

          • cassander says:

            I’d say the inability of the USSR to produce enough cars and washing machines was far more important to their fall than the inability to produce enough smart missiles. Granted, their efforts to build enough smart missiles sucked down an enormous share of their productive capacity made the consumer goods problem worse, but less military spending couldn’t have transformed the fundamental soviet economic problems. At most it could have bought time.

          • bean says:

            Yes and no. The ultimate problem was that opening up their system destroyed it, at least partially through exposure to our culture and expectations. Gorbachev started Glasnost et al because of the squeeze on his economy, at least in part due to the Reagan administration’s deliberate economic warfare. I don’t think that even Reagan realized how close they were to the edge, but reading contemporary documents, it’s rather startling just how oblivious most people were to the possibility of defeating them. If he’d not be squeezed so soon or so badly, Gorbachev might have been able to hold it together.

        • The Nybbler says:

          And that’s how we defeated the Soviets, not by having more missiles.

          The missiles were necessary, if not sufficient. Without them, the USSR keeps expanding.

        • John Schilling says:

          Disagree. I think we’re far more superior at cultural than military projection. Our military can’t even contain Iraq and Afghanistan properly at the same time.

          We can’t pacify Iraq and Afghanistan at the same time, or even separately at any price we are willing to pay, but that’s a separate matter. I haven’t noticed Iraq or Afghanistan projecting power beyond their own borders lately. I haven’t noticed anyone in Iraq or Afghanistan conducting mass-casualty terror attacks against the US lately, which is the reason we invaded those countries. They’ve been contained.

          Meanwhile, ISIS and Al Qaeda have been able to kill Americans by using cultural propaganda to convince native-born US citizens inside the United States to carry out terrorist attacks against their own country, so I’m less impressed with the power of US cultural imperialism than you are.

          On the military front, we can kill other people and break their stuff to the point where they can’t project power beyond the next village, any where, any time. And aside from the major nuclear powers, nobody can kill us or break our stuff on our turf unless they catch us completely by surprise – or as noted, suborn our own people to do it for them.

          Despite the fact that we have “the largest” we’re nowhere close to like, world domination capability.

          Here I think you are confusing domination and conquest. World conquest we’d have trouble at the pacification level, unless we were willing to use measures hat would give us trouble at the looking-at-our-own-faces-in-the-mirror level. World
          domination, we very nearly do that without thinking about it, and we probably could make it official if we really wanted. The Russian nuclear arsenal would be the only major obstacle, I think, and I haven’t thought nearly enough at what we might be able to do about that.

          • Matt M says:

            Meanwhile, ISIS and Al Qaeda have been able to kill Americans by using cultural propaganda to convince native-born US citizens inside the United States to carry out terrorist attacks against their own country, so I’m less impressed with the power of US cultural imperialism than you are.

            Because “don’t kill people” isn’t a US cultural value. The cultural value is “only kill people if they’re bad guys who deserve it,” and the greater culture at large seems rather uninterested in asking or answering the question of “who actually deserves it?”

          • John Schilling says:

            The cultural value is “only kill people if they’re bad guys who deserve it,”

            That’s the cultural value pretty much everywhere, and yet for all of Hollywood’s much-vaunted cultural engineering expertise, I don’t see the United States inspiring any disaffected Al Qaeda members to e.g. gun down fifty members at the Al Qaeda officer’s club on account of their actually being bad guys who deserve it.

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t see the United States inspiring any disaffected Al Qaeda members to e.g. gun down fifty members at the Al Qaeda officer’s club on account of their actually being bad guys who deserve it.

            Because most US cultural products do not take a position on who the bad guy actually is. And some directly imply that Americans are, in fact, the bad guys.

          • toastengineer says:

            and yet for all of Hollywood’s much-vaunted cultural engineering expertise, I don’t see the United States inspiring any disaffected Al Qaeda members to e.g. gun down fifty members at the Al Qaeda officer’s club on account of their actually being bad guys who deserve it.

            Well, Hollywood itself was never very anti-Al Quaeda.

            I don’t know about “cultural engineering expertise” at all; Hollywood’s attempts to use their position to manipulate culture look more like the Emoji Movie than anything else.

            Hollywood’s international influence is great at meme-spreading but only by accident, by the virtue of memes being inherently virulent; no-one is actually convinced by heavy-handed Hollywood aesops.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Matt M

            Because most US cultural products do not take a position on who the bad guy actually is. And some directly imply that Americans are, in fact, the bad guys.

            @toastengineer

            Well, Hollywood itself was never very anti-Al Quaeda.

            These both seem like claims questionable enough you might want to back them up. Most American cultural products present Americans as the good guys: at worst, misguided/deceived/badly led (see the standard Vietnam War movie).

            EDIT: Also, this is getting culture war, and we should probably save it for next time.

          • albatross11 says:

            John Schilling:

            I think most of the US recruits to AQ/ISIS/etc. are loners–they don’t have the ability to shoot a bunch of AQ guys at the officers’ club. On the other hand, they’re surrounded by Americans who aren’t members of these groups (and aren’t even Muslim, though neither AQ nor ISIS are shy about killing Muslims they don’t like).

          • albatross11 says:

            toastengineer:

            I think US movie and TV show makers exert a huge amount of cultural influence, not by explicit preaching, but by demonstration and example. Show gays in a positive light, as interesting characters in a widely-viewed TV show, and you encourage acceptance of gays in the wider society. Show cops roughing up suspects to get answers/confessions, and you make that seem okay to lots of people. And so on.

            The explicit preaching is probably much less effective than the demonstrations (unconstrained by reality in terms of how they work out). Stuff you see done by sympathetic characters many hours a week is stuff you’re going to have a hard time continuing to think of as wrong. And it will never be *unthinkable* even if you think it’s wrong.

            The other place I think US media exerts a lot of covert influence is in modeling discussions. Political and sports and entertainment talk shows have discussions on various topics, and there are some viewpoints that will never, ever appear. Those become weird, offensive, almost unthinkable. The viewpoints that win in these staged discussions are very unlikely to be ones the media companies or most of their employees or their advertisers would find offensive.

          • John Schilling says:

            Why would being a loner disqualify someone from shooting a bunch of people at an officer’s club, or whatever passes for an officer’s club in AQistan, or any other non-hardened installation? If AQ can inspire disaffected loners to gun down fifty (well, 45) enemies at a US military base, why can the US with its much-vaunted cultural supremacy not do the same in return?

    • Brad says:

      It’s not possible to answer this question in a culture war free thread. But as a clue, it would have been three years ago.

    • cassander says:

      The true answer was spoken long ago:

      When it gets down to it — talking trade balances here — once we’ve brain-drained all our technology into other countries, once things have evened out, they’re making cars in Bolivia and microwave ovens in Tadzhikistan and selling them here — once our edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by giant Hong Kong ships and dirigibles that can ship North Dakota all the way to New Zealand for a nickel — once the Invisible Hand has taken away all those historical inequities and smeared them out into a broad global layer of what a Pakistani brickmaker would consider to be prosperity — y’know what? There’s only four things we do better than anyone else: music, movies, microcode (software), high-speed pizza delivery.

      In seriousness, though, I think there’s a gem of truth here. Two actually. US companies are usually considered to be the best run in the world. Granted, most of the studies that show that are performed by Americans or people educated in American institutions, but I think there’s something to it. This makes the US the best place to make or do things that are institutionally difficult. This category includes things like making jet engines, which requires extreme quality control at low levels of production, meaning that you need a chain of command running from the factory floor to the board room where as few people as possible are willing to say “fuck it, 5% of the standard is good enough and we have a quota to reach”. It also includes things like software engineering, a field notoriously ill suited to traditional management techniques and metrics. Basically, any enterprise that benefits on being able to assume that everyone involved will do their best even when no one is watching is one where the US will have an advantage.

      With movies and music, I think there’s something inherently syncretic about american culture. the sheer size and diversity of the US means that anyone who manages to rise to mass attention has to be plucking at heartstrings that are more universal than somewhere with a more coherent and unified culture.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Wouldn’t the answer simply be what the US exports?

    • rlms says:

      Adjusted for size or not? The US apparently has 5 times as many top 20 universities as e.g. Switzerland, but also 40 times the population.

  19. Leit says:

    While I also came here looking for the SSC distillation of this mammoth filing, this is unfortunately the CW-free thread.

  20. Gossage Vardebedian says:

    I’ve never spent much time reading fantasy, especially the big epic fantasy stuff, though I just had some trilogy-sized stuff catch my eye recently. I’ve read Tolkien of course, and some Joe Abercrombie, which I really liked, and the Locke Lamora books (get well soon, Scott Lynch). Also a couple one-offs (Tigana, Uprooted). I always enjoy them, and I read a ton of urban fantasy and scifi, so I’m kind of surprised I’ve gotten this far without a massive amount of fantasy cluttering my now-buckling shelves. So . . . what should I take a long look at? I’m not interested in an investment on the order of the Wheel of Time. I was looking at Rothfuss or Sanderson, but I dunno.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      I was all set to recommend the Malazan Books of the Fallen, until you said you didn’t want an investment like WoT. 🙁 Ah, nuts.

      I’d say give Sanderson’s Mistborn a shot. He can be hit and miss for some people, but that trilogy is (in my opinion) the best of his stuff. His books stand out as, I dunno, magical mysteries – Magic exists, and has real, logical rules for its use, but the protagonists don’t know all the rules. The investigation and discovery of why and how magic works as it does is often closely related to the plot as a whole. He did this in Elantris, in Mistborn, in Warbreaker, and he’s doing it again in the Stormlight Archive.

      Rothfuss is great, but I’d hold off until The Doors of Stone is finally published. Otherwise you’ll just be wanting more at the end.

      I had a good time with Peter Brett’s the Painted Man series, the first one at least – the later books kind of dropped off for me.

      And I’ve been working my way through the Prince of Nothing series, R. Scott Bakker’s work. It’s similar to Abercrombie, if a bit grimmer and darker. Probably more of an investment than any of my other recommendations, but I think if you liked The First Law or Scott Lynch then you’d like Bakker.

      • Nornagest says:

        It’s similar to Abercrombie, if a bit grimmer and darker.

        That’s saying something.

      • Vorkon says:

        You’ve definitely hit the nail on the head about much of Sanderson’s work involving a mystery about the nature of the magic, but I don’t think that’s the only thing he does with his magic systems. He does an excellent job of slowly teaching the reader, through the events of the story, the nuts and bolts of how the magic works, so that when he uses the magic to do something cool, it feels completely earned, rather than some sort of ass-pull or deus ex machina. (And when he DOES throw in a deus ex machina, it creates a sense of confidence in the reader that there’s a good explanation for whatever happened, and whenever it’s revealed, it always turns out that there was.)

        The way I see it, it’s satisfying in the same way that good hard sci-fi can be; good sci-fi takes some scientific principle, and either explores the ramifications of what happens when that principle is taken to an extreme, or postulates a potentially interesting ramification of that principle. It’s just that in Sanderson’s work, he just makes up that principle whole-cloth. And it usually involves superpowers and lots of flashy, glowing shit.

        He also somehow manages to do all this in a very light, conversational tone. I think this is a big part of what turns some people off from his work; a lot of people are looking for more of a sense of gravitas in their epic fantasy. (I’d argue that he brings the gravitas too, but usually only in certain key scenes, not the whole way through.)

        Shifting gears a little bit, though, I’d actually disagree with the recommendation to hold off on Rothfuss. Personally, I have a feeling he’s going to pull a GRRM on us; the Name of the Wind TV series is going to happen at this point. With Lin Manuel Miranda, of all people, producing and doing the music for the series, and pushing the books every chance he gets, there’s too much riding on it for the network to let it fall through. In other words, we’re probably going to get another series that finishes on TV before the final book(s, since I still can’t fathom how he intends to wrap everything up in one more book) ever comes out, and there’s some excellent writing in there that I wouldn’t want to miss out on. There’s also a LOT of depth and hidden meanings in almost every line of those two books, and I feel like the show will be of the sort where you’ll get a whole lot more out of it when you already have some familiarity with those extra layers of depth.

        I’d definitely recommend reading Sanderson first, though, but that’s just me.

      • Loquat says:

        Do the Malazan Books of the Fallen get more… uh… coherent after book 1? I mean, normally after I read a book I remember at least a vague outline of what happened in it, but with that one all I remember is that some unmemorable factions were fighting a war, and meanwhile some unrelated guys were rezzing kind of undead nasty in a city somewhere, and in general it hopped around worse than GRRM in A Feast For Crows except without the 3 books’ worth of prior story laying out who everyone was and how they were related to each other.

        • Nick says:

          Book one is pretty weak. I’d say stick it out through book two, which is my favorite of the series so far (I’ve read the first five, and I’ve bought the next three but I’m not going to read them just yet). A lot of people regard book three as a high point of the early series too, but tastes vary.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          Like Nick said, Gardens of the Moon is the weakest of the series – it was written more than a decade before the others, is mostly based on Erickson’s and Esslemont’s homebrew RPG they had run, and yeah, jumps around. I had a lot of difficulty following what was going on.

          However, I had been forewarned and knew to expect that, so I pushed on to Deadhouse Gates and gave it a chance. That’s the book that hooked me, and then Memories of Ice cemented it.

          My favorite of the series probably wound up being book 8, Toll the Hounds, but I loved all of them. Probably gonna have to do a re-read soon.

    • quaelegit says:

      Are you looking specifically for fantasy (or “epic fantasy”) recommendations?

      I you’re wary of trying Sanderson (and since you mention liking urban fantasy), you might try starting with his Reckoners series (first book is Steelheart). They are a somewhat dystopic superhero urban fantasy with a sense of humor that reminds me a lot of Rick Riordan’s books (perhaps a bit more grown up). Otherwise, start with Mistborn (currently two trilogies, though I’ve only read the first trilogy) or Way of Kings (three books out right now I think?).

      Other high fantasy… everyone loves The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (though I like Lies of Locke Lamora much better personally… best wishes to Scott Lynch indeed!).

      And since you mentioned Uprooted, you might want to check out Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series (first book His Majesty’s Dragon). It’s the Napoleonic Wars… WITH DRAGONS! I stopped reading after five or so books because I got really annoyed at something (don’t remember what), but the first couple books are pretty great. PLUS DRAGONS — especially the main dragon, Temeraire, who is almost as wonderful as Toothless or Kazul.

      If you haven’t read any Discworld, drop what you’re doing and get on that now! I really enjoyed reading them in publication order, but other people prefer to read by subseries or start with the “strongest” books. (Can someone link to the discworld discussions we had here over the last month or two?)

      • Wrong Species says:

        The Stormlight Archives is amazing. Anyone who has any interest in High Fantasy should be reading it right now. The only problem is that Sanderson has a lot on his plate but he’s also much more consistent than someone like George RR Martin.

        • Nick says:

          Yeah, the State of the Sanderson before last had Brandon saying he won’t be able to a Stormlight book even every two years, but the latest has him finishing book three and working on the outline for books four and five over this year, so we will be seeing progress on the series. The man’s dedication is incredible.

        • quaelegit says:

          > G.R.R.M

          OH THAT REMINDS ME!!

          Anyone who is thinking of reading A Song of Ice and Fire (or who has read them and is waiting for the next book) should check out The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu!

          It’s similar in setup and scope to ASoIaF, but less grimdark, and based on Romance in the Three Kingdoms rather than the War of the Roses. If your favorite part of GoT was Ned Stark’s fate, you might be disappointed (there are similar tragedies but they have less weight and there are more happy things), but everyone else will probably like it.

          I’m not sure how Liu’s publishing rate is (only two books out so far) but it’s got to be better than Martin’s. At least, he has far more economic incentive to finish his next book!

        • Vorkon says:

          True, you’ll probably be waiting just as long in between Stormlight books as you would have for a Song of Ice and Fire or Wheel of Time book, back when GRRM and Jordan were still in their prime, but unlike GRRM and Jordan, you’ll also get a new Mistborn book, at least one new novel set in some non-cosmere-related world, and a whole mess of short stories and novellas within the same timeframe.

      • rahien.din says:

        everyone loves The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

        Not everybody! I absolutely couldn’t bear it.

        • I’m in between. He is obviously a very able writer, but he took an awful lot of pages to get his plot part way through and his protagonist is annoyingly irresponsible.

          • cassander says:

            kvothe is supposed to be a little obnoxious. The frame story makes it clear that at the end of his story he gets his teeth kicked in doing something tragic because he was too arrogant to know not to meddle with something. He explicitly says that the end of the second book was the high point and after that the fall begins.

          • Nick says:

            I got the impression too that the writing itself is the best part of the series. Second is probably the setting, despite the fact that we don’t actually get to see that much of it, or perhaps the plotting, since I think he’s laid out some very interesting mysteries with the Chandrian, the doors of stone, the lockless stuff. I think where I have to knock him is the characters. I don’t dislike them, particularly, but I don’t love any of them either, and that’s a lot coming from me—for goodness sake, I even love Sylvester, and he’s such an irredeemable little shit it’s unbelievable. And while telling most of the narrative from the first person, with a frame story and explicit audience and everything, gets us all sorts of Unreliable Narrator fun, it’s also tiresome just how eeevil folks like Ambrose and Hemme are made out to be.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            It’s probably telling that I’m struggling to recall any character’s names beyond Kvothe. Can’t even remember the annoying love interest’s name.

            Basically I second Nick.

          • Nick says:

            Her name is definitely probably maybe either Denna, Dianne, Dinnah, Dyanae, Dinael, Dinay, Dianah, Donna, Dyane, or Alora.

          • quaelegit says:

            @Cassander — then I look forward to watching get his teeth kicked in! Er, that sounds terrible, but I mean I’m looking forward to seeing how Rothfuss develops the character from the kindof annoying youth in book 2 to the more interesting person in the frame story.

            @Nick — Who doesn’t love Sylvester? Ok I’ve only read up to arc 15-ish so maybe he gets even worse later, but Wildbow has me totally sold on his charm. He’s one of those characters that I would probably hate if I met in person, but I love reading about them! (Also in this category: Granny Weatherwax, if historical people count Talleyrand and Hamilton.)

            (Plus he’s in a Wildbow world, so a lot of the time when he does something evil it’s because there aren’t any good options.)

          • Nick says:

            Who doesn’t love Sylvester?

            Lots of people, actually. 🙁 I’m not going to go digging for it at work, but there’s a big readthrough of Twig on SpaceBattles or SufficientVelocity and the guy viscerally hates Sylvester and thinks he’s the worst, most unlikable person ever, and his co-readers there are always egging him on about how it’s actually even more terribly worse than he first thought. But he also can’t read straightforward exposition and thinks every other sentences proves how sexist and racist Wildbow is, so salt to taste.

            a lot of the time when he does something evil it’s because there aren’t any good options

            I don’t quite buy that reasoning—being Catholic, I think that at best some of Sylvester’s actions can be saved by the doctrine of double effect, while others definitely couldn’t. To take a pretty serious example, vawhevat uvzfrys fb ur’q or gnxra oruvaq rarzl yvarf naq gerngrq ol n zrqvp, bayl gb xvyy gur zrqvp.

            I agree that there’s plenty of characters I love to read about but would hate in person; in fact, a typology of those would be pretty interesting. (One type, for instance, is the classically vicarious “person you wish you could be.” I’d just be terribly jealous of them.) I’m not sure Hamilton is a good example, though—I think he’d have me at the piercing blue eyes and the fierce debates. 😛

          • He’s one of those characters that I would probably hate if I met in person, but I love reading about them! (Also in this category: Granny Weatherwax, if historical people count Talleyrand and Hamilton.

            Judging by the Duff Cooper biography, Talleyrand was actually someone hated by people who didn’t know him and liked by people who did.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Napoleon knew him pretty well and infamously described him as “shit in a silk stocking,” but he did have some pretty strong personal reasons to dislike the man so grain of salt.

          • quaelegit says:

            I’ve also read the Duff Cooper biography (though it was a while ago so I don’t remember details). I loved it — Talleyrand had an incredible and entertaining life — but he was pretty duplicitous (I think you’d have to be to not only survive but stay important for that many regime changes!)

            Hamilton — I don’t like conflict and Hamilton was a drama queen who constantly picked fights with everybody. Again, lot of respect for the guy and very entertaining read/sing* about, but don’t think I’d get along with him in person.

            On the other hand both of these guys were obviously capable of being quite charming and charismatic, so who knows maybe it would work out fine.

            Actually if I remember correctly Talleyrand stayed with Hamilton for a while when he was in exile in the US and they got along with each other quite well!

            (* My US history teacher showed us Miranda’s White House performance of the Hamilton rap back in 2010/2011. I was a fan before it was cool! *adjusts hipster hat*)

            EDIT: Also the Napoleon quote is totally justified — Talleyrand was selling N’s secrets to his enemies!

        • quaelegit says:

          “Not all readers!” 😛

          I didn’t have any major problems with it (except Kvothe’s interactions with his aunt*, which were stupid and infuriating), it just felt boring compared to Scott Lynch’s books. I read Name of the Wind right after Red Seas Under Red Skies, and while I think the latter book had some issues and was weaker than Lies, it felt much more vibrant and engrossing than NotW.

          However, I spend a fair amount of time on book related subreddits, and the average opinion of NotW is very high there, so I felt obliged to point it out.

          Oh wait, also the love interest (in NotW) sucks. (Again don’t remember the details just that her interactions with Kvothe annoyed me).

          * err, the woman heavily forshadowed to be his aunt? I think she hates actors? I honestly don’t remember any details except that it was HEAVILY forshadowed that she’s his aunt.

          • Vorkon says:

            Oh wait, also the love interest (in NotW) sucks. (Again don’t remember the details just that her interactions with Kvothe annoyed me).

            I THINK what Rothfuss is trying to go for with her is that she sucks on purpose; since the whole story is written from Kvothe’s perspective, and Kvothe sees her as this unrealistically perfect dream girl, the story presents her exactly as unrealistically as a dumb kid with a crush sees their crush. Unfortunately, the end result of this, from a reader’s perspective, is that, yeah, she sucks. The other female characters are quite well-written, though! (Which is what gives me the confidence that the love interest sucks on purpose.)

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I THINK what Rothfuss is trying to go for with her is that she sucks on purpose; since the whole story is written from Kvothe’s perspective

            Kvothe himself suffers extensively from this

          • quaelegit says:

            @Vorkon — But if I wanted to read a romance between unendearing teenagers, I could read Twilight! Ok, ok, kidding, Rothfuss is a much better writer than Meyer, but I am looking forward to seeing Kvothe and other characters develop past this stage.

            If you don’t mind me asking, which female characters do you think are well developed? I’m not disagreeing with you, I just don’t remember this being the case — the love interest I found annoying, and Auri seemed interesting but not developed in story. (YES, yes, I really need to read “The Slow Regard of Silent Things”!) The aunt is just an excuse for Kvothe to behave badly. Looking at the wikipedia page, I totally forgot about Devi the moneylender (who I think I liked in story), and an entire Amazon land (as in matriarchal, warriors, no men afaict).

            On the other hand, the only male character I can remember distinctly is his original mentor figure (and if he counts Kvothe’s servant/apprentice from the frame story), so I guess the characters didn’t leave much of an impression on me.

          • Vorkon says:

            I was specifically thinking about Auri and Devi, yeah.

          • Nick says:

            I’ve heard complaints from others that Rothfuss’ characters are strangely nebulous. It didn’t strike me as problematic when I was reading them, but one reviewer remarked that he really has no idea what Kvothe’s character is. Phrased that way, I’m… not sure I could answer him, though I could list a hundred tropes that apply to Kvothe. I have to agree that a lot of characters didn’t make much of an impression on me.

        • Nornagest says:

          They’re technically well-done but I found Kvothe obnoxious and the rest of the cast too weak to make up for him. Read the first book, probably won’t read any more.

          • cassander says:

            kvothe is supposed to be a little obnoxious, because the frame story makes it clear that at the end of his story he gets his teeth kicked in for being an arrogant little shit. It’s a tragic fall.

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah, I understand there’s probably some kind of reckoning coming, but that doesn’t make it any more fun to read about in the short term. And a doorstopper fantasy series that’s still being written is a pretty long short term.

            I like the tragic fall structure, but for it to work you desperately need a protagonist that’s likeable despite their flaws. Kvothe is probably that for some people, but not for me.

    • SamChevre says:

      Epic fantasy is something I enjoy: here are some favorites. I tend to enjoy books that are historical-ish in setting, and have significant religious elements.

      Lois McMaster Bujold, the Five Gods books. (Curse of Chalion etc). Recommended and discussed on SSC before.

      Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint, and Dave Freer, The Heirs of Alexandria; 1500’s Venice, and the world, in a world where magic is used by much of the church. The first book, The Shadow of the Lion, is a fine stand-alone.

      Stephen Donaldson: I like the Thomas Covenant books, particularly the first trilogy, but they don’t seem to be very popular. I also like the Mordant’s Need books, but they are closer to sci-fi in some ways.

      Tamora Pierce, the Trickster books. These are YA books, but they’re the most adult of Pierce’s books. A bit CW-ish, but not badly so.

    • Bujold’s Curse of Chalion is very good and the other books in the same world are also worth reading.

      I’m very fond of Cherryh’s Paladin, but it isn’t clear if it classifies as fantasy. It’s basically a historical novel with invented history and geography, a category I don’t have a good name for, despite the fact that my first novel was also in it.

      Someone else mentioned Novik’s Temeraire books, which I also liked.

      Which raises again the question of what defines a work as fantasy. Novik has no magic. But she does have dragons. Why is it that dragons make the works fantasy when Heinlein’s The Star Beast is clearly science fiction?

    • Randy M says:

      I enjoyed the Engineer’s Trilogy by KJ Parker. It’s medieval fiction more than fantasy, though; made up setting with near renaissance tech, but no magic or non-humans.

    • littskad says:

      Some recommendations not mentioned by others yet:

      Glen Cook’s Black Company books. These follow an elite mercenary corps in a fantasy world with a very few extremely powerful wizards, as they try to survive and, eventually, figure out their origin.

      He also wrote the Garrett, P.I. books, which are kind of fantasy versions of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books; and the Instrumentalities of the Night books, which are fantasy reworks of 13th century European history.

      Steven Brust’s Dragaera books are also good fun. They’re a little reminiscent of Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastard books. His spin-off Khavren Romances are fantasy versions of The Three Musketeers.

      • which are kind of fantasy versions of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books

        David Duncan’s The Alchemist’s Apprentice and its sequels are Nero Wolfe books set in fantasy Venice. And fun.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      Hey, thanks everyone. I really appreciate the input. Now I have a nice big list of possibilities. I’m going to try Curse of Chalion and the Mistborn trilogy first, and reread some Abercrombie. Looks like Rothfuss isn’t going to have The Doors of Stone ready until 2019 or 2020.

      I actually had a dance instructor a few years ago who was friends with Sanderson, and a big fan of his as well, naturally, but I was staying far away from epic fantasy then.

  21. Edward Scizorhands says:

    How does “tartar control” toothpaste differ from normal toothpaste? The active ingredients are the same.

    • Urstoff says:

      According to my dentist, the ingredients in toothpaste (including flouride) are pointless because they’re not on your teeth long enough to do anything. The physical act of brushing and rinsing is what cleans teeth, but people are uncomfortable with brushing their teeth with just a wet toothbrush.

      My dentist may also be completely wrong.

      • cassander says:

        It might not do any actual good, but baking soda toothpaste definitely leaves my teeth feeling cleaner.

        • albatross11 says:

          ISTR that baking soda is abrasive enough that you will eventually wear away your enamel brushing with it all the time.

      • Matt M says:

        I’ve heard this somewhere before, too. That brushing with water would be about 95% effective, but that smearing toothpaste onto your teeth with your finger does virtually nothing.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Toothpaste contains surfactants and abrasives (in the “inactive ingredients” section. Inactive doesn’t mean inert; the active ingredients are the ones regulated as drugs, basically FDA silliness), which certainly have an effect. There have apparently been trials showing the fluoride is effective too, but you’ve gotta watch; some of those studies may be controlled by Commies looking to contaminate our precious bodily fluids. (oops, sorry, this is supposed to be the Dr. Strangelove-free thread, right?)

      • Eltargrim says:

        Your dentist is much more right than wrong. Most toothpaste ingredients are off your teeth within a couple of hours. A notable exception is any toothpaste containing bioglass, e.g. European formulations of Sensodyne. While effectively a press release, this article has some context. Note the use of a polymer to promote the adhesion of the bioglass. Some of my colleagues have worked with dental bioglasses, they’re really quite fascinating.

        • The Nybbler says:

          So it is easier to change the formulation to avoid the FDA rules than go through the process?

          • Eltargrim says:

            As I recall, yes. It’s quite unfortunate, as AFAIK chloride provides no dental benefit, so while changing the composition away from fluoride would retain the benefits of chlorapatite formation and the polymer, it doesn’t gain the benefits of fluoridation.

            That said, it’s extremely easy from a production standpoint to swap between fluoride and chloride compositions. Any real barrier might be enough to cause the change.

      • Alejandro says:

        As another datapoint, I strongly dislike toothpaste, have asked a few dentists if it is OK to just not use it, and they all agreed it was.

        • Mark Atwood says:

          I suspect what you dislike is sodium lauryl sulfate, which is what gives major brand toothpaste it’s foamyness, its notoriously bad mouthfeel, and it’s property of screwing up one’s sense of taste.

          I switched to tooth powder https://www.amazon.com/Uncle-Harrys-Natural-Tooth-Powder/dp/B000E3DX5M it works better, feels better

          (This is an unsolicited product endorsement by a satisfied user, not an actor. All stunts performed on a closed track. Side effects are rare, and may include headache, nausea, vomiting, death, dizziness, ejaculations, dysentery, cardiac arrhythmia, mild heart explosions, varicose veins, darkened soul, lycanthropy, trucanthropy, virginity, mild discomfort, vampirism, gender impermanence, spontaneous dental hydroplosion, and mild rash.)

          • Aapje says:

            You forgot two side effects: sleepiness (usually late in the day) and running out of breath (usually when exercising hard).

      • powerfuller says:

        I’ve heard this is why you ought to not rinse after brushing, so as to let the fluoride sit on your teeth, abstaining from eating or drinking for 15 or 30 minutes after.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        This is news to me, and I find it very irksome. I sometimes get paralyzed by choices. Buying toothpaste annoys me to no end because there are a dozen different brands each with a slew of options. How many hours of my life have I wasted in the toothpaste aisle of the supermarket agonizing over my decision?

        I make it a point not to wish divine retribution on anyone, so all I’m going to say is I hope on Judgement Day God remembers this particular evil on the accounts of the Colgate and Crest product and marketing teams and acts according to His will.

        • Aapje says:

          Just get the one that tastes good. 99% of the differences are marketing gimmicks. The other 1% will kill you.

          • quaelegit says:

            My problem is I know which one I like, but I keep buying the wrong flavor because the advertising looks too similar!

            (To be fair this is very low down on my list of problems.)

          • Aapje says:

            If it’s a tube in a cardboard box, then take the box with you when you go to the shop. Then you only have to pattern match.

            Also, just buy a bunch of tubes at once if you have the room to store them. The stuff lasts.

        • johan_larson says:

          Buy the stuff that’s on special, unless it’s obviously unsuitable, such as a specialty toothpaste for smokers.

  22. timujin says:

    How would you talk to a person who claims to be absolutely selfish, but also curious why would anyone, even in principle, care for the wellbeing of someone other than himself?

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I probably wouldn’t. This sounds like somebody who’s looking to prove something dumb.

      But anyway: you care about the wellbeing of people other than yourself because mutual defense pacts are rational, because assuming that the world isn’t a solipsist dream it is intellectually consistent to afford the same privileges to beings who are from an external view pretty much identical to you even if you don’t feel an emotional connection to them, and because you feel an emotional connection to people.

      • Viliam says:

        To me it sounds like someone who wants to be entertained by their opponent’s frustration. Play along if you derive some indirect enjoyment from feeling frustrated (e.g. later you feel virtuous for having tried); avoid otherwise.

        There is probably a chapter about this somewhere in Berne’s Games People Play.

    • One obvious approach is the evolutionary explanation. That’s not a reason why people should care about others but it is an explanation of why people do care about (some) others.

    • Mark says:

      Taste.

      TV shows are more interesting if you identify with the characters.
      Someone who doesn’t identify with other people is doing life wrong, missing a trick. They aren’t attaching meaning in the right places.

      The selfish man must be empathetic for the sake of fun, interest, and the beauty of his own life.

    • jchrieture says:

      A good SF writer for your friend to read is Ted Chiang, in that affective cognition is central, increasingly, to Chiang’s fiction and essays (per two recent SSC comments: shorter here and longer here).

      Affective cognition increasingly is central, too, to the peer-reviewed psychiatric literature. A recent accessible survey is Anthony Bateman’s and Peter Fonagy’s “Mentalization-Based Treatment” (Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 2013, PMC4467231):

      Mentalizing is the process by which we make sense of each other and ourselves, implicitly and explicitly, in terms of subjective states and mental processes. It is a profoundly social phenomenon: as human beings, we generally (and automatically) form beliefs about the mental states of those with whom we interact, and our own mental states are strongly influenced by these beliefs.

      Nevertheless, human beings can temporarily lose awareness that others have minds, and can even at times treat one another as physical objects.

      The concept of mentalizing has captured the interest and imagination of an astonishing range of people—from psychoanalysts to neuroscientists, from child development researchers to geneticists, from existential philosophers to phenomenologists—all of whom seem to have found it useful. According to the Thompson Reuter-maintained Web of Science, the use of the term in titles and abstracts of scientific papers increased from 10 to 2,750 between 1991 and 2011.

      Clinicians in particular have enthusiastically embraced the idea, and have put it to innovative use in their practices.

      Regarded as a transdisciplinary scientific topic having intrinsic relevance to psychiatric understanding and practice, it is remarkable that “mentalization” has never yet been discussed in any SSC essay.

      “Mentalization” is the focus, too, of a burgeoning hard-science literature that addresses perennial SSC themes. See for example last week’s “Neural and Genetic Correlates of the Social Sharing of Happiness”, PMC5742108).

      Even The Onion has been reading the scientific tea-leaves in respect to affective cognition; as evidenced by this week’s video-essay “How Do Self-Driving Cars Avoid Driving Straight To The Beach?“.

      This literature — both scientific and otherwise — gives ratiocinative friends and colleagues plenty to think about; these friends and colleagues may or may not enjoy the inherently self-reflective process of studying this literature.

      Opinions may differ … obviously … but I for one welcome our new warmly affective, super-empathic, hyper-mentalizing machine overlords. This, despite the risk, the long-appreciated risk (“With Folded Hands“, Jack Williamson, 1947), that our super-affective machines will someday cherish us to death.

  23. because they couldn’t keep up with our production of smart missiles.

    At a considerable tangent to the threat the quote is from …

    It seems to me that this is the least bad response available to the problem posed by North Korea. Five years ago it was possible to make an argument for attacking them, at least from the U.S. point of view, since although they could have killed a lot of Koreans they could not have killed very many Americans. That is no longer the case.

    But the U.S. is enormously richer than North Korea and more technologically advanced and it is possible to destroy incoming missiles, even if we are not yet good enough to do it reliably. So the solution is a repeat of Reagan’s Star Wars strategy. Vastly expand our antimissile systems (or lasers or whatever else works), to the point where North Korea cannot afford to build enough missiles and warheads to be confident of killing millions of Americans with a nuclear attack.

    • bean says:

      I’m pretty much in agreement with you on this. Expensive though missile defense might be, our bigger economy gives us a lot of leverage, and it’s cheaper than rebuilding San Diego anyway. The only problem is that I don’t think we can wait for their economy to collapse because they don’t really have one.
      (Of course, I also think that missile defense is a lot more plausible in general than the consensus view suggests.)

      • albatross11 says:

        If we build effective missile defenses, will that trigger a huge build-up of Russian and Chinese nuclear missiles to keep a meaningful deterrent?

        • Nornagest says:

          Depends how they work. Geometry is a big deal for most ABM systems — if you’ve sited your interceptors wrong or you’re pointing your radars in the wrong direction, the system does nothing or its performance is at least seriously degraded. That means you can theoretically build an ABM system that’s effective against North Korean missiles without compromising Russian deterrence, at least, very much. It’s also a numbers game to some extent — if your system has you salvo-firing, say, five interceptors at each incoming missile, then you’re limited to intercepting N/5 missiles, and N is going to be public knowledge: interceptors capable of tackling ICBMs are big weapons that are hard to hide. There are additionally treaty obligations to contend with, if I’m not mistaken. And finally, at least for now, the Chinese and especially the Russians have long-range SLBMs and the North Koreans don’t.

          That being said, I’d expect Vladimir Putin at least to see an ABM buildup as a golden opportunity for some saber-rattling.

          • bean says:

            All true, although I don’t think that the Chinese are going to be very happy. But their happiness isn’t my concern. The safety of the US is.

            That being said, I’d expect Vladimir Putin at least to see an ABM buildup as a golden opportunity for some saber-rattling.

            Let him rattle his saber. He doesn’t have the money to back it up, particularly with the amount he’s been pouring into conventional forces lately.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Let him rattle his saber. He doesn’t have the money to back it up, particularly with the amount he’s been pouring into conventional forces lately.

            Aren’t those conventional forces sufficient to screw with our NATO friends that we’ve been rather lukewarm on defending lately? Thinking of the Baltics in particular.

          • bean says:

            Aren’t those conventional forces sufficient to screw with our NATO friends that we’ve been rather lukewarm on defending lately? Thinking of the Baltics in particular.

            Quite possibly. I’m of two minds on this. On one hand, we signed them up and need to back them. On the other hand, a lot of our NATO friends are essentially freeloading on our defense budget. Not the Baltics, who are actually meeting their commitments, but everyone who isn’t currently staring Russia in the eye. It’s their doorstep next, not ours, so why are we paying for it?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Hegemonesse oblige?

        • bean says:

          If they’re spending their defense budget on that, they aren’t spending it meddling in Ukraine/the South China Sea. Neither has unlimited money, particularly Russia. (AIUI, most of the cuts as a result of the various arms limitation treaties are things they’d have had to do anyway.) I’d say bring it on.

      • johan_larson says:

        Also, the US doesn’t have to do this alone. I expect Japan and South Korea would be enthusiastic partners, to say the least, and would bring a lot to the table, technically speaking.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      As a least bad option, sure. We can probably afford to jack up the $10/billion spent on missile defense.

      I don’t think this will ever get to the point where we can just assume away NK nukes, though. There’s always the chance that a warhead slips through and a city gets toast.

      You’re also still left with end-game. North Korea can’t end the same way the USSR did. The USSR had functioning sub-central governments, protest movements, opposition parties, etc. It more “dissolved” than “collapsed.” North Korea collapsing would be a LOT closer to “collapse,” but they might just decide to kill a bunch of their neighbors out of spite.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        they might just decide to kill a bunch of their neighbors out of spite.

        The Japanese, maybe, but not the South Koreans. To my understanding, the Koreans see themselves as one people, but that half of them are living under and illegitimate government. The animosity is to the opposing government, not the people.

        • John Schilling says:

          Pretty much, on both sides of the border. North Korea will still target major military and logistics installations in South Korea with nuclear warheads, and enough of those are in major urban areas that you’re probably talking megadeaths even if Pyongyang doesn’t H-bomb Seoul out of spite.

          Both halves of the peninsula, though, really hate the Japanese, because reasons. If the Kim regime falls, they’re going to be looking for an excuse to H-bomb Tokyo out of spite, and there are enough US military bases in Japan to conjure up an excuse. For that matter, the Kim regime might try to weasel out of falling by proposing to team up with Seoul against Japan, if they can find a justification.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      How happy are Putin and Xi going to be about a huge ABM system being built right next door?

      North Korea is a small country which is only relevant because of the periodic threat that we’ll get dragged into a second Korean War. China and Russia are huge countries and regional hegemons which are tied into the global economy.

      I don’t see how playing chicken with the Kim family is worth the possibility of reigniting the Cold War. There’s no urgency to get rid of the DPRK as long as they’re staying mostly on their side of the DMZ.

  24. rahien.din says:

    I am looking for a good text that describes the neurology underlying optical illusions.

    Anyone have any recommendations?

  25. BBA says:

    If the Copyright Act of 1976 is not amended, then just under a year from now, all books and other works published in 1923 will enter the public domain in the United States. 2019 would be the first time since 1978 that a copyright has expired. It was going to be 1999, but the Sonny Bono Act passed in late ’98 to extend it another two decades.

    I’ve noticed a number of misconceptions around copyright that have sprung up in discussions about this topic. It’s a common view that the Sonny Bono Act was passed purely to benefit Disney, since Steamboat Willie was going to enter the PD. Disney did lobby for it, but the owners of other 1920s works did too, notably the heirs of George Gershwin who are still making lots of money off “Rhapsody in Blue.” Also, there was a particular reason why the term was extended 20 years, and not 10 or 100: the EU had already harmonized on life of the author + 70 years and we were still on the Berne Convention term of life + 50. (The EU, in turn, was harmonizing on the term West Germany adopted in the ’60s.) I’m dubious about the benefits of Berne, but the rest of the “civilized” world was on board with it long before America finally signed on in 1989.* We used to be the country with notably short copyright terms and lax IP enforcement – can you imagine? There’s also the notion that “they always extend the term right when anything is about to expire” which has happened a grand total of once.

    Anyway, there’s now enough awareness of the issue and enough opposition to the idea of extending copyright again that it doesn’t look like Disney or the Gershwins are going to bother lobbying for another extension, but check back in a few months.

    *The 1976 copyright act adopted the life + 50 term of Berne, but the US still wasn’t compliant with Berne. Notably the US required a copyright notice, while under Berne everything is copyrighted regardless of formalities or any lack thereof.

    • Matt M says:

      the heirs of George Gershwin who are still making lots of money off “Rhapsody in Blue.”

      No kidding? I would have figured that copyright was owned by United Airlines at this point!

    • Anatoly says:

      > it doesn’t look like Disney or the Gershwins are going to bother lobbying for another extension

      Really? I honestly didn’t think I’d live to see any more books freed into public domain. After the Sonny Bono act, it seemed like this crap would just go on self-extending forever.

      Exciting? Well, it’s a little exciting! I’d be much more thrilled to get back to “28 years after creation”, but that’s not gonna happen in our lifetimes, right?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Also, there was a particular reason why the term was extended 20 years, and not 10 or 100: the EU had already harmonized on life of the author + 70 years and we were still on the Berne Convention term of life + 50. (The EU, in turn, was harmonizing on the term West Germany adopted in the ’60s.)

      This is just a ratcheting game — get one country or group of countries to extend it, then “harmonize” the rest to it. Repeat as often as you can get away with it. Mexico has life + 100 now, for instance.

      • Nornagest says:

        Do countries ever harmonize down?

        • BBA says:

          Depends on what direction you consider “down.”

          On a different issue, the numerous cycles of GATT/WTO have greatly reduced tariffs on a harmonized, international level. That’s a tendency towards less restriction.

      • BBA says:

        The Mexico law isn’t retroactive, so it’s of limited use to current copyright rentiers.

    • bean says:

      I’ve suspected we wouldn’t see an extension this time, although I’m surprised it happened without a fight. Last time, there wasn’t much of a constituency for the public domain. Through various efforts, the public and congress are more aware, and there are people with lobbyists who would be fighting Disney.

    • quaelegit says:

      Any idea why everyone standardized to West Germany?

      @The Nybbler — has this happened with countries other than West Germany?

      • The Nybbler says:

        @quaelegit

        The US harmonized when it entered the Berne Convention. And while not term-related, the DMCA-like laws of other countries were pushed as harmonization with the DMCA itself.

      • buntchaot says:

        From when i was working on IP several years ago i remember that when the GATT was upgraded to WTO&TRIPS a bunch of small economies were encouraged to adopt western IP standards which they did because they cared not much about IP but alot about access to other markets. US also convinced some countries bilaterally with sanctions, but cant remember if that was about copyright or mainly other IPs.
        The media industry had an impressive influence in the us administration at the time, in large part by having their people in high official positions.

        I just delved into the 1965 german urheberrechtsgesetz and in the initial government proposal the term is 50 years. unfortunately as far as i can tell bundestag files are only digitized starting in the ’70s i am curious why they changed it to 70 years.

        @quaelegit
        The harmonizing council directive from ’93 argues very much pro IP as reason to go for the upper end of terms. also it says

        a harmonization of the terms of protection of copyright […] cannot have the effect of reducing protection currently enjoyed by rightholders in the community

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Just to add, there’s a common misconception that should Steamboat Willie enter the public domain, then Mickey Mouse enters the public domain. This is incorrect. Mickey Mouse is still a registered trademark of the Walt Disney Corporation and will be until the fall of civilization. Steamboat Willie entering the public domain just means now you can make, distribute, or sell copies of the Steamboat Willie film. You won’t be able to go making your own Mickey Mouse films or merchandise.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I lawyer I only kind of trust said that the trademark on Mickey Mouse is only on very specific uses of his image. I didn’t believe him, and I’m still skeptical, but I haven’t ever found something that proves him definitely wrong.

        • Aapje says:

          Unless you have many millions of dollars lying around gathering dust, it seems unwise to go up against Disney. They can bury in legal costs you even if you are in the right.

      • BBA says:

        On this point, Frederick Warne & Co. v. Book Sales, Inc. ruled that a trademark can outlast a copyright, but only in the narrow sense of the goods and services being trademarked. To wit, Warne as Beatrix Potter’s publisher could trademark her cover drawing of Peter Rabbit. But once it entered the public domain (much earlier in the US than elsewhere) that trademark couldn’t be used to prevent another publisher from legally producing its own edition of the book, only to prevent other publishers’ editions from being confused with Warne editions.

        In practice I think Mickey Mouse is associated with “The Walt Disney Company” in a sense that Peter Rabbit is not associated with “Frederick Warne & Co., a division of Penguin-Random House”, so Disney’s trademark is likely to be more effective against third parties than Warne’s.

      • The Nybbler says:

        It’s not lawful to use trademark as a sneaky way of effectively extending copyright (Or patent, as has been tried also).

  26. tayfie says:

    What would you do in my financial position? I am intentionally leaving out my own goals because I don’t want to bias the responses and want a wide range of answers.

    At 23 years old, I have a significant amount of money already. My savings and investments total roughly 200,000. I’ve been working and investing since 16, doing it for fun more than any pressing need. I graduated college last year with no debt, most of my college expenses were funded by scholarships and my parents were glad to pay the rest. On graduating, I took an entry level programming job for 70,000/year in Texas with a very affordable cost of living and minimal commute. Of that, 20% went to a 401k. After tax, I still saved a little more than 25,000 that mostly fed my brokerage account.

    I ask because, after completing college, I feel directionless and unsure what to do.

    • Brad says:

      I’m not exactly sure what you are asking. $200k is a very respectable chunk of change to have saved for a 23 year old, but it isn’t as though you could retire, not if you wanted to stay in the first world anyway. And I, at least, wouldn’t want to retire at 23 anyway.

      If you don’t actually want to be a programmer, then you probably should go do something else. But I’d have suggested the same thing even if you didn’t have the savings.

      If you want to take a year or three off and travel the world or something, you could do that. Is that something you have a burning desire to do?

      I guess I don’t see where the financial position comes in to it. The underlying issue is that after completing college you feel directionless and unsure what to do. The money doesn’t have much to do with that or help you figure it out. At least as far as I can see.

    • Aapje says:

      @tayfie

      I am intentionally leaving out my own goals because I don’t want to bias the responses and want a wide range of answers.

      I’m a bit confused. You say that you have goals, but that you also feel directionless and unsure what to do.

      Are you discontent with your current goals? If so, it is really hard to give good advice with just what you are offering here. Some obvious possibilities:
      – make a career plan towards something that better fits your skills and interests. Given your interests in investing, doing advanced programming in the financial/investment sector might suit you well
      – work on finding a partner/start a family
      – have experiences that expand your views, like travel (either next to your job or by taking a sabbatical/going jobless for a time)
      – adopt a good cause that you care about and change your life to help this cause (this can range from changing jobs to volunteering in your spare time to earning lots of money and giving it away)
      – focus on getting better at your job

      • One question is whether you like working.

        If not, you might consider accumulating enough money to support yourself at a level you are comfortable with and then retiring forever. That makes sense if you have a high value for leisure, less if you enjoy being involved in the sort of activities that earn money.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      We’d really need an idea of your goals to give you any sort of financial advice. There’s a huge difference if you want to have 8 kids, if you want to travel the world, or if you want to start the next Google.

      Your last statement makes it sound as if you HAVE no goals, or at least not any firm goals.

      At the very least, it’d be good to know your general relationship leanings. Like, if you were a typical American, I’d definitely advise getting prepared for that wife/husband and 2.5 kids coming your way. But if you’re a typical SSC’er, there’s a non-trivial chance you will be in a DINK household, voluntarily single, or in a polyamorous relationship with no children. This is probably THE defining question of your life, and it seriously affects your financial future, so at least SOME guidance on that would be good.

      However, in the near-term, there are two pretty big spending items you’ll benefit from:
      1. Travel
      2. More education

      2 is especially important for your long-term career prospects, IMO. And you’re in a better position than most, because you don’t have to go into insane amounts of debt. Other people here can guide you better on this, though: I’m an accountant, not a computer programmer.

      1 is probably the luxury good that practically everyone would like. And you’re at the best time of your life to do it! Vacation with friends whenever you get the chance, don’t go crazy on the spending while you are there…yeah, a lot of people would give up an arm and a leg to have that.

      Don’t get suckered into purchasing high-ticket consumer goods with a high cost of ownership: boats, jet skis, sports cars, whatever. These will not make you happy, but will absolutely drain your bank account. 200k is a lot. It is not THAT much.

      I was in a similar position to you, though with something more like $40k than $200k. I dropped the money in a liquid, safe investment fund so I could access it whenever I needed it, and it wouldn’t drop in value. I ended up using it for my wedding, honeymoon, and downpayment for a house. It disappeared pretty fast between those 3.

      • Brad says:

        If he wants to stay a computer programmer, I don’t think further education is necessary or even especially helpful at this point. A decade down the road he may want an MBA or something similar to help ease a transition to management, but I wouldn’t do that preemptively. He could get a data science masters or a Phd in machine learning but both of those would be involve leaving the pure computer programming path.

        Although I’m not one of the big-C conservatives around here I would echo what ADBG said about family. If had it to do over again I’d look to get married and have children much younger. You’ll be at higher risk for divorce, which with children involved absolutely sucks–no beating around the bush there, but on the other hand you’ll get through the toughest child rearing years while you still have a ton of energy.

        • Matt M says:

          It might be worth thinking about getting an MBA as closer to “taking a year (or two) off” than anything else. I speak from personal experience when I say that business school is a joke. Especially if you don’t need a GA/TA position to help finance it. It’s like working a 20/hr a week job, with most of the real work being related to finding your next job rather than to actual academics. A lot of partying and socializing with plenty of time to travel if that’s your thing. Low expectations and easy As. Think of it as a vacation where you actually get a relevant and marketable certification at the end.

      • 1 is probably the luxury good that practically everyone would like. And you’re at the best time of your life to do it!

        [1 is travel]

        I’m not sure I agree. I did a good deal of traveling when young, have been doing a good deal more recently. One conclusion I reached some time back is that traveling is more fun when you have an actual connection with the place you are going, rather than being a tourist looking at tourist stuff.

        That’s easier to manage, at least in my experience, when you are older and so have more to offer to people in other countries–giving talks, short term teaching and the like in my case.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I was in a slightly similar situation around 25, with about $100,000 in assets vs no debt (outside of a mortgage) and was very clearly not going to keep doing what I was doing (playing poker) and also felt directionless. Basic guidelines

      1. Doing something is better than doing nothing, so don’t quit your job until you know what you are going to do. If you want a nice trip try to build a period in between jobs rather than quit, travel and then look. The exception here is a toxic situation, which could be personal or professional, but those are pretty rare.

      2. Relationships with people are the best way forward. People you like aren’t just great to be around they are also the conduit for new ideas and opportunities. One good idea that is accessible is worth 10 ‘great’ ideas.

    • SamChevre says:

      I can’t say what you should do, because I don’t know what you want. I have two pieces of advice:

      Stick to the first job for at least a year, preferably two, unless you are going to a clearly better job. When we look at resumes, “Got a good job; left within a year” is a yellow flag for high-maintenance or easily bored.

      Look strongly at language study abroad. I can recommend CIDEF from firsthand experience if you are interested in French (I studied there 20 years ago, my sister two years ago). It is cheap relative to vacation travel (you can plausibly study at CIDEF for a school year at an all-in cost of under $20,000), and is a great way to learn something that will stay useful life-long.

    • quaelegit says:

      Hey, me too!

      (23 yo, graduated college with no debt because my parents paid for it, moved to Texas for a technical job.) I didn’t work in high school or college (except summer internships/research stipends) but I have a surprising (to me) amount saved up from that because I current have no hobbies or social life so since moving my only expenditures are rent and groceries (and traveling home for the holidays). (I do have some specific goals — working on managing anxiety and depression so I can get back having friends and hobbies, but those don’t generalize 😛 )

      You aren’t in the Dallas area, are you? 😛

      You’ve made me realize I should get a clearer understanding of my finances and get organized before April… I don’t think I’ve filed my own taxes before…

      • tayfie says:

        I am in that area. I frequent Garland, Plano, and Rockwall regularly.

        If you are interested in meeting, you can email me at cwl at protonmail dot com.

  27. johan_larson says:

    Anyone here in high school or raising a high school student?

    I’ve been reading various blog postings about what it takes to get into a top college these days, and it sounds kind of scary. Apparently if you’re not absolutely brilliant, you need to take a very demanding course load in high school (AP courses in junior year?), get top marks (B is for bonehead), geek out on the SAT (prep courses standard), pursue substantial extracurriculars (band, debate team, and basketball?), and then fit in “community service” somehow. All in all, it turns your teenage years into a pseudo-academic death march, and it’s all to impress the admission staffs at the twenty or so truly top colleges.

    Is this picture accurate? Is this how it really is these days?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I graduated high school a few years ago, in graduate school now, but one thing to keep in mind is that getting into an Ivy League undergraduate school isn’t necessarily your top priority. Depending on your goals it might not make sense.

      The best advice I’ve ever heard on the subject was from my mentor when I was in high school. He told me that for a career science the prestige of your undergrad matters a lot less than what kind of research you did there and whether or not you had a decent GPA. You can get into a top graduate program even if you didn’t go to a top university.

      I followed that advice and went to a state school known for its research. I got out debt-free and moved directly to an Ivy League graduate school.

      If a high school student wants to do that, the actual requirements are to get good scores on the SAT and later GRE (basically the same test), take some AP courses and get 4 or 5 in them, ideally take SAT II and GRE subject tests relevant to your field, and keep your GPA in the A- to A range throughout highschool and college. Start doing research as early as possible, ideally start interning in highschool.

      • johan_larson says:

        Research as an undergraduate, huh? That wasn’t a thing when I was going through. I guess the path to a career in science has gotten even steeper than it already was.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Yes, that’s essential nowadays. I don’t know anyone here who didn’t do research in college or work as a technician afterwards.

        • quaelegit says:

          I’m not in grad school, but judging from my friends who are/are planning to go, yes it’s required. On the other hand, there’s a lot more support for getting into research — every school I know of has formal programs like URAP and informal advisors, events, and mailing lists to help undergrads find research. This varies — private schools on average seem to be more helpful, public schools you have to do more of the legwork. But for example as an engineer at Berkeley, I saw dozens of advertisements, networking events, and programs to apply to for undergrad research every semester.

          The really important part is to be proactive — if someone has failed to get research by their junior year, it’s probably because they haven’t followed through in applying to advertised positions or going to talk to their professors and TAs.

      • Matt M says:

        I followed that advice and went to a state school known for its research. I got out debt-free and moved directly to an Ivy League graduate school.

        Can confirm. I got my bachelors degree online from a no-name school (caveat – I was in the military which provides a plausible “excuse” for this) and got admitted to several top 20 MBA programs. I didn’t reach for the Top 5, but I know plenty of people who went to Harvard Business School that went to non-elite undergrad programs.

      • Chalid says:

        I think this is right if you actually want to pursue science. But most high school students who want to be scientists probably will decide otherwise by the time they’re a couple years in college (and a great many of the rest will try science for a couple years before they drop out of their PhD programs) so I’m not sure if it’s good advice overall to give to a high school student.

    • Brad says:

      I was an alumni interviewer for a top 20 undergraduate program (top 10 in most years) for a long time, though I stopped doing it recently. The difficulty seems to ebb and flow, I’m sure having to do with demographics more than anything else. My parents were born in the heart of the baby boom, I was born in the echo boom, and now I imagine some of the baby boomers’ grandchildren are starting to enter college.

      In addition to those cyclical trends, none of those 20 colleges are adding any significant number of seats, and the applicant pool is getting ever broader both in terms of international students and in terms of outreach to domestic communities where kids traditionally didn’t apply to them. Population growth marches on. So the secular trend is to more selectivity.

    • johan_larson says:

      Also, what counts as a “top” college? Looking at the US News & World Report list, somewhere around #30 I start seeing names that strike me as more respectable than impressive, such as Wake Forest (#27), College of William and Mary (#32), Case Western Reserve (#37), and Tulane (#40).

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Uhhhhh…I don’t want to rain on your parade, but this seemed pretty much standard when I graduated high school, more than a decade ago. My SIL went to Cornell (which I think is the crappy Ivy?), and she didn’t only have “high marks”: She was the valedictorian of her class. And it wasn’t a dumb high school. These were all prep school kids that go to France on holiday and have parents with titles like “Senior VP of Big-Wig Financial Firm.”

      I can tell you that AP classes in junior year would be scoffed at. The smart kids at my school were taking AP classes in their sophomore year.

      Other kids that I know that went to Ivy League schools had incredibly impressive pedigrees. They didn’t just participate in extra-curricular: they excelled at them. One was a national champion debater.

      I don’t think this would be even remotely worth it. People who ended up going to state universities have had pretty successful lives, particularly if they majored in something that was actually in-demand. One of my wife’s cousins is a programmer and married to a statistician. They both attended a Midwest state school, they make a lot of money, and they both work from home. That sounds better than my sister-in-law, who has to live in a rent-controlled Brooklyn apartment that looks like it just got destroyed by the Hulk.

      • Chalid says:

        Agreed, the description seemed like the typical student ~20 years ago when I was in an Ivy.

      • quaelegit says:

        Calling Cornell “the crappy Ivy” seems unfair. I mean it is less prestigious and selective than most of the Ivys (in the sense that Saturn is a less massive planet than Jupiter), but its not Dartmouth!

        (Ok I don’t know how selective Dartmouth is, but that’s because I don’t know anything about the school — it seems irrelevant now. I know tens of people who went to Cornell from all over the U.S., for undergrad, grad, and teaching positions. I know one person who went Dartmouth, and he’s David Friedman’s age.)

        • Protagoras says:

          Agree; Dartmouth seems to be the Ivy that has the least respect these days.

          • Matt M says:

            Probably depends on the field. Dartmouth has more respect in its MBA program than many of the other Ivies. Certainly more than Cornell. Maybe even above Yale.

          • Brad says:

            Twenty years ago, and only considering undergraduate programs, my impression of prestige was:

            Harvard
            Yale / Princeton (tie)
            Columbia
            UPenn/Cornell/Dartmouth
            Brown

            Schools like Stanford, University of Chicago, and Duke were somewhere in there, but it a fuzzy debatable way.

          • quaelegit says:

            @Matt M — Didn’t even know Dartmouth has a business school, thanks!

            @Brad — are you talking about perceived prestige of business schools specifically or of the colleges as a whole?

          • Protagoras says:

            If it is the colleges as a whole, I don’t think that was correct 20 years ago; maybe 50 years ago? Brown may have been at the bottom a long time ago, but it has been rising for a long time, and I would say it was certainly ahead of Dartmouth by the 90s. As for Stanford, Chicago, and Duke, we’re only comparing the Ivy schools.

          • Brad says:

            Undergraduate schools only. I didn’t then and don’t now know much about business schools. I stand by my categorization of Brown as of 20 years ago.

            Here was USN&WR for 88-98 for Dartmouth:
            6, 7, 8, 8, 8, 7, 8, 8, 7, 7, 7
            and Brown:
            10, 13, 15, 12, 17, 18, 12, 11, 9, 8, 9

            I suppose there’s an argument for UPenn to last with these numbers:
            19, 15, 20, 13, 13, 14, 16, 12, 11, 13, 7

            I’m not saying that USN&WR is or was the be-all end-all, especially not in any one given year, but high school kids I knew did pay a lot of attention to them.

          • Matt M says:

            Bloomberg has Dartmouth at #7 among graduate business schools. The third-highest Ivy. The Ivies in general aren’t that great for business, to be honest.

          • The Nybbler says:

            According to US News, for business graduate programs

            Harvard and UPenn (Wharton) are tied for #1
            Dartmouth is #8
            Columbia and Yale are tied for #9
            Cornell is #16

            Brown and Princeton don’t have business schools.

            This seems pretty like a pretty good showing for the Ivys. I guess the real surprise (if you didn’t know already) is that MIT (Sloan) is tied for #4.

    • Fahundo says:

      Thanks for making me cognizant of the fact that I graduated high school 10 years ago, so nothing I say will be current.

      • quaelegit says:

        Very level headed of you, but I think it’s fine to chime in. At least, it’s not stopping the rest of us! 😛

        (Although I graduated HS 6 years ago, so my anecdotes are clearly more relevant, or something…)

    • John Schilling says:

      I’ve been reading various blog postings about what it takes to get into a top college these days…

      Do the math. The entire Ivy League combined can enroll roughly 0.3% of the graduating high school seniors in the United States, and some of those slots go to foreigners. Add in the other top private schools like Stanford or MIT, and the very best of the public universities, the handful of American students who study at Oxbridge et al, and you get to maybe 1%.

      To get into a “top college”, you need to be in the top 1% of the population academically, or you need to convincingly fake it. That’s always been the case. The only difference is that now everybody believes that everyone is above average, that a random middle-class teenager is entitled to or worthy of education at a “top college” and will be a capital-L Loser in the game of life if they don’t get it. The ones who are trying to fake being in the 1% get to have the pseudo-academic death march experience in high school, and are mostly doomed to disappointment anyway. I don’t think the successful fakers are crowding out too many of the actual top 1%, nor that the true 1%ers have to make any extraordinary effort to stand out (for them, starting AP courses in the junior year almost counts as slacking).

      Maybe have a plan for how to not be a capital-L Loser if you don’t get into a “top college”? As Nabil points out, an undergrad who did research at State U may outcompete one who sat in lecture halls at Harvard. Internships count for a lot as well, as those more directly address your professional skills. If you go to grad school, nobody much cares where you did your undergrad, and the top grad schools themselves don’t much care.

      • quaelegit says:

        Very much agree with this. Also note that “state school” doesn’t need to be “top state school” either, though it can help depending on your goals. New College grad hires at my office of (large well known company) in Dallas mostly come from Texas A&M, UT Dallas, and Texas Tech. Of these I think only A&M might be considered a “top” state school, though I’m not sure on that.

        Some places where prestige helps more:
        * If you are looking for jobs far from school — my neighbor went to a state school in Illinois and found it difficult to find a job back home (in the Los Angeles area) because the school didn’t have much of a network in CA.

        * Grad school — I think some of my HS acquaintances at UC Merced found it difficult to get research experience in their chosen fields. Part of this is Merced is very new and still building out its programs — I haven’t heard of this being a problem at UC Riverside, probably the other least-prestigious UC.

        • Matt M says:

          If you are looking for jobs far from school — my neighbor went to a state school in Illinois and found it difficult to find a job back home (in the Los Angeles area) because the school didn’t have much of a network in CA.

          This is also a huge thing. More people need to hear advice like “Don’t go to a school that’s far away from home (or far away from where you eventually want to work) unless it’s really elite.”

          I know way too many people who moved across the country to go to #40 school in New England instead of #60 school in California, then were shocked to find that when they moved back to California, nobody gave a shit about #40 school and #60 school grads were getting hired left and right because every hiring committee had multiple #60 alumns on it.

        • John Schilling says:

          Of these I think only A&M might be considered a “top” state school, though I’m not sure on that.

          You’d best be sure it isn’t, or I’ll be calling for pistols at High Noon :-)
          (and you can guess where I did my BS).

          But otherwise yes. The people I’ve hired did their undergrad work at UC Northridge, UC Irvine, UCLA, RPI, and U Kansas. Most of them then went on to top grad schools or to study under top professors at second-tier grad schools, so I don’t think coming out of a “non-top” undergrad college is much of a handicap going into postgraduate education. It may be a problem if you’re trying to go directly into the workforce with a BA/BS from a state school a thousand miles away.

          • quaelegit says:

            Hook’em horns? My dad is a Longhorn, but I was trying to be impartial 🙂

            (The bigger problem for me is the Texas Techers — my mom hates that school because both the alums she knows are assholes. Fortunately all the TTers at my work are nice… this is why prejudice is bad people! 😛 )

          • Incurian says:

            Northridge is a CSU, even worse! 🙂

          • John Schilling says:

            Correct, I was a UT Austin undergraduate. Also correct, Northridge is a CSU campus, not UC – obviously not something we covered in “lesser colleges to sneer at” when I was in Austin. But really, that was at least 75% reasons to hate A&M; we barely acknowledged the existence of California.

          • quaelegit says:

            If you’re going to sneer at CSU’s, Northridge isn’t the one to pick, it’s a pretty well-regarded school (at least locally). I recommend Humboldt or Channel Islands for easier ammunition. 😛

            (Apparently CSU Channel Islands’ claim to notability is that its’ building used to be the hotel that inspired the Eagles song.)

          • Of these I think only A&M might be considered a “top” state school, though I’m not sure on that.

            You’d best be sure it isn’t, or I’ll be calling for pistols at High Noon 🙂
            (and you can guess where I did my BS).

            My favorite Aggie joke is the one about the agronomist at Texas A&M who spent forty years breeding a seedless pecan.

    • baconbits9 says:

      My kids are young, and not particularly likely to end up in the top 1%, but pretty likely to end up in the top 10% of intelligence/ability. My goal for them is to cultivate opportunities to be successful while skipping college. This seems like the obvious strategy in the current environment with mid level college admission being a perfectly reasonable fall back.

    • Well... says:

      What do you need to go to a “top college” for? Are you planning to be a hotshot lawyer? A high-profile politician? Something similar in status to those things? If not, I’m not sure I see the cost-benefit ratio there.

      Even in fields where a degree is required (and there are plenty of of good fields where one isn’t), hardly any seem to care that much where you got it; when an employee has a degree it just lets them check a box.

      If it’s about access to really great professors and programs, most state colleges still have that in ample supply.

      Of course you’re always better off working or going to the military for a few years before college anyway–plus that experience will help you both get into and excel in college afterward. And if you’re smart you’ll get your gen eds out of the way at community college. From many similar discussions it seems like almost everyone wishes they had done this in hindsight.

      Maybe I’m wrong about all this (and I’m sure someone will come along and explain exactly why I am) but to me it looks like a big rat race without a worthy prize at the end. Why run it?

      • Matt M says:

        No, I think you’re absolutely right.

        Culture says “You have to go to a top college to be successful.” Reality is more like “You have to be in the Top 1% of either natural ability OR go to a Top 1% college if you want to be in the Top 1% of income earners.”

        You can live a pretty damn comfortable life working in a challenging and interesting field with a degree from somewhere that isn’t ranked in the Top 50. There’s really no need to go to Harvard unless you have 1% ability (in which case, you can get that perfect SAT score and high school GPA without putting forth much effort), or 1% ambitions (in which case it probably is “worth it” but only for the networking and signaling value)

      • johan_larson says:

        What do you need to go to a “top college” for? Are you planning to be a hotshot lawyer? A high-profile politician? Something similar in status to those things? If not, I’m not sure I see the cost-benefit ratio there.

        Is that the specific “you”? In that case the answer is, “I don’t. I finished college more than twenty years ago. I’m asking out of pure general interest.”

        If that’s the general “you”, I would guess the answer is something like, “I want a great life. In order to do that, I need a great job, and the best way to get one is to start with a great education. And part of ‘great’ is ‘prestigious’.”

        • John Schilling says:

          A life where you spend much of adolescence in a “death march”, and everything thereafter surrounded by people smarter and more capable than you but whom you have to keep up with anyhow, may not be all that great no matter how many Benjamins it comes with. A life where you have a solid upper-middle-class income and enough slack to e.g. read SSC during your down time in the office, doesn’t require going to a top and/or prestigious college. It does require being fairly smart, but so does making or faking your way through an Ivy-league education.

          “Do what you love” is overrated as career advice, but if you’re not going to do what you love, do what you’re good enough at that you aren’t constantly overstressed trying to keep up.

        • JayT says:

          I strongly object to the view that the best way to get a great job is to start with a great education. The best way to get a great job is to start with a degree in a major that has a lot of demand. My computer science and math degrees from a third-tier state school are worth far more than the liberal arts degrees my wife’s friends got at their prestigious private school.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Depends on the job. A C.S. degree from a second-tier state school has served me well (and prestige made even less difference when I started, before certain schools essentially became feeders for certain tech companies). But as I understand it a second-tier law degree gets you bupkiss, and an MBA from Nowhere State University makes you qualified to manage the local supermarket.. after a few years as a cashier.

        • Well... says:

          If that’s the general “you”,

          In light of the additional information you provided, yes, it was…

          I would guess the answer is something like, “I want a great life. In order to do that, I need a great job, and the best way to get one is to start with a great education. And part of ‘great’ is ‘prestigious’.”

          That answer is misguided at best, ridiculous at worst. I agree with the above two comments by John Schilling and JayT.

      • I think I agree with the view that if getting into a top school involves working very hard in high school not at learning things you are interested in but at doing things admissions departments sort on, and if success means four years in classes with people most of whom are smarter than you, it isn’t worth doing.

        On the other hand, if you are one of the top 1% (or whatever the relevant number is) and can get into a top school by doing mostly what you would have done anyway, there is something to be said for ending up in an environment where you are not spending four years in classes with people most of whom are less smart than you are.

    • Some time back when getting my kids into school was a live issue, I had an interesting conversation on a plane trip with a woman who had worked, I think as an alumna volunteer, with the admissions department of a pretty high ranked school. By her account, getting in was largely a matter of checking the right boxes–having volunteered for X, done Y, … .

      As evidence in support of that, one experience of ours. My home unschooled daughter was thinking of becoming a librarian so volunteered for the local big library. After a few weeks they told her that her term as a volunteer was done. As best we could tell, what was going on was not a problem with her work, it was that lots of high school students wanted to have “volunteered at the library” on their record, a couple of weeks was enough for the purpose, and the library program was set up to run lots of them through.

      My daughter then volunteered at the local small library and worked there for a long time.

      On our experience a little later, when she was applying to colleges, not all colleges are the same. Almost all of them have a problem with home schooled students–not, so far as I can tell, because they object to them but because they don’t know how to evaluate them. The admissions system is largely mechanical formulas and home schooled students don’t have high school transcripts, recommendation letters from high school teachers, and the like. One school told us that it would help if our daughter could arrange to take a course somewhere that produced a grade.

      The exception was St. Olaf. Sometime in the fall, our daughter got an email from them saying that the application deadline was in December (I think) but there were scholarships for which the deadline was a month or so earlier and they had found that home schooled students were often well qualified. They ended up admitting her and offering her money (she went to Oberlin instead, which ex post was probably a mistake). When we talked with their admissions person, she told us that what really impressed them was the list of four hundred books our daughter had read.

      I concluded that St. Olaf had figured out that home schooled students were a source of very good students that their competitors were missing and modified their policies accordingly. There are probably other examples of other schools that, for one reason or another, don’t fit the dominant pattern.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      Anecdote: I underachieved (good but not excellent GPA, ~6 total AP courses, practically non-existent extracurriculars) my way into my first pick school all the while people were telling me I needed a backup since their engineering program is pretty selective. Being in-state and a public school likely helped.

    • John Schilling says:

      Let’s turn this around. What career paths are there where it really does make a big difference whether or not you went to a top-twenty school, as an undergraduate? Politics comes to mind, for the networking opportunities. Old-money business managment, probably ditto.

      STEM doesn’t care; SEM wants to know where you went to grad school, and T seems to be mostly OK with not having gone to college at all. Law and medicine are also mostly focused on where the advanced degree came from, ditto the MBA. Where else does the undergrad degree matter?

      • johan_larson says:

        T seems to be mostly OK with not having gone to college at all.

        That’s an exaggeration. It is possible to become a software developer with no formal training. That’s true. The industry is thirsty enough for talent that if you can program some employers out there are willing to have a look even without any credentials at all. But they are very much the exception. Most employers won’t look at you without formal training, and a B.Sc. in computer science or a few related areas is the standard qualification and anyone who doesn’t have it faces, at best, a vast and skeptical world. Of course, once you get further on in your career, your training matters less and less, but you do need to get that first job somehow.

        In software development, I would say an undergraduate degree from a prestigious school is a big leg up, but not a necessity. If you are studying computer science at Carnegie Mellon top companies will have recruiters on campus trying to interest you in interning at the company. Not so if you’re at Athabasca.

      • The Nybbler says:

        At the moment, getting a CS (“T”) degree from one of the feeders for the big tech companies is a big help. From an slightly-dated (2014) Slate article: University of Washington, Stanford, Berkeley, San Jose State (the oddest one — Apple hires from there), Carnegie Mellon, MIT, UCLA, Washington State, University of Texas at Austin (Apple again), University of Waterloo, Western Washington University, Cal Poly, and UC Davis. (Very small schools wouldn’t appear here, so you’re probably still OK getting a degree from Caltech. Good luck with that.) If you’re at Mediocre State, you probably won’t see much campus recruiting from the big tech firms.

        Business Insider has a more current list, but seeing as it includes University of Phoenix, I’m a bit suspicious.

  28. Deiseach says:

    The fates are laughing at me right now, because my elder nephew is thinking of doing something in Berkeley. Yes, that Berkeley. (Pause while I fall to my knees, tear out my hair and implore the heavens “Why? What did we do wrong? WHY????”)

    He is halfway/two-thirds the way through an English and Classics degree at UCD, so this is some kind of summer school? semester abroad? who knows? I haven’t the details yet, but according to my sister “he wants to work as a journalist, so as far as I can gather it is something to do with that, and all the accomodation in Berkeley is on campus so that is a big plus! He also has his eye on a job as Editor of the the two Uni papers as it is a paid position and that would help out with doing his Masters…which he also wants to do.”

    That’s the Liberal Arts nephew, the Science nephew will be doing his Leaving Cert this year and is having a look at a couple of colleges once he’s graduated secondary school, he is “thinking very strongly of DCU [Dublin City University*] as it has a very good work placement scheme, but he liked Trinity and also Galway, so he is keeping his options open”. (Yes, this is Proud Auntie boasting about my nephews).

    So anyway – does anyone know anything about a journalism(?) course at Berkeley and if it’s a reputable school of journalism (okay, you know what, skip the “reputable”, just “is there a chance an award from this place will be treated as “yes this person can hold down a job and will not wreck the place with activism every five minutes”?)

    *Not to be confused with UCD (University College Dublin), the University of Dublin (more commonly known as Trinity College) or DIT (Dublin Institute of Technology).

    • Brad says:

      Berkeley, in general, has a very good reputation. It’s the flagship state school of the largest and wealthiest state in the US, in a part of the country that has a relatively weaker network of private schools (as compared to e.g. New England). They have an average SAT score north of the 95th percentile. Yes, there’s craziness associated with them, but there are 40,000 students–employers know that the craziness only involves a small number of them.

      I don’t know anything about the journalism school there, but I would be surprised if it had a reputation significantly weaker than that of the university as a whole. My biggest concern would be the dire financial state of journalism generally right now.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I can’t speak to their journalism school specifically, but UC Berkeley has a very high reputation.

      I can’t stand campus activism and don’t like the idea of living on the West Coast, much less in the Bay Area, but I still applied to their graduate school. It would have been idiotic to put a political or lifestyle concern over the chance to get into a top program.

      It sounds like your nephew is making a smart move.

      • Deiseach says:

        It sounds like your nephew is making a smart move.

        Yeah, I’ll have to wait for the details before panicking/relief, but I’m very proud of them both. They have more opportunities than we ever did, and they’re capable of making good use of them.

        I do know Berkeley has a good reputation so it’s very pleasing that Nephew thinks he has a good chance of getting into some kind of programme there, even if it is only a summer foreign exchange type thing. But it also has another reputation, and since he’s the Arts nephew not the Science nephew, I worry more about him Falling Into Bad Company (I am warning the entire state of California right now: if there is something on the news about an Irish student getting caught up in some kind of antifa ‘punch a Nazi’ nonsense protest even as an innocent bystander, I will be Very Displeased). A science degree, I could expect him and the rest he’d be associating with to keep their heads down and do the work rather than go on protest marches (well, yeah, there was that March for Science thing…)

        • Matt M says:

          I worry more about him Falling Into Bad Company

          Would it make you feel better to know that this sort of “bad company” has a presence at EVERY major/prestigious U.S. university? Yeah, Berkeley has more of them than most other places, but it’s not like “Berkeley has antifa and UC Davis doesn’t.” I assure you, UC Davis has antifa also.

    • James says:

      My little brother did some kind of summer camp thing at Berkeley a few years ago. (We live in England.) I think it was working as a teacher to American pre-university kids, but he’s a mathematician, not a journalist. All I can say is that he enjoyed it and didn’t seem to pick up any seditious Berkeley ideals. Then again, everyone knows that mathematicians are less seditious than journalists…

    • quaelegit says:

      Cal Bear checking in!

      First off, congrats to your nephews! It sounds like they are being proactive with their lives and accomplishing things, and you have every reason to be a Proud Auntie! (I’m sorry if this sounds vague, I don’t know the Irish system at all.)

      I just graduated from Berkeley in June. Campus is lovely and much quieter over the summer. Actually a lot of the excitement is associated with Irish summer students…

      I don’t know about the journalism school (I’m an engineer), nor to Berkeley reputation in Ireland, but no one has ever suspected me of being prone to “wreck the place with activism every five minutes”. Unless his face is the cover photo for some breaking news story, I doubt he will get anything like that. A good way to avoid being in cover photos is to not go to protests — they are not that frequent, are publicized in advance, and almost never affect where you need to go — If you’ve seen people complaining about protests blocking Sather Gate, just know that there are 15 ways to go around that block, which involve adding as little as 10 meters to your travel distance.

      (Remember the Milo Y thing in April? I remember you had some amusing comments about the vandalism to the Amazon lockers. I walked through the area about an hour after M left and it was a lot more crowded than usual for Wednesday at 7:30 pm, but not the least bit scary or dangerous — it felt people were hanging out after a concert or something. I am NOT happy about any aspect of that debacle, but my point is that things quickly returned to normal in the real world, and the drama only continued on the internet.)

      ANYWAYS, all of this is to say that your nephew isn’t going to find trouble unless he goes looking for it. Partying is a bigger hazard to worry about.

      And in the mean time, Berkeley is a beautiful area with some great restaurants and lovely hiking, walking, and exploring in the hills. Definitely tell him to go up to the Lawrence Hall of Science for the view 🙂

    • JayT says:

      For what it’s worth, I live in the Bay Area and of all the Berkeley grads I know, which is probably 20+, only one is what I would call “extreme” in their views. Most are pretty bog-standard democrats.