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### 595 Responses to Open Thread 96.75

1. fortaleza84 says:

Second call: I am interested in the mathematics of certain types of searches.

For example, suppose you want to find a homeless person who plans to vote for Donald Trump. One way to do this would be to go to a homeless shelter (in a red state?) and start asking people who they plan to vote for. Another way would be to go to a Donald Trump rally and ask people whether or not they are homeless. (Intuitively, it seems that the first approach would be more efficient since the percentage of the population which is homeless is far lower than the percentage which supports Donald Trump.)

What would one call these types of problems, i.e. finding the most efficient way to conduct a search in terms of prioritizing different criteria?

• honoredb says:

In relational database design this is known as “query planning and optimization”, with homelessness having “higher selectivity”. It might be possible to bridge from the literature around that to more general math.

• Unsaintly says:

Query Optimization. This is primarily used for databases, but the same math applies. Basically you want to eliminate the most subjects per “step” of the search. So in your case, you want to look at homelessness first (~1% of the population), and then search for Donald Trump support (~40% of the adult population). There’s a lot of math behind what the optimal methods for various types of combination are, but that’s the short version.

Since you are doing a manual search rather than computer, you can cut some corners by going to a homeless shelter in a red state (or red town/city, or red district, depending on how specific your data is) and then do the search.

• actinide meta says:

I’ll be the third (?) reply to make a connection to database query planning. Your question is specifically isomorphic to the index selection problem.

• pontifex says:

What would one call these types of problems, i.e. finding the most efficient way to conduct a search in terms of prioritizing different criteria?

This puts me in mind of Random Decision Forests. There are probably other machine learning methods you can deploy here, as well. And I suppose if you can come up with a loss function, you can use some of that trendy new deep learning sauce.

And yes, the database literature is jam-packed with discussions of how to optimize index lookup. The magic word here is “cardinality”– i.e. the size of a set. You want to decompose your database query into a set of operations on sets with small cardinality. Like if you’re executing SELECT * WHERE NAME = Zappa and GENDER = male, you want to find the Zappas first, and then filter out the females, not the opposite way around. That kind of thing.

• ottomanflush says:

More broadly, this is related to combinatorics, the mathematics of counting and selection.

2. Rack says:

Something I’ve been wondering for a while, and I’m still not sure I’m posing the question in the best way:
When interpreting events after the fact, like Parkland for instance, how you decide what really happened in terms of ideas like who is “at fault”?
For instance, do you reserve condemnation to avoid falling prey to hindsight bias?
Do you reserve condemnation because you really don’t know have enough or the right information to form a good opinion?
Or do you just condemn perceived incompetence? (How can you tell if something is due to incompetence?)
Obviously, every situation is different, but I’m curious if anyone has any general guidelines or strategies that they have defined and used.

• fortaleza84 says:

It’s very simple. Whenever something goes terribly wrong, there are inevitably multiple causes which combined to yield a bad result. So you list the causes and assign blame so as to maximally undermine your out-group. If there are no such causes, you assign blame to the causes which will not undermine your own tribe.

So in a mass shooting, you need to know the race, ethnicity, religion, and immigration status of the shooter; what type of weapon was used and how it was obtained; what opportunities the authorities had to prevent or intercede in the incident; and whether the shooter was exposed to any hateful materials.

If for the most part these factors go against you, then your fallback position is the “body count argument.” i.e. only X people died from this incident which is peanuts compared to [some widespread cause of death that people aren’t freaking out about] so why are we worrying about it anyway?

Hope that helps đ

• Rack says:

Cynical yet pretty accurate to how it often tends to play out in the media. I’m assuming this isn’t what YOU actually do though…

Itâs very simple. Whenever something goes terribly wrong, there are inevitably multiple causes which combined to yield a bad result. So you list the causes and assign blame so as to maximally undermine your out-group. If there are no such causes, you assign blame to the causes which will not undermine your own tribe.

As a conflict theorist, I agree.

• Shion Arita says:

My initial wordless response to this post, when verbalized, was essentially “This seems a little too cynical for even me, though I understand the sentiment.”

But upon thinking about it for a few more seconds I realized that this quite accurately models a lot of the behavior I see in response to these kind of events.

• doug1943 says:

Fortaleza84’s summary of how to respond to something bad is quite accurate, with the understanding that it’s describing what is rather than what should be.

In fact, I believe that there is a Word template incorporating this approch that can just be filled in, used by anti-gun control and pro-immigration writers alike (usually different people, of course, and almost invariably opposed to each other when lots of people are killed by guns, or by Islamists or an illegal immigrant.)

As for the ’causes’ issue, EH Carr had a nice discussion of the meanings of this word in his WHAT IS HISTORY, short and well worth reading.

I’d say try to focus on pushing on the things that can (and should) be changed for the future.

In terms of condemning individuals–certainly if they failed to do their job, and you’re confident your idea of what their job is is reasonable, they shouldn’t continue holding that job. Beyond that, it’s kind of the same logic as criminal deterrence: condemning them makes sense insofar as they might have done better if they had known they’d get condemned for failure (or more people in their shoes would fail if it didn’t bring condemnation).

And try to be mindful of how much their failure really contributed to the problem, particularly the general problem. Would better performances on the part of such people solve the problem entirely? Then it deserves a lot of focus. But if it was kind of a freak thing that they had any opportunity to help at all, you should put more attention on the more common causes of the problem.

3. Chevalier Mal Fet says:

Bean, I know you’re a battleship guy, but maybe you or someone else on this board can answer this question:

Akagi and Hiryu are two of the only carriers I can recognize on-sight, thanks to their port-side islands (I can also recognize Kaga thanks to her crazy funnel). Why were all other carriers built with starboard islands? Is there some obvious design reason I’m missing? It seems like an arbitrary choice.

• bean says:

I do actually know this one. It’s because of the way patterns are flown. Patterns are usually flown right-handed, which meshes with the starboard island. This convention that dates back to the days of rotary engines, when the whole engine spun, and the torque pushed the nose up when turning right. IIRC, the idea with those two was to let them operate close to other carriers while flying left-hand patterns.
(This is all off the top of my head, so I could be wrong.)

Edit: Looks like I sort of messed this one up. It was due to torque steer, but I got the directions wrong. It was easier to turn left, particularly in an abort, and they didn’t want the island in the way. And it worked better with the natural pattern.

Not entirely sure why they did port islands on Akagi and Hiryu, but David Hobbs (one of the leading carrier historians) says that it was to allow mirrored patterns. This was soon abandoned.

• cassander says:

Hobbs is correct. japanese doctrine was to operate carriers in pairs, and they thought it would be easier to have mirror flight paths. apparently, accidents were substantially higher on the port side carriers. And it was propeller torque, iirc, not engine torque.

• bean says:

He suggested that they never operated that way, or at least abandoned it quickly. I suspect the accident rate was simply due to unfamiliarity with flying the mirror pattern.
It was the engine specifically. Rotary engines were the equivalent of strapping a giant gyroscope to the front of the plane. Which isn’t quite what I said, granted, but it’s been a long day.

• cassander says:

how many aircraft were powered by rotary engines? I know some, but not that many compared. Are you sure you don’t mean radial?

• bean says:

The aircraft in question was powered by a rotary engine. After that, they just kept the same arrangement, probably because it was really confusing if they didn’t. (See the Japanese attempt to switch things up.)

• What does “rotary engine” mean here? I’m assuming not a Wankel.

• bean says:

For various reasons (see the last link in my previous post for details) through about 1920, the best way to build aero engines was to fix the crankshaft to the airplane, and have the cylinders (with prop attached) rotate. This gave some interesting gyroscopic effects, and made it easier to fly left-hand circuits.

• Andrew Hunter says:

Bean: I had sort of thought (from a halfassed comment by a Cessna pilot I vaguely know) that all single-engine prop planes had a significant gyroscopic imbalance (unless they had counterrotating propellers.) Is this not right?

• AlphaGamma says:

Andrew Hunter: There’s significant and then significant. The rotating mass of a rotary engine is much higher than that of just a prop.

• bean says:

@Andrew
There are a couple of effects you get from the single propeller. IIRC, the dominant one in non-rotary engines is the torque you get from the engine, with the second having to do with the effects of the propeller on the airflow. Gyroscopic effects are a distant third. Even if they’re more important than I give them credit for (John will know), there’s a big difference between your prop being a gyroscope and having a gyroscope that’s a 15% of the loaded weight of your plane.

• John Schilling says:

The effect is mentioned in all the textbooks, poorly understood, and usually barely noticeable in practice. It certainly doesn’t affect traffic patterns, which are usually based on left turns for consistency but will be reversed whenever local geography shows even a mild advantage to the right-hand pattern.

Unless you’re using an actual rotary (not radial) engine, which were very common prior to 1920 and which did power Japan’s first carrier-based fighter.

4. CheshireCat says:

Is there any way to set email notifications for comment replies, and comment replies only? The only options I see are for new replies to the whole topic, and for new posts altogether.

• stoodfarback says:

What’s going on with the recent study about firearm injuries going down during NRA conventions? (http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc1712773)

The numbers seem big enough to be unlikely to be a coincidence, but also too big to be straightforwardly caused by the small number of conventiongoers. Study proponents claim it might be due to gun ranges closing and hunting trips being cancelled, but that doesn’t seem like a big enough multiplier to me. (It also at least partially undermines the claim that the study shows guns aren’t dangerous in experienced hands)

• Eric Rall says:

One thing just jumped out at my from your link about the paper: their control periods that they compare against are three weeks before the convention and three weeks after the convention. I looked up when the NRA holds its conventions, and it looks like the first weekend of May. Three weeks after that is Memorial Day Weekend, so I wonder if what they’re finding is actually an increase in accidental shootings around Memorial Day rather than a decrease during the NRA convention.

Edit: I just noticed that they have a graph of accident rates by week before and after the NRA convention. Three weeks after is a high point on the graph, as I suspected, but just about every week is higher than the convention week by some extent. Not picking Memorial Day Weekend as a control would have reduced the effect, but I don’t know if it would have reduced it enough to make the effect statistically insignificant.

• The Nybbler says:

I suspect it’s just noise-mining. My prior for medical or public health studies relevant to gun control is they’re dishonest, thanks to reading a little to much Arthur Kellerman in the 1990s.

• John Schilling says:

Study proponents claim it might be due to gun ranges closing and hunting trips being cancelled, but that doesnât seem like a big enough multiplier to me.

Gun ranges don’t close during the NRA convention, and late April / early May isn’t hunting season for anything of note in North America, so that’s just utter ignorance.

Also, the study doesn’t distinguish between accidental and deliberate injuries, and the vast majority of firearms injuries in the United States are the results of deliberate, criminal behavior. So the implied claim is that a statistically significant fraction of America’s armed criminals are the sort of hardcore NRA members who attend the annual convention. The reality, as Eric hints at, is almost certainly just that the NRA chooses to schedule its convention on what would otherwise be a Boring Weekend across broad swaths of American culture.

That’s if there’s anything of significance there to begin with. The error bars on the raw numbers in table S1 don’t make the results look statistically significant, and I couldn’t find e.g. the absolute number of injuries in their data set to attempt my own calculation of confidence intervals or P-values. But they apparently used the “margins” command in a software package called “Stata”, so I guess we aren’t to question the error bars on their adjusted data. Oh, yeah, and there’s only a vague paragraph on the adjusting they did to the data to make the error bars shrink.

Also also, it is published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which has a longstanding editorial policy in favor of gun control, a long track record of publishing mathematically dodgy articles “proving” guns cause crime and are useless for self-defense, and no particular expertise in statistical criminology.

• S_J says:

I’ve heard anecdata that NRA conventions tend to coincide with a small-but-noticeable decrease in crime for the city that is host to the convention.

However, to study this carefully, the stats need to be compared with non-NRA-convention events that bring 80000-plus visitors to the city. Alternatively, the stats should be compared with the same weekend for years leading up to, and following, the convention.

• Garrett says:

I’d also note that the data shows that 85% of the people who go to the NRA convention are men while the study population was 59% female.

So somehow the men not being around causes more women to get shot?

• fortaleza84 says:

I agree with the others that it’s worthy of skepticism based on the source. Even if 100,000 people attend the annual NRA convention, that’s something like a tenth of a percent of the people who own guns.

• Charles F says:

So, I only skimmed the post when I saw it the other day, but this came up on Andrew Gelman’s blog here. He’s also skeptical of it for reasons similar to some of the ones brought up here, and there’s a bunch of discussion in the comments you might find interesting.

• Nancy Lebovitz says:

So there would be fewer gun deaths if there were more NRA conventions? đ

6. Nancy Lebovitz says:

*****

Al Lock posted in response to my question:

Nancy Lebovitz

“I’ve asked elsewhere about whether presidents with military experience make better military decisions, and never gotten an answer.”

I’ll give you an answer from a historian’s point of view (not everyone may agree with me, but still…).

George Washington had more military experience than the 4 Presidents who followed him combined… and yet, only he had to deploy military forces to deal with rebellion.

Ulysses S. Grant arguably made some of the worst military decisions in US history in how he dealt with the Sioux. He was very, very experienced in military matters, but I’d say that pretty much all the Presidents who followed him made better military decisions regarding the various tribes.

Dwight Eisenhower was probably the most educated and experienced General to ever reside in the White House. He is also responsible for the massive increase in the various intelligence agencies and their activities worldwide.

JFK had military experience – combat – and took us to the brink of nuclear war, as well as getting us into Vietnam.

LBJ had very limited military experience (the story about his Silver Star is enlightening) – made horrible decisions throughout Vietnam.

Jimmy Carter was a Navy Commander. Submariner. Worst CinC in my service era.

Ronald Reagan made movies while he was in the military. Important stuff, but not really combat or even overseas duty. Best CinC in my service era.

GWH Bush was a naval aviator. Shot down at the Battle of Midway. Honestly? Middle of the road.

Bill Clinton had no experience and made some absolutely horrible decisions early – but he did learn from them.

Being President is its own skill set. I don’t think military service has as much to do with being good or bad (even as related to military decisions) as the right mindset to challenge assumptions and make smart, balanced decisions.

• bean says:

A couple of things:
1. Bush I was not at Midway, and didn’t get his commission until a year after that battle. He was shot down during an air raid in September of 44.
2. Washington may have had to deploy forces to deal with rebellion, but he didn’t fight a foreign power. Which can’t be said of Jefferson.
3. I think it’s worth pointing out the vast disparities in experience. Kennedy and Bush were junior officers, which is very different from being a senior officer. Carter was a nuclear submariner. Those guys are not normal, and while I haven’t made an extensive study, I could see that screwing him up. Eisenhower managed his part of the Cold War masterfully, as one would expect from someone with lots of experience at high national and international command. (Seriously, is increases in intelligence activity supposed to be a bad thing?) Grant is a hard one to puzzle out. While I know next to nothing about the Indian Wars, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were different enough from the Civil War to mess up Grant quite badly.

I’d say military experience might be helpful, but it’s definitely not sufficient. And we need to keep in mind that the military isn’t monolithic. Someone who did four years as a platoon leader (or an infantryman) isn’t going to have a good understanding of the big picture. Worse, they might think they do. I’ve run into this with veterans before. “Yes, I know you were on the ship and I wasn’t. But what you just told me is contradicted by a stack of well-respected books. And you were a deck hand.” (I usually didn’t say this out loud.) Put someone like that in charge, and they could be much worse than someone who knows what they don’t know.

• CatCube says:

Someone who did four years as a platoon leader (or an infantryman) isnât going to have a good understanding of the big picture. Worse, they might think they do.

I recall hearing when I was a new lieutenant that mustangs (enlisted who became officers) made distinctly better lieutenants, somewhat better captains, and the advantages mostly disappeared by major. By the time you got to that point, where you had very little time dealing directly with junior troops, the skillset required for the job was so different that being a good sergeant made very little difference in being a good major. I don’t personally have any strong recollections about individual majors to prove or disprove this observation, though.

I could easily see this being the case for being president versus being in the military. The demands and skills of the job are probably so different that it’s easy to believe that it might not transfer as much as you’d hope. I recall an anecdote about the British field marshal the Duke of Wellington, who after becoming Prime Minister said (roughly), “I give my ministers their orders, and they sit around debating them!”

• Matt M says:

I always thought that anecdote was about Eisenhower, and remember it as something like “Ike is going to hate being President – he’ll give his orders and no one will do anything.”

• bean says:

That strikes me as somewhat doubtful. Ike had spent a decade as a senior general, at the level where “You’re my subordinate, shut up and do what I tell you” doesn’t really work, because Monty will run back home claiming that you’re incompetent and generally terrible, and it will kick off an Anglo-American incident. And he was really good at it.

• Andrew Hunter says:

And then there’s this…

• dndnrsn says:

@bean

Are you saying that Eisenhower was really good at handling subordinates, or that Montgomery was really good at badmouthing other generals? Both seem pretty true tbh.

• bean says:

@dndnrsn
Both. Monty was great if you gave him something to do with minimal supervision, but he was terrible at taking orders and playing as part of a team. And Ike was really good at managing that kind of team. He was specifically selected as the best American officer for the position of SHAEF because he was seen as the best man to put in charge of a multi-national command. Details are in An Army at Dawn, IIRC.

• CatCube says:

I mangled the quote a little bit: “After his first Cabinet meeting as PM: ‘An extraordinary affair. I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them.'”

https://www.gov.uk/government/history/past-prime-ministers/arthur-wellesley-1st-duke-of-wellington

I’ve heard it about Eisenhower as well, but it’s certainly possible that it was true of both. It’s a known difference between the military and politics.

• dndnrsn says:

@bean

I read that trilogy on your recommendation. Monty gets unfair flak a lot of the time – he was popular with his men, and he didn’t have many really bad screwups. But he certainly sounds like a hard man to work with.

I also can’t remember where I read it, but by some accounts he had a habit of retrospectively messing with orders to make it look like things had always gone to plan.

• bean says:

I don’t remember recommending it to you. And I’ve only read the first one myself. I mean to get to the later ones, but battleships.

Monty gets unfair flak a lot of the time â he was popular with his men, and he didnât have many really bad screwups. But he certainly sounds like a hard man to work with.

Agreed, and I’m not trying to be unfair. He was genuinely a pretty good general. But he was a terrible subordinate, and in the context of Ike’s political experience, that’s his relevant characteristic. (To be even more fair, it’s also a trait I dislike. If I’d been in Ike’s shoes, he’d have had a terrible accident sometime in 1943. Possibly in the B-17 he extorted from me by taking a silly bet seriously.)

I also canât remember where I read it, but by some accounts he had a habit of retrospectively messing with orders to make it look like things had always gone to plan.

That’s even worse.

• dndnrsn says:

Then who was it? There’s some mysterious commenter around here who keeps recommending military history titles, and they may or may not have used magic to steal your face. Be on guard.

Canadian military historians seem to take the view that had Market Garden not been the priority, and had Montgromery put a higher priority on clearing the Scheldt, fewer Canadian soldiers would have died.

• bean says:

Then who was it? Thereâs some mysterious commenter around here who keeps recommending military history titles, and they may or may not have used magic to steal your face. Be on guard.

It’s possible it was me. An Army at Dawn was pretty good, but it falls into the awkward gap between “things I can do in text-to-speech” and “things that make my list to read directly”, so I haven’t read the next two.

Canadian military historians seem to take the view that had Market Garden not been the priority, and had Montgromery put a higher priority on clearing the Scheldt, fewer Canadian soldiers would have died.

That may be true, but at the same time, I’m not sure that minimizing Canadian deaths should have been Monty’s priority. If Market Garden had worked it would have saved a lot of lives. Of course, it was very unlikely to work, so maybe he should have put more priority on clearing the Scheldt, and not come up with a plan worthy of the Japanese.

• Douglas Knight says:

The line about Eisenhower first appeared in print in 1960, attributed to Truman in 1952.

The line attributed to Wellington appeared around 2000.

• Aftagley says:

I recall hearing when I was a new lieutenant that mustangs (enlisted who became officers) made distinctly better lieutenants, somewhat better captains, and the advantages mostly disappeared by major. By the time you got to that point, where you had very little time dealing directly with junior troops, the skillset required for the job was so different that being a good sergeant made very little difference in being a good major. I donât personally have any strong recollections about individual majors to prove or disprove this observation, though.

Definitely true that once you reach Major/LtCol the difference between mustangs and regular officers is practically nil. I’d argue that even at the LT stage, the supposed benefits of being a mustang are mostly just time in service (IE, you’re likely to be more familiar with the system) and age (it’s easier to take orders from a 35 year old who did 15 years as enlisted than it is to take orders from a 22 year old fresh out of college).

• Matt M says:

and age (itâs easier to take orders from a 35 year old who did 15 years as enlisted than it is to take orders from a 22 year old fresh out of college).

Related to this, I think it just gives you a certain credibility with the troops that helps make them more receptive to your decisions, all else equal.

A former enlisted officer and an Academy grad could give the exact same controversial order, but the enlisted will respond better to hearing it from the former enlisted guy, because they assume he feels their pain, understands their objections, etc.

• bean says:

That makes a lot of sense, although I do wonder how much is down to the fact that the mustangs have been pre-filtered for the real idiots. It’s unlikely that a veteran sergeant is going to get the sort of God-like delusions and other pathologies that are known to afflict new butterbars. But I do think that’s probably something like 25% of the explanation, and your point is the other 75%.

• Matt M says:

Being President is its own skill set. I donât think military service has as much to do with being good or bad (even as related to military decisions) as the right mindset to challenge assumptions and make smart, balanced decisions.

My prior would be to actually assume that Presidents with “military experience” might actually make worse decisions relating to the military, with the possible exception of those who served for a long time in very senior positions (such as Grant or Eisenhower).

The rest I think would fall victim to overconfidence in their expertise. As quoted, the decisions a President has to make regarding the military are very different than the ones that all but the highest ranking generals would ever have to make. It’s a different skillset entirely.

Note that the entire system was designed around placing the military under civilian control, with no experience requirement necessary. This was presumably done for a reason.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

You make a good point. I’d agree that Washington, Grant, and Eisenhower were vastly more qualified to be Commander-in-Chief than any rival, while the typical President who served as a Lieutenant as a young man could have been disadvantaged for the reason you say.

• Matt M says:

And just to be clear, I’m going one step further. I’m saying those people were at a disadvantage, because they probably brought an attitude of “I was in the military! I know how it works and what they need!” that made them do more harm than an inexperienced civilian who might say “I don’t know anything about the military – I better defer to others on this one!”

Someone who thinks they know something but is wrong is far more dangerous than someone who realizes they don’t know anything.

• bean says:

Someone who thinks they know something but is wrong is far more dangerous than someone who realizes they donât know anything.

Very much so, and it’s not limited to the presidency. John McCain’s perennial attempts to prepare the US military to refight the Vietnam War are a good example.

• DavidS says:

You I believe are like me a Brit. We have a long and noble tradition of Ministers and indeed Civil Servants not being experts in their fields (and sometimes even expertise being seen as a downside), so maybe this is an example of that?

I think overconfidence is a risk, but also the linked issue of the fact that every expert has particularly personal hang-ups and biases. I’m inclined to think that things like education and health should be run by people who talk to a range of frontline practitioners and theoreticians and consult a range of evidence, but not that e.g. a doctor or a health thinktanker would necessarily make a great Health Minister.

What experience might protect you from is certain particularly stupid mistakes based on totally misunderstanding the sector/issues. But that is assuming a pretty low baseline competence of government. Arguably experience can also give you ‘cover’: like only Nixon can go to China, perhaps a celebrated general can cut military spending or a war hero can withdraw from foreign entanglements without facing the same strength of criticism a civilian would?

• cassander says:

I actually think this is an underappreciated advantage of parliamentary systems. Almost no one ever gets to be PM without being a minister first, so everyone in the top job has experience both of being an executive and being part of a bureaucracy, and all your important legislators have had personal experience of being hamstrung by obnoxious legislation. That doesn’t ensure that they’ll be good, and certainly it limits the talent pool you can draw from, but I think it’s preferable to the american system where legislators and executives lack personal experience of each other’s domains.

• DavidS says:

I think I sort of agree in spirit but not clear what you mean by ‘legislatiors being hamstrung by legislation’. I think the key thing is that PMs and Ministers are drawn from MPs (and Peers), so have that legislative experience. Not all PMs have served in other ministerial posts, simply because if one party is in for over a decade the leader of the other party often hasn’t been an MP long enough (neither Blair nor Cameron had been a minister before being PM).

In terms of the legislature, I quite like the fact that key figures heading up select committees etc. that scrutinise government work can either be ex-Ministers or people who’ve made their whole career as being really good Parliamentarians rather than shadow/actual Ministers.

Of course, this means that the executive tends to control the legislature more than in the US so less deadlock or speration of powers.

• DavidS says:

PS: I was also interested to discover that the Roman Senate contained both the wealthiest but also anyone who’d been elected to a Consulship previously (and I think to some other posts too). For a country like the UK where the upper house is clearly subordinate/amending, I think this sort of thing actually could make a lot of sense.

Of course in practice PMs have historically been offered Peerages so it’s been done. But I suspect this is on its way out. One of my irritations with UK consitutional issues is that lots of people want to reform the House of Lords because it’s undemocratic etc. but without any analysis of what it’s actually for. So you get suggestions like making it elected by PR which in the name of getting rid of ‘jobs for the boys’ radically transforms our system into one with far more deadlock America-style (as an upper house voted in by PR would not see itself as subservient to the Commons so a Government could face systematic opposition).

Fine if people want to argue this but it seems to be very much reforms based on what they want to get rid of rather than what they want to introduce, which always bothers me (in a different part of the political firmament there’s something of this to Brexit: without clarifying what we’ll do post-Brexit, asking ‘do you want to leave the EU’ seems to me a bit like asking ‘do you want to get rid of first past the post’ but not clarifying if you’re replacing it with radical localism, PR, absolute monarchy….

• cassander says:

@DavidS

I think I sort of agree in spirit but not clear what you mean by âlegislatiors being hamstrung by legislationâ.

I meant they’ve all had hte experience, as ministers and executives, being forced to deal with some legislative mandate that made their job harder. One would hope that would help them craft better legislation.

I just started weightlifting. If I take a sharp turn to the right, you’ll know why.

But more seriously, how in the heck is one supposed to eat over 100 grams of protein a day[1]? I don’t especially want to buy powers or eat a whole lot of plain grilled chicken breasts but it is hard to see how to make the numbers add up otherwise.

• lvlln says:

If you don’t want to eat powder, fat free cottage cheese is a pretty good choice. I think its grams protein per calorie ratio is almost as good as most whey powders, and if you mix in some fruit, it can be a really tasty dessert to eat after any meal.

• Nornagest says:

It’s not as hard as it sounds, since you don’t need to get it all from high-protein foods. 100 grams of protein a day is what you’d get in a pound of just about any meat, which most people can eat over a couple of meals, so the easiest way is to be more carnivorous; but cheese is just as good, and beans or bread are good for about half as much protein per unit mass, too. Often these aren’t complete proteins, though, so you need to be a little more diligent about varying your diet.

• azhdahak says:

If you eat a meal that’s almost entirely meat, it isn’t hard to eat a pound of meat in a meal. Around here, it’s possible to find pork chops for \$2/lb and chicken for lower than that, so the price is competitive with rice and beans.

• Eric Rall says:

What’s your age, height, and current weight?

If you’re in a position to bulk up without getting fat (this is easier the lighter you are and the younger you are), you’ll probably want to be eating a substantial calorie surplus, which makes it a lot easier to get plenty of protein. The extreme recommendation here is to drink a gallon of milk a day on top of your regular diet, which will get you 128g of protein just from the milk, but that’s really only recommended for underweight teenagers who are going to be lifting heavy three days a week.

If you’re older, or if you’re a bit on the “fluffy” side to start out, you can still get a fair amount of protein by adjusting your food selections a bit to reduce fat+carb dominant foods and replace them with foods that are more protein-rich. For example, if your typical breakfast is eggs, toast, and orange juice, you can increase the protein by replacing the toast with yogurt or beans and by replacing the orange juice with milk. Or if you’re having a burger and fries for lunch, skip the fries and order an extra patty on your burger.

• dndnrsn says:

For some reason, a lot of “so you’re lifting weights? Here’s how you gotta eat!” advice is straight out of the 60s (gallon of milk or whatever), which is odd, since there’s a lot more fat guys and a lot fewer 98lb guys these days.

• Eric Rall says:

I get the impression that a lot of weightlifting advice is optimized for skinny teenagers. Probably a combination of a plurality of experienced serious lifters starting out as skinny teenagers and skinny teenagers being the population that gets they most dramatic results from weightlifting (good hormonal state for gaining muscle, opportunity to bulk up, fewer bad habits to break, fewer competing demands on time and attention, etc).

I think there’s also a “back to basics” mindset in fashion in weightlifting these days. The narrative being that the mainstream of the fitness field from the 80s through 2000s went down a bad path of focusing on aerobics and dieting to the detriment of strength training, partly by mistake and partly because running a gym full of treadmills and stationary bikes for casual exercisers looking to lose weight is a more lucrative business model than running a gym for hard core weightlifters. And since the 80s through the 2000s were a bad path, the logic goes, we need to reach back to the 60s and 70s for productive recommendations.

• dndnrsn says:

If you’re considering buying protein powders, here’s an article about how some of them contain unsafe levels of heavy metals. I’ve cut down my consumption to a scoop in some water while I work out and it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

Otherwise, lean meat of any kind is good. Some cuts of beef, some cuts of pork, some kinds of fish. An egg contains about 6g of protein. If for breakfast you have two eggs plus 2oz of back bacon (the lean stuff, not side bacon) that’s about 24g of protein. 4oz of lean meat is usually something in the range of 20-30g protein, depending on the meat. Let’s say 25g as a ballpark average. There’s some research suggesting that there’s diminishing returns per meal after about 30g. There’s bro science, at least (the bro science recommendation is 20-30g every 2-3 hours, but that’s probably excessive). And there’s usually protein in stuff that isn’t meat.

So, say you get 25g of protein per meal, three meals a day: the breakfast above, a pork chop or half a chicken breast or whatever at lunch, ditto at dinner. That’s already 75g. Add another meal (let’s say you get in the gym after work, around 6 – eat something at 3 or 4) and you’re at 100g. If you have a scoop of protein powder (most brands are something in the range of 24-30g a scoop) at some point around your workout, you’re at about 125g.

Reasonable recommendations about protein usually call for around 0.8-1g of protein per pound of desired bodyweight (you can try to figure out your lean bodyweight and work from that, but it’s easier to just estimate what you realistically could be having put on some muscle and reasonably lean) which means that the average guy is going to be eating something in the neighbourhood of, what, 150g a day? With the above plus protein in other stuff you’re eating you’re fine. Some advice calls for ludicrous amounts of protein – like, 200-300g a day. But that’s unnecessary.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

I would recommend avoiding powders. A protein bar can make a good dessert (Quest bars and the much cheaper Costco brand bars are basically a high-protein cookie dough, so you can bake them conventionally or in the microwave). Try Greek yogurt or low-fat cottage cheese as the base of your breakfast. The average American often eats lean meat in their sandwiches, and then have one of those boring chicken breasts for dinner. Beans are about half the protein density of meat and form a complete protein with maize, so also try tacos with Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.

• Nornagest says:

I agree with most of this, but the lean meat content of your average sandwich is negligible. A 1/3 pound burger or a largeish grilled chicken sandwich might be good for 30 grams of protein or so, but I’d be surprised to see half of that if you’re eating cold cuts — and you’re getting enough bread and mayonnaise with that that the protein:calorie ratio will be fairly low.

I’m a big fan of Greek yogurt, though. Used to eat it close to daily, although that’s fallen off a bit.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

@Nornagest: Hmm, you’re right. The ratio isn’t going to work out favorably unless it’s just cold cuts, fat-free cheese, and whole grain bread, which isn’t a standard sandwich.

• Luke G says:

A lot of sandwich shops have an “extra meat” or “double meat” option. With that, a sandwich becomes a pretty good protein source.

@lvlln
I’ll keep an eye out for that, thanks.

@Nornagest
I’m not accustomed to eating that much meat in a day. For breakfast, for example, if I have meat at all it’s a couple of slices of bacon which apparently is only 3g of protein each. Eggs look better, but still my bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich only came out to 26g as far as I can tell.

@Eric Rall
Late 30s, short, and high normal. I’m not going to be able to the use the strategy of a high school kid trying to make the football team. The substitutions instead of trying to redo everything is a good idea. Thanks.

@dndnrsn
Thanks for the pointer about the powders. Something about that skeeves me out, which is why I was hesitant in the first place. The three meals to 75g is just about where I am. It’s getting the other 25-50g (depending on who you ask) where I’m coming up short.

• Nornagest says:

You’re not gonna get much protein out of traditional breakfast foods. Bacon’s basically a delivery system for salt, fat, and piggy flavor, and sausage isn’t much better. Eggs are good as far as they go but you really need to eat a lot of them to move your macros.

Chances are you’ll be getting most of your protein at lunch and dinner, although 26g is not bad.

• dndnrsn says:

Back bacon though. Aka peameal bacon, Canadian bacon (sort of a different thing). Google’s telling me it’s 21g protein per 100g uncooked. If worried about cured meats, it’s available uncured.

• azhdahak says:

Kipper sandwiches are a good breakfast food, and can get you, according to the label on the cans of kipper in my cabinet, 16g protein, plus however much is in the other ingredients.

What you do is you take some toast, throw a kipper on the toast, and spread the other toast with sour cream or cream cheese or whatever. You could probably use Greek yogurt. Then you eat that.

If you’re worried about canned food, you could do lox bagels instead. Protein content looks comparable.

For traditional breakfast foods, there’s always ham.

• dndnrsn says:

[banging on table]
FOURTH MEAL
FOURTH MEAL

• Edward Scizorhands says:

1 cup of Special K Protein and 1 cup of milk is 21 grams right there. Since I’m on a bulk I usually have a second bowl of something. And this works well in the morning when my executive functioning isn’t all that high.

• J Smith says:

If you don’t want to devote a ton of time to meal prep, keep things formulaic at first: a can of beans, a couple of eggs, and a generous slab of meat or fish–say, 6 ounces or so–puts you right over 100 grams. Not sure how you feel about hummus, but a can of chickpeas (or half a pound of dry ones) has, like, 40ish grams of protein. Just sayin’. And if you find chicken breast to be dense and boring as a main course, try slicing it really thin and just grabbing a few slices whenever you feel like fixing a snack: some really nice tomatoes, a hard-boiled egg or two, and a few bites of chicken is a fricking good snack. (Edamame is pretty protein-heavy, too, but of course that’ll put you right back on the Lefthand Path.) xD

• Reasoner says:

Calories matter more than protein. See https://bayesianbodybuilding.com/the-myth-of-1glb-optimal-protein-intake-for-bodybuilders/ You want 3000 Calories on lifting days and 2500 on non-lifting days. (Might work even better if you eat those all after you lift.) It takes time to work up to eating that much food.

More generally, I recommend doing thorough research–different lifting programs drastically vary in their effectiveness. A lot of recommendations are actually targeting people who consume steroids. Starting Strength is an OK place to start.

That link comes to the same conclusion the meta-study the Times discusses: 1.6 g/kg. That’s still considerably above the amount of protein I was eating. In terms of the 3000 calories, is that one of those recommendations aimed at skinny teenagers that Eric Rall talks about? It’s hard to believe I wouldn’t quickly become obese on a 19,000 calories a week diet.

In terms of the program, I signed up for a class with some people that seem both extremely competent and used to dealing with people on the wrong side of 30.

• Eric Rall says:

3000/day is for mid-sized adult men. Weight maintenance for a moderately active 180-200 lbs man is around 2500/day, and you need at least a modest calorie surplus in order to gain muscle unless you’re carrying around plenty of fat to begin with (since your body expends calories to grow the muscle), plus you need to replace the calories you burn by lifting weights. Reasoner’s recommending you eat to break even on calories on rest days, plus an extra 500 kcals on lifting days to refuel from the exercise and feed your muscle growth.

The recommendations for skinny teenagers start around 3500 kcal/day and go up to 5000 or 6000 kcal/day (four large meals a day plus a gallon of whole milk spaced out throughout the day between meals).

• Controls Freak says:

This deserves a place in the Hall of Great Plots of Science. Especially combined with the analysis that they, “[F]ound a cut-off point at exactly 1.6g/kg/d beyond which no further benefits for muscle growth or strength development are seen [emphasis added].”

• Anon. says:

Whey is great, there’s no reason to avoid it. Check labdoor if you’re worried about heavy metals.

Other than that, follow these recommendations.

• baconbits9 says:

This seems mostly covered, but it is pretty easy to hit 100 grams. Just swapping out a high carb breakfast for a high protein one will do most of the work. 3 eggs + a piece of cheese is ~28 grams of protein so scrambled eggs with cheese every morning + a fairly typical dinner with ~1/3 of lb of meat will get you well over halfway there and probably 2/3rds of the way there if the rest of your dinner has any protein at all. Adding nuts to snacks during the day and you aren’t going to have a problem hitting 100g.

• ohwhatisthis? says:

>If I take a sharp turn to the right, youâll know why.

Am I missing a stereotype? Why do muscled out guys make right turns more than left?

Milk is good. Sure its for babies and real men drink beer, but its also good. Milk is fantastic. Cottage cheese another one. Eggs are good(great, really). I don’t want to recommend meats, but its really hard to get in enough protein otherwise, unless you add a *lot* of soy protein powder.

Buy cheap bulk powders with a full amino acid profile. Find flavorings to make it tasty or something.

Muscle and Fitness health and nutrition issues are really useful for starting out.

• dndnrsn says:

There’s a stereotype that weightlifting is right-coded and cardio is left-coded. One study purports to show that men with stronger grips or something tend to be more right-wing, but, y’know, one study.

• quanta413 says:

Also, I think that’s one of those studies Andrew Gelman says is probably noise mining; I’m willing to trust him on this. So y’know, not even one good study.

• Luke G says:

If you’re bulking, you should aim for about 1g protein/day per lb of body weight. If 100g sounds like a lot, you’re probably under-eating–I often get 100g just at dinner! You don’t need to make a sudden change, but you’ll want to gradually start eating more. Think of eating as a skill you need to build up, just like the lifts themselves.

As the weights get heavier, you’ll find that you’re putting your body through incredible stress, and you need to eat a lot just to not die. I personally had to add about 1000 calories/day to my diet when I did Starting Strength, and I was in my 30’s so not exactly your fast-metabolism teenager. You can reduce your calories later when you’re on a slower program, but beginner programs like Starting Strength and StrongLifts are very aggressive.

You should be able to get your protein target easily with milk and meat. Find some sauce for your chicken so you don’t have to choke down dry chicken breasts. Milk is an efficient way to add calories and protein, try adding a glass with every meal. Whey protein is good for a post-workout protein infusion, but I’d avoid relying on it too much because it runs through the system fast and will end up in the toilet if you take a lot.

Good luck with your gains. You may be surprised just how quickly you can get results if you stick to the program.

8. bean says:

Naval Gazing: And now for something completely different. Today, we’re looking at the Bombardment of Alexandria, 1882.

• skef says:

Sounds like my prom night.

• bean says:

I didn’t go to my prom, but if it had featured heavy warships, I probably would have.

• quaelegit says:

My prom was at the Nixon library, but to my disappointment the museum section was closed đ

• Le Maistre Chat says:

A prom with Richard Nixon would be one rockin’ party.

• johan_larson says:

A prom with Richard Nixon would be one rockinâ party.

You thinking necromancer or time machine?

• Le Maistre Chat says:

Necromancy would make for a more interesting party.

• Randy M says:

Huh. I once chaperoned a prom at the Nixon library.

• dndnrsn says:

Prom Theme: Enchantment Under the Sea Excitement Atop the Sea

• bean says:

Hey, I’m working on a series on ASW now. We could have excitement under the sea, as we hunt the dastardly submarines.

• Paul Zrimsek says:

I’m reminded of the ball in one of the Aubrey-Maturin stories where the hall is decorated with signal flags reading “Engage the enemy more closely.”

• beleester says:

A whole lot of noise, and you left happy, but it didn’t really have a lasting impact?

We’ve read before on SSC about the ethics of the US’s Cold War interventionism.

I’m interested in the other side of this question: setting aside ethics and concern for other nations’ well-being, how much did that stuff actually help the US win the Cold War? Relative to, let’s say, a policy of “your internal affairs are your own business, we’ll only get involved if you start helping the USSR”. Answers with the benefit of hindsight or based on the information available at the time are both acceptable.

• cassander says:

>, a policy of âyour internal affairs are your own business, weâll only get involved if you start helping the USSRâ.

Add in “or the USSR starts messing with you” and that was pretty much our policy, for the most part. Lots of bad implementation, to be sure, but that was what it amounted to. Turns out that “helping the USSR” is a lot vaguer a notion that sounds at first glance.

• pontifex says:

Iâm interested in the other side of this question: setting aside ethics and concern for other nationsâ well-being, how much did that stuff actually help the US win the Cold War? Relative to, letâs say, a policy of âyour internal affairs are your own business, weâll only get involved if you start helping the USSRâ.

Can you be a little more clear about what “stuff” you’re talking about? Are we just talking about wars and military interventions, or was there something else you were thinking about?

Or do you just want to discuss “domino theory” in general? The theory seems pretty reasonable to me. The communists explicitly used countries as stepping stones to invade other countries. For example, once China was communist, it could launch an invasion of Korea. And the invasions of Vietnam and Cambodia, etc. The USSR was clearly eager to recruit countries near the US as well, as evinced by the Cuban situation.

It’s sort of an interesting question what the US “should” have done in each of these situations. I think in the case of Cuba, we could have taken Cuba back easily if JFK hadn’t botched the Bay of Pigs invasion. The pre-Castro government was apparently corrupt as hell, though, so if we wanted to really succeed there, we probably needed to get rid of those guys, and make it a territory or something.

Wars and military intervention most importantly, but also CIA actions, diplomatic pressure, and funding. My general understanding is that the US used all those methods to keep anti-communist governments in power, however undemocratic or repressive they were.

Also, didn’t Vietnam remove the horrible communist government in Cambodia? And I’m not sure the communist “invasions” of Korea and Vietnam are consensus history either.

• bean says:

Also, didnât Vietnam remove the horrible communist government in Cambodia? And Iâm not sure the communist âinvasionsâ of Korea and Vietnam are consensus history either.

Wait. You’re seriously suggesting that the communists didn’t invade in Korea? That’s pretty much completely unquestioned. Vietnam is a bit murkier at the start, but the breaking of the cease-fire was definitely on the heads of the communists. The South knew it wouldn’t end well for them at that point.

Certainly communist North Korea invaded South Korea. I read Pontifex as suggesting that the Korean War was started by a Chinese invasion.

• pontifex says:

Certainly communist North Korea invaded South Korea. I read Pontifex as suggesting that the Korean War was started by a Chinese invasion.

Sorry, I guess I phrased it poorly. I didn’t mean to imply that the Chinese invasion started the war.

• pontifex says:

Also, didnât Vietnam remove the horrible communist government in Cambodia? And Iâm not sure the communist âinvasionsâ of Korea and Vietnam are consensus history either.

The communist regimes in China and Vietnam put the Khmer Rouge in power. To quote wikipedia:

The Khmer Rouge’s army was slowly built up in the jungles of Eastern Cambodia during the late 1960s and was supported by the North Vietnamese army, the Viet Cong, and the Pathet Lao, with strong support from the People’s Republic of China; the latter had a huge influence on the Party later.

It is certainly true that later on, in 1979, the victorious communists in Vietnam invaded Cambodia and deposed the Khmer Rouge. China was upset by this for a while, since they viewed it as a useful client state (kind of like how they view North Korea now.)

• christhenottopher says:

I think there might be a case to be made that the US would have had a somewhat easier time causing collapse of the Soviet Union by letting them try to rule more territory. Keeping control of Eastern Europe required lots of armored divisions nearby and ready to crush dissent. Further the bad economic policies pursued by communist governments squandered much of the economic potential of the areas the Soviets did grab. This means less demand for Russian oil due to lower growth. More expenditures to hold territory plus fewer customers wealthy enough for cars/consistent heating would mean probably a faster collapse.

All that said, once the Soviets did collapse, without the US supporting an international organizations and governments that already leaned in our direction, would countries turn from communism to the US style liberal democracy? Or would they act as if there was no hegemon and pursue a wider variety of government styles (including more staying communist just without Russian domination like Cuba and North Korea)? I’m not sure on that point.

EDIT: I would add an important point here. This is all under the assumption that the US could not really be invaded or successfully subverted by the Soviet Union. For subversion, if the Soviets could have done it, they would have during the Cold War and they did try. For invasion, even without nukes to consider, launching a conventional invasion of the US is basically impossible without dominating control of the seas, something that post WW-2 no country or combination of countries could do to the US. The United States was never at a serious threat of being attacked by the USSR even if every nuke in the world was removed and in a hypothetical “let them have the rest of Eurasia” scenario this would not have changed.

• cassander says:

You’re assuming that the difficult of subversion is independent of world conditions. if every country in the world besides the US goes communist, then communism starts to looks a lot more attractive. After all, it’s clearly on the rise and all the other countries are doing it….

• christhenottopher says:

I see the point but I think that effect would be significantly weaker for a country like the United States for a few reasons. First, we’re geographically isolated. A lot of the pressure that can come from other countries converting to a particular political philosophy is from potential invasion threat which is not a problem for the US.

Second, we’re culturally relatively insular. Americans are famously ignorant of the rest of the world and tend to export culture way more than we import it with the partial exception of letting in immigrants. And while most economic migrants don’t seem to equate the political system they came from as causing the problems they are fleeing, migrants away from communist systems in particular do (examples include Cuban immigrants and those who fled Russia post revolution). So what culture we are taking in from outside would mostly be the most anti-communist elements.

Third, the US has a large capacity for economic autarky limiting the ability of things like sanctions to force change. This is even more true as long as Canada and Mexico are kept on our side which is where we get the large majority of our imported oil from.

So I’m not convinced that Eurasia falling to communism would significantly increase subversion chances for the US. Canada and Mexico falling however might be more worrisome.

• cassander says:

There was a substantial communist groundswell in actual history. Communism fit perfectly well with a particular strain of Americanism and it was seen as the way of the future. This is disrupted somewhat in the late 40s and early 50s, but refashioned itself into non-russian communist and socialist movements and carried on. Had the communists been even more successful, this only would have gotten stronger. That the US could have remained autarkic doesn’t really matter, it couldn’t help but be influenced even more by ideas that were already influencing it.

On a purely military level, had communism conquered the rest of the world, there is little question that it could have imposed its will on the US. The US ability to trump communists absolutely depended on the european allies and their large armies camped in front of the USSR. Had those armies been even neutral, to say nothing of going over to the other side, it would have freed up the resources the soviets needed to build up the necessary naval forces.

Of course, that leaves out nukes, and they would have remained the ultimate insurance policy.

• pontifex says:

I think you have the wrong mental model of how the communists generally took power. They didn’t need to have majority support. They just needed a small and highly devoted minority, plus some kind of military force, either internal or external. After that, power could be maintained by secret police and death camps (gulags).

By the way– this is also true of revolutions more generally. A small group of people, in the right place at the right time, can be very important. The majority of the population usually aren’t true believers, and just want to follow the path of least resistance, which is compliance with whatever regime is in power.

My general sense is that the communists had more than acolytes to take over in the US in the early part of the 20th century, especially among what would later become Blue Tribe. What they didn’t have is a good way to exert military force here. Which is one reason why taking Cuba was a big deal for them, and why we intervened so much in Latin America.

Pontifex: Can you clarify the model in your last paragraph there?

Is it that US communists could have posed a challenge on the ground, but the US gov would likely have kept the whole Navy and prevented the USSR from delivering ground support? Could Cuba have solved that problem for them?

• Jiro says:

First, weâre geographically isolated.

Look at how even right now the left points to Europe as proof that some sort of left-wing or socialist policy is a good idea. We constantly hear that Europe has abolished the death penalty, or has socialized medicine, or taxes the rich without causing damage, or whatever.

I don’t see why that would stop if it was Communist.

• christhenottopher says:

I think the communist groundswell actually probably was about at the level you could potentially get in the US. I am aware that significant numbers of spies did infiltrate the US and there was a decent number of sympathizers. But I don’t think the relative growth of communism elsewhere in the world hugely impacted those numbers beyond the initial existence of any large communist state to provide funding. In essence, for a country like the US, you get diminishing returns for more investment in trying to get people to overthrow the government.

The reason for this is that while yes you don’t need a majority of the population to be communist to have communists take over, you do need a majority to be against, or at least not for, the government. And the US government commanded broad trust among the populace until the Vietnam War (a war that mind you doesn’t have US troops involved in this counterfactual). Extremists in a system that is stable due to high support for the status quo are not super dangerous. Extremists in a system where the populace has turned against the status quo are more dangerous.

On a military level, I don’t care how much of Western Europe’s industrial capacity goes to Stalin, can he eliminate the US fleet in it’s own home waters? Napoleon had all of Europe united but a few miles of English Channel were an impassible barrier with the British Navy there. And he was never able to turn to solely navy building because occupation is hard. Same with Hitler.

Crossing thousands of miles of ocean is even harder (and no you can’t skip around this by attacking from Siberia to Alaska, the closest railroad goes to Vladivostock which is still thousands of miles away, not that conquering Alaska would get you to the point of hitting the lower 48 anyways since the only highway south is through high and cold mountains). Even with naval superiority, the British in the 18th and 19th centuries found they could not occupy the full US when the US was much weaker and smaller than it was during the Cold War. And it’s not like Britain couldn’t occupy huge territories (see India). Not to mention that real global conquest is not Risk. You don’t get to have all your forces on the front with a single battalion for all of central Europe. The Germans learned this during WW1 where even after the Brest-Litovsk treaty they still needed dozens of divisions to hold the territory newly ceded to them (whereas if they had pulled back to pre-war territory nearly all of those divisions could have participated in the Spring Offensives that nearly beat the Western Allies).

Furthermore, it’s worth remembering that at the end of WW2, the US alone was half of global GDP. Given that with communist economic inefficiencies we should expect slower catch-up growth there the US dominance of the global economy should last even longer than it did. And navies are capital intensive not manpower intensive. Therefore higher per capita GDP economies (aka ones with more capital) have an advantage over similarly sized lower per capita GDP economies.

• pontifex says:

Is it that US communists could have posed a challenge on the ground, but the US gov would likely have kept the whole Navy and prevented the USSR from delivering ground support? Could Cuba have solved that problem for them?

In a hypothetical Russian invasion of the US in the 1950s or 1960s, I would expect the contribution from US communists to be mostly intelligence information or sabotage. I don’t think they would pose an overt military challenge.

If we’re talking about a ground invasion, I’m not sure Cuba is the best place for the Russians to start. I’m out of my depth here (maybe someone with more military knowledge can comment), but from my point of view, a landing somewhere on the west coast– or possibly Canada or Mexico– just seems easier for the Red Army. This is no doubt one of the reasons why Eisenhower built all those highways in the 1950s.

The reason for this is that while yes you donât need a majority of the population to be communist to have communists take over, you do need a majority to be against, or at least not for, the government.

Disagree.

Furthermore, itâs worth remembering that at the end of WW2, the US alone was half of global GDP.

To be fair, the US was also the only industrialized nation that wasn’t turned into a slaughterhouse during the war.

• dndnrsn says:

@pontifex

To be fair, the US was also the only industrialized nation that wasnât turned into a slaughterhouse during the war.

Canada was similarly unscathed, and while Britain suffered a great deal economically, they got off relatively light as far as human losses go, and their industry got smashed up far less than the continent’s.

• christhenottopher says:

@Pontifex I disagree that the Hungarian Revolution and invasion is relevant to this discussion. I still see no way for the USSR to feasibly get past the US navy to do an invasion in support of an already existing communist government. It’s worth noting that a communist overthrow of an existing non-communist government is one thing, but reinstating a communist government from a still weak and disorganized revolt is a much easier task. So I still stand by my point they would have needed a lot more Americans to be actively against the US government even if they weren’t communists.

Also with regards to landing on the West Coast, remember that roads can be used by invading armies just as easily as defending ones (as the Roman Empire found many times in the late Empire). Not having the highways to travel on would have made going through the Rocky Mountains or southwestern deserts to get to the farms of the great plains would have made the invasion even ore difficult. And still during the cold war you would be thousands of miles away from the industrial and population centers of the US. The US is massive and invading massive countries is extremely difficult. If the USSR could pull it off it would need to strike at the densest population centers first to drain the US’s ability to continue manufacturing weapons of war and supplying soldiers. It probably wouldn’t work still (Japan did this to China through the 1930s and 40s and in that case Japan had the technological advantage, an advantage that would probably not hold for Russia), but it’s likely the best of bad options.

Invasions are hard and expensive. Invasions across bodies of water are even harder and even more expensive. Invasions across continents are about as hard and expensive as things get. I really think anyone who thinks that the USSR, even with Europe united behind it and with nukes off the table, could have pulled off a successful conquest of the US is way underestimating the difficulty of the task. The only way that MAYBE they would have a shot is if the US allowed Canada to turn to communism and then allowed the Soviets to build up forces there. And that idea is crazy because there is no way in hell that a post-WW2 hypothetically isolationist US is going to allow an aggressive ideological opponent to set up shop across the river from Detroit and Buffalo. Even pre-WW1 the US regularly intruded on the internal affairs of other nations in the Western Hemisphere. Even with that kind of advantage it cost the Soviet Union about 10 million soldiers to first get pushed to Moscow and then to drive to Berlin, less than 2000 km over almost entirely flat and open terrain. It’s twice that distance to cross the US with a lot more unfriendly terrain and an opponent with a larger population pool to draw on for soldiers.

I’m still fairly well convinced the Cold War defense of Europe was not needed to prevent a Soviet take over of the US. This is not to say that the US government acted purely altruistically in opposing the Soviet expansion into Western Europe, but that the right way to look at this is probably by the incentives for particular departments of the government or individual politicians/bureaucrats deciding policy, not just a pure “defend the US homeland from take over” idea.

• Nornagest says:

Ditto Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand and Sweden. Norway saw fighting but got off pretty light. Spain is a bit of a special case, being left intact by WWII but banged up by its own civil war a few years earlier — I’d still count it, though, since its civil war casualties and infrastructure damage were light by WWII’s low standards.

• christhenottopher says:

@Nornagest, the casualty figures I find for the Spanish Civil War were not particularly light by WW2 standards. The range on wikipedia is 250k to a million. Out of a population of 25 million, that’s 1-4% of the populace dead, which on the low end puts Spain as having the casualty rate of Italy and at the high end the casualty rate of Japan (again sourced from Wikipedia). Given that the ideological battle lines were nearly identical to what would happen during WW2 and the civil war is often seen as a sort of practice run for the broader conflict, I’d say it’s safe to include Spain in the “not lightly damaged by the war” camp.

I’m extrapolating you a bit here, but if you’re suggesting that US interventionism was a detriment to the Cold War effort but a positive for the affected parts of the developing world, I’m nominating this comment for Contrarian Take of the Month.

(which implies neither agreement nor disagreement)

• christhenottopher says:

While I can’t and won’t endorse every intervention the US did (overthrowing Mossadegh in Iran for instance seems to me like it was a Bad Idea), on net I’d say that’s a fair extrapolation of my point that I would tentatively endorse.

• WarOnReasons says:

overthrowing Mossadegh in Iran for instance seems to me like it was a Bad Idea

Would you mind explaining why do you think so?

• christhenottopher says:

Probably was a bit too quick to that example since looking into it more, that’s probably not the best example of a bad intervention. The Shah wasn’t an impressive ruler, and trying to get nukes is definitely worrying, but that is hindsight bias. Mossadegh hanging out with the communists was worrisome given the use of salami tactics elsewhere. Nonetheless, trying to keep an anti-communist government by going for a leader who’s only real appeal is traditional legitimacy in a country that is broadly turning away from traditionalism, is not exactly ideal either.

• WarOnReasons says:

Do you think there was a better candidate than the Shah? Also, my impression was that the Shah was actually much less traditionalist than most of the country and his reforms were the main reason for the Islamic revolution.

• christhenottopher says:

I don’t have knowledge to really say for certain who in Iran might be better. At the same time though graveyards are full of irreplaceable men so I’m skeptical of anyone saying there’s no other option.

But the Shah promoted traditional political structures, while being socially pro-westernization. The former was unacceptable to the urban middle classes that were forming. The latter was unacceptable to the conservative rural masses (who’s hero, Kohmeini, was the eventual winner of the revolution). Hence why he needed SAVAK repression to hold on…and then waffled between repression and liberalization when the major protests came (though admittedly his health problems likely didn’t help there). The basic problem being, the Shah didn’t really satisfy anyone except maybe a small class of close cronies.

• cassander says:

@christhenottopher says

The shah definitely WAS an impressive ruler who worked very hard to modernize his country. He stripped the clerics of their powers, which pissed off them, and sided with the US against the USSR, which angered the left, and the two eventually conspired to get rid of him. But getting rid of mossadegh bought a decades long allegiance that saw substantial improvements in the lives of average iranians.

overthrowing Mossadegh in Iran for instance seems to me like it was a Bad Idea

Another Bad Idea was overthrowing Arbenz in Guatemala.

Both were democratically elected leaders, both were left-leaning, but neither was a comunist.

Overthrowing Mossadegh in Iran finally resulted in the most modernizing and westernizing Middle Eastern country becoming a Islamic theocracy, the most fundamentalist after Saudi Arabia (because the weak shah was seen as West’s puppet).

Overthrowing Arbenz in Guatemala finally resulted in Cuba becoming communist (because it forced young Che Guevara to move to Mexico, where he met Fidel Castro).

• WarOnReasons says:

Do you have any data showing that Iran during Mossadegh’s
time was more westernized than Turkey, Lebanon or Israel?

Also, what makes you think that keeping Mossadegh in power would have prevented theocracy in Iran?

• To put WarOnReasons’ point a little differently, how do you westernize an Islamic state without offending the religious conservatives and eventually producing what happened in Iran?

The one country that seemed to be pulling it off was Turkey, but with the breakdown of Ataturk’s system that is becoming less clear.

• dndnrsn says:

@WarOnReasons

If Iran had stayed with a democratic form of government – not guaranteed, of course – it would have been far less dependent on one person than the government of Iran under the shah was. When his health failed, that’s when things really got out of control.

• WarOnReasons says:

dndnrsn,

At the time Mossadegh was overthrown Iran already did not have a democratic form of government. Mossadegh disbanded parliament and cancelled the elections which he was expected to lose.

• dndnrsn says:

He had emergency powers, and I think it’s more likely a democracy where emergency powers have been brought in will end up back a democracy than an autocracy will turn into a democracy. However, point taken – I think the prof in my ME history class I took way back when was a bit biased on this topic.

• WarOnReasons says:

Can you give me several historic examples where the government leader disbands parliament, cancels elections but
then restores democracy a few years later? All cases I could think of ended in a dictatorship.

P.S. Don’t put too much blame on your history professors – without being “a bit biased” their chances of
getting a job are extremely slim.

• cassander says:

Overthrowing Mossadegh in Iran finally resulted in the most modernizing and westernizing Middle Eastern country becoming a Islamic theocracy, the most fundamentalist after Saudi Arabia (because the weak shah was seen as Westâs puppet).

The shah wasn’t weak (until he got old), and Iran only became the most modernizing and westernizing country because of him. Mossadegh was allied with the clerics more often than not.

• dndnrsn says:

Can you give me several historic examples where the government leader disbands parliament, cancels elections but
then restores democracy a few years later? All cases I could think of ended in a dictatorship.

Not off the top of my head, no. I can think of cases where emergency powers or some similar thing were brought in, but not elections cancelled or anything like that. So, point taken.

I don’t know enough about the situation to be able to say whether a hypothetical Mossadegh dictatorship would have been in a better position than the Shah’s regime to deal with the top guy being really ill.

P.S. Donât put too much blame on your history professors â without being âa bit biasedâ their chances of
getting a job are extremely slim.

Ehhhh, this guy had some spicy takes. I think his coverage of the Armenian Genocide was “it happened, and a bunch of people died, but hey, a lot of people died! It was a war!” which is kind of neither fish nor fowl – minimizing a genocide is minimizing a genocide, but simultaneously acknowledging it as genocide is going to piss off the people who think that acknowledging it is a slur against Turkey. It’s reasonable to expect that he’s going to be a little bit anti-American (as I recall he was also pretty anti-Soviet? Kinda “just everyone go away”) but I don’t know how the Armenian Genocide fits into that.

• @ WarOnReasons :

Can you give me several historic examples where the government leader disbands parliament, cancels elections but then restores democracy a few years later? All cases I could think of ended in a dictatorship.

One example comes immediately to mind:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Emergency_(India)

@cassander:

The shah wasnât weak (until he got old), and Iran only became the most modernizing and westernizing country because of him.

Maybe you conflate two different shahs into one? The shah with the ban on veils (in 1936) was last shah’s father, Reza Shah, who was a strong man – if he weren’t a (autoproclaimed) shah, he would probably be considered a dictator.

@WarOnReasons:

Mossadegh wasn’t a communist – although he had the support of the communists for a while – he was just a nationalist populist. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica:

An outspoken advocate of nationalism, he [Mossadegh] soon played a leading part in successfully opposing the grant to the Soviet Union of an oil concession for northern Iran similar to an existing British concession in southern Iran.

I admit that I didn’t know about Mossadegh’s authoritarian tendencies. But I don’t think they really matter that much. In a zone when even today most countries are either absolute monarchies or dictatorships, you can’t really justify a coup against a democratically elected leader because he may (or may not) become a dictator. Mossadegh wasn’t Hitler, not even Saddam, afaik he didn’t execute his opponents or smth. But after his fall, some of his suppporters were executed, like his forreign affairs minister Hossein Fatemi. Shah’s autocratic regime became really repressive – according to Wikipedia:

The Shah’s security forces arrested 4,121 Tudeh political activists including 386 civil servants, 201 college students, 165 teachers, 125 skilled workers, 80 textile workers, and 60 cobblers.[148] Forty were executed (primarily for murder, such as Khosrow Roozbeh),[11][12] another 14 died under torture and over 200 were sentenced to life imprisonment.[145] […]

After the 1953 coup, the Shah’s government formed the SAVAK (secret police) […] and nearly 100 people were executed for political reasons during the last 20 years of the Shah’s rule.[152][155]

The Islamic Republic that came after him was probably even more repressive, but that’s another story.

If Wikipedia doesn’t seem reliable enough, see this old article from Washington Post, from 1980 (that isn’t very hostile to the shah – it tries to correct the exaggerated numbers of victims given by Khomeini):

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1980/03/23/the-shah-as-tyrant-a-look-at-the-record/218c6a8e-dcb7-4168-ac9c-8f23609f888f/?utm_term=.def002681881

• WarOnReasons says:

@ dndnrsn:

this guy had some spicy takes

I think for a history professor having some eccentric out-of-mainstream views is actually beneficial. The important thing is that these views do not clearly lean towards the political positions of the âenemyâ. (As was written by Stendhal, âif one confines oneself to the commonplaces of the papers, one is taken for a fool. If one indulges in some original truth, theyâŠ get you informed that your conduct has been unbecoming.”)

@ Larry Kestenbaum:

Thanks. I totally forgot about that one.

I never claimed he was one.

you canât really justify a coup against a democratically elected leader because he may (or may not) become a dictator

Since you mentioned Hitler â would it be unjustifiable for western allies to organize a coup against him in 1933 (after he won the elections but before he became a dictator)?

Also, does not disbanding parliament and abolishing elections qualifies Mossadegh as an actual dictator rather than a potential one?

• dndnrsn says:

I think for a history professor having some eccentric out-of-mainstream views is actually beneficial. The important thing is that these views do not clearly lean towards the political positions of the âenemyâ. (As was written by Stendhal, âif one confines oneself to the commonplaces of the papers, one is taken for a fool. If one indulges in some original truth, theyâŠ get you informed that your conduct has been unbecoming.â)

I did have one prof who would rant about “studies” departments and the devaluing of degrees and such. But he was at that point in his career where he was basically contractually obligated not to give a fuck.

@WarOnReasons:

Also, does not disbanding parliament and abolishing elections qualifies Mossadegh as an actual dictator rather than a potential one?

The first ruler of my country, named Cuza, wanted to do a much needed land reform – but the parliament, formed mostly from landed gentry (the electoral law was very restrictive about who could vote) voted against the reform. So Cuza dissolved the parliament – he ordered the soldiers to escort the deputies out of the building – changed the electoral law by decree, allowing more people to vote, hold new elections and obtained a parliament who voted his land reform. That was clearly an abuse of power, but it is the kind of things that happen outside the first world, in modernizing countries that make their first steps toward democracy. Many accused Cuza of dictatorial tendencies for all that, but Cuza didn’t kill/imprison/torture his opponents. After a few years, his opponents deposed him and sent him to exile.

Mossadegh disbanding the parliament seems a minor incident compared to the Shah (and later the Ayatollah) routinely killing/imprisoning/torturing opponents. That was the problem: that the Anglo-Americans replaced a regime that may or may not become a dictatorship with a real repressive tyranny, loosing prestige and antagonizing the Iranians. It’s hard to present yourself as champion of liberty and democracy after doing such things.

10. Anatoly says:

The logical puzzle I posted in the last open thread seemed to have gone over well, so I’ll continue these occasional series; tell me when you’re permanently bored. Today’s puzzle should be harder than the one about the animals.

Alice, Bob and Carol are sitting at a round table. Each has a positive integer number written on their forehead; as usual, each sees the others’ numbers but not their own, and they’re all perfect logicians. It is known (to us and to them) that two of the numbers sum up to the third, but it isn’t known who of them has got the sum.

They take turns, each person either saying their number if they’re sure they know it, or saying “I don’t know my number”. It goes like this:

Alice: “I don’t know my number”.
Bob: “I don’t know my number”.
Carol: “I don’t know my number”.
Alice: “My number is 25”.

1. What are Bob’s and Carol’s numbers?
2. Can you prove that your solution from 1. is unique?

If you can’t prove uniqueness, just finding the numbers is also an achievement. If you post your solution, please ROT13.com and mind the digits – writing out the numbers with words should probably work.

No uniqueness proof yet, but

Nyvpr unf gjragl svir, Obo unf gra, Pneby unf svsgrra.

Rnpu crefba xabjf gurl unir rvgure gur fha be gur qvssrerapr bs gur bguref’ ahzoref. Fb Nyvpr xabjf fur unf gjragl svir be svir. Vs Nyvpr unq svir, Pneby jbhyq xabj fur unq rvgure svir be svsgrra. Ohg vs Nyvpr naq Pneby obgu unq svir, Obo jbhyq xabj ur unq gra, fvapr mreb vf abg n cbfvgvir vagrtre. Fvapr Obo qbrfa’g xabj uvf ahzore, Pneby jbhyq xabj fur qvqa’g unir svir. Ohg fvapr Pneby qbrfa’g xabj ure ahzore, Nyvpr zhfg abg unir svir.

• The Nybbler says:

Gur bayl jnl Nyvpr xabjf ure ahzore evtug bss gur ong vf vs fur pna svther bhg juvpu vf gur fhz whfg sebz Obo naq Pneby’f ahzoref. Ure pubvprf ner Nyvpr rdhnyf Obo cyhf Pneby, Nyvpr rdhnyf Pneby zvahf Obo, Nyvpr rdhnyf Obo zvahf Pneby. Vg pna or frra gung vs Obo naq Pneby ner qvssrerag, bar bs gurfr vf ryvzvangrq, ohg gur bguref erznva. Vs Obo naq Pneby ner gur fnzr, gura ol bhe cbfvgvir vagrtre nffhzcgvba Nyvpr vf gur fhz. Gurersber Obo naq Pneby ner abg gur fnzr.

Obo abj xabjf uvf ahzore vf qvssrerag sebz Pneby’f. Ol gur fnzr ernfbavat nf nobir jr pna qrgrezvar gung Nyvpr naq Pneby’f ahzoref ner qvssrerag. Vs Nyvpr’f ahzore vf gjvpr Pneby’f ahzore, Obo xabjf uvf ahzore vf guerr gvzrf Nyvpr’f ahzore, fb vg’f abg gung.

Pneby xabjf ure ahzore vf qvssrerag sebz Nyvpr’f be Obo’f. Jr nyfb xabj gung Nyvpr naq Obo’f ahzoref ner qvssrerag, naq arvgure vf Nyvpr gjvpr Obo abe Obo gjvpr Nyvpr.

Fhccbfr Nyvpr frrf Obo gra naq Pneby svsgrra. Gura Nyvpr pbhyq or svir be gjragl svir, ohg svir ivbyngrf gur Obo gjvpr Nyvpr ehyr. Purpxvat svir sbe pbzcyrgrarff, Nyvpr jbhyq guvax svir be gjragl svir, Obo jbhyq guvax gjragl be gra, naq Pneby jbhyq guvax svsgrra be svir naq or noyr gb ryvzvangr svir.

Purpxvat gjragl svir. Nyvpr guvaxf svir be gjragl svir. Obo guvaxf gra be sbegl. Pneby guvaxf svsgrra be guvegl svir. Guna orpnhfr Pneby qvqa’g xabj, Nyvpr qbrf. Fb vg vf Obo gra, Pneby svsgrra. Vg’f qvaare gvzr fb V jba’g gnpxyr havdhrarff lrg, gubhtu V’z thrffvat bar fgrc vf cebivat gung Nyvpr vf gur fhz; sebz gurer lbh pbhyq qb vg ol rkunhfgvba vs lbh jrera’g pyrire rabhtu gb qb vg nal bgure jnl.

• The Nybbler says:

BX, fb jr xabj gur ehyrf
1) Nyy ahzoref zhfg or qvssrerag.
2n) Nyvpr vf abg gjvpr Obo abe
2o) Obo gjvpr Nyvpr abe
2p) Nyvpr gjvpr Pneby
3n) Nyvpr cyhf Obo rdhnyf Pneby be
3o) Nyvpr cyhf Pneby rdhnyf Obo be
3p) Obo cyhf Pneby rdhnyf Nyvpr.

Obo naq Pneby’f ahzoref unir gb or fhpu fb gung rknpgyl bar bs 3n, 3o, naq 3p pna or gehr jvgubhg
ivbyngvat nal bs gur bgure pbaqvgvbaf, naq gung Nyvpr’f ahzore vf gjragl-svir.

Fhccbfr 3o vf gehr. Gura Pneby vf Obo zvahf gjragl svir. Nyvpr jvyy thrff ure ahzore vf rvgure gjragl svir, be gjvpr Obo zvahf gjragl svir. Obgu bs gurfr ner bqq, fb jr xabj gung 2n naq 2p ner fngvfsvrq ertneqyrff. Obo gjvpr Nyvpr jbhyq or ivbyngrq vss Pneby rdhny Nyvpr, fb gubfr pbaqvgvbaf pbyyncfr. Jr arrq ahzoref sbe Obo naq Pneby jurer vs Pneby (pbhagresnpghnyyl) rdhnyf Nyvpr, Nyvpr jbhyq or gjvpr Obo zvahf 25, naq Pneby vf Obo zvahf 25. Pyrneyl ab fhpu pnfr rkvfgf, fb Obo vf abg gur fhz.

Fhccbfr 3n vf gehr. Guna Obo vf Pneby zvahf 25. Nyvpr thrffrf gung fur vf vf gjragl svir, be gjvpr Pneby zvahf gjragl-svir. Ntnva obgu ner bqq fb 2n naq 2p ner fngvfsvrq. Vs Obo vf gjvpr Nyvpr, Pneby vf guevpr Nyvpr. Guhf gur ehyrq bhg thrff vf gung fvk gvzrf Nyvpr zvahf gjragl svir vf rdhny gb Nyvpr, naq guhf gung Nyvpr vf svir, Obo vf gra, naq Pneby vf svsgrra. Guvf vf n cresrpgyl tbbq fbyhgvba gung pbagenqvpgf bhe nffhzcgvba 3n. Gur bgure cbffvovyvgl vf gung pbaqvgvba 1 vf pbhagresnpghnyyl ivbyngrq, gung vf gung Nyvpr rdhnyf Obo. Gur ehyrq bhg thrff vf gura gung Nyvpr vf sbhe gvzrf Nyvpr zvahf 25, juvpu erfhygf va n aba-vagrteny Nyvpr naq Obo, fb vg’f abg gung.

Fhccbfr 3p vf gehr naq Obo tg Pneby. Nyvpr thrffrf fur’f Obo zvahf Pneby be Obo cyhf Pneby (gjragl svir). Ntnva obgu bs gurfr ner bqq. Sbe Obo gb or gjvpr Nyvpr va gur ehyrq-bhg pnfr, Obo zhfg or gjvpr (Obo zvahf Pneby), guhf Obo vf gjvpr Pneby. Fvapr gjragl-svir vf abg qvivfvoyr ol guerr, guvf pnaabg or.

Fhccbfr 3p vf gehr naq Obo yg Pneby. Nyvpr thrffrf fur’f Pneby zvahf Obo be Pneby cyhf Obo (gjragl-svir). Ntnva obgu ner bqq. Sbe Obo gb or gjvpr Nyvpr, Obo zhfg or gjvpr (Pneby zvahf Obo), 3 gvzr Obo vf gjvpr Pneby. Xabjvat gung Obo cyhf Pneby rdhnyf gjragl svir, gung tvirf hf bayl bar fbyhgvba, Obo vf gra naq Pneby vf svsgrra.

• anonymousskimmer says:

Thanks for the great analysis The Nybbler. Had I been younger or less sick I may have tried to figure it out on my own.

• jeqofire says:

1. Obo vf gra, naq Pneeby vf svsgrra. Va guvf pnfr, Nyvpr jbhyq xabj gung fur unf rvgure svir be gjragl-svir. Vs Nyvpr unf svir, Pneeby jbhyq xabj gung ure ahzore vf rvgure svir be svsgrra. Vs Nyvpr naq Pneeby ner obgu svir, Obo jbhyq xabj uvf ahzore vzzrqvngryl, fb Pneeby jbhyq xabj ertneqyrff bs Obo’f erfcbafr. Fvapr Pneeby qbrfa’g xabj, Nyvpr xabjf fur vfa’g svir, naq vf gurersber gjragl-svir.

• ProfessorQuirrell says:

I’ve been greatly enjoying these and would like to contribute one of my own. I hope you haven’t heard it before.

A clever, evil logician has captured N people (where N is some integer) and proposes to them a challenge: he’s going to lock them in a room. Each of them will be wearing a hat of N possible colors (N is the same integer for number of people and possible hat colors). After a short period of time where they can observe the hats that everyone else has on (you cannot by any means see your own hat color) everyone has to write down a guess as to what their hat is colored (you may not communicate with your companions by any means) and as long as at least one person guesses correctly, everyone gets to escape. Otherwise they are all killed.

The captured group has a short period of time to plan a strategy before being locked in. How can they succeed?

A few clarifications are in order. First, the hats have N possible colors, but this does not guarantee that each color is represented. The hats may all be the same color, they may be all different colors, or some may the same and some are different. There are N possible colors, but that places no other constraints on what each hat is actually colored. Second, the puzzle is not solved by some clever technique to communicate or see your own hat color, there is an actual strategy that unambiguously guarantees at least one person to succeed.

Enjoy!

• JulieK says:

Do the people know in advance what the possible colors are?

• ProfessorQuirrell says:

They know what the possible colors are, yes.

• Anatoly says:

That’s a really nice one, thanks! I think I must have seen it before, but completely forgot the solution. It was fun working it out.

• David Speyer says:

Avpr chmmyr!

Jr nffvta gur pbybef gb ahzoref, sebz bar gb A. Rnpu crefba pubbfrf n qvssrerag ahzore, ntnva sebz bar gb A. Rnpu crefba gnxrf ure ahzore naq fhogenpgf bss gur fhz bs gur ungf fur frrf, zbqhyb A. Vs gur fhz bs nyy ungf zbqhyb A vf x, gura gur x-gu crefba jvyy thrff uvf bja ung inyhr.

Vg’f vagrerfgvat gb abgr gung cerpvfryl bar crefba thrffrf evtug rnpu gvzr. Guvf zhfg gur pnfr va gur bcgvzny fgengrtl, fvapr gur rkcrpgrq ahzore bs ungf thrffrq pbeerpgyl vf bar.

• Iain says:

Nffvta n ahzore sebz 1-A gb rnpu cbffvoyr pbybhe bs ung. Vs lbh nqq hc gur gbgny inyhrf bs gur ungf nsgre gurl unir orra nffvtarq, naq gnxr gung inyhr zbq A, gurer ner A cbffvoyr bhgpbzrf (0 gb A-1). Nffvta bar bs gubfr bhgpbzrf gb rnpu bs gur cevfbaref. Rnpu cevfbare thrffrf gur pbybhe gung znxrf gur gbgny inyhr bs gur ungf rdhny gb gurve nffvtarq bhgpbzr. Rknpgyl bar bs gur cevfbaref jvyy or pbeerpg, naq gur cevfbaref ner nyy frg serr.

Vg jnf boivbhf gb zr gung gur gjb-cynlre pnfr vaibyirq cnevgl, ohg vg gbbx n juvyr gb svther bhg ubj gb trarenyvmr gung pbaprcg gb gur A-cynlre pnfr.

• JulieK says:

Do the rules allow two people to have the same number?

• Anatoly says:

Yes.

• Iain says:

Yvxr gur nafjref nobir, V znantrq gb qvfpbire gra naq svsgrra sbe Obo naq Pneby, ohg V qb abg xabj ubj gb cebir havdhrarff.

• Three Year Lurker says:

I put off posting this for a day because I was lurking.

“Do the rules allow two people to have the same number?”
Technically yes, but the events of the puzzle do not. 25/2 is 12.5, which is not an integer. If one of the people had 0, then two people would observe it and two people would know their number. Only one person knows their number, so there is not a visible zero.

Fubeg nafjre: Jura tencurq, ahzore pbzovangvbaf gung svg gur chmmyr sbez n obhaqrq cynar. Gur barf jurer 25 vf gur fhz ner vafvqr n gevnatyr ba gung cynar.

N ercuenfrzrag bs gur chmmyr va zngurzngvpny grezf (sebz fbzrbar gung syhaxrq pnyphyhf naq oneryl erzrzoref uvtu fpubby yriry trbzrgel).
Guvf vyyhfgengrf jul V’z jevgvat gur bevtvany chmmyr bss nf vafbyhoyr.

N gevnatyr’f pbearef ner ng (mreb, gjragl-svir, gjragl-svir), (gjragl-svir, mreb, gjragl-svir), (gjragl-svir, mreb, gjragl-svir).
Sbe nal cbvag ba gur gevnatyr, gur sbyybjvat ner gehr:
1. Gur fhz bs gjb pbbeqvangrf rdhnyf gur guveq.
2. Rvgure bar bs gur pbbeqvangrf vf gjragl-svir, be gur fhz bs gjb pbbqvangrf vf gjragl-svir.
Lbh ner ng n cbvag jurer abar bs gur pbbeqvangrf ner gjragl-svir.
Cebir gung lbhe ybpngvba vf n cbvag be yvar.

Abj ubj V neevirq ng guvf.

Nffhzr gung gjragl-svir vf gur fhz.
Gurer ner guerr rdhngvba cnvef gb pbafvqre:
1. k = l + m, k = gjragl-svir
2. l = k + m, l = gjragl-svir
3. m = k + l, m = gjragl-svir
Rnpu cnve qrsvarf gjb cynarf. Gur gjb cynarf vagrefrpg ng n yvar, guhf rnpu cnve qrsvarf n yvar.
Gur yvarf vagrefrpg, fb gurl sbez n gevnatyr. Nal cbvag ba be vafvqr (rkprcg gur pbearef, frr “fnzr ahzore” rkcynangvba) gung gevnatyr pna fbyir gur bevtvany ceboyrz. Vs vg jrer n cbvag, gurer jbhyq or bayl bar havdhr fbyhgvba. Vs vg jrer n yvar, vg jbhyq cbffvoyr gb xabj jurgure gur uvag ahzore vf n pbbeqvangr be n fhz. Gur funcr vf n gevnatyr, fb gur bevtvany ceboyrz vf abg fbyinoyr.
K vf Nyvpr. L vf Obo. M vf Pneby. Vs gjragl-svir vf abg gur fhz, gura gur fbyhgvba vf na vasvavgr cynar gung pbagnvaf gur svavgr gevnatyr qrfpevorq.

11. Kelley Meck says:

Short version of my question: Anyone want to talk about ocean acidification? In particular, does anyone here know of a link to a good argument that ocean acidification is no big deal, where the link tries to put a number on how much the world should expect acidification to cost, versus how much it would cost to do something about it?

A few threads back I put up a big comment on climate change here. In that comment I intended to ask the question, “how is it that respectable people think climate change will be net positive for some whole countries, given three things I think are widely known plain facts?” That’s what I intended before I started writing, but the comment I used to ask that question had an 8-point list, and several links, and ended with a hands-in-the-air plea: “Apparently a ton of this stuff is controversial or in doubt? Am I just too invested in this to think clearly, or whatâs the argument that Iâm just wrong about this?” In short, I got carried away. That was good for getting a bunch of commenters to comment, but not for ensuring the conversation would be focused and constructive. As it was, my ability to remain charitable and respond thoughtfully with links was quickly flooded. I’m grateful to everyone who participated, but I have no idea if anyone’s mind was changed. Mine was mostly cautioned about how hard this is.

So, keeping it smaller. I think even blog-level news outfits had no trouble making compelling cases that ocean acidification alone was a should-scare-us-into-acting-style problem back in 2012. my particular example doesn’t put a specific number on how many billions/trillions acidification would cost us, not to mention direct human costs to those whose livelihoods are affected, sans action. But I remember being persuaded even as a college student (circa 2007) that ocean acidification alone was enough to merit something on the order of a trillion dollars of starter-investment to deal with climate change, with more to follow if a trillion couldn’t get at the problem. (As before, I’m trying to avoid discussions about the impracticalities of getting every country to pay its share of this–I acknowledge those are real, but I think they’re beyond usefully addressing in this forum. I’m interested in putting a number on how much a unified humanity should be willing to pay to make the problem of ocean acidification go away.) Is there anyone prominently arguing that this is just not true, that ocean acidification is no big deal?

The wikipedia page for ocean acidification lists several costs (particularly massive damages to fisheries and people who depend on them) and offers iron fertilization as sometimes-discussed possible solution… but a little googling hasn’t found me a good two-sided discussion on this, and anyway I am curious what SSCers think.

• pontifex says:

In particular, does anyone here know of a link to a good argument that ocean acidification is no big deal, where the link tries to put a number on how much the world should expect acidification to cost, versus how much it would cost to do something about it?

I mean, the simplest argument is just that we can grow the food we need on land, and let the oceans die if we so please.

Economists are the last people who should be concerned by any of this. So industry A declines and industry B profits more. It’s classic disruption theory, and economists are always telling us that it’s good for us. Just because industry A and B are fishing and farming in this case shouldn’t change the analysis.

I wish we could save the coral reefs and fish stocks. But it’s not looking good at this point. The Prisoners’ Dilemma is a hell of a thing.

• Economists are the last people who should be concerned by any of this.

Why? The fact that we get a good deal of food from the ocean is evidence that that is a less costly way of getting food than the alternatives we would use if the ocean stopped producing food. It doesn’t follow that we would all starve to death, but it does suggest that we would be substantially worse off.

I have not seen any convincing analysis of the effects of reduced ocean pH. There was one point in geological history where it dropped by a good deal and the result was that some species of micro (or near micro) organisms vanished, others didn’t, but I don’t think we have evidence of the effect on fish. Does anyone have data either on the current range of pH across the world’s oceans or the effect of reduced pH on specific species? What I have seen seems to be mostly speculation and handwaving, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing there.

I should add that the term “acidification,” while technically correct, is also misleading, since it suggests that the oceans re becoming acidic–and we all know that acids are bad things. The current ocean pH is 8.1, well above 7, hence basic. Reduction in that means the ocean is becoming more nearly neutral. It would take a very large change to get it from there to acidic.

As one example of the misleading language, googling to check ocean pH I found:

Over the past 300 million years, ocean pH has been slightly basic, averaging about 8.2. Today, it is around 8.1, a drop of 0.1 pH units, representing a 25-percent increase in acidity over the past two centuries.

By that definition, if you replace a lye solution with distilled water you have made it more acidic.

• Kelley Meck says:

I take your point that it’s changing the pH in the direction of being closer to table water, but I think “Neutralization” is about as guilty of being a loaded term as “acidification” except in the direction of making it sound harmless, when our best guess is that it is bad. I don’t really see a better term than “acidification.” Maybe just saying “reducing the pH of the ocean” every time is best, but I don’t think people will do that.

I’m surprised to see how much I agree that I really, really wish we knew more.

Instead of “speculation and hand-waving” I’d say something like “chesterton’s fence” and suggest unprecedented changes are to be presumed bad until the presumption is rebutted, and then point to specific areas where experimental results suggest this can cause wholesale extinction of entire categories of ocean life that make up significant parts of the ocean food chain… e.g., the wikipedia article I linked to links (but the link is broken) to a study (here) finding 100% mortality for a brittlestar species’ larvae after 8 days exposure to a .2 pH decrease.

But really I seem to mostly agree. I’m very frustrated that nobody seems to have done much work to help me understand which species are threatened, or how they fit into the bigger ocean ecology, or how bad all of this is. I mean, does anyone know if brittle-stars are important?

• It’s bad because of the general argument against change–that both we and other species are optimized against our present environment. That is a very weak argument with regard to humans, both because we currently flourish across a wide variety of different environments and because the change is very slow in human terms–so far not much over a tenth of a degree C per decade.

It’s a stronger argument for other species. Then one question is how much their current environment varies. 8.1 is the average pH of the ocean. Does that mean all of it is 8.1 or that different parts vary from (say) 7.9 to 8.3? If the latter, then the result of lowering pH a little isn’t that species go extinct, it’s that they gradually shift their range.

The next question is how sensitive what species are to changes in pH. And the final question has to do with interrelationships among species. We don’t eat plankton, so if a species of plankton dies it doesn’t directly affect us. But we might eat something that eats something that eats something that eats plankton. And one can imagine more complicated dependencies than that. But one species vanishing doesn’t much matter if there are other species that effectively substitute for it.

So one needs a lot of detailed information to figure out likely consequences. It doesn’t seem to be out there. That suggests two possibilities:

1. It’s a really hard problem so nobody has made much progress on it. Or …

2. The evidence does not support the conclusion that people working in the field want to draw, namely that CO2 in the atmosphere is a terrible problem.

This links to one of my more general concern about the argument. Suppose most people in the relevant fields believe that CO2 in the atmosphere is a very bad thing. Each of them then has an incentive to slant his own work in that direction–to exaggerate the strength of evidence for bad effects, not look for good effects, guess high in judgement calls when that makes climate change look worse, not publish results that go in the wrong direction on the grounds that more work is needed to make sure they are right, since if wrong they send the wrong message. This doesn’t require any deliberate dishonesty–in a complicated field there are a lot of judgement calls.

The problem is that if everyone is doing this, each gets a picture of the problem slanted towards the alarmist view and it is that picture that motivates the slanting each does. So you can have a bunch of people, each with good intentions, jointly producing badly misleading conclusions. I think that’s a much more plausible story than the idea of a deliberate conspiracy.

• I think neutralization is a better term than acidification. Acidification suggests two problems, only one of which is real. It is a change in an environment organisms are adapted to, which is a problem. It sounds as though it is a change of water towards being more corrosive, which would be a problem but doesn’t happen to be true.

Neutralization also suggests the first problem, since that too is a change. So does “falling pH.” A term people know they don’t understand is better than a term they think they do understand if their understanding is wrong, as in the case of “acidification” it mostly is.

• Kelley Meck says:

I like “falling pH” quite a bit. I am persuaded by your point that “acidification” makes (some) people think they understand, but they do not.

I think you are probably right about there being systematic bias in what we learn about, but I think it’s probably not consistently in the direction of “publish everything that makes falling pH look bad.” That’ll be how newspaper editors go about selecting among story leads to track down and write, sure. That is, it’s the old slogan “If it bleeds, it leads!” applied to oceans. But I think it makes sense to think of it as an ecology, and notice where different journalistic species occupy different ecological niches.

The journalists themselves will be told by their editors to “tell the truth” with a subtext of “get it done on time and don’t make us look bad” so a major source of bias, maybe as important as negativity-bias, will be the constraints of time–stuff that’s easy to report on will dominate. (This is why horse-race coverage dominates political race coverage.)

Outside of newspapers, there’s a lot of variety in what “publish everything that fits our niche in the publishing ecosystem” actually means in practice w/r/t/ things like lowered ocean pH. E.g. the U.N. report I cited was probably mostly authored by underlings whose main incentives are some blend of 1) personal pride in doing their job well/telling the truth, 2) personal pride in advancing some personally held political agenda and 3) some amount of wanting to make their boss look good by a) seeming to talk authoritatively about problems facing the whole world and b) not being refutably wrong or otherwise embarrassing. So, e.g., they’re probably not wrong by more than about x2 when they say that 12% of the world’s population depends on fishing/aquaculture, if only because that’d be kind of embarrassing.

Separate from U.N. reports and news outlets, there’s also academia. Graduate students are mostly motivated by needing to show they understand and can output the mechanics of designing a study, getting data, and then writing it up for publication. The sexiness of the study result is somewhat secondary, and if getting a sexy result requires a study design that risks getting no result, a lot of graduate students may not take the risk. Consequently I would not be surprised to learn there’s some amount of bias among ecology graduate students toward churning out many statistically underpowered, not-that-sexy results, rather than really going for persuasive power and a sexy result (that may not pan out). Really I feel unqualified to guess at academic biases, but I expect there’s a lot of variability depending on the specific personalities & colleges involved. At least some places will be policy shops whose core concern is to maintain their legitimacy with some industry group (e.g. a lobsterman’s association). Overall I’m not persuaded the bias will consistently be “if it bleeds it leads.”

A third category is contrarian scientists, conservative think tanks, and others out to earn a buck and/or make a name for themselves by poking a hole in expert opinion. E.g. if the lowering of ocean pH were not a real problem, but rather an inflated issue, the Economist or 538 would love to be the first to have the story of how the other news outlets let their bleeding hearts get in the way of cold rationality and data to the point where a .2 pH change was thought to be important. And that offers a way to try and suss out what kinds of bias predominate in the news media and in academia…

If the ocean pH bias problems in academia and the news media are mostly of the “it bleeds it leads” form (including grad students/faculty shelving stuff that isn’t sexy, and/or making judgment calls that tend to work to make results more sexy), then there ought to still be lots of sexy stuff that is being published, but that is somewhat easy to poke holes in, and which places like the Economist *are* poking holes in. By contrast, if the problem is a hard problem and it’s easy to get a minor result, but hard to grapple with the whole problem even with many minor results strung together, and if the major source of bias is graduate students churning out whatever they can easily get results on, that might explain why there aren’t any contrarians / conservative think tanks / etc out successfully poking holes.

I’m not sure this will persuade, but it seems to me that there are very few or no examples of people making a name for themselves, or even earning a speaking fee from the Heartland Institute, via debunking this-or-that too-negative claim w/r/t/ ocean pH. Quite the contrary, it seems to me there isn’t enough clear information to map out the scale of the ocean pH problem, such that even the graduate students who study the problem can’t put a number on how bad it is.

• Kelley Meck says:

It’s not classic disruption theory if a negative externality destroys something that supported a revenue stream. It’s just a negative externality that destroys something.

To your last point, “The Prisoners’ Dilemma is a hell of a thing.” Doing something about climate change, w/r/t/ ocean acidification or otherwise, is a kind of social dilemma (wikipedia) game, sure, but it isn’t necessarily purely intractable the way a once-off prisoner’s dilemma can be. (For example, this is a simulation of an iterative social dilemma kind of game where, depending on starting conditions, the generous or tit-for-tat strategies succeed better than the defect strategies http://ncase.me/trust/.) The situation for climate is hard because it is unclear who is willing to punish defectors, but even a very small group of people committed to punishing the highest-profile defectors at cost–that group could trigger a “keep your head down” race among would-be defectors, making it unprofitable for them to do anything except go along with a group strategy that polices the commons. (The perception that the U.S. or some other countries were willing to to punish defectors with trade penalties is is why the Paris treaty got as far as it did.)

• pontifex says:

Itâs not classic disruption theory if a negative externality destroys something that supported a revenue stream. Itâs just a negative externality that destroys something.

If mechanical looms destroy the ability of small craftsmen to earn a living sewing clothes, that is a negative externality from their point of view. According to disruption theory, they should just retrain in another job that the economy needs. Isn’t the same true for fishermen? If there’s not enough fish, do another job.

I guess you could argue that mechanical looms improve our standard of living, whereas destroying fish species does not. That is a fair point. But the main point I wanted to make is that fundamentally, life will go on. The scary changes in GDP numbers that some of these models are throwing around seem questionable at best to me.

To your last point, âThe Prisonersâ Dilemma is a hell of a thing.â Doing something about climate change, w/r/t/ ocean acidification or otherwise, is a kind of social dilemma (wikipedia) game, sure, but it isnât necessarily purely intractable the way a once-off prisonerâs dilemma can be. (For example, this is a simulation of an iterative social dilemma kind of game where, depending on starting conditions, the generous or tit-for-tat strategies succeed better than the defect strategies http://ncase.me/trust/.)

That’s a good point.

… even a very small group of people committed to punishing the highest-profile defectors at costâthat group could trigger a âkeep your head downâ race among would-be defectors, making it unprofitable for them to do anything except go along with a group strategy that polices the commons. (The perception that the U.S. or some other countries were willing to to punish defectors with trade penalties is is why the Paris treaty got as far as it did.)

So you’re saying we need Captain Planet? Except the 2018 morally ambiguous grindhouse version, as interpreted by Quentin Tarantino.

• Kelley Meck says:

The mechanical looms point makes me think you are still not hearing what I’m saying. It’s also not about points of view, so saying “from their point of view” again makes me think you aren’t hearing what I’m saying. It’s also *not* about whether an action is net-positive for world gdp. Destruction caused by negative externalities is emphatically *not* the same as destruction via direct competition. Only the latter is generally deserving of the name “creative destruction.”

Maybe another example will help.

If someone seeking to make money by inventing an imitation banana does, in fact, invent an imitation banana, and the imitation is so good and so cheap that nobody ever again eats a real banana by choice–that’s creative destruction. Banana-eating as we know it is destroyed, but only because people prefer the imitation. This is the “invisible hand” promoting outcomes that are pareto efficient.

If someone seeking to make money by way of researching particle physics in fact does make a lot of money researching particle physics, but along the way causes some very-high-penetration particle burst that, weirdly, only destroys all the banana plants in the world–this is a negative externality. Banana-eating as we know it is destroyed, and not because anybody actually thought about it and prefered it. Rather, it’s a negative externality. This is the market being blind to things that aren’t part of the price signal.

We can imagine a government that noticed in advance that the physics researcher was pretty likely to destroy the world’s bananas, and consequently made the physicist stop the research unless or until he could post some kind of bond, such that *if* he destroyed the world’s bananas, he’d be on the hook to compensate everyone for the loss of bananas forever, or else to do the work to engineer a better-than-the-original imitation banana. If a government did that, then the price of the physics-research-that-destroys-all-bananas now includes the cost to everyone of destroying all bananas. So at that point the externality has been internalized, and it’s not really an externality anymore.

The reason I’m here talking about what I see as the problem of ocean pH lowering is that, in my opinion, right now the harms we can foresee from ocean pH lowering are externalities. So I’m hoping that concerned citizens will support their governments in working to ensure that the cost of lowering the ocean’s pH is borne by the industries that are emitting the pollution that is lowering the ocean’s pH.

But the main point I wanted to make is that fundamentally, life will go on. The scary changes in GDP numbers that some of these models are throwing around seem questionable at best to me.

I mean, the whole thing I asked for to start with in this thread is for someone to point me toward a link they think has looked at ocean pH lowering, fairly tried to estimate the costs, and said, “no big deal.” Do you have a link for me?

W/r/t/ Captain Planet… maybe you mean Don Cheadle? More seriously, I think a few 1st world countries that are serious about trade sanctions for the worst offenders are enough that other countries will be in a sort of auction, where they have to outbid each other to avoid paying the “worst offender” penalty. If part of bidding in that auction is using minor trade choices or etc. to further punish those who aren’t bidding, the game could quickly escalate until every national gov’t has a sufficiently big incentive to protect against ocean pH lowering for enough action to be taken to prevent the worst effects of the problem.

• So Iâm hoping that concerned citizens will support their governments in working to ensure that the cost of lowering the oceanâs pH is borne by the industries that are emitting the pollution that is lowering the oceanâs pH.

The problem here is that the same changes that have, arguably, a negative externality via reduced ocean pH also have positive externalities–increased crop yield due to CO2 fertilization, milder winters, expansion of the habitable zone towards the poles. Also, of course, other negative externalities.

A full blown Pigouvian program would tax for the negative externalities, subsidize for the positive externalities–which might end up as a net tax or as a net subsidy, depending which was larger. Unfortunately, that’s something we don’t know.

Let’s go back to the effect of competition, which is what economists call a pecuniary externality. The new competitor drives down the price other firms can get for their products by (say) a dollar. That’s a negative externality to the other firms, but it is balanced by an equal positive externality to their customers, who are now getting the goods for a dollar less. And there is a further positive effect due to the extra consumer surplus from goods that would not be consumed at the old price but are at the new. So a pecuniary externality does not produce inefficient incentives, does not require a Pigouvian tax.

That’s the same point I just made about CO2, in a different context–positive externalities canceling negative ones. The difference is that we know the gain to the consumer at least balances the loss to the producer in the case of competition, don’t know if the gains to beneficiaries of CO2 do or don’t balance the losses.

• Kelley Meck says:

So, what I’m getting from this thread, where I have learned the term “pecuniary externality” which I will have to read more about, is that a) David Friedman knows more about economics than I do and b) nobody really wants to argue with the idea that ocean pH lowering is a negative thing, and probably negative by something on the order of \$1,000,000,000.

• Kelley Meck says:

I kept looking for some good resources on how much the oceans are worth (this time leaving off climate change specifically), and found this U.N.
report
on fisheries and aquaculture. W/r/t how much the oceans are worth, on page 81 I found this: “Fisheries and aquaculture supply 17Â percent of global animal protein in peopleâs diets and support the livelihoods of some 12Â percent of the worldâs population.” If protecting this food & job supply is worth \$5,000 per livelihood-supported person, that’s 7ish billion times 12% times \$5k… that’s \$4.2 trillion, give or take an order of magnitude because all these numbers are sloppy.

The report also has a footnote that links to this article, which reports one Maine hatchery that says one Oregon hatchery has already seen 80%-ish drops in production because of ocean pH decreases. It’s just one report-within-a-report, but in the context of the whole article of bad news for shellfish hatcheries, that’s pretty bad news for oysters/mussels/clams/shellfish. As the article points out, the main problem may be for the larval stage, such that we could potentially build enough hatcheries to keep these species even if decreases of ocean pH make it quite impossible for larval shellfish to survive in the ocean.

• Glen Raphael says:

@Kelley Meck writes:

So, what Iâm getting from this thread [includes that] nobody really wants to argue with the idea that ocean pH lowering is a negative thing, and probably negative by something on the order of \$1,000,000,000.

What I would say about that is that on the one hand it certainly seems plausible that ocean pH lowering is a negative, but on the other hand it seems certain that spending a trillion dollars we don’t otherwise need to spend is a negative. So…I don’t see how you’re getting from “this might be a negative in coming centuries” to “we should spend at least a trillion dollars now”. Do you know what, specifically, we’d be spending that trillion dollars on? What’s the strategy? Do you have a convincing story that this amount of spending spent the way you desire would do enough to address the problem that we should expect more than a trillion dollars of benefit to result?

If you have made such calculations: do they include an allowance for the expected cost of political rent-seeking?

I’m sure I don’t know the true cost of acidification, but I’m pretty sure you don’t either. Absent a specific accounting this all seems pretty pie-in-the-sky.

Matt Ridley notes that acidification helps some sea organisms build shells and points to Vulnerability of marine biodiversity to ocean acidification: A meta-analysis (sci-hub link) for some of the relevant complexity. From the abstract:

Active biological processes and small-scale temporal and spatial variability in ocean pH may render marine biota far more resistant to ocean acidification than hitherto believed.

UPDATE: If (as per another comment) the main basis of “we should spend a trillion bucks!” is to preserve future fishing jobs, you might need to worry a bit about discount rates.

12. Kevin C. says:

In a past discussion of what gets people banned from SSC (which I cannot find via DDG at the moment), it has been asserted that Scott doesn’t ban honestly-held views so much as ‘unkind’ or ‘dishonest’ presentations thereof, and that a number of banned individuals on the far-right would not have been banned had they expressed their views in a more ‘SSC-friendly’ manner.

I would dispute this, and argue that there are certain views which there is no SSC-friendly way to present.

• Charles F says:

I agree with you, that there’s always going to be something beyond the pale, or something that forces you to be unkind by SSC’s norms while expressing it, or Poe’s law will take over and it will be equally possible you’re being honest and objectionable or a dishonest troll. But when I look through the register of bans, it seems to me that those aren’t the usual cases. Most things the people were expressing while they were doing something banworthy seem to have been expressed in more reasonable ways before or after without warranting a warning/ban. Most beliefs that anybody sincerely holds are within the range of things it’s possible to discuss here, I think, even if some require you to tiptoe to express them.

• Matt M says:

Yeah – didn’t that one guy whose gimmick was “I am an autistic rationalist, please explain to me why Nazis are bad” last for several months before eventually getting banned?

• quaelegit says:

Yep, and only after a very clear warning from Scott that “if you keep shoehorning this topic into unrelated conversations you will get banned”. I feel kind of bad for him because he seemed to be trying to interact in good faith for the most part, but I definitely don’t miss the shoehorning and Nazi-talk, and I think Scott made the right call.

• Aapje says:

He now spends his time in the Reddit, so he is still on a SSC forum, just not this one.

• Kevin C. says:

Okay, then what’s the “more reasonable way” of expressing the position on rape, and male victims thereof, that got the Dreaded Jim permabanned?

• Evan Ă says:

Hmm, let me try:

“It is, physically, more difficult to rape a man than a woman – and enough so that it should affect our calculus of how likely a rape claim is to be true. Further, behaviors such as being drunk significantly increase one’s risk of rape and should therefore be discouraged by social pressure. Finally, it is important to be able to openly discuss all of this.”

The first claim is true in isolation, but likely enough to be outweighed by other factors that it shouldn’t affect how we judge an individual claim. The second is also true in isolation, but whether they should be discouraged by social pressure (and how much if so) is a value judgment. I am equivocal on the third.

• j1000000 says:

Your second sentence seems tamer than what he’s saying, because your version is accepting the veracity of the charges women make, but saying that women need to take more personal responsibility for placing themselves in dangerous situations. The original implies the vast majority of the claims are bogus and were willingly entered into at the time, and the charges are based on regret when the next morning they find out the man isn’t as attractive as they thought.

Might get you banned no matter how it’s phrased, but obviously he took considerable relish in offending people.

• Charles F says:

I don’t think the original implies the claims are bogus. The way I read it is that if there isn’t social stigma against engaging in risky behaviors and then complaining about the outcome, people will complain about very minor bad results.

From his perspective, if he were attacked and violently raped, he’d want revenge or justice and call the offender out as a rapist stigma be damned. Whereas if he slept with somebody it turned out he didn’t particularly like the stigma makes a difference, if admitting to the encounter is going to make people laugh at him, he’ll pretend it never happened and move on. If talking about the encounter is going to get him called brave and virtuous and get the accused vilified, maybe it starts to look like an attractive option.

[ETA: I guess it also depends on how far you think he thinks we are into a world of no social stigma for rape victims. I was assuming something like “much farther in than we were ten years ago but not so far that people have really started noticing” in which case most accusations wouldn’t be bogus *yet* but would be in the terrifying hellscape 15 more years down this course]

I would dispute this, and argue that there are certain views which there is no SSC-friendly way to present.

Is that supposed to be a bad thing? I personally wouldn’t want to be involved with a forum that included even extremely polite cheerleaders for genocide and rape. That said, your idol was not extremely polite so we don’t have good evidence either way.

13. Mark V Anderson says:

My second book review in SSC is on the book âThe Better Angels of our Nature,â by Steven Pinker. But I realize now that I have not written a review of this on Amazon. Maybe I will now based on this discussion.

First of all, the title sucks. If I judge books based on their titles, this one would probably be last. But thatâs just the cover, so I go past it. I understand what he means by the title, but it is too cumbersome and tells you nothing about the book until after you have read it.

The theme of the book is that violence has greatly decreased in our modern age, both on the mass violence level (wars), and on the individual level (crime). He presents data that indicates a high incidence of death from warfare in prehistoric societies, ranging from 5% to 60%, averaging about 15%. Ancient states average maybe 5% such deaths, and the last few hundred just a few percent, even counting the world wars of last century. These numbers are my guess work based on various graphs and such in the book. Donât take the precise numbers too seriously, just the order of magnitude.

Pinker also spent some pages documenting what he calls the Long Peace, the highly anomalous period of peace after World War II. There have been many wars since WWII, but the body count has been much lower than in previous time periods. This is as a percentage of world population, not as absolute numbers. A fascinating graph is Figure 6-4, which shows the number of battle deaths per year each decade starting in the 1950âs. Not only are the number of deaths much lower than they had been in previous decades and centuries, but the graph shows these deaths decreasing significantly every decade, so that deaths in the aughts are less than a tenth of those in the 1950âs.

In later graphs, he also shows how crime has also decreased significantly, especially in the aughts (the book was written in 2011, so he doesnât have anything for this decade). These graphs are more sprinkled throughout the book, but he shows that crime too has decreased much from several centuries ago, and more speculatively, since prehistoric times.

My short review here can’t do justice to his graphs and data that he presents over many pages. My comments may seem very ill supported by evidence, but the book is not.

I really like his discussion of honor culture in the US 200 years ago. A gentleman was expected to take offense from any insult, and even kill the man who offended. This sounds somewhat irrational to todayâs ears, but there was a sense to it at the time. If one needs to be wary of every other man in the vicinity, it makes sense to give the impression to all others that one is a tough hombre that wonât accept any nonsense. It may occasionally require one to resort to violence for ridiculous reasons, but overall the tough guy is probably less subject to violence than those that appear weak and forgiving. This same rationale is also the reason for nations to bluff about how ready they are to attack other nations.

So how has the world become safer in the modern world? Pinker lists five major reasons.
1) The Leviathan. Governments have incentive to keep peace within themselves, but not necessarily with other governments. So the larger the governments, the more area which will be safe.
2) Gentle Commerce. Peaceful trade benefits by less violence.
3) Feminization. Values moving away from manly honor.
4) Expanding Circle. Humans are exposed to a more diverse world.
5) Escalator of Reason. This is largely due to expansion of literacy, cosmopolitanism, and education.

I havenât come across a lot of discussion about this book, so I donât know the criticism. But I can imagine two major criticisms.
A) Pinker has turned an anomalous result of several decades of little war into a long term trend. There is no particular reason that because weâve been lucky that it will continue in that direction. It hasnât been all that long ago that we had the horrors of millions of deaths in two world wars and terrible holocausts perpetuated by Nazis and Communists. Have people changed so much since then?
B) Even though weâve had fewer deaths than previously in the Long Peace, when we inevitably do have a major war, it will be very terrible one, with nuclear arms. Nukes have made wars less common, but more terrible when they do occur. We simply havenât experienced the down side of this yet.

I believe that Pinker has identified a true trend in the world. Honor culture is much less common than it was 100 or 200 years ago, for both individuals and nations. Honor culture is rational when you live in a violent culture, but as violence decreases, it is no longer rational to act that way. There is a kind of ratcheting effect. As trust goes up, less violence is required by each individual or nation. We simply donât need the honor culture to survive in todayâs society, at least not nearly to the degree we did in the past.

I also think that peopleâs attitudes have changed enormously, because of this ratcheting down of violence. Most people are horrified by violence and war to an extent not the case 100 years ago. Back then most people were accepting of war as inevitable. It was simply a requirement of humanity that we had to kill the bad guys before they killed us. Now we see that it is not inevitable. It is clear to most of humanity that the rest of humanity doesnât like war either, and that there are ways to prevent it most of the time. I think as the Long Peace keeps extending it will become harder and harder for a major war to happen, because it has become unacceptable.

I think that the two criticisms have merit, but do not falsify the thesis. I think it is inevitable that there will be a nuclear war someday, or at least nukes will be used in a violent way. It will be horrible; perhaps whole cities will be destroyed. But most people in humanity will agree that it is horrible, and will stop before it becomes a global holocaust. It is possible that these nukes will destroy the trust created by the Long Peace, but I donât think so.

• BlindKungFuMaster says:

Does he discuss genetic changes due to an enthusiastic application of the death penalty?

Also, does he discuss how tightly all his “causes” are coupled with increasing wealth? I.e. does he examine whether the trend towards lower violence reverses when the trend to more wealth reverses?

Does he discuss differences between continents? Like, does South America have a significantly decreased crime rate, despite the crazy drug gang violence?

• How enthusiastically was the death penalty applied, where and when? The bloody code in 18th century England made a lot of offenses capital, but most of the people charged with such offenses didn’t end up being hanged.

• BlindKungFuMaster says:

I don’t know how good the data is, but this paper claims 0.5-1.0% of the male population in the late middle ages in Western Europe.

• Shion Arita says:

Can’t read the full paper here, but do the time periods with the highest culling correlate with the periods of fastest crime rate reduction?

My intuition says that most of the reduction happened in the 19th and 20th centuries, but the high-execution time periods were a few centuries before that. I suppose it could have taken a few generations to go into effect, but I’d think it would require high-execution times up to and during the reduction because otherwise it (crime rate still being high) would mean the bad traits were still in circulation with no selection pressure against them for a while, and then it went down on its own, which to me doesn’t quite hold water.

• Mark V Anderson says:

He does not discuss genetic changes due to the death penalty. It seems unlikely to me.

He includes affluence as a possibility but discards it as important but inconsistent. He sees too many instances of rich and violent societies.

I don’t particularly buy the causes he lists. I think the main reason for the decrease in violence is the industrial revolution, although in a backwards kind of way. I don’t think the industrial revolution could have succeeded as much as it did without a decrease in violence. Commerce is needed, large groups of people need to work together with a minimum of dominance fighting (at least physically), more intellectual workers are needed, less crime and war is needed. Those who succeeded most at the industrial revolution were necessarily less violent than the ones who did not, and the winners then became more dominant.

He mostly discusses the US and Europe when it comes to crime. Better statistics I’m sure. Perhaps there are some selection issues here.

• DavidS says:

I think your point 2 is especially important. Arguably nukes raise the stakes in a way that naturally means war is rarer but more deadly. I also personally suspect that if you re-ran history again with tiny random changes on the time between 1945 and now you’d see a large proportion of devestating nuclear exchanges. That seems to be the strong implication of various near-misses and the (two?) individuals who as I understand it basically ‘should have’ started a nuclear exchange but didn’t.

I’m more confident that domestically within a lot of nations the attitude to violence has changed for various reasons and that we sometimes miss the advances here.

The other complaint I recall seeing a lot is that stats for things like death from homicide/war may reflect medical technology as much as the level of violence, and I think I’ve seen arguments that other crimes where this doesn’t apply haven’t seen the same decline. So this could be at least partially a technological rather than a social improvement.

PS: also less confident about a longer Long Peace meaning war is more clearly unacceptable. The counterweight to this is people not really remembering why restrictions are there. I thought it was interesting with the ‘red line’ on chemical/biological weapons that you had a mix of ‘this is an appalling breach of international law’ and ‘why is it different to shooting people again?’ And various nuclear comments+actions from Trump to Putin are a bit scary too.

• Mark V Anderson says:

I’m sure medical advances have decreased deaths from wars and crime, but I can’t believe it to have such a major impact as the decreases that occurred.

It is true that we have pretty lucky in the way nukes were developed by only one nation, which had almost won its wars anyway. Things could have gone much worse in different circumstances. I think the industrial revolution inevitably will lead to a Long Peace, but that it happened at the commencement of nuclear weapons was simply luck.

• The original Mr. X says:

I recall reading that WW1 was the first war in which casualties from enemy action outnumbered casualties from disease. If that’s true, then Pinker’s estimates for previous wars’ casualties would potentially be too large by a factor of two. (Unless he corrects for this; I haven’t read the book, so I’m not sure.)

• kokotajlod@gmail.com says:

It would be good to compare to pre-WW1 Europe. There had been a long peace in Europe, a boom of international trade, an escalator of reason, and development of new weapons that people thought would make war too costly to sustain…

I don’t think we are in a “powder keg” situation right now, because if we were, we’d be at war already. Russian and American troops are already killing each other occasionally in Syria; if either side was looking for an excuse to start something it would have happened already. But perhaps it wouldn’t take much for that to change. (On second thought, this is a reason to be optimistic–it’s hard to imagine that changing, thanks to nukes. It (nations starting wars despite fear of MAD) happened in WW2, but that was because Hitler was crazy.)

• Mark V Anderson says:

It would be good to compare to pre-WW1 Europe. There had been a long peace in Europe, a boom of international trade, an escalator of reason, and development of new weapons that people thought would make war too costly to sustainâŠ

Oh yes, I forgot about this objection. I think I have heard that in the early 20th Century many thought major war could not happen. They were obviously proved very wrong. And it is true that today’s Long Peace has some parallels with that time period. But there are some major differences between now and then. 1) Many in the great powers just before WWI seemed actually eager for war with other great powers. The disdain for war simply wasn’t as widespread as it is today. 2) It was still acceptable for countries to gain more territory through conquest. It is my understanding that international always gave precedence to existing nations over newly grasping ones, but this was violated quite often. I can’t find the comment right now, but I think he stated that there has been no increase n territory of any country in the world since 1953 (perhaps the incorporation of South Vietnam is an exception). 3) Colonial empires have all but vanished, which was a major cause of conflict 100 years ago.

• christhenottopher says:

Hmmm, I’m not convinced by your points. To 1) there’s a big difference between public statements available at the time and internal documents shown later. I’m not sure if you looked at the public statements of Great Powers in 1914 they’d look a ton different from those available now. 2) Mostly true, but first of all that 1953 statistic is clearly not accurate. Just examples I know off the top of my head, Aksai Chin was conquered by China in 1962, Nagorno Karbakh was effectively an Armenian conquest of Azerbaijani territory in the 90s, the Crimea in 2014…note I don’t care what legalistic BS the conquerors used, legalistic BS was used in Ancient Rome too that doesn’t mean it’s not conquest. The “do not conquer” imperative is new and seems mostly sustained by the fact that it’s easier to maintain nominally independent governments in conquered territory, which is also pretty typical of previous international regimes (see the whole idea of a “protectorate” or any map of British India showing the areas where “independent” princes ruled). 3) Colonial empires weren’t the cause of any great power war in Europe. They are WAY overhyped as reasons for conflict because colonial empires are not vital to any government. Where the exact line on the map falls is a low stakes game in overseas territories that was always successfully negotiated. So a lack of colonial empires means little to the causes of great power wars.

Finally, the cost of war goes up with technology. Yes the 30 years war probably wiped out a fourth of Germany’s population but that was over 30 years. You could do better than that with modern weapons (especially nukes) in days. The Rwandan Genocide killed 1 million people in 100 days (out of a population of 7 million) without the benefit of most modern conventional weapons besides the assault rifle. The current long peace could easily end with a far more devastating conflict than previous long peaces ended with and I don’t think we should feel too secure. I agree that MAD makes war less likely, but when the stakes are high enough even highly improbable events are worth being very concerned about. I doubt a nuclear war could literally wipe out humanity, but several hundred million to several billion dead (we’ve got a wide range given we’ve never actually had a full nuclear war before) could be enough to delay war without fully stopping it and leading to a conflict that completely upends the idea that the modern world is less dangerous. 400 million dead from a rare, but possible war and we’ve wiped out more than the top 20 atrocities mankind has yet inflicted on itself (note: many of those where atrocities that lasted not years or decades but centuries).

This I think is a worthwhile critique of Pinker’s point. Yes population has grown. Yes, the number of violent events has decreased. But one really bad event, that is now completely possible given modern weapons technology, and we’ve got an event that shifts the modern world from “most peaceful humanity has ever been” to “oh crap we wiped out civilization”.

• cassander says:

there’s a much more important difference, nuclear weapons. Give the brits or french of 1914 nukes, and even Kaiser Willy couldn’t convince himself that war was winnable.

• quaelegit says:

> canât find the comment right now, but I think he stated that there has been no increase n territory of any country in the world since 1953 (perhaps the incorporation of South Vietnam is an exception).

Russia 2014 is definite exception, but I agree it seems a lot less common in the last 70 years than the 70 years before that. (others I’m not sure how to count… Sinai and Golan heights by Israel in 1967 maybe? Tibet by China? Border places by India & Pakistan? Indonesia? Tibet was already pretty much a client state of China AIUI, and the rest are arguably dust settling from decolonization.)

• John Schilling says:

Give the brits or french of 1914 nukes, and even Kaiser Willy couldnât convince himself that war was winnable.

If you postulate Britain and France with nuclear weapons, you pretty much have to postulate Germany with nuclear weapons. Are you also postulating Serbia with nuclear weapons?

Because I can easily see “Kaiser Willy” and his pal “Emperor Franz” thinking that war is winnable. England and France, or any other great power, are going to wage nuclear war over a bunch of Serbian terrorists and their allies? Inconceivable. England, France, and for that matter Russia are going to sit back and issue harshly-worded letters of protest while the Central Powers settle affairs in the Balkans, as is their right given the provocation, there will be a quick little invasion of Serbia alone, and they’ll all be home by Christmas.

The bit where a German Admiral presents the Ottoman Empire with a shiny new SSBN to bribe them into joining the central powers alliance would be kind of interesting, though.

• bean says:

The bit where a German Admiral presents the Ottoman Empire with a shiny new SSBN to bribe them into joining the central powers alliance would be kind of interesting, though.

Pursued across the Med by a bunch of frigates, with the British frantically trying to get basing rights for their P-8s from the Greeks?

• dndnrsn says:

Meanwhile, a crack team of time-travelling commandos is assigned its deadliest mission: prevent Harry Turtledove from writing any cringeworthy sex scenes.

• cassander says:

>If you postulate Britain and France with nuclear weapons, you pretty much have to postulate Germany with nuclear weapons.

Yes.

Are you also postulating Serbia with nuclear weapons?

No

Because I can easily see âKaiser Willyâ and his pal âEmperor Franzâ thinking that war is winnable. England and France, or any other great power, are going to wage nuclear war over a bunch of Serbian terrorists and their allies? Inconceivable. England, France, and for that matter Russia are going to sit back and issue harshly-worded letters of protest while the Central Powers settle affairs in the Balkans, as is their right given the provocation, there will be a quick little invasion of Serbia alone, and theyâll all be home by Christmas.

I can see that. And then I can see Willy saying “well, surely the austrians can handle serbia by themselves, plus if I mobilize, the french and russians will let nukes fly. Better if I just send a check”. And then I see Czar Niki thinking “My cousin is mad as a hatter. If I mobilize on him or austria, he’s definitely going to launch his missiles. I’ll just send the Serbs guns and “advisors”, then have the french them some money.”

And then I see a nasty war proxy war in serbia that looks a lot like korea. It drags on for several years, kills couple million people, and ends when both sides get tired of spilling out blood and treasure over a war that can’t even pretend to be existential. Everyone comes out ahead, with the probable exception of the serbs.

• The original Mr. X says:

n later graphs, he also shows how crime has also decreased significantly, especially in the aughts (the book was written in 2011, so he doesnât have anything for this decade).

Decreased compared to when? My impression was that, whilst crime rates have decreased over the last couple of decades, they’d increased significantly during the decades previous, so that the crime rate today is still higher than that in, say, 1950. Maybe I’m mistaken, though.

• sharper13 says:

That’s mostly true. We’re back to about the same crimes rates as the early 60s. The 50s were a little bit lower. We’re currently at about a 55 year low in the gun homicide rate in the U.S., for example, peaking in the 90s. The property crime rate was double what it is now from 1980-92. The violent crime rate was double from 1986-1996.

Here’s a good easy to use source, although it only goes back to 1960: https://www.bjs.gov/ucrdata/

• Mark V Anderson says:

Yes you’re right. I did some analysis of the FBI data and it shows that violent crimes in the last few years as a percentage of population are down to about where we were in the early ’70’s, and still well above the ’60’s. It is possible that crimes are better reported nowadays, but not evidence that crime has gone down during the Long Peace. I have now even found a graph in the book (Fig 3-18) that shows the homicide rate in the US increasing greatly in the 70’s thru the 90’s, but now decreased to the level of the ’50’s.

The book does show a much longer term geometric graph of homicides in Western Europe (Fig. 3-4), with a constantly decreasing level from 1300 to today, with today being maybe a 50th of the rate of the year 1300. I’m sure this data is more suspect, but it is pretty overwhelming if it is even close to correct. So I think the evidence is still there that the long term trend of crime is down, even if not so clear in the last 100 years. It seems that only war deaths are significantly decreased in the Long Peace.

14. Matt M says:

Question for our Irish commentariat (okay, so, just Deiseach)

I have an American friend that immigrated to Ireland (for a boy, of course), and as far as I can tell, spends most of her social media time talking about how vastly superior Ireland is to the stupid, backwards, US of A (except for “the eighth” which I’m assuming has something to do with abortion).

During the last couple weeks I’ve seen an interesting transition from ranting and raving about how the US needs gun control and such tragedies could never happen in a place like Ireland that has no guns… to a series of pictures and videos following the recent snowstorm of widespread vandalism. There was a video of someone in a backhoe destroying a grocery store, as well as several completely burned out cars parked along a street. She claims this was done by random gangs and hooligans, just for fun.

So – I have two questions.

1. Is this an actual thing? Do Irish lads go about destroying buildings setting cars on fire for fun, just because there’s a snowstorm and they can get away with it?

2. Is it reasonable to suggest that maybe, just maybe people would be less likely to set your car on fire if they knew the owners might be around and be able to shoot at them?

• skef says:

just maybe people would be less likely to set your car on fire if they knew the owners might be around and be able to shoot at them

Ah, the glorious ambiguity of the phrase “shoot at”.

Any number of crimes might become “less likely” if they became capital offenses. Does that mean we should execute someone for setting a car on fire? If the answer is “no”, why should the answer be different in the moment?

• keranih says:

If the answer is ânoâ, why should the answer be different in the moment?

Did they check to see if anyone was in the car before they lit it on fire?

The point about not harming people over *stuff* is well taken. A great deal more happiness would be present in the world if people weren’t so attached to their stuff that it caused them any particular mental stress to have their car taken away and their pocketbook lighter by the amount it cost to have the burn out hunk hauled off. Probably they were in need of more exercise, so losing the car was a good thing. (3/4 serious, 1/4 snark)

How (serious question) how are we then to keep people from damaging the stuff of others? I’m not saying that shooting is the right answer, but it’s *a* answer. What are the other options?

• skef says:

How (serious question) how are we then to keep people from damaging the stuff of others? Iâm not saying that shooting is the right answer, but itâs *a* answer. What are the other options?

Among other responses:

1. Lesser punishments issued via a judicial system

2. Social costs associated with violating norms

• Le Maistre Chat says:

As Joseph de Maistre would say, you can’t inflict punishment on people unless they can be killed for resisting arrest. All power, all subordination to authority rests on fear of the executioner.

• Matt M says:

Indeed. The “official” punishment for selling loose cigarettes isn’t execution… and yet…

• skef says:

As Joseph de Maistre would say, you canât inflict punishment on people unless they can be killed for resisting arrest.

It is most likely true that you can’t inflict punishment on some people in some situations unless they can be killed for resisting arrest. One case might be if a person is willing and able to take hostages. But as a general claim it is obviously wrong. Sometimes you can chase someone down and restrain them. Ongoing pursuit is also its own kind of penalty.

And even if it were right this observation has less to do with the subject than it may appear. Death, or the possibility of it, could be an appropriate penalty for threatening someone’s life but not for threatening someone’s property. If the escalation of possible results is symmetric enough and driven by the culprit, the risk they face results from that choice to escalate.

• The Nybbler says:

And yet, so often when the government takes over that monopoly on force, it can’t be bothered to do anything at all about “minor” crimes.

• Orpheus says:

1. Lesser punishments issued via a judicial system

Sure, would be nice if the police actually bothered to track down people who do this stuff. In practice, they don’t seem to care that much.

2. Social costs associated with violating norms

If you are the kind of person that sets cars on fire for fun, I think you are probably way past any sort of social costs.

• keranih says:

@ skef –

Okay, how does that *work*? I mean, talk me through this.

I’m sitting in my house. I hear a commotion and look out my window to see a trio of thugs in the street outside break a window in my car and throw a burning rag in it. Two other cars up the street are on fire.

How does “lesser punishments via a judical system” and “social costs associated with violating norms” convince these yutes to stop doing this?

• rlms says:

@Le Maistre Chat
If Joseph de Maistre says that he is clearly very silly. Very few people are willing to fight to the death to avoid punishment.

• JulieK says:

Iâm sitting in my house. I hear a commotion and look out my window to see a trio of thugs in the street outside break a window in my car and throw a burning rag in it. Two other cars up the street are on fire.

How does âlesser punishments via a judical systemâ and âsocial costs associated with violating normsâ convince these yutes to stop doing this?

You use your cellphone camera to record the youths. The judicial system (in an ideal world) punishes them based on this evidence.

• keranih says:

@ rlms –

We judge risk by looking at how catastrophic an outcome is, *and* how common it is. Very few people, on a population scale, are involved in torching cars or burglarizing houses on a daily basis.

One or two guys a year willing to kill witnesses to a burglary or to attempt to kill the cops or average joes stopping them adds up.

@JulieK –

I can imagine all sorts of things in an ideal world. However, me (and my stuff) are in this world, which is far from ideal. Having pictures of the dudes on camera – even a security camera – is far from an open-shut-case.

• skef says:

Okay, how does that *work*? I mean, talk me through this.

Iâm sitting in my house. I hear a commotion and look out my window to see a trio of thugs in the street outside break a window in my car and throw a burning rag in it. Two other cars up the street are on fire.

It works about the same way as it would if you happened to not be around at the time.

I’m guessing that you daydream quite a bit about such scenarios? And that when put to the test you calmly and deliberately do what is necessary?

If you feel death is appropriate in this situation, we just share different premises and there’s little point in debating.

• gbdub says:

You daydream quite a bit about such scenarios

Unkind, unnecessary, probably untrue.

• skef says:

You daydream quite a bit about such scenarios

Unkind, unnecessary, probably untrue.

So the selective quote wasn’t punchy enough? It just somehow needed the fake capital?

• John Schilling says:

But as a general claim it is obviously wrong. Sometimes you can chase someone down and restrain them.

But probably not if they have a gun and are willing to use it. Even a knife and the willingness to use it is problematic in this regard. And while it may be against the law to go about with a knife or a gun, what happens when the punishment for selling loose cigarettes is a weekend in jail and the punishment for selling loose cigarettes + carrying a gun is that the police leave you alone?

The police don’t leave you alone, of course, but the important question is why not.

Ongoing pursuit is also its own kind of penalty.

But being the local badass that the police don’t dare touch might be an anti-penalty. There’s probably an interesting SF story, hell, dozens of them, about a society where remote pursuit, ostracism, economic sanctions, etc, to deal with recalcitrant armed criminals, and considering the obvious failure modes. Real societies basically all deal with this by saying, “for you lot we send the coppers around with guns”.

And the moral posturing of “We don’t use lethal force except against the most serious criminals”, rings a bit hollow to me when “serious criminal” is defined as anyone who effectively resists arrest for any of the lesser crimes or is even equipped to do so.

• quanta413 says:

@rlms

If Joseph de Maistre says that he is clearly very silly. Very few people are willing to fight to the death to avoid punishment.

Precisely, because a criminal could be killed for fighting to the death, most criminals don’t.

Many criminals would behave quite differently if the police would never do anything that might kill the criminal when trying to arrest him even if he resisted.

In reality, we probably have somethings closer to the opposite problem. It turns out that some police are really overeager about this and jump to too risky methods far too quickly. Like Matt M said above…

Personally, I’m not worried about the police being reluctant to jump to it when they actually catch a suspect in the act. It’s that in some areas, the police will ignore less severe crimes because there are too many more severe crimes or the odds of catching the criminal long after the fact are too low.

• The Nybbler says:

when âserious criminalâ is defined as anyone who effectively resists arrest for any of the lesser crimes or is even equipped to do so.

Or anyone with the temerity to use force to defend themselves or their property against lesser criminals.

• gbdub says:

@skef – The “fake capital” was an entirely unintentional result of autocorrect. Sorry.

That said, I don’t see how removing the “I’m guessing that” from your quote changes the meaning – your phrasing of it as a rhetorical question is snark, not substance. Either way, you’re accusing keranih of holding their position in bad faith, and furthermore that they fantasize about killing people.

That strikes me as failing all the gates.

• rlms says:

@quanta413
If a police officer tries to arrest me for a parking violation and I plausibly try to kill her, she is allowed to kill me in self defence because that’s a general right that basically everyone has. I interpret Maistre’s quote as giving authorities some stronger right to kill, otherwise it’s a bit banal.

• skef says:

Either way, youâre accusing keranih of holding their position in bad faith, and furthermore that they fantasize about killing people.

I understand that in contemporary U.S. culture it’s considered rude to speculate about the psychological makeup of people who casually raise the prospect of extrajudicial execution, and that many people here see my doing so as shitting the bed.

But frankly, a lot of people are wondering about this, and it’s not like like there aren’t any cultural clues. Shift the subject or the context slightly and people will be quite happy to point out this or that line that, should you step over it, will result in them killing you. In fact it’s difficult to avoid this conversation these days. (Some more reflective people recognize that these ubiquitous threads sit uneasily with “only when absolutely necessary” gun culture dogma, so they put the threat in the third person. Not that they don’t entirely agree with the need to kill under that circumstance, and would in fact participate, or think they would. It’s just more polite, and less cognitively dissonant to state it like a fact of nature.)

The U.S. leftward are often told that they don’t properly respect the rightward, and that this is a problem they really need to do something about. They’re also frequently informed that they better not do this or that, because regardless of political institutions or whatever there will be executions. We were just talking about this the other day! It is both completely routine and entirely unmentionable: “Don’t point out the trend — we might get offended and you don’t want that because nudge-nudge-wink-wink.”

Anyway, yes: I do think many people are sitting around fantasizing about killing people. Partly because they’re so eager to talk about it. It’s true that it’s hard to tell definitively who is and is not doing it, which is why I was guessing.

You also say this amounts to an accusation of bad faith. Maybe you can connect those dots a bit for me, I’m not sure how it follows.

• Jiro says:

Killing in defense of oneself (or one’s property) is at best a very noncentral example of “extrajudicial execution” and I doubt that a fair definition would include it at all (especially if it’s legal, which by definition means it isn’t extrajudicial).

• skef says:

Killing in defense of oneself (or oneâs property) is at best a very noncentral example of âextrajudicial executionâ and I doubt that a fair definition would include it at all (especially if itâs legal, which by definition means it isnât extrajudicial).

I am entirely satisfied with the use of that phrase when the subject is defense of property. Feel free to disagree.

Added: alright, “extrajudicial” is conventionally used to refer to government action, which doesn’t apply in the narrow sense. The point is that those who feel it is their right to do this are viewing the act as quasi-legal. It’s not revenge for example; they execute the thief or vandal as the governor of their own property.

• gbdub says:

It’s an accusation of bad faith because you are implying that someone’s support for the ability to legally defend oneself or one’s property comes not from a belief that such a law is the best way to set up a society, but rather because they just want a legal way to fulfill their fantasy of shooting somebody. There aren’t that many dots to connect.

• skef says:

Itâs an accusation of bad faith because you are implying that someoneâs support for the ability to legally defend oneself or oneâs property comes not from a belief that such a law is the best way to set up a society, but rather because they just want a legal way to fulfill their fantasy of shooting somebody. There arenât that many dots to connect.

So keranih asks “how are we then to keep people from damaging the stuff of others” of a country with lower crime rates than the U.S. and I’m the one with bad faith? How about letting them get on with it, as they seem to be doing OK? What social norm is at stake here other than the freedom to kill people who fuck with your stuff?

• gbdub says:

I’m not saying that you are arguing in bad faith – in fact I am quite sure that you are sincere in your belief that use of lethal force to prevent property crime is unacceptable.

I am saying that you have made an accusation of bad faith against keranih without justification to do so, and that is against the social norms of commenting here, uncharitable, and therefore rude.

NOTE: it seems like you may be misunderstanding what I mean by “bad faith”? I’m using the definition of something like “arguing in favor of something you don’t support, or advancing reasoning you don’t believe, in order to achieve hidden / duplicitous goals”.

• beleester says:

Seconding/signal boosting RLMS’s comment.

I’m not sure anyone is arguing for the position of “Police are not allowed to hurt people who resist arrest.” That sounds like a bit of a strawman to me. Skef’s argument seems to be more along the lines of “You can restrain someone with nonlethal force, and only escalate to lethal force if the criminal does as well.”

A lot of people seem to be going from “It’s okay to kill people for resisting arrest” to “It’s okay to kill people for property crimes regardless of if they resist,” which is an argument that’s missing a few steps.

• John Schilling says:

You can restrain someone with nonlethal force, and only escalate to lethal force if the criminal does as well.

Of course. What you can’t do, at least if you want me to take you seriously, is avoid taking responsibility for the lethal force.

If you throw the first punch, and you fired the last shot, then saying “But step four of the escalation, where he pulled a knife, that makes it all his fault!”, comes across as special pleading. A guy who was just trying to sell some loose cigarettes or steal a loaf of bread or do some petty vandalism, is bleeding out on the street because your policy is to one-up whatever anyone else does once they’ve started selling loose cigarettes or whatever. Own it. You threw the first punch and you fired the last shot because that is what civilization requires.

• skef says:

You said:

Itâs an accusation of bad faith because you are implying that someoneâs support for the ability to legally defend oneself or oneâs property comes not from a belief that such a law is the best way to set up a society, but rather because they just want a legal way to fulfill their fantasy of shooting somebody.

and

it seems like you may be misunderstanding what I mean by âbad faithâ? Iâm using the definition of something like âarguing in favor of something you donât support, or advancing reasoning you donât believe, in order to achieve hidden / duplicitous goalsâ.

I have speculated about the psychology of someone who sees the freedom to shoot thieves and vandals as something missing from Ireland. I wasn’t guessing that keranih secretly wants to live in a country where they can get away with murder, but that they might imagine a kind of morality play in which they are the shooting protagonist. I think such a person would be motivated by disordered priorities, and should change how they think about things. That doesn’t amount to an implication of bad faith by your definition.

• Matt M says:

I have speculated about the psychology of someone who sees the freedom to shoot thieves and vandals as something missing from Ireland.

What if you believe that every one shooting will prevent 1,000 thefts, and that each shooting is only 20% likely to result in death?

The reason I want to live in a society where people shoot at thieves is because I suspect it will have fewer thieves in it – not because I want an excuse to kill a bunch of people.

• skef says:

What if you believe that every one shooting will prevent 1,000 thefts, and that each shooting is only 20% likely to result in death?

And what if I believe that the one shooting that prevents 1,000 thefts will come along with other shootings because now lots of people have guns?

And what if we’re not talking about hypothetical countries but Ireland, about which one can go look at the crime statistics?

And what if, in response to the inevitable “well, Americans are just more violent by nature so it would all work out better in an Ireland with guns” argument I think, “Well, yes, some Americans seem to think that murder is an appropriate response to theft and vandalism, and they should really work to overcome that attitude because they’re the problem.”

• who casually raise the prospect of extrajudicial execution

At a slight tangent, I think there’s an important difference between killing someone as punishment and killing someone as prevention. Suppose somebody is trying to kill me and I kill him in self-defense. Someone might approve of that action even if he disapproves of the death penalty–indeed, I suspect that most people who disapprove of the death penalty still believe that it’s legitimate to use lethal force in self defense against a would-be killer.

In the context of the discussion I think most of what Skef is talking about is not extrajudicial execution but the use of lethal force to prevent property crime. It becomes execution only if the force is used after the crime is entirely over.

• quanta413 says:

@rlms

If a police officer tries to arrest me for a parking violation and I plausibly try to kill her, she is allowed to kill me in self defence because thatâs a general right that basically everyone has. I interpret Maistreâs quote as giving authorities some stronger right to kill, otherwise itâs a bit banal.

A police officer has considerably more latitude than having to wait for the suspect to reach for a gun, a knife, or engage in some lethal action. And there’s a continuum of force the police officer can use much of which has a risk of causing death. They can tackle, hit, taze, or sic a dog on someone they catch running away and any of those things could kill or injure someone. And the person caught is not allowed to respond in defense.

Notably, I can’t tackle, hit, taze, or sic a dog on someone for violating various laws and then running way when I catch them, even though a policeman can. The criminal would have to violate me personally, and even then I have grave doubts that I would be allowed as much latitude as a policeman is.

In some U.S. jurisdictions, ordinary citizens have a duty to retreat even in the face of lethal force. Police officers don’t have such a duty.

It’s an undesired outcome when things go that far, but police are definitely more empowered to commit violence (up to murder) than an ordinary citizen. And they are empowered because they represent the state and the state’s interests. The quote wasn’t about police acting as free-roaming executioners, it’s that police are empowered to kill those who resist arrest. That doesn’t mean they’re instantly empowered to kill someone if resistance is token, but enough resistance inevitably slides into “threatening to the officer” at which point they can kill even if someone was no threat to them except because the police were in the process of removing that person’s normal rights and privileges.

On the broader question, I don’t support someone shooting a fleeing burglar in the back for snatching a loaf of bread (most of the time; I guess hypothetically starvation might change things). It’s too disproportionate. On the other hand, if a burglar breaks into someone’s house and they shoot him, I’m not concerned if they didn’t wait for the burglar to possibly pull a knife or gun in close quarters.

• David Speyer says:

People throughout this thread keep referring to defending property. I’d like to point out that keranih’s scenario specified that the burning rag is already in the car. The most effective tool to defend your property is a fire extinguisher, not a gun.

I wouldn’t necessarily have a moral problem with someone who used lethal force to protect a car from vandals, if the force was clearly needed, but I have a problem with someone who shoots the vandals as they run away.

• Deiseach says:

A great deal more happiness would be present in the world if people werenât so attached to their stuff that it caused them any particular mental stress to have their car taken away and their pocketbook lighter by the amount it cost to have the burn out hunk hauled off.

Perhaps people wouldn’t be so attached and stressed if they all had a million dollars a month deposited into their bank accounts so they could easily eat the costs of “oh, some scumbag set my car on fire? well, I can just laugh off the cost of a new car and the cost of having the old one taken away and all the inconvenience of not having a car, why that twenty grand is just pocket money!”

I think my million-dollar solution is as realistic as yours. No, I don’t think “possessions = the worth of a life” but on the other hand, possessions are repositories of money, time, effort, need, convenience, usefulness and a lot of other elements for people, more than just attachment to having things.

Even if you’re only three-quarters suggesting the main problem with “having your car set on fire” is being over-attached to material possessions, may I suggest you move to Tallaght? An attitude of “it’s your problem if I rob and destroy your stuff, not mine” would fit right in!

• keranih says:

possessions are repositories of money, time, effort, need, convenience, usefulness and a lot of other elements for people, more than just attachment to having things.

I absolutely agree, and at a practical, heat of the moment level I completely agree with shooting looters and hanging horse thieves.

The trouble is that this knee jerk reaction doesn’t match the better angels of my nature, and I’m still trying to figure out how to appease those high-minded naggers while still preventimg horses from being stolen.

• A great deal more happiness would be present in the world if people werenât so attached to their stuff that it caused them any particular mental stress to have their car taken away and their pocketbook lighter by the amount it cost to have the burn out hunk hauled off.

I think you are probably mistaken, but my reasons are a bit lengthy for a comment. I think the commitment pattern you are describing, the willingness of individuals to bear apparently unreasonably large costs to prevent what they consider their rights from being violated, is a substantial part of the reason that our world is a much more orderly and pleasant place than the society, a war of each against all, described by Hobbes. The explanation of that is in an old article of mine and a webbed draft of one of the chapters for the third edition of my first book.

• DavidS says:

@kerinah: acutely, ‘call the police, they are arrested, charged and put in prison’. The social side is probably longer-term and less about an immediate reaction.

More generally, this ‘you canât inflict punishment on people unless they can be killed for resisting arrest’ (or the version of it for collecting taxes) thing is oft-repeated but factually untrue and a bit silly. Perhaps it is true for a heavily armed society where they might shoot at you during arrest. But it’s possible to subdue people without killing them. Similarly to incarcerate them without killing them and so on and so on.

• JulieK says:

acutely, âcall the police, they are arrested, charged and put in prisonâ.

The problem is that the police can’t get through, due to the snowstorm.

(Possibly a major factor in the decrease in violence discussed in “The Better Angels of our Nature” is the decrease in “snowstorm” circumstances, in which people turn to violence to resolve problems because there is no higher authority present.)

• keranih says:

@ DavidS –

You assume a straightline between “pick up the phone” and “bad guys in prison” that does not exist even in the best neighborhoods I have ever lived in. And all prison is good for is “turning bad people into worse”, haven’t you heard?

But itâs possible to subdue people without killing them.

Not if its four of them, one of you, and they’ve decided that it’s just as easy to kick you to death as it is to go back to jail.

I strongly support milder punishments for milder infractions – but one doesn’t apply any punishments if the person isn’t arrested in the first place. What if the person decides they don’t want to be arrested

• DavidS says:

@keranih: sorry, replied at wrong level. Re subduing people I wasn’t saying good guys always win, just responding to

As Joseph de Maistre would say, you canât inflict punishment on people unless they can be killed for resisting arrest. All power, all subordination to authority rests on fear of the executioner.

This is different from ‘sometimes the cops are outnumbered’.

I agree that we don’t have a perfect police/justice system. I just think that I’d rather improve that than start encouraging people to start shooting at people: I’d rather have more police with skis or whatever.

Bear in mind in your example the ‘lads’ would presumably also at least potentially be armed, so if you had one car owner with a gun facing four criminals without, confrontation is actually more dangerous. Unless the idea is that they have an automatic weapon and just start shooting first and asking questions later (perhaps killing some bystanders in the process).

Underpinning all of this is that I’m slightly surprised we don’t see more crime than we do given that I think people can often get away with it. So I can see the argument that hypothetically we would expect an epidemic of violence without means of retaliation, but I don’t see the evidence we are.

• rlms says:

The point about not harming people over *stuff* is well taken. A great deal more happiness would be present in the world if people werenât so attached to their stuff that it caused them any particular mental stress to have their car taken away and their pocketbook lighter by the amount it cost to have the burn out hunk hauled off. Probably they were in need of more exercise, so losing the car was a good thing.

Indeed. The seemingly common American idea that shooting burglars is reasonable — that every life is sacred unless ending it lets you keep your hands on your consumer electronics — is a sign of a society that needs a lot more Jesus.

• keranih says:

rlms –

I actually am a great deal more comfortable with the American ideal that people who break into your house or car are scared of being shot whilst doing so than with the Brit burglar who doesn’t care, because he’s already decided that he’ll beat the homeowner into submission *and* take the stuff.

• Robert Liguori says:

Every life is sacred and the serial arsonists are clearly endangering their own, so the reasonable thing to do is to go out with tasers and stun-guns, knock them out, kidnap them, hobble them, and enslave them in perpetuity for the good of the community. After all, there would be a lot more happiness in the world if people weren’t so attached to their bodily integrity and freedom, and they probably need more healthy exercise.

What the fuck, people. You need stuff to literally live. You need a great deal of stuff to live in the degree of comfort we consider normal. Stealing or destroying other people’s property is a really big deal, and doing so wantonly, openly, and casually indicates that you have not at all bought into the fundamental societal axioms that need to be laid down in order for there to be stuff in the first place.

• DavidS says:

I am quite sympathetic to the shooting burglars thing (albeit I don’t want more guns, but this isn’t really the reason). I definitely think ideas about using ‘reasonable force’ seem bizarre given fear/uncertainty. I think it’s entirely reasonable that if a burglar is in your house you shoot them (if you have a gun) or e.g. stab them with a very sharp knife rather than attempting to subdue them with minimum harm.

But this is all related to risk to the person: I think it’s reasonable to choose 50% they’re dead 50% they’re seriously wounded over 50% they’re seriously wounded 40% they’re hurt, 10% they retaliate and injure/kill you. I definitely don’t see it OK to e.g. shoot a burglar in the back as they run away, either as revenge or to get your stuff back.

I also do worry about how these in-principle thought experiments about if it’s OK to kill burglars bump up against things like accidentally shooting family members.

But mostly I just don’t think we should arm British (or Irish) people unless we’re pretty clear it’s a good idea. Getting rid of weapons is going to be more difficult than legalising them, and the potential downside looks pretty severe. In the (Northern) Irish context rather undermines all the efforts for disarmament in the peace process too…

• gbdub says:

Personal property isnât just âstuffâ. Itâs stuff accumulated through labor. Getting it replaced will take time – time to work, time to report to insurance (if you have it), time talking to the police (who often wonât / canât do anything about it), time stressing out over all of that. By stealing / destroying my stuff, you are literally stealing part of my life.

Plus the psychological harm of no longer being able to feel safe in your own home.

Beyond that, I suspect the population of people who are willing to do violence to my property (especially in my own home when I might be there) but arenât willing to do serious, possibly fatal violence to me if caught in the act is pretty small. Betting your life on the burglar breaking down your bedroom door being part of that small population seems a pretty big risk.

Why should I be forced to take on additional risk to my life to reduce the risk to someone who has voluntarily initiated violence against me?

Beyond that, there is an erroneous assumption that guns are primarily useful to shoot bad guys dead. Actually they are mostly useful for scaring bad guys into better behavior through the threat of death. I think most attempts at studies (itâs hard because of no reporting) would show that most defensive gun uses result in no shots fired, and of those with shots fired only a minority end in someone getting shot, and of those only a minority end in fatalities.

• S_J says:

This phrase made me think a little.

The seemingly common American idea that shooting burglars is reasonable…is a sign of a society that needs a lot more Jesus

I racked my brains for Jesus’ commentary on this subject, and couldn’t find much.

Jesus was pretty adamant that the cares and riches of this life aren’t very useful in the afterlife. He was also strong on not responding to insult with insult. (Hence, “turn the other cheek.”) Jesus didn’t seem to say much about property, defense, and use-of-force.

However, Jesus did use this as an example, when discussing interactions with evil spirits.

Or how else can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? And then he will spoil his house.

(Matthew 12:29)

A similar sentiment is found in Luke 11:21.

I can’t tell whether Jesus is for or against using lethal force to defend the property in the house. He does comment that anyone intent on plunder is using force against the property-owner.
The strongman is apparently referenced as an analogy to evil spirits, and their interactions with people…so maybe we shouldn’t treat this as an example of Jesus teaching about use-of-force.

• DavidS says:

This seems fairly clear to me. Not to mention that Jesus hardly advocates a life of stable private property in the first place so it’s unclear what you’d have worth stealing.

Matthew Chapter 5 38-42

âYou have heard that it was said, âAn eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.â But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.”

So don’t resist violence nor attempts to take your property.

• rlms says:

@keranih
Very few British burglaries (of occupied homes) are like you describe (although those ones disproportionately make the news). Usually burglars who attract the attention of homeowners respond by running away (I agree that this is despite the difference in attitudes rather than because of it). But even if this weren’t the case, I think the correct view would be “it’s tragic whenever someone dies in the defence of mere material goods, but unfortunately it’s game-theoretically necessary” rather than “if you break into a house you deserve whatever you get and no-one should feel sad about your death”.

@Robert Liguori
Is your first paragraph meant to be sarcastic? Yes, it’s very reasonable to put serial arsonists in prison.

Yes, people need certain things. But food/clothing/shelter aren’t stolen particularly frequently, and when they are it’s usually by Jean Valjean rather than from him.

• Jiro says:

Jesus was pretty adamant that the cares and riches of this life arenât very useful in the afterlife.

By that reasoning it shouldn’t matter if the criminal kills you as well as steals your stuff. Your possessions won’t be with you in the afterlife, but neither will your life.

• rlms says:

Possibly so. Personally I would say that’s too much Jesus.

• S_J says:

@DavidS

This seems fairly clear to me. Not to mention that Jesus hardly advocates a life of stable private property in the first place so itâs unclear what youâd have worth stealing.

Matthew Chapter 5 38-42

âYou have heard that it was said, âAn eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.â But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.â

So donât resist violence nor attempts to take your property

Whether I take Jesus to be God-incarnate, or a prophet, or a wise teacher…I think that we both need to check the cultural context of that saying, and of the people who heard it and wrote it down.

Was Jesus speaking of any violation of law and social custom? Or was he speaking of things that, at His time, were permissible (under some contexts) by law and social custom? He was definitely urging people to be better than society of the time demanded. But was He referring to behavior that was abusive-but-not-always-considered-criminal, or to behavior that was abusive-and-considered-criminal?

If the command of Jesus was only for one category, does it also apply to the other category?

It may look clear-cut to you, but it does not look so clear-cut to me.

• bean says:

A great deal more happiness would be present in the world if people werenât so attached to their stuff that it caused them any particular mental stress to have their car taken away and their pocketbook lighter by the amount it cost to have the burn out hunk hauled off.

I’m not entirely certain that we’re from the same planet. Just over a year ago, I had a car totalled in an accident. It was the other guy’s fault (I was basically stationary on the freeway, he was probably on his cell phone), and so I wasn’t out any money. It was still incredibly stressful, because I had to procure a replacement car on short notice. Because no, most people can’t just get rid of their car and replace it with walking. I was 15 minutes from work in my car, which would mean several hours of walking each way, every day. Yes, I’ll take the car. Maybe if you could rearrange everyone’s psychology so that they weren’t that attached to possessions, and rearrange the world so that they didn’t need cars, it would work, but that’s fantastically implausible.

• keranih says:

bean –

My apologies, my snark needs work. Also, please see my reply to Deiseach below.

• Matt M says:

I would also say that, in my own personal opinion, vandalism is a particularly heinous and anti-social crime, as it provides little tangible benefit to the criminal themself.

While I have very little sympathy for the “Jean Valjean” defense, I’d certainly much rather have a poor person steal my property, and use it to benefit themself, than have them simply destroy it.

And, conversely, while I might hesitate to shoot a car thief, I’d like to think I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot at someone destroying cars for no reason. You might steal something for any number of reasons, but you don’t simply destroy things for any reason other than “I am an antisocial asshole” and I feel that such people are very likely to not become rehabilitated. These are human scum, and society is better off without them.

When you give away someone else’s property, that’s not generosity.

When you risk someone else’s life for your principles, that’s not bravery.

When someone tries to steal from me or tries to harm me and my loved ones and people like you try to prevent or punish effective self defense that’s not virtuous.

Virtue signalling kills. Just say no.

• Randy M says:

Destroying someone else’s property and endangering their livelihood–not to mention lives–for kicks is a pretty damn serious offense, not to mention the cost to the neighborhood social order. It’s terrorism, albeit not the central example of such with sky high body counts.

I’m pretty okay with it being a hazardous line of work.

And arguing that the only allowable methods of stopping a crime in progress are those that are allowable as punishment after the fact is pretty fallacious.

(This response assumes it isn’t as some sort of collective means to signal for help or something like J Milne suggests below.)

• Deiseach says:

Do Irish lads go about destroying buildings setting cars on fire for fun, just because thereâs a snowstorm and they can get away with it?

Not in the main, no. But there is an antisocial element in every part of the country (just like every other country in the world), and the problem there is that Tallaght is a small village that became a dormitory suburb and then was absorbed into Dublin due to metropolitan growth, now has a large(r) population because of that but resources have not grown in the same way, and a lot of people from the inner city slum clearance project were dumped out there with few to no facilities. Add in the problems of lack of employment that regularly plague Ireland (and were particularly bad in the 80s) and you’ve got a big chunk of your population there being working-class and – to use a clumsy term – underclass who are on social welfare/in social housing and have little to no trust in the police or the system/authorities, have the usual crime/drugs problems, and basically the usual element of the kinds of people I’ve complained about here when talking about the provision of social housing (the small but definite group of troublemakers who can be the one family terrorising an entire estate and making life intolerable for everyone).

Guns are probably not the answer, as the kinds of hooligans and lowlifes who wrecked the Lidl are the ones who’d get their hands on guns (we do have gun crime but so far confined to the drug gangs shooting one another, guns used for robberies etc. are not as common as in the US but getting more common. It would still be very unusual for an ‘ordinary’ criminal to have a gun, no matter how cheap and crappy, however). I would be more in favour of the “good kick up the backside” measure, myself. This is the kind of behaviour that makes people go “this is what happens when they stopped slapping kids in school” and while that was a whole problem of its own, I do think some at-risk kids take away from learning “I have rights, you can’t do that” is that this means they can pretty much run riot and no-one can physically restrain them, because that’s technically assault, and trying to invoke any kind of morality or social rules about “you shouldn’t do that because it’s destructive” is as much use as telling a hurricane not to flatten a house – they’re practically feral and have no developed social instincts because their families are not teaching them because they don’t care either. The result being then that they grow up to be the kinds of petty criminals who do this crap. “I have rights” does not inculcate any corresponding “and I also have responsibilities, and other people have rights too”, it results in “my social worker tells me I should get this, I’m entitled to it, you owe me”.

tl; dr – a place that (folklorically) started off as a mass plague grave probably is doomed from the start đ

• J Milne says:

1. Is this an actual thing? Do Irish lads go about destroying buildings setting cars on fire for fun, just because thereâs a snowstorm and they can get away with it?

Not in any sort of unusual way? During a snowstorm some people in the most deprived part of Ireland got bored and managed to hotwire a digger, and used it to ‘open’ the supermarket that had been shut during the storm. When no police arrived because the roads were blocked with snow, they set some cars on fire.

No one died, no one was injured, and it’s probably the most exciting bit of criminal activity that will happen on the island this year.

2. Is it reasonable to suggest that maybe, just maybe people would be less likely to set your car on fire if they knew the owners might be around and be able to shoot at them?

Is it reasonable to suggest that maybe people would be less likely to set your car on fire if they knew the owners were then legally entitled to torture them and their family?

I think leaving it to the individual to determine how to respond to crimes against his property is how most of history worked, and one of the great features of civilisation is that instead we leave now that to the justice system.

• I think leaving it to the individual to determine how to respond to crimes against his property is how most of history worked

You might be interested in a chapter of my current book project, the one Scott discussed a while back, dealing with the logic of systems where law enforcement was private and decentralized–what problems such a system has to solve to be workable and how some real world examples solved those problems.

• S_J says:

For readers in and outside of Ireland…

The question of the appropriate response is a complicated mess, no matter what local laws are in force.

If I am a bystander, and I think I observe a theft of construction equipment….what level of certainty do I need about the fact of the theft before I report it to Police?

Escalating the scenario…if the apparent-theft transitions into reckless operation that threatens myself/others, and looks to be in support of a crime like theft, what level of threat to self/others would bring me to the decision to attempt to intervene? (Whether to help remove others from the area of threat, or attempt to stop the apparent-crime-in-progress?)

Does the situation change if the equipment is mine, or is being used against something that belongs to me?

Before I demand that Other People do something, or say that the perps should be resisted/shot-at, I should think about what I would do in that scenario.

In this scenario, if I’m a bystander, I’m not confident that intervening would be a good idea. Even if the Police won’t show up for an hour.

But in that scenario, if I’m the store-owner or employee, intervening might be a good idea. Depending on the details of the scenario, and what tools I had to intervene with. (After all, yelling that I’m going to send their pictures to the Police might cause them to scatter…)

15. Nick says:

There was some great discussion of RPG mechanics for social influence last thread (I liked Lillian’s discussion of Exalted 3rd edition in particular, as well as dndnrsn’s mention of SIFRP’s failure), and I thought I’d follow up on the broader topic.

What systems do folks around here use? What systems do you like? And what feature(s) do you like? My roleplaying since I graduated has mostly been in Pathfinder, which we’ve been using for a long time, but I’m really partial to Savage Worlds personally: the system has a lower barrier to entry, and I like edges and hindrances, and it lends itself well to our more narrative-focused games. (Our Savage games have been of the storyteller kind in johan_larson’s taxonomy, while Pathfinder lends itself better to the simulationist and gamer kinds.)

Edges and hindrances are, as the name suggests, advantages or disadvantages in things like combat, social influence, or just plain character traits. For me, they made it easy to work out my character’s personality, attitudes, motivations, etc., just by picking a few. For instance, one of my characters took the hindrances Heroic (always help those in need), Stubborn (always have to get my way), and Loyal (never betray a party member), and the edges Attractive (+2 charisma), Noble (+2 to charisma and lotsa money), Quick (guaranteed a 6+ in combat, which determines turn order), and First Strike (once per turn free attack against someone moving adjacent to me). This is enough to put me in the mold of charismatic party leader who bankrolled our expedition, and a proficient fighter to boot. Maybe I’m looking to the wrong features, but you just can’t get stuff like that out of class, alignment, etc from a system like Pathfinder. My Pathfinder sixth level Archaeologist could be a jerk or a fool or deluded or honorable… but you wouldn’t know it from looking at his character sheet.

ETA: Also, I know I promised a chapter by chapter summary of Foot’s Natural Goodness around now. I’m still working on it, I’m afraid, so it’s going to be a while. Might appear in the next thread. Mea culpa.

• DavidS says:

Interesting: the hindrances sound a bit like disadvantages in GURPS. Or sorta the vices/virtues in World of Darkness. How does Savage Worlds deal with people not following them, though? Seems like if taken literally those ‘always’ and ‘nevers’ would undermine a nuanced character. I mean is anyone THAT stubborn or heroic?

I’ve played Pathfinder and (old/original) Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Don’t think the system matters that much to me, to be honest, so much as the setting.

At the moment I’m playing around with an Anglo-Saxon setting (around the time of Alfred: perhaps a generation later). The only reason I care about the system as such is that I think the limited weapons/armour available and the realism of the setting allows me to make a more interesting combat system*. The main motivation is more about the setting itself: it literally was inspired by reading about some of the important clashes being literally between dozens of men, and thinking about how in this place and time a band of four skilful/motivated people might actually be able to change the course of events without the D+D thing where they can take on hundreds or thousands of enemies single-handed.

* I was considering seeking SSC views on said system and am happy to bore on about at length if people are interested: essentially, each combat round instead of ‘choose what to do with your action(s)’ you choose from cards you’ve drawn, so in the cut and thrust of combat, the ideal maneouver may not always be practical. Wounds, fatigue, morale etc. are also represented in said cards to address ‘sudden existence failure’ and encourage different fighting options like tiring out and chipping away at an enemy vs going for a one-shot KO).

• Nick says:

Those were my own summaries of the hindrance descriptions off the character sheet, so it’s an exaggeration, sorry. I tried to find descriptions of the edges and hindrances online, but I couldn’t find a list from the actual rulebook, just user-made ones…. The way I played it, I had a little leeway, but not much: when at the end we were running from the eldritch abomination, and only had n turns to escape before certain death, and the tentacles got a party member, I did not try saving him, because even succeeding would have meant certain death. DMs can incentivize adhering to one’s edges and hindrances by rewarding bennies, which are a lot like PF’s hero points.

It’s interesting you care about the setting more than systemâall of our settings have been homebrew, where the system’s setting just contributes things like available races and their attributes. I don’t think we’ve ever even relied on a campaign book.

• DavidS says:

Ah yeah, that sort of thing makes sense. I’m always inclined to go with bonuses for following (and penalties for breaching). These are sort of meta in practice (punishing the player for taking a disadvantage and then ignoring it) but can work in practice as representing the person being demoralised, conflicted, on bad terms with their god/fate whatever.

On setting I think I was unclear: I don’t look for setting in the system. My point was that I don’t care that much about the system unless it conflicts with the setting. What I remember about my games in different systems aren’t really about the systems but the narrative/choices.

And agreed about homebrewing: even when I used Pathfinder beginner box and stole their map etc. just as an easy prop I completely changed the setting. Without spoilers, the scale of the starting opponent is silly. The general super-heroic and nice tone annoys me as well: in my version, the opening experience in the starting town itself (after a bit of combat on a ship during a storm, just to warm people up to the mechanics and almost kill the wizard) was being involved in a festival culminating in a PC being chosen through trials of strength etc. to kill a captured and hobbled ogre. These are frontier people surrounded by orcs and don’t meet a comfortable urban definition of niceness. The moral greyness of the various groups also helped give some cover to the black as night villain lurking amongst them.

• Anonymous says:

What systems do folks around here use? What systems do you like? And what feature(s) do you like?

I mostly play 3.5e. Why don’t I play PF, you ask? Because PF is just 3.5e with some house rules. My groups can make house rules themselves just fine.

Also playing some Fading Suns, with a team of murderhobos. Our perception skills are shit, and our social skills are shit… the Vorox has the highest personal interaction stats. Good times, though, like when the pilot insinuated that he would like to bribe the bishop, and the lower ranking priest believed him. What is he gonna bribe the bishop with, our spaceship?

Other than that I like Mongoose Traveller and Shadowrun 3e. I used to play a lot of Exalted 2e.

One particular feature I like, but seldom see is clearly defined thresholds of mastery and maximum trait limits. That way I don’t have to worry if I put enough points into something. The maximum is clearly enough. And it is highly annoying when the fluff definitions don’t match the mechanics in this area. I’m looking at you, Exalted.

What systems do folks around here use? What systems do you like? And what feature(s) do you like?

The last two games I ran were Basic D&D (Rules Cyclopedia with houserules) and Monsterhearts.

I like BD&D’s underlying math. It has a lot of cruft but at low to mid levels there are really elegant patterns of progression. I only use four of the six abilities (STR, DEX, INT, CHA) and have them pull double duty as prime requisites; strip it down to one saving throw and rejigger the attack table into an “attack throw” the way Adventurer Conqueror King does; combine the various “roll 1d6 for surprise / initiative / traps / etc” rules into a single Perception roll; add advantage / disadvantage and rests from 5e. It runs extremely smoothly that way and is simple enough to avoid confusing new players.

Monsterhearts is a lot of fun as long as you play rules as written rather than trying to play it as intended. It’s a good system and it would be a shame to waste it as SJ agitprop .

Edges and hindrances

I like (dis)advantage mechanics but I’m very wary of systems that let you trade traits and flaws. You’re putting a massive incentive to minmax into the game which punishes players with a solid character concept and makes the marginal player more likely to act like a munchkin.

The only version of this that looks palatable to me is the Angry GM’s character arc system. You only get one flaw at a time and the game incentivizes you to grow past that flaw rather than making it “worse” / better. Even then, the sheer size of the advantage means that you’re privileging inner conflicts, which is necessarily individual, over external conflicts which affect the entire party. If Joe the Barbarian’s subquest leads him to accept the death of his pet dinosaur and grow as a person that’s great for Joe. But what about the other 3-5 adventurers? You just spent an entire session focusing on one character’s psychodrama when you could have had every character play a role in rescuing a princess from landsharks.

• Randy M says:

I’ve played 7th Sea before, though since my last PC crashed and took my extensive character generator/house rules to the deep, it’s a bit painful to think about. I mostly like the setting for it and the variety of characters it promotes, but the resolution and advancement systems can be wonky.

Right now I’m in the midst of a D&D 4E campaign (in a setting similar to star trek deep space nine). I’ve perused 5th edition and it looks plenty fine, I’d play it, but I haven’t seen all the warts of 4E in play and I know it so it’s what I’m running. It’s got a lot of options–actually to the point of being a detriment. Low level combat is fun and tactical, and I’ve got lots of interesting monsters to pick from.
I’m also basically rewriting it for fun into something pretty different, but I don’t know if I’ll actually use the revision or not. It started as a simplification and is slowly turning into 13th Age.

• Unsaintly says:

I am a long time GM, and have run a lot of different systems. There are a few things I look for in games, although obviously any of them are negotiable. Presented in no particular order:
1) The mechanics should fit the theme/tone of the game. Just because you could use d20 to play a gritty investigation game set in the 15th century does not mean it is a good idea. Mechanics should reinforce expected or desired behavior. A good example of this is Passions from Penndragon sometimes forcing a character to do suboptimal but in-theme things. A bad example is 2e Exalted’s social combat system making the best choice for most characters to be to immediately run away from or attack anyone who talks to them.
2) In cases where the difficulty of an action is known, it should be simple to determine a rough probability of success. A player should be able to tell what impact a change in circumstances should have on the probability distribution of the outcomes (beyond just “makes it better” or “makes it worse). d20 and percentile systems are the best at this. “Clever” dice systems like roll-and-keep from Legend of the Five rings are very bad at this.
2a) Probability of success should follow a roughly normal distribution. This slightly clashes with 2, since normal curves are harder to mentally calculate than flat distributions, but gives the advantage of more predictable outcomes. Most dice-pool systems are good at this, while d20 is bad at it.
3) Players should be able to contribute roughly equally to the game. While individual characters should be better in one field or another (or have “jack of all trades” as their selling point), the magnitude of each character’s contributions should be about the same. Single-splat Exalted games are good at this, 3.5 and 5e D&D is bad at it.
3a) Players should be able to meaningfully participate in all fields of the game. Again, each character will be better or worse at various parts of it, but nobody should have to sit out of the game while everyone else (or worse, a single person) plays. Mouse Guard is good at this, while Shadowrun is very bad at it.
4) Randomness during character creation should be entirely optional. There is no good reason to have one character flat out better than another just because of some lucky rolls during session 0. In cases where randomness is presented, it should be completely optional and with a robust pick-and-choose system in place as an alternative. Point buy systems like Exalted or World of Darkness are good at this. Traveller is bad at this.
5) The game should be only as complex as it needs to be. While complexity in a game is fine, it should always be in service to – and necessary for – some other benefit. If something can be done in a simpler way, it should. Note that this is not the same as being “rules light”. FATE is pretty good at this, GURPS is awful at it.
6) The game should be free of punishing mechanics. Characters dying like flies is not good (comedic exceptions for things like Paranoia aside). Players having little control over their characters is not good. If the system allows something, it should not harshly punish it. As a specific side note, the time it takes to make a new character should be proportional to how long that character should expect to survive. Games that kill characters off easily and then expect you to spend hours making a new one are inexcusable. Leverage is good at this. L5R is bad at it.
7) The game should be mechanically rigorous. While obviously you can’t catch every flaw or exploit, I expect developers to actually sit down and do the math. 4th edition D&D is good at this. Numenera is bad at this.
8) The game should be free of edgy or objectionable content. While this doesn’t mean a game can’t deal in mature themes, it does mean that they should be handled well. Specifically any themes regarding abuse or sex are almost never done well. 3e Exalted’s Red Rule is a good example of this. Beast the Primordial is bad.

My favorite system is Ars Magica, a game about playing wizards and their companions in 13th century Europe (with some support for playing elsewhere).
1) The mechanics fully reinforce the notion that magi are powerful because of knowledge. Books and tutors are some of the greatest sources of power in the game, and this is the only game featuring wizards I know of where “you find a bunch of books” is one of the best treasures.
2) It uses a mostly simple d10+modifier roll. Exploding stress dice make exact probabilities hard, but at least it doesn’t change the probability much.
2a) Sadly, as a single-die system it does not follow this rule.
3) Ars Magica uses an interesting approach. While everyone has a primary wizard character that are all roughly equal, they also have one or more non-wizard companions and a pool of shared minor characters. This way, even when one player’s wizard is absent or would rather study than go on a quest, the player can still participate in the game. The outcome of this is that while in a given session the player who brought the wizard will have the greatest impact, over time everyone is more or less equal in contribution.
3a) In the same way, since anyone can control the shared minor characters (called grogs) there should never be a significant scene where a player has to sit out, even when their characters do.
4) There is no randomness in character creation, it is entirely a siloed point/xp-buy system
5) This point is the one Ars Magica breaks the worst. There are huge subsystems for everything imaginable, even things unlikely to come up in a game about scholarly wizards (but if you want to simulate taking a nonmagical person through apprenticeship, journeyman and master status in a crafting guild, and have a way of determining what they make and how good it is, Ars Magica has you covered for some reason). Fortunately, most of the worst offenders are easily dropped systems presented in specialist books. If you don’t care about the subsystem norse hedge wizards use to learn runes, you don’t have to even acknowledge it.
6) It is rather hard to die in Ars Magica, although injuries can set you back a ways. The worst bit Ars Magica does with regards to punishment is that going on quests significantly eats into lab time, so it sometimes feels bad to actually bring your awesome wizard on adventures.
7) While it is surprisingly easy to achieve high scores in things, above what the setting implies you should have at your age, the system largely works. There’s no glaring flaws that I’ve noticed.
8) Ars Magica largely avoids troublesome subjects. It is notable in its representation of various faiths and cultures, specifically that they each have different types of magic based in the actual folklore, myths and beliefs of those people. While I obviously can’t speak with authority on the subject, from what I’ve gathered nobody seems upset by their culture/religion’s depiction in the game.

RPGs, especially how they are run and designed, are a passion of mine. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have about systems, design, theory etc. because I love to talk about it. I have run and/or played in the following systems:
Anima
Ars Magica
Artesia
Call of Cthulhu
Continuum
Cthulhutech
D&D (from basic through 5th edition, plus Pathfinder)
Dark Heresy
Doctor Who
Double Cross
Dresden Files
Eclipse Phase
Exalted (2e, 3e)
FATE Core
Golden Sky Stories
GURPS
Hogwarts (a homebrew system I made)
Legend of the Five Rings
Mouse Guard
Mutants and Masterminds
New World of Darkness (Hunter, Mortal, Vampire, Mage, Changeling, Genius)
Nobilis
One Ring
Only War
Paranoia
Penndragon
Pokemon Tabletop United
Ryuutama
Savage Worlds
Scion
Star Wars (FFG)
Traveller
Unknown Armies
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying

• Randy M says:

2a) Probability of success should follow a roughly normal distribution. This slightly clashes with 2, since normal curves are harder to mentally calculate than flat distributions, but gives the advantage of more predictable outcomes. Most dice-pool systems are good at this, while d20 is bad at it.

One issue with bell-curve generating mechanisms, like replacing d20 with 3d6, is that a single +1 to the roll or target number makes a much bigger, and harder to predict, difference than in a more linear model.

Betrayal at the house on the hill comes with dice that are d6’s with 2 blanks, 2 single pips, and 2 double pip sides. I’ve always liked the idea of a system where you build a pool of those dice, since you’d have a bell curve with the average value equal to the number of dice rolled.

• Unsaintly says:

FATE uses a similar system. Each die is a d6 with -,-, , ,+,+
You roll four of them, and total up the symbols. This gives a bell curve of outcomes, but the average is your starting modifier. So if you have a 6 in something, you could get between a 2 and 10, but you’ll probably end up with 6. This can sometimes feel a bit bad, because rolling below your skill is a little disappointing, but it works in practice.

• Randy M says:

Particular version of Ars Magica you recommend? It looks like they’re up to 5 now.

• Unsaintly says:

I am currently running a 5th edition game of it, and I like its feel over some of the earlier editions. Older edition fluff books are still pretty good, too, and some Tribunal books are only available for older editions.
Depending on your personal preference for power levels, you may want to look into the “Arts as Abilities” houserule that is fairly common, which makes Magi weaker. I’ve also made some Google Spreadsheet character sheets that make running it online a bit easier, let me know if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

• MrApophenia says:

First – you have actually played Continuum? I thought people who actually played Continuum were an urban legend. How was it?

Anyway, I am also primarily a GM and this is my answer too. I like systems that are designed to fit the specific genre you are trying to emulate.

So for instance, I love the new Delta Green because it is laser focused on creating relatively grounded, non-cinematic government agent characters and depicting how secretly investigating the paranormal gradually destroys their lives. If âX-Files plus Breaking Bad plus Call of Cthulhuâ is what you are looking for, this game is basically perfect. If that is not what you want, play a different game.

Some other examples:

D&D 5th Edition – Really interesting attempt to make modern-style game mechanics feel kind like classic D&D while emphatically not being that. I ran a campaign of this where I ported a bunch of classic adventures and OSR adventures into a hex crawl using the 5e rules and it served that purpose exceptionally well.

Mutants and Masterminds – Carefully built to model Silver Age, 4-color superheroes. Only game I have played where supers combat feels like what you see in a Justice League comic, and the Well Trained Guy Without Powers still gets to be important.

Aberrant – Wildly, hilarious broken game mechanics. But broken in specific ways that reinforce the setting surprisingly well. I would never use it to run anything outside either the published setting or the 90s Wildstorm Universe, but if you want to do one of those things, buy Aberrant.

Numenera/Cypher System – Another weird mashup of older D&D and modern narrative game design elements. It works really, really well for its gonzo sci-fi setting, but the recent attempts to make it a universal rule set have felt very strained to me.

• Unsaintly says:

I ran a very short lived game of Continuum. All of the problems you have heard about it are probably true, and it feels extremely clunky to use in practice. Fun for a one-off where everyone is on board with not throwing things off too much, but I would never recommend trying to run an actual campaign of it.
A specific piece of advice if you do run it/play it is to have players and a DM willing to add to people’s Yet on a whim. That’s the biggest part of making the time travel actually feel “real”

• Nornagest says:

I’ve played a bunch of systems — I’ve spent the most time with Pathfinder, D&D 3.5, and AD&D 2e, but I also have some experience with Basic D&D, Exalted 2e, WoD (mostly 2e mortal — I’ve played Vampire in 1e and 2e but never got far in either), and one-shots from a dozen different systems. I think the most fun I’ve had in a session was with Paranoia, but it almost demands to be run as a one-shot or for a few sessions at most — it’s basically Fuck Your Buddy: The Roleplaying Game.

As to features, I really like the way White Wolf systems handle Virtues (and analogous traits). They’re flexible enough to allow for nuanced personalities, personal enough to forestall the alignment arguments I’ve seen in almost every D&D game I’ve ever played, but powerful enough to incentivize character-driven roleplaying without demanding too much from beginning players. It’s too bad that so much else about every White Wolf system is such a hot mess.

I really wanted to like Pathfinder. I thought it had a lot of potential on release. But the rules didn’t adequately address enough of 3.5e’s mechanical problems, and after a couple years they jumped hard into the same trap of allowing hilariously broken characters with a little mix-and-match from different rulebooks. And the setting’s devolved into an unfocused Forgotten Realms-esque kitchen sink. A few years ago I got fifty thousand words into an alternate setting that was meant to address some of those issues, but it eventually accumulated so many tweaks that I’d have been better off starting from scratch. These days I’m leaning more towards stripped-down rulesets; I’d like to find a group to play ACKS with at some point, although I don’t have a whole lot of time for roleplaying now.

• Nick says:

Theyâre flexible enough to allow for nuanced personalities, personal enough to forestall the alignment arguments Iâve seen in almost every D&D game Iâve ever played, but powerful enough to incentivize character-driven roleplaying.

Oh, we used to have long, long arguments about alignments. Over dinner, mostly, instead of during the game itself, but conflicts between how people interpreted various actions w.r.t. the alignment system were not uncommon. Savage Worlds doesn’t do alignment, which was kind of refreshing in a way. I think the Heroic/Loyal/Stubborn character I mentioned in my OP qualifies as Lawful Good or perhaps Neutral Good, but my other characters? Who knows. And I think they’re the better for that.

I’ll check out that virtues and vices system, thanks.

• dndnrsn says:

Right now, I’m very dedicated to Call of Cthulhu. I’ve started using the system in the new Delta Green – it’s basically an improved CoC (the original was a setting for CoC), or, what CoC would look like if it was designed using modern game design ideas, instead of being more or less the same thing from 1981 through now (although I haven’t played 7th edition CoC so I don’t know what it’s like).

Delta Green is a great setting, and the new DG is excellent – its stumbles in the setting mostly relate to the weakest supplement to the original DG, Targets of Opportunity (one of the flaws of which is that at times reading it felt like hearing someone else describe their campaign to you). The original DG was very 90s, very “huge government conspiracy”, and the new one’s theme is more intelligence/law agency overreach, lot of moral dilemmas. Darker tone: there were a lot of “good guy” NPCs running around with very high Sanity for CoC, and in the new version, they or their equivalents are all guys whose SAN is perilously low with alcoholism and a string of divorces or whatever.

So, that’s my love letter to the new Delta Green. Everyone should buy it. Yes, even people who don’t play games. The government should institute a basic income consisting of a copy of the core rules. Copies should be slipped into malaria net shipments. The FAI should be trained on a copy actually no that’s a terrible idea.

Other than that, if I’m not playing an investigative game requiring some kind of sanity-loss mechanic, and I didn’t have a pressing reason to use a game-specific system, I’d usually just use the One Roll Engine rules (as found in Wild Talents). Pretty easy to do different things in.

I tend to houserule everything I run, but now that I am older and wiser, I do so in the direction of reducing complexity and cutting rules out or rebalancing things, rather than in the direction of adding more crunch. Which is what I used to do, and honestly, it never works out. Because you say “well, it would make sense to [adjust weapon damage/add hit locations/whatever]” and then a whole lot of changes make sense, and you end up with way too many rules. I’m not allergic to crunch, but there’s gotta be a good reason for it; I also prefer lower-powered games, and I’m not much of a simulationist, so there’s usually not a good reason for it.

• Nick says:

Thanks, this is really awesome! I’ve heard of Delta Green, but I’ve never looked into it much, besides reading about the setting. That bonds mechanic sounds really cool; the “wandering adventurer” thing can be a problem character-wise. I was fortunate in a long-running Western I’m in that my character’s father is also in the party; I built an Indiana Jones expy, so someone else built a Henry Jones expy. đ Colleagues of ours from the university have appeared a few times as NPCs; down the road I’ll be meeting up with an old classmate/rival of mine, too. That sort of thingâthe weaving of personal backstory with the larger plot where possibleâhas been lacking in other campaigns I’ve been in. So that’s all to say that I can see how, in a very different setting, tying the traumas of the game by way of the customary sanity losses to one’s personal relationships could be really effective.

• dndnrsn says:

I can’t recommend Delta Green enough. The first two books of the original CoC supplement version are pretty much mandatory on lists of “best RPG sourcebooks.” I had high hopes for the new edition, but I think it exceeded them. Possible spoilers for one of the new adventures follow: Vg’f pnyyrq “Gur Fgne Punzore” naq gur cynlref cynl obgu gurve bja CPf, jub ner oebhtug va gb or n fhccbfrqyl-vzcnegvny gevohany ba n zvffvba gung jrag jebat, naq gur fheivibef bs gung zvffvba. Fbzr fprarf ner fbzr bs gur beqvanel CPf vagreebtngvat fbzr bs gur fheivibef (fb rirelbar trgf gb cynl obgu gurve CP naq bar bs gur fheivibef va n pheerag-qnl fprar), naq bgure fprarf ner synfuonpxf gb gur zvffvba. Zbfg bs gur synfuonpxf ner, ubjrire, haeryvnoyl aneengrq – fb lbh’ir tbg n fprar jurer bar fheivibe vf n oenir ureb funpxyrq ol pbjneqf, naq nabgure jurer ur’f n oybbqguvefgl zbeba. Fbzr bs gur fheivibef unir frpergf. Vg fbhaqf pbzcyvpngrq ohg bapr rirelbar tbg gurve ornevatf, vg jnf nznmvat.

• MrApophenia says:

I basically agree with everything you said, except I also think Targets of Opportunity has a lot to recommend it, too. Its treatment of a sort of “modern Innsmouth” is reasonably clever, and if I ran a game for folks without a ton of Lovecraft knowledge (who won’t go “deep one!” automatically) I’d definitely run that.

The Brotherhood of the Worm are probably just fodder for a one-shot, but it could be a fun one-shot.

And people seem to hate on the Cult of Transcendence a lot, but I far prefer them to the Fate. The Fate are basically there to provide the Cool GM character the authors really like and the players can’t affect in any way. The Cult of Transcendence is a wacked out conspiracist fever-dream that, on closer inspection, actually looks like it’s being run by crazy people, and could collapse at a moment’s notice, which means it could actually be useful in a campaign. Not only is it sometimes deeply unsettling antagonist group, but it’s one the players can actually do something about.

(Don’t get me wrong, Countdown is still better. The Hastur Mythos is brilliant, and “Night Floors” is probably the best horror RPG scenario ever published.)

• dndnrsn says:

Black Cod Island runs into a problem that RPGs have in general, but I noticed a lot of both in Targets of Opportunity and the scenarios in the Eyes Only book – NPC stats are wacky. You’ll have a PhD student with barely-above average intelligence. Conversely, Black Cod Island has an unusual number of high-INT people – and Deep Ones aren’t supposed to be smarter in IQ terms than humans. I also kinda look askance at “here’s a bigger, badder version of something that already exists in the Mythos; you just never heard of it before” – I also thought the “greater ghouls” in Countdown were a little lame (and, completely unrelated to DG, but it’s part of the reason Nocturnum is bad – although the constant mandatory railroading is a larger part) It all seems to run in the face of, say, the stuff established already about Innsmouth.

The Brotherhood of the Worm are kinda cool. A bit forgettable.

The Cult of Transcendence just seem… I don’t know, too edgy. “Here’s an enormous cult running all sorts of things that we didn’t tell you about until four books in” seems a little meh too – it’s a similar reason I didn’t like the bigger deep ones, or the greater ghouls – the reason DG was so amazing was that it took all sorts of stuff lying around already and turned it into something new without having to make anything out of whole cloth. The Fate are a bit extra, yeah, but they’ve got a nifty vibe. You’re right that it’s hard to actually use them. Although having an NPC who’s basically made of railroading means you can have a guy they can’t kill without actual lame railroading.

The DeMonte Clan is the #1 “this is like reading about someone else’s campaign” thing. Like, some really cool stuff in there. Then a description of how DG fought back and forth with them, and it’s in the past, in loving detail. OK, so what? Was this Arc Dream’s house campaign?

I like M-EPIC but I’m a sucker for CanCon. In true Canuck form, they’re about halfway between the American DG and the British PISCES. And the idea of a former-Mountie outfit disguised as a minor environmental study agency is very Canadian. We just want the rest of the world to know we exist, OK?

In conclusion: I own far too many RPG books, and have Opinions about them.

• MrApophenia says:

Yeah, I had totally forgotten about the Greater Deep Ones. But you donât really need them – the human and investigative parts of Black Cod island are what I thought was clever. (Stuff like weird epidemiological stuff to find in old medical journals about a disease that only occurs in this local population, actually caused by the Deep One transformation going wrong.)

The DeMonte Clan and Brotherhood of the Worm are definitely from the writerâs home game, he has said as much in interviews. But in a way that made them more useful to me, in a âHereâs how you can use themâ sort of way.

The Cult of Transcendence… would be better if the unspeakable rites of their secret masters had been left unspoken, yes. I would probably not use that part in a game. But the lower level pieces are great. The temp agency that can be deployed as an unwitting spy agency is brilliant, and I love that they are faking UFOs with absolutely no clue about the actual UFO conspiracy that is also active in the setting.

(Also, the Cult were actually mentioned all the way back to the original book; and Tiger Transit is actually a minor tangential node in the Cult conspiracy. Which is another point in its favor, as Tiger Transit is amazing.)

I guess on reflection I think youâre probably right that itâs the weakest book, but even the weakest Delta Green book is still really good. Itâs probably the only RPG line I can think of with no actual bad books.

• dndnrsn says:

Oh, Pagan/Arc Dream stuff tends to be much higher standard than the norm that even the worst book in the line is better than most everything else.

Likewise, I’ve got most of the new DG line’s adventures, and have run at least half of the adventures from the old DG line (there were at least 4 free online ones) and they’re definitely all above the standard – even the ones I wouldn’t run are better than the norm. For whatever reason they seem pretty good at avoiding “and then this happens” which is probably the number one cause of railroading. Which is, for all CoC’s reputation as having great campaigns and adventures, still fairly common in its published stuff – it’s just that the standard for published campaigns and adventures is pretty low over RPGs in general.

In fact, Pagan’s non-DG CoC stuff is also very good. The guys associated with Pagan and Arc Dream are probably the best overall in the RPG industry, in my opinion.

• Ventrue Capital says:

I’m running a weird fiction-style GURPS game (which I describe as “old-school D&D but using GURPS rules) whose players include several SSC members, and I’d love to have more.

• Ventrue Capital says:

To clarify, I’m running it on a “virtual tabletop” on Roll20.net and using Discord for voice during the game, and chatting outside of sessions.

16. Le Maistre Chat says:

After seeing such good help for the Dajjal on worldbuilding last OT, I thought I’d bring up the setting I run fantasy RPGs (also to be used in novels, I hope :p). It’s our Earth, but all the gods and monsters people have believed in exist in what TVTropes called Crossover Cosmology.
The world is as old as modern science says it is, but of course no one knows that. No one knows what happened before 3100 BC or so, when writing was invented, so that’s about where they plug in their fairly consistent (i.e. true đ ) folklore about what happened before the Flood.
As for the gods, I don’t use interpretatio graeca where Thoth or Odin just is Hermes, but I do accept a variant mentioned as early as Herodotus and most elaborated in Cicero’s De Natura Deorum where a Hellene may justly say “the first Dionysus was an Egyptian (i.e. Osiris), while the most recent was the son of Zeus and Semele.” How multiple gods participate in the same essence, such that this can justly be said, I’m not settled on. One idea I have is that a god from each pantheon can be the avatar of one of the planets, who are superior deities. So the consciousness of Mars has manifested on Earth as Horus, Nergal, Ares, and a minor Hindu god named Mangala… but this of course doesn’t cover everyone.
In any case, the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Classical and Germanic gods take off for outer space at the time of Christ. I may even make the cosmology heliocentric rather than geocentric in part so they have somewhere to go. đ
The Canaanite pantheon is a special case, as they become a traditional part of Christian demonology. So presumably they were always fallen angels… they and Satan would become trapped in Hell when Christ harrowed it.
If Satan is powerful enough to have ruled the world before Christ, he either needs to have interacted with various pantheons or have some reason why not. As the Bible only mentions his activity in the time of Adam and Eve, then when Moses died, the time of King David, and then again in Christ’s time, I’m tempted to have him exploring the cosmos in a spaceship between the times of Adam and Moses and between David and the Virgin Mary.

It sounds interesting but runs into one of the big problems with “All myths are true:” it’s very hard to reconcile Indoeuropean paganism and Christianity.

You can mix up different pre-Christian mythologies from Ăsir to Asura without serious incongruities, because they’re all building off the same basic cast of characters. Because of the hard work of Greeks and Romans you can even mix in Egyptian and Levantine gods with minimal headaches. But to get Christianity into the picture somebody needs to be seriously demoted: either God loses his capital-G or the gods become more like demigods or local spirits.

You seem to be going more for the latter but the former makes slightly more sense IMO. If God the Father = Jupiter = Zeus, you have a lot fewer headaches even if you still need to figure out what happened to the rest of the pantheon. Maybe the Gigantomachy / Ragnarok got out of hand in the first century or something.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

Jupiter is an especially hard case. The name literally means “God (the) father”, but we’re more familiar with it as the name of two limited beings: the god-king living on Mt. Olympus and one of the planets.
The Latin Jupiter seems to have retained the highest status (“Jupiter best most powerful”) until Greek mythology was imported wholesale, and his Hindu equivalent Dyaus Pitar retained the status of a distant overgod until Vaishnava and Shaiva theology reduced him to a footnote in the Vedas.
Meanwhile Zeus changed by a process that looks like what Muslims call shirk, becoming associated with many local goddesses until there was this vast body of myths where he’s just some adulterous superhero who was born on Crete. And Tues got demoted to a war god below Wotan for reasons lost to prehistory.
Deities descended from the same proto-Indo-European origin having different biographies and status was one reason I was drawn to the idea of them being local incarnations of greater deities.

• Civilis says:

Years ago, I got talked into running a 1E Scion game. Basic concept: you’re playing the offspring of a classical deity and a mortal in a Urban Fantasy setting; the pantheons supplied in the basic book are the Greek (and Roman), Norse, Egyptian, Japanese, Aztec, and Loa. Characters tend to have their destiny tied to their divine parent with some allowances for the modern era. For example, the scion of Hermes might be drawn to a career as a bike messenger, a banker, or a catburglar. The Gods don’t want to prove their existence as it opens them up to being defined as how humanity perceives them and locks them into Fate which makes them vulnerable to enemies. Their main enemies (outside the occasional infighting) are the Titans, which in the setting is the generic term for any of the chaotic elemental forces which seek to unmake the gods or humanity; for example, Surtur is the Titan of Fire, while Mikaboshi is the Titan of Darkness. White Wolf admits that they took some (*cough*) liberties with mythology.

One of the players handed me his draft character: a scion of Sobek who was a Catholic priest. The problem was that it was the most beautiful character concept that I’d ever seen, so I couldn’t just shoot it down. He’d tied it in to Sobek’s theme of ‘ameliorated evil’ and one of the saints of antiquity that had been in Egypt.

The cosmology I worked out, which wasn’t known to the player initially, had the Abrahamic God as the Titan embodiment of the concept of Good. Unlike the other Titans, ‘Good’ is reliant on humanity for existing. By existing as the concept of Good, God is forced into embodying Good and is thus prevented by its own nature from being hostile to humanity. It was also deliberately left unknown and unknowable whether the Abrahamic God created humanity or the belief of a billion humans created the Abrahamic God, and given the nature of the cosmology, paradoxically, both may be possible. The worldbulding included a hidden Catholic order which is aware of this paradox and tends to guide those handful of believers which get stuck in the situation of knowing both sides, like the specific PC. Likewise, the Gods of the Pantheons are smart enough not to rock the boat by challenging the paradoxical existence of the Abrahamic God, regardless of his status, as the status quo is better than the possible chaos that results from attacking the idea of ‘good’.

The worldbuilding also included (and unfortunately the campaign didn’t last long enough to explore) the hidden fact that the Titan embodiment of Evil, Satan, exists, and is also reliant on humanity for existence and thus not allied with the conventional Titans of the setting, instead pursuing other plans that put him at odds with all sides. His greatest trick was hiding in plain sight…

• MrApophenia says:

It is probably worth mentioning that in the final (I believe?) book of the line, it was semi-canonically revealed that this is pretty close to the actual canonical answer in the setting. The Titan of Light is Aten, and while they don’t explicitly say he’s the Abrahamic God, IIRC, they do say he was the first Titan, he invented the concept of monotheism, his followers are dedicated to spreading the idea that he’s the only true deity, and he’s depicted as the most powerful being in the setting, a big omnipotent bearded dude sitting on a throne of light surrounded by winged angels singing praise to his name.

They don’t make him a good guy – if anything he’s the Final Boss Monster- but it isn’t hard to shift things around if someone wants to.

(And while a lot of people were super pissed off when they did this, I kind of feel like the Abrahamic God as Final Boss Monster sort of fits the tone of the rest of Scion perfectly, for better or worse.)

• Deiseach says:

But to get Christianity into the picture somebody needs to be seriously demoted: either God loses his capital-G or the gods become more like demigods or local spirits.

Well dash my wig, now you remind me of something I saw in excerpts of Letters of Julian the Apostate:

But these Jews are in part god-fearing, seeing that they revere a god who is truly most powerful and most good and governs this world of sense, and, as I well know, is worshipped by us also under other names. They act as is right and seemly, in my opinion, if they do not transgress the laws; but in this one thing they err in that, while reserving their deepest devotion for their own god, they do not conciliate the other gods also; but the other gods they think have been allotted to us Gentiles only, to such a pitch of folly have they been brought by their barbaric conceit.

You might not be able to make Christianity work with paganism, but if you take the Jewish approach as described by Julian, what you have is (a) the One God of the Abrahamic religions who is the True God, but only for one nation (because they are the Chosen People) (b) other gods who are allocated to the Non-Chosen (because even the Gentiles are bound by Da Roolz and you gotta serve somebody). The humans co-exist on the basis that they’ll politely ignore that you’re sacrificing a pig to Hades and you don’t try to make them worship your deity, and anyone who is Non-Chosen and wants to worship the One God has to go through the whole bothersome process of conversion which very few will want to do (unless marriage into a family of Chosen or conviction that the One God is the True God or some other reason).

Whether you want to go the Gnostic way of the other gods being Demi-Urges or what have you, or stick with (some of the) Biblical treatment of other gods like Baal and Dagon being real Gods but coming off worse if they try fighting the One God is up to you.

Feck it, we could even go with the Angelic Intelligences of the Planets and that humans worship their Terrestrial manifestations as Gods? Well, humans are always falling into superstition and error, what can you do? đ

• Deiseach says:

I am going to shamelessly rob this notion from C.S. Lewis’ “That Hideous Strength”, about the Planetary Intelligences and their Wraiths on Earth, which humans mistook for gods:

âFor â I need not teach you, you know more than I â it is not the very OyĂ©resu, the true powers of Heaven, whom the greatest of our craft meet, but only their earthly wraiths, their shadows. Only the earth-Venus, the earth-Mercurius; not Perelandra herself, not Viritrilbia himself, it is onlyâŠâ âI am not speaking of the wraiths,â said Ransom. âI have stood before Mars himself in the sphere of Mars and before Venus herself in the sphere of Venusâ.

âDid you know that all the planets are represented in each?â âNo, Sir. I didnât. â âApparently they are. There is no Oyarsa in Heaven who has not got his representative on Earth. And there is no world where you could not meet a little unfallen partner of our own black Archon, a kind of other self. That is why there was an Italian Saturn as well as a Heavenly one, and a Cretan Jove as well as an Olympian. It was these earthly wraiths of the high intelligences that men met in old times when they reported that they had seen the gods. It was with those that a man like Merlin was (at times) conversant. Nothing from beyond the Moon ever really descended. What concerns you more, there is a terrestrial as well as a celestial Venus â Perelandraâs wraith as well as Perelandra.â

…A flame coloured robe, in which her hands were hidden, covered this person from the feet to where it rose behind her neck in a kind of high ruff-like collar, but in front it was so low or open that it exposed her large breasts. Her skin was darkish and Southern and glowing, almost the colour of honey. Some such dress Jane had seen worn by a Minoan priestess on a vase from old Cnossus. The head, poised motionless on the muscular pillar of her neck, stared straight at Jane. it was a red-cheeked, wet-lipped face, with black eyes â almost the eyes of a cow â and an enigmatic expression.

..âIt is brutal,â she thought, for its energy crushed her; but then she half changed her mind and thought, âIt is I who am weak, trumpery. â â âIt is mocking me,â she thought, but then once more changed her mind and thought, âIt is ignoring me. It doesnât see meâ; for though there was an almost ogreish glee in the face, Jane did not seem to be invited to share the joke

âŠBut a moment later she was very frightened indeed. The giantess rose. With a great glow and a noise like fire the flame-robed woman and the malapert dwarfs had all come into the house. They were in the room with her. The strange woman had a torch in her hand. It burned with terrible blinding brightness, crackling, and sent up a cloud of dense black smoke, and filled the bedroom with a sticky resinous smell. âIf theyâre not careful,â thought Jane, âtheyâll set the house on fire.â. âLook out! Look out, canât you,â shouted Jane, for the giantess was beginning to touch various parts of the room with her torch. She touched a vase on the mantlepiece. Instantly there rose from it a streak of colour which Jane took for fire. She was just moving to try to put it out when she saw that the same thing had happened to a picture on the wall. And them it happened faster and faster all round her. The very top-knots of the dwarfs were now on fire. But just as the terror of this became unbearable, Jane noticed that what was curling up from everything the torch had touched was not flame after all, but vegetation. Ivy and honeysuckle was growing up the legs of the bed, red roses were sprouting from the caps of the little men, and from every direction huge lilies rose to her knees and waist, shooting out their yellow tongues at her. The smells, the heat, the crowding, and the strangeness made her feel faint. It never occurred to her to think she was dreaming. People mistake dreams for visions: no one ever mistook a vision for a dream.

(That was the vision of the Terrestrial Wraith of Venus, the earth-Perelandra).

• Nornagest says:

I thought it was Hera that was cow-eyed?

• Le Maistre Chat says:

@Deiseach: I am definitely using that, except that instead of wraiths, the earthly gods are incarnations, descended from Earth herself through sexual generation, as most myths have it.

As to why the earthly incarnations appear immoral in myths, that may have something to do with Earth and Sky being made out of the evil Tiamat’s body after Marduk/Jupiter split her in half. đ

• Deiseach says:

Hera is cow-eyed, but I’m wondering was Lewis also alluding to Hathor? Because the various goddesses of love would all descend from Venus/Perelandra, so the Terrestrial Image(s) of her would have certain elements in common.

Damn it, world-building is so much fun! đ

• Nick says:

Feck it, we could even go with the Angelic Intelligences of the Planets and that humans worship their Terrestrial manifestations as Gods? Well, humans are always falling into superstition and error, what can you do? đ

I thought for sure you were channeling John C Wright’s Count to the Eschaton series here… but crap, is he just channeling CS Lewis’ Space Trilogy? I swear I can’t read anything contemporary sometimes, I never understand anything it’s drawing on without six thousand pages of background reading. Gah.

• Deiseach says:

I think we’re all drawing on similar background with a ton of myths from various pantheons plus Christianity plus Dante and the Mediaevals and what they made of philosophy đ

• dndnrsn says:

I’m gonna see if I can find the book this is in. There are reasons to think that at some point early on in Judaism there were other gods as existing, and the capital-G fellow was just their guy. It mostly got edited out, but the editing in both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament is sloppy, and scholars maintain they can see where the seams are.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

@dndnrsn: the Septuagint has the “men were divided into nations according to the number of sons of God, but Israel is the Lord’s” phrasing that scholars suspect was the original edited out of the Masoretic text. Theres very little evidence of the New Testament being edited, except in the sense of a bunch of texts being authorized to form one canonical codex.

• dndnrsn says:

I’d count stuff like the way the Synoptic Gospels work (I accept the scholarly consensus that the two/four source hypothesis is probably right) as editing. There’s also stuff like the ending of Mark.

• Nick says:

There’s a couple of passages that don’t appear in our earliest Greek manuscripts, like John 7:53 or the end of John 21. I don’t know that it should be called editing, but the manuscripts did change a little in the course of copying, with those two I mentioned probably being additions (perhaps from other sources). That’s not to say of course that any of those changes, or any of the textual variants we have nowadays, are doctrinally significant.

• dndnrsn says:

Maybe not doctrinally significant, but that stuff in the Hebrew Bible isn’t really doctrinally significant either. I’m here for the scholarship, myself. What defines “editing” is a bit semantic, but if you gave me two or three books and asked me to put them together into something new – wouldn’t you describe me as an “editor”?

• The original Mr. X says:

What defines âeditingâ is a bit semantic, but if you gave me two or three books and asked me to put them together into something new â wouldnât you describe me as an âeditorâ?

No more than any other writer of non-fiction who makes use of multiple sources.

• dndnrsn says:

I don’t think a direct comparison can be made, by today’s standards at least. One of the things learned pretty early on studying the early Christian writings is that the “standards” were very different in the ancient world: it was far less taboo to write in someone else’s name, it was considered legitimate to do things like make up quotations speeches when writing histories on the basis that it’s true to the spirit of what they would have said, etc. An undergrad taking Introduction to the New Testament 201 who used the same standards of quotation and citation as the authors of Matthew or Luke used would get in trouble for academic misconduct.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

It’s worth noting that Luke claims at the beginning of his Gospel that he went out and researched the life of Jesus. So if Mark and “Q” were already considered authentic, it should be no surprise at all that Luke looks like those two sources plus new material.

• Protagoras says:

Hmmm. Is consistency in the theology mandatory? I suppose the fact that you have the gods retreat to space instead of to some alternate spirit realm, and that you’re connecting them to the planets, suggests that you’re going for sort of rationalized, worldly gods. But a lot of problems of reconciliation become easier if the divine essences are utterly mysterious things from outside that manifest in familiar ways in our regular earth but not necessarily in the same way in different places and different times. Actual Hinduism seems to have a kind of “normal rules for counting and individuating things don’t work for gods” thing going on (and for that matter Christianity has its three gods in one) so you might take inspiration from actual religions on this.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

Hmmm. Is consistency in the theology mandatory?

No, not really. I’m just aiming for something rational enough to explain the coexistence of all the characters. “Utterly mysterious things from outside that manifest in familiar ways in our regular earth but not necessarily in the same way in different places and different times” is fine so long as not taken to the reductive level of “Thoth and Odin just are Hermes. How do their totally different biographies fit together, then? Shut up.”

• Deiseach says:

Christianity has its three gods in one

Nitpicking! Not three gods in one, three persons, one god! There have been fights over this so be careful you don’t find flames licking at your toes when least expected đ

Hinduism may be a good way to look at this; there’s a lot of top-down syncretism where local gods were incorporated into the system by making them avatars or manifestations of a particular major god/goddess e.g. various goddesses unified as manifestations of the one goddess, Parvati (who is herself a reincarnation of the goddess Sati who is a material incarnation on this physical plane of the Divine Feminine Energy Shakti) – so if you are going to have your gods linked to the planets, then it makes sense that the ‘essence’ of Mars will incarnate at different times and in different regions as Mars and Ares and Tyr and the Morrigan and so on, and thus will have different origin stories and different natures. Hinduism also allows for different avatars/elements/part-incarnations/ansh (meaning “portion”) of a god can co-exist e.g. Parashuram, who is an incarnation of Vishnu, is also alive at the same time as Rama, another incarnation, and they even meet, or the sage Durvasa who was born of the anger of Shiva (literally Shiva’s anger incarnated in a human form).

So that would explain how you could have Thoth and Hermes meeting up and being different even though they are both Emanations of the planet Mercury. Having the planets be the Platonic Forms of Love or War or Eloquence and so on, and their influences striking the Earth mean the God of War is born in India or Greece or Germany and is this kind of person, but born in Ireland is a goddess and with a triple form to boot, and in another country is completely different again, and because the Influences arrive at different places in different times the gods can co-exist in their own pantheons and in one sense “be” the same god but in another sense be totally different.

• Protagoras says:

I think you misinterpreted my “three gods in one” as being more specific about how that worked than intended; I certainly didn’t mean to be endorsing the Sabellius view or any other specific view of what that means. Rather, since almost any way of being clear about it seems to involve one heresy or another, I was suggesting that it seems in the end to be similar to the Hindu view that giving a specific answer is applying categories inappropriate to the divine.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

@Deiseach: Yeah, Hinduism probably has the most rational template, which other Indo-European gods as well as the Egyptian, etc could slot into.
It would certainly make the myth of Dionysus’ s Indian war more interesting if he meets Shiva and realizes he’s an avatar of the same whatness. đ

• dndnrsn says:

If this game manages to make theology consistent, then it will accomplish something that no actual real-life theologian has ever really done 100%.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

I certainly wouldn’t set myself so high a bar. I just want something much more serious than Marvel or, worse, AD&D’s outer planes*. đ

*Before they retconned them out, most of the “Great Wheel” cosmology was populated by real-world gods, divided into alignment-based afterlifes. And below the gods were nine species of supernatural beings for the nine alignments, such as demons, devils, intelligent polyhedral dice, and frogs.

• Nornagest says:

I’d never thought of the modrons as intelligent polyhedral dice before, but now I can’t shake the image of some old-school game designer up late at night with a bad case of writer’s block. He glances over at his kitchen table, still scattered with gaming paraphernalia and half-drunk cans of Mountain Dew, and thinks “hmm…”

I’ve got nothing for the slaad, though.

• MrApophenia says:

Here now, Marvel’s cosmology is quite consistent! It’s just uncaring and capricious.

God doesn’t care about you in the Marvel Universe, he just wants to eat your planet.

(But also if needed I am capable, on command, of detailing the relationship of all the various powers and principalities, from the Living Tribunal all the way to weird little cul-de-sacs like Demogorge the God-Eater. The OHOTMU has a lot to answer for.)

• Randy M says:

@nornagest–It makes sense when you consider that some of the classic monsters were inspired by a bag of cheap plastic figures the designer had, like the rust monster.

• MrApophenia says:

The RPG In Nomine, where the default game style is that players are either angels or demons, manages a pretty clever solution to the “How do we have other gods around but also Heaven and Satan and angels and stuff?”

The universe is divided into three layers – there’s the Corporeal realm, the Celestial realm (Heaven and Hell), and the Ethereal realm, which is basically the Dreaming from Sandman just gleefully and unapologetically stolen for their setting. Any character with any kind of persistent purchase in human dreams or imagination can be found there. Fictional characters can be dreamed to life, but if you are worshipped, you become tremendously more powerful, and the gods of myth all live in the Ethereal Realm.

The clever bit is that the gods of myth claim that the Abrahamic God was once just like them, but because of billions of believers, he has become so powerful that he’s just been able to set himself up over everyone else; the angels and demons, of course, say this is nonsense and heresy. Since the memory of beings created by dreams are unreliable and just as shaped by their creation stories as everything else about them (Odin remembers creating the world from the skull of Ymir), both sides can call the others unreliable narrators. And since the player characters were probably only created a couple hundred years ago, they don’t really have any way to find out who’s right, so even they need to just decide what they want to believe and take it on faith.

(Similarly, there are angels who subscribe to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – and at times have even warred amongst themselves over the question – and God isn’t saying who’s right. In fact, God isn’t talking at all for the most part. Unless you think that chill old guy who hangs out in Heaven’s library is actually God, which might also be true, but he just kind of smiles vaguely if you ask him.)

• Le Maistre Chat says:

Sketch of a timeline:

Before All Worlds
The One creates the realm of ideas and Brahma.

Beginning of Time
Brahma the Demiurge creates this cosmos.

?
Lucifer generates Sin and Death in the realm of ideas and is cast out with his followers to a place in our space-time called Pandemonium.

~600 Million Years Ago
By this time, Kisar (Earth), Anu (heaven), Utu (Sun), Enki (Mercury) and his wife Damkina, and Enlil (Jupiter) have been generated by Absu and Tiamat, who dwell in the Court of Chaos with their sons Mummu and Kingu. Enlil’s children by Ninlil, Ninurta (Saturn), Nergal (Mars) and Nanna (Moon) may also exist by this time.
An icy body called Hell impacts Kisar, forming a crater down to her very center. It is called Tartarus, and the remains of Hell form its lowest level.
Absu is aggravated by the activity of his cosmic children and tries to destroy them. Enki kills him and incorporates him into his own realm. There the god Marduk (an incarnation of Enlil) is born. Tiamat and Kingu come for revenge, the former spawning the first 11 species of monsters. Marduk kills them both. From Tiamat’s body he makes a hollow shell around Kisar, called Ki/Ge/Geb, and a sky who becomes her consort. Kingu’s blood he mixes with earthly clay to make the first men (actually the crinoid Old Ones).

~65 Million Years Ago
An asteroid impacts Earth, causing a mass extinction. Numerous granddaughters of Brahma by his son Daksha marry their cousin Kashyapa the sage and take responsibility for the ecosystem. Diti and Danu produce two clans of Asuras (Titans), Sarama produces the carnivora, Surabhi the bovids, Vinata the birds, Kadru or Surasa the Serpent Men from an intelligent lizard, and so on.

>400,000 Years Ago
Lucifer discovers Earth, meets the Serpent Men, and corrupts Adam and Eve (the first apes to be given rational souls). As he returns to Pandemonium, Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden and have children who go on to wrest control of Earth’s surface from the Serpent Men.

>12,000 Years Ago
Earth and Sky generate civilized gods named Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys, as well as the Titans Cronus (an incarnation of Ninurta/Saturn), Rhea and their siblings. Osiris is the first king of a civilization in Northeast Africa, while Cronus and Rhea are worshiped by foragers. Rhea gives birth to numerous children, all of whom Cronus swallows in fear of being overthrown as he overthrew Father Sky. Seeing this, Jupiter incarnates as a son of Rhea, who fools Cronus and has baby Zeus fostered on Crete. In adulthood, he cuts his siblings out of Cronus’s belly and they spread civilization together.

11,600 Years Ago
Then came the Flood.

… well that’s enough to start picking apart. đ

• Deiseach says:

Adam and Eve (the first apes to be given rational souls)

Who is doing the soul-giving? The One, Brahma, one of the various deities mentioned here? I think this is an important point in the question of/struggle for the loyalty of the new Humans; the Serpent Men are obviously going to be opposed to the New Primate Overlords, so does their patron deity Surasa have enmity for (1) the one who ensouled the primates (2) Lucifer who corrupted them (3) both?

And does this tie in later to claims by the various pantheons e.g “yes, Odin and [two others] created Ask and Embla, therefore you are the children of the All-Father”/”no, it was Zeus instructed Prometheus to do it”/”no, you’re both wrong, it was Khnum on the potter’s wheel” to the worship of humanity?

• Le Maistre Chat says:

The serpent men/naga patron goddess would have enmity for both, thinking a rival species to her people never should have been created, but well it could have worked out amicably if they’d been good rather than corrupt.

Archaic Homo sapiens* were created by some god at the One’s direction. Perhaps it was Khnum and Prometheus, as they both tell the same story, which lines up with humans being made from clay in Genesis 1.
Fortuitously, the best primary source for Norse mythology explicitly says that Odin was an ascended mortal who lied to his first worshiper (King Gylfi of Sweden), explaining why he gives a divergent “made your first parents from two trees” myth. đ
So yes it ties into the pantheons’s claims to the worship of humanity.

*If this is correct terminology for the common ancestor of Neanderthals and our African ancestors, which I’m assuming to be rational.

17. DavidS says:

Over the last year or so I’ve seen various things arguing/showing that lots of surprising social science/psychology results of the kinds beloved by pop-science books are not true (or are exagerrated, or don’t replicate, or misrepresent the context). Most recently for instance I saw something saying that the ‘judges are much more likely to convict before lunch’ used in Kahneman and lots of other places is actually because different sorts of cases are scheduled at these times, rather than because of mood/hunger.

I’ve started just reserving my belief more (and Googling more) but was wondering: are there any blogs or similar that gather up lots of these sort of claims/studies and look at the evidence for/against them? Thinking a bit like snopes but for amazing studies rather than conspiracy theories….

• 2181425 says:

May not be exactly what you’re after, but Andrew Gelman’s blog touches on a number of ‘amazing’ studies as they pop up and the articles and comments there are usually illuminating. YMMV.

http://andrewgelman.com/

• j1000000 says:

Second for Gelman. Seems very much what you’re after.

18. Aapje says:

I would recommend this defense of nerd/hacker culture.

I would suggest that it is a lot more enlightening about various major culture war fights involving nerds, like Damore, GjamerGjate and such, even though those none of those are mentioned, than most writing about those events.

It seems to me that some SJ advocates have found a strong formula by mixing/conflating criticism of sexism/racism with criticism of nerd culture. Ironically, by doing this they are taking advantage of existing strong societal bias against/stereotyping of nerds, so are taking advantage of ‘structural oppression’ to create a level of support for their demands beyond what they could otherwise achieve.

Ironically, that nerd interests have increasingly become mainstream, although usually in a nerd-lite variant, has probably enabled this. Nerd spaces presumably used to be spots where the fargroup gathered, doing fargroup things that the mainstream watched from afar with no desire to participate. However, now non-nerds have an incentive to try to take the nice parts of nerd culture and sanitize/weaken it to appeal more to themselves. The more hard-core nerds who like the non-sanitized/hardcore are then attacked for trying to keep their culture and cultural artifacts most appealing to them, by false charges of sexism/racism/etc.

Of course, then the question is then how nerds can defend their culture and what the desired end state should be.

The (to me) optimal outcome is that nerd and nerd-lite culture coexist and mutually enrich each other, while respecting that they don’t serve the same audience.

• quaelegit says:

Side-tracky question: why did you use “gj” to obscure* the controversy-name? It seems like a really weird choice to me (a monolingual American English speaker) because both “g’s” in the name are hard-g’s (IPA [g]). Is is a Dutch phonetic thing?

On topic to your discussion: These are really good points, and I definitely share your hope for the optimal outcome. (Especially personally, I’m not sure where I fit between “nerd” and “nerd-lite” culture so it’s definitely easier for me if the two are on good terms.) I think another important aspect comes from disagreement within the “hard core” nerd culture itself. To stick with video games, take for example the YouTube channel Extra Credits — I’d put them (certainly at least the two guys who founded it) on the “hard core” or “insider” side of video games, but they advocate the more “SJ” position (and this position was what the original two guys took from the beginning). I think genuine disagreement within nerd communities about the direction they want to take their community plays a big role. (And of course “video game players” is a big group that encompasses smaller communities and so this is also a somewhat between-group rather intra-group argument, but my point is that its not solely outsider SJ-types criticizing nerd culture to help with their more general cause.)

P.S. I’m about halfway through the article you linked and don’t have anything to say on it yet, but I’m finding it very interesting, and wanted to thank you for linking it!

• Aapje says:

why did you use âgjâ to obscure* the controversy-name? It seems like a really weird choice to me

A Russian guy just came into my orbit and he pronounced borscht very differently from me, reminding me of Russian pronunciation peculiarities. For example, Putin seems to actually be pronounced more like Pjutin.

So I put a sort of Russian accent on there, because that was on my mind.

I definitely share your hope for the optimal outcome.

For the record, I don’t necessarily have high hope. It’s more that I tried to end my comment in a way that may convince both sides that cooperation/tolerance/etc is probably optimal. Both sides get something out of it, while (culture) war seems worse for both.

Actually achieving this is quite hard, because it requires tolerance of unequal gender outcomes, if we assume that there is a large (biological) gender difference in more thing- vs more people-oriented interests, which will generally make the hardcore nerd group very gender-imbalanced. So it may ‘merely’ require some people to give up on some of their axioms on which they have built their ideology, which is a tall order.

To stick with video games, take for example the YouTube channel Extra Credits â Iâd put them (certainly at least the two guys who founded it) on the âhard coreâ or âinsiderâ side of video games, but they advocate the more âSJâ position (and this position was what the original two guys took from the beginning).

I’m not familiar enough with all their work to judge them, but this seems positive.

• quaelegit says:

>Russian pronunciation

Cool, thanks for answering. Interestingly, English Wikipedia actually pronounces it more like “Putjin”, but I’m willing to believe Wiki isn’t quite right — or using a different Russian accent than the guy you were talking to đ

>optimism
Agree this is hard… if it was easy there wouldn’t so much controversy! But I appreciate you sharing the hope and trying to end the comment on a positive note.

>Extra Credits

Well, I really like their work đ

They’ve been making content for so long (and I’ve seen less than half of it) so I’m not confident I can summarize their position (and I understand GG even less well so definitely not in context of that). But they definitely advocate for make video games accessible to a broader audience in a way more inline with the outside interests in Patterson’s article than the inside/”weird nerd” position she advocates. I don’t know if they’ve taken a stance on diversifying the work place like (I think) she is talking about with the discussion with Nate Silver, but my guess is they would be more sympathetic to the “outside” argument of being less insular.

No, Wikipedia’s right. The Russian name is ĐŃÌŃĐžĐœ, so the “P” at the beginning is not palatized, and medial “T” is. It’s not just a question of a Russian accent. In Russian, palatized and unpalatized consonants are different sounds.

• Winter Shaker says:

why did you use âgjâ to obscure* the controversy-name? It seems like a really weird choice to me

Coincidentally, it was about Er*n Gj*ni đ

• quaelegit says:

I had to look up the controversy to see what this was referring to, but good point! I’m sure this has some deep kabalistic implications đ

• Kevin C. says:

Of course, then the question is then how nerds can defend their culture

We can’t. (Paging Dr. BeatâŠ)

• dndnrsn says:

This seems to mostly be about the tech industry, maybe tangentially the games industry – things where there’s lots of money. What elements of “nerd culture” are bringing in people because there’s suddenly more money now?

The element of “nerd culture” I’m probably most familiar with is pen and paper RPGs, which, honestly, don’t make that much money. Even D&D is pretty small potatoes. That and the kind of computer games that don’t make much money either (there’s no culture war in, say, heavy-duty grognard wargames, even though there should be; root out the Wehraboos say I!). There’s no sudden influx of kids who used to shove people in lockers attracted by the scent of money and status. The tech industry might have people who are actual breaux (I’m spelling it that way in case there’s a filter) who would have gone into finance but can instead make an app. Etc. There is no sudden influx of people who were popular in high school into the kind of RPGs where you just sort of say “yeah, it’s like D&D, except with [HP Lovecraft/robots/actually, just say it’s like D&D and leave it at that]”.

What there is, in several areas of “nerd culture” or “fandom” or whatever you want to call it, is a sort of civil war. The idea that there were no women? False; I mean, look at old-timey Star Trek fandom -some parts of nerd culture have plenty of women (although I’d guess the grognards have next to no women). And at least some of the charges of sexism are for real. Like, there are people who are a) nerds and b) unpleasant not in the “lacks social graces” fashion, but in the “it’s a good thing this guy lacks social graces because if he did he’d be the kind of predator who can charm people into thinking he’s not” way.

L’affaire d’ants did have at least some people who saw it as an opportunity to harass women on the internet. Some of them got in after it started, seeing an opportunity, but at least some of them were there beforehand. That there were shitty people on both sides doesn’t excuse the shitty people on either side, and it’s not a good idea to ignore the shitty people on your own side. Nerd culture does have a bad side. Let’s not pretend it’s just a nice warm cozy place for people who get shoved in lockers.

And, depending on what area of nerd space you’re talking about – the places without the enticement of money, certainly – the shitty behaviour is nerd-on-nerd: it’s not the cool girls who have stories about trying to play D&D and being treated in shitty ways by guys. It’s the nerd girls. They’re us. They’re not the natural allies of the writes-for-clickbait-feminist sites who in many cases seem to have taken an opportunity to move the “horrible misogynist” mantle from the high school football team to the guys who can’t even do masculinity correctly – I mean, the more contemptible someone is, the more contempt you can have for them, right? Just as the loser guys aren’t the natural allies of shitty fraternity-type guys who realized that there’s fewer consequences for yelling slurs on Halo than out in the street.

Nerds have to deal with problem elements in their culture instead of having a situation where people who actually are outsiders are making nerds into their pawns or scapegoats or whatever. The “it turns out that the people we bullied in high school for being weak actually ARE terrible in every way” crew are shitty and often fantasists, but that doesn’t mean that nerd culture is clean.

• quaelegit says:

> What elements of ânerd cultureâ are bringing in people because thereâs suddenly more money now?

Board games have seen a renaissance. Definitely much smaller than the tech industry and I don’t know if its bringing in non-nerds…

And of course video games have gotten much bigger over the decades, but I get the sense they were always a money-maker and has been getting bigger in matching step with computers in general. It also seems pyramidal (more like Hollywood than tech industry) so idk if its drawing people in for money and status.

• bean says:

thereâs no culture war in, say, heavy-duty grognard wargames, even though there should be; root out the Wehraboos say I!

Hear hear!

I’m not certain I’m with you on the larger issue. There are obviously bad people in the “weird nerd” camp, and they probably manage to survive at least partially due to the “we’re all outsiders”/geek social fallacies nature of the camp. But the outsiders aren’t coming after them because of those people. They’re coming because they’re the same people who shoved people into lockers in high school, and weird outsiders are good targets.

• dndnrsn says:

But the tolerance of shitty nerds by other gives the bullies a chance to say they’re the cavalry riding in to save nerd girls, rather than the mean girls who bullied the nerd girls in high school, etc. Pretexts are pretexts, but people can usually tell a stronger from a weaker pretext. Besides, it’s virtuous to clean up one’s territory; circling the wagons around the shitty nerds is the opposite of that. If nerds are going to get bullied one way or another, they might as well be virtuous.

• The Nybbler says:

This is an exceedingly weak pretext. In any case, it is not possible for nerds to police all nerd spaces; if nothing else, you’ll end up with some spaces where the shitty nerds dominate. Furthermore, the correct response to a clearly unjustified broadside attack by a hostile enemy is not to engage in self-doubt and ask “what could we have done to provoke this?” That response indicates subservience and weakness and only invites more attacks.

• John Schilling says:

Pretexts are pretexts, but people can usually tell a stronger from a weaker pretext.

Right. Like the way the American people recognized that the Maine had been sunk by an internal explosion and that even if it had been sabotage would probably not have represented the official policy of the Spanish government, and so called bullshit on William Randolph Hearst and didn’t proceed to destroy the Spanish Empire. Because that was a weak pretext, and people are pretty good at recognizing weak pretexts.

People who aren’t nerds, use narrative to determine Good from Evil, True from False. And there are always narratives to inspire and incite on either side of every issue. There’s always a Maine, and Alamo, a Lusitania or a Pearl Harbor; there’s always an Ellen Pao or a Susan Fowler, and if “nerd culture” is 99.99% effective at expelling misogynists there will still be more than enough narratives of nerdish misogyny to have everyone on both sides saying “that’s it, I’ve heard enough”. True narratives, complete fabrications, misinterpretations, nerds who never were tolerated, and the merely nerd-adjacent. If the zeitgeist is “nerds are misogynists”, those are the narratives that will circulate unquestioned.

And if there are ways to defend against that sort of attack, they don’t depend on the strength or weakness of the pretext the enemy uses to justify the attack. Remember the Maine, and remember that Spain lost.

• dndnrsn says:

The existence of shitty nerds and complaints about them long predates the attacks from clickbait sites, though. Girls trying to play D&D and being treated shitty, or whatever, was on the radar long before the “righteous crusade against the misogynerds” became part of the zeitgeist. The “Geek Social Fallacies” article certainly precedes it – it’s from 2003, I think. The whole “we must shove the nerds back in the locker!” shtick is, what, 5 years old, 10 at the most?

Besides, forget about it being a response to an attack. It’s good in and of itself.

• dndnrsn says:

@John Schilling

People who arenât nerds, use narrative to determine Good from Evil, True from False.

Are nerds free from the seductive lure of the narrative?

“We’ve torn the mask off of misogyny, Scooby Doo-style, and it turns out it was the nerds all along! Forget about the quarterbacks, it’s the guys who can’t perform masculinity adequately!” is a narrative. “The mean girls and bully jocks from high school have come back, and this time they’ve figured out how the internet works, and they have tactical wokeness! We need to protect ourselves!” is also a narrative.

Maybe you’re right, and a pretext is a pretext. Even if it’s not gonna get the cool kids to go away, getting rid of the guy who thinks trying to rape NPCs is funny is good in and of itself.

(And if the cool kids are the US, and the nerds are Spain, we’re kinda screwed anyway, eh? Might as well learn how to sports while we still have time)

• John Schilling says:

The existence of shitty nerds and complaints about them long predates the attacks from clickbait sites, though.

Did I not say that there are always such stories? And always will be, no matter what you do, no matter how powerful an alliance of nerds you recruit to purge “geek culture” of misogyny. 0.01% is enough. Really, 0.00% is enough; Spanish saboteurs actually sank 0.00% of the warships in the US Navy.

The whole âwe must shove the nerds back in the locker!â shtick is, what, 5 years old, 10 at the most?

And #MeToo is maybe one year old at the most, yet stories of Hollywood producers in general and even Harvey Weinstein in particular extorting sexual favors from young ingĂ©nues go back decades. Whether or not your community will be the target of a coordinated attack, is at best weakly correlated with whether you’ve done anything to deserve it or whether the nasty stories people tell about you are true. And once you come under attack, it’s absolutely too late to not deserve it. The stories to justify the attack will still be there. So will the reasons for the attack, which have very little to do with the stories.

Besides, forget about it being a response to an attack. Itâs good in and of itself.

Why should I forget about it? Two posts ago, you thought that was the strongest argument you could make.

If it’s a good thing in and of itself, make that argument. But if it’s a good thing that isn’t any help in defending against an unjust attack, don’t expect the victims of that attack to leap at the chance to say, “Hey, instead of defending ourself against an unjust attack, we could do this completely unrelated good thing instead!”

• dndnrsn says:

What’s the reason for the attack, in this case? All I know is that this seems to be a pretty recent thing, and I can’t think of any “floodgates burst” type event like with Weinstein – some people might say it was the ants business, but for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on I think I remember there being stuff in that vein before that. It was more of a slow burn.

Maybe you’re right and people will take whatever they can as a pretext. But surely there are cases where the pretext failed? I’d like to think better of people than that they’ll take literally any pretext. I don’t think it’s the strongest argument I could make – I made the strongest argument I could make in my original reply, which is that, the female nerds who the shitty male nerds are nasty to are still nerds. We shouldn’t let resentment at outsiders with a fairly weak pretext cloud our judgment with regard to some nerds being shitty to other nerds.

EDIT: And, how does one defend one’s self against an unjust attack, if it’s just as effective as a just attack?

• The Nybbler says:

Whatâs the reason for the attack, in this case?

For some, power; the sheer joy of taking something away from someone else. Bullying is an end in itself. For others, as one pundit suggested, “femidicy”; the problem of (the lack of) women in tech. There has been attempt after attempt to do something about this; most have had no effect, some have had some temporary effect that went away quickly. The interventions have gotten more and more heavy-handed and still the needle barely moves. So what’s a non-biological-difference believing person to think? The narrative (pushed by the natural bullies) that the problem is the horrible men in tech seems a good one to seize upon.

All I know is that this seems to be a pretty recent thing, and I canât think of any âfloodgates burstâ type event like with Weinstein

And you won’t see one, because there’s no massive reality like there was with Weinstein. Instead, it’s been pushing by activists like Valerie Aurora and Shanley Kane.

• dndnrsn says:

But why now? “There’s not enough women in STEM” is a lot older than “nerds, specifically, are misogynists, and they’re the worst misogynists”. 5 or 10 years ago, the stereotypical misogynist was a football jock, or a frat guy, or a social conservative.

I can see why there’d be a push for changing the demographics of the tech industry, because the amount of money to be made has increased. Ditto video gaming, or the more profitable parts of it. But, nerd stuff in general, I’m not sure what string of events led to the current trope that, I don’t know, “the nerd just used his superior cunning to deceive the world into thinking it was the jock who was the misogynist” or whatever.

• Randy M says:

Besides, forget about it being a response to an attack. Itâs good in and of itself.

Right, just like even if there is no global warming, it is virtuous to end pollution, so how could anyone oppose fighting global warming?

The devil is in the details.

• John Schilling says:

Whatâs the reason for the attack, in this case? […] But why now?

I can only speculate, but:

1. All the old reasons still apply. To people for whom mainstream social status games are the purpose of life, people who conspicuously don’t play those games are either a threat or a target.

2. Stories move in cycles, and the cycle of stories that began in the mid-80s about cool nerds has run its course.

3. The bit where nerds made cool stuff that made ordinary people’s lives richer, is maybe also run its course and now the nerds are making scary stuff instead.

4. “Not enough women in STEM”, as a mainstream concern, is new. Ten years ago, almost nobody but nerds and busybodies cared, because only nerds wanted STEM jobs in the first places and everybody knew Real Women Aren’t Nerds. Now STEM jobs are seen, wrongly but widely, as the only bastion of middle-class stability left in a collapsing economic order.

5. Team Social Justice needs a steady supply of new targets to postpone the day when it begins feeding on itself. Tag, we’re it.

6. I don’t know and I don’t care. Once the war starts, it doesn’t matter what caused it, because it won’t end until someone is defeated or both sides recognize the stalemate.

And, how does one defend oneâs self against an unjust attack, if itâs just as effective as a just attack?

Armored cruisers with 8″ guns, obviously. Or whatever sort of weapon is appropriate to the attack at hand, but that’s a question that is pretty much unrelated to the justice or injustice of the attack. Nerds have always known that how you fight and why you fight are two different things.

• Matt M says:

5. Team Social Justice needs a steady supply of new targets to postpone the day when it begins feeding on itself. Tag, weâre it.

I think it’s basically this. Nerds are collateral damage in a larger war that’s basically unrelated to nerds specifically. I think this is simply an issue of feminists looking for the lowest-status male-dominated group they can find, and attacking it with full force. It just happened to be nerds.

• dndnrsn says:

@Randy M

But the opposite – “the bullies want us to do x, so we must do not-x” seems kind of a bad option too.

@John Schilling

Whatever we’re calling that particular chunk of the activist left, they already go after each other all the time. The phrase “left-wing circular firing squad” isn’t new – used to apply to the old-school economic leftist types, and it applies to the campus-style activist pseudo-leftist types. If there’s some scheme, or just an instinct, to attack other groups to avoid internal conflict – it obviously isn’t working.

As for fighting back – what way is there to do it? Most people don’t like nerds, or at least, they don’t like the weird kind of nerds. Male nerds are significantly more likely than the population average to be bad at doing masculinity, not in the “actively-resisting” way, but in the far lamer “trying-and-failing” way. Ditto female nerds and being bad at doing femininity, almost certainly. What way to fight back is there without looking like the bad guy? Going anti-feminist probably hasn’t helped, and it’s allowed some people who are pretty dicey to slip in.

Honestly, probably just best to play possum – I think already the wind is shifting and more public acknowledgment that some guys who are really loud Male Feminists are actually gigantic sleazebags, or worse, when it comes to how they treat women. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part – after all, part of the drum I’m known to bang is that the Venn diagram of “loud male feminists I know” and “guys I know who have credible accounts of sexual assault against them” has a pretty heavy overlap.

@Matt M

Are you positing that as a conscious thing, or as something less conscious the incentives lead to?

• Matt M says:

Probably conscious for the extremists who have some sort of leadership, but not conscious for the 99% rank and file true believers.

• dndnrsn says:

But what’s the point? I mean, extremists tend to be true believers. Someone may be unconsciously doing something different from what they consciously think they’re doing, and someone can still be a true believer and be doing that – we all have to be careful that our actions are congruent with our stated goals.

I’m just not sure I understand what the point of that would be. I mean, I take the view that it’s rare that one group of men or another in a given culture is going to be significantly more misogynistic in their actual actions than another, other things being equal – is there evidence that American men who watch baseball are worse to women than American men who watch Twitch streams, or vice versa?

So the “it’s the nerds who are the bad ones!” stuff is, in the main, just unconscious negative feelings towards nerds – or, towards male nerds who are just kind of loserish and bad at doing masculinity right and so on, or the subset of male nerds who are like that – getting interpreted by the conscious mind in this case as “I don’t like these people; they must be doing something wrong.” Then actual things that are bad get found, instead of the other way around. This is a human thing to do – I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of someone just annoying us for some reason, and finding reasons to believe they’re a bad person who deserves our enmity.

I’d suspect that in reality, in terms of actually doing bad actions towards women, higher-status men are bigger offenders, because they can get away with it more. But they only fall when their status gets damaged and they’re weaker – after all, that’s one theory with regard to Weinstein, that he’d been able to successfully suppress one way or another all attempts at exposes. And the theory goes that, his power took a hit when Clinton lost the election – when the candidate he’d backed lost. And then the article hit. Or maybe that’s just a coincidence, and one expose was going to escape kiboshing sooner or later, and it just happened to come through when it did.

I’m thinking out loud here, but I guess I’m saying, I find the following plausible:
-everyone except weird nerds has a little bit of a disgust reaction to weird nerds. They’re weird! They dress funny and they smell and they probably don’t even lift, bro.
-people interpret this disgust reaction in a way congruent with their beliefs. Note that I’m not judging the beliefs; whether someone’s beliefs are good or bad doesn’t affect whether or not they interpret irrational stuff through the lens of their beliefs. I think my beliefs are good, but I will still process irrational stuff through my beliefs. It’s how being a human being works, for most of us.
-there’s enough actual shitty behaviour by the sub-population of shitty weird nerds to hang that reaction on. It’s not at a level though that would cause any issues if the group wasn’t one where there wasn’t that disgust reaction.
-the end result is that because a group does have some shitty behaviour, and is comparatively low status, they catch more flak than they would if they were higher status and had the same behaviour. If all of a sudden everybody decided that high school and college football players were loser dorks, they’d probably suddenly catch a ton more shit – I’d wager that your average high school’s football team creates more overall harm for women than that high school’s D&D club.

I think this probably explains things than actual intentional attempts to hit a low-status target for… why, exactly?

• Trofim_Lysenko says:

@Dndnrsn

But the opposite â âthe bullies want us to do x, so we must do not-xâ seems kind of a bad option too.

Sorry if this comes across as dogpiling, but the one point I’d make is that this really depends on what “x” and “not-x” are. In the case of nerd-dom culture wars, I can go down the list like so:

Demand: “We must promote and privilege minority-authored works and works that speak to their interests and POVs to counter nerd-doms white cishet maleness!”

Reply: “No. If a story I like prominently features a lesbian couple (Barbary Station) or deliberately provocative/subversive alien genders, sex, and “other”-ness (Xenogenesis trilogy), then fine. And if not? Then also fine. There is no diversity points section in my grading rubric for games/movies/literature, and I will criticize anyone who argues for one.”

Demand: “Objectification of females in visual media is gross, immoral, and offensive! We need to clean up this filth because it’s sending the wrong message to people and might even contribute to antisocial or abusive conduct!”

Reply: “No. I’m all for equal-opportunity in eye candy, and all for intelligent, meaningful characters that aren’t JUST eye candy, but I’m not going to roll over when someone tells me that Dresden Files is ‘Problematic’ because it contains so many detailed descriptions of how pretty the female characters are.”

Demand: “You must do more to police your community! Expel the creepy guys who have found refuge in fandom and make it a Safe Space for women again!”

Reply: “Maybe. I already am more than ready to speak to socially inappropriate people I encounter in social settings, so on the one hand I think I’m already on board with this. But I’m also going to do so with more empathy and yes, looser standards than a corporate workplace with a zero tolerance policy. If that’s not enough for you, tough, and I will actively resist the sort of two-minute hate bullshit that so often gets stirred up against guys who wear shirts covered with sci-fi cheesecake.”

I didn’t care for would-be moral guardians when they were panicking over Dark Dungeons, and I don’t like them any better now that the cultural valence has flipped. Six of one, Half a dozen of the other.

• Matt M says:

I think this probably explains things than actual intentional attempts to hit a low-status target forâŠ why, exactly?

They want to hit men. But there are two problems.

1. There are still plenty of people out there who would object to painting such a huge group with such a broad brush. “Not all men” and whatnot.

2. They want allies. Male allies in particular, to legitimize their cause and make it seem like they aren’t generically attacking all men.

Therefore, they need a small group to attack that are predominately men and also an easy target. A group already marginalized enough that they can’t effectively fight back. I’d be willing to bet just about anything that, per capita, NFL players are more likely to abuse women than nerds are. But NFL players are high status and can fight back, so that makes a terrible target.

• John Schilling says:

As for fighting back â what way is there to do it? Most people donât like nerds, or at least, they donât like the weird kind of nerds.

One way that nerds have traditionally fought back is to form their own communities, by and for nerds and centered around weird hobbies and judging their members by nerdish standards. This negates the usual weapons deployed against nerds – ostracism and shame – and it doesn’t matter that “most people” don’t like nerds like me, it only matters that most people in my community do like people like me.

When someone says “You nerds should go expunge your communities of the Wrong Sort of Nerds; maybe if you do the Cool People will join your clubs”, that is effectively an attack on two fronts however naively well-intentioned it might have been.

• The Nybbler says:

-thereâs enough actual shitty behaviour by the sub-population of shitty weird nerds to hang that reaction on.

There really is not. That’s why they have to reach to “microaggressions” and declaring various typical nerd behaviors (such as attention to what normies would consider irrelevant details) to be shitty by decree.

• dndnrsn says:

@Trofim_Lysenko

I mean more, “the baddie outsider bullies are making all sorts of demands, and in return we must refuse to do anything to remove the people who even we find objectionable! Not one step back!” is a bad response.

Other than that, representation is a thorny issue. Even people who try to do it right can get roasted. I think an encouraging trend is that now little girls, black kids, etc are getting their superhero movies and Star Warses and such; truly it will be a glorious day when dorky 13-year-olds of many genders and races can see heroes who look like them on screens. But that’s not the result of “oh jeez we gotta get some representation in here or else people will call our Irrelevant Sci Fi Award Show undiverse”, it’s the result of the Free Market – Black Panther wasn’t made because Marvel and co decided they needed to Promote Diversity, it was made because there was money in it [grinning ancap ball]. (Hot take: the mark of acceptance is the degree to which capitalism tries to sell you stuff).

With regard to silly eye candy type stuff, I find it a little embarrassing, but I doubt it actually results in real-world badness. There’s no proof that anime tiddy raises the chance of offences against three-dimensional women. Speaking anecdotally, the predatory guys I know who got/get away with it were pretty slick and charismatic, not basement nerds. Also I’m a pedant who’s likely to say “no, chainmail bikinis aren’t a thing, nor is boob armour. Do you know what armour even does.” In my fantasy worlds everyone dresses practically.

With regard to guys who behave badly… I think that’s the weak point. It’s the Geek Social Fallacy – “sure, Jeff keeps saying really inappropriate shit, and makes women uncomfortable, but he’s One Of Us.” I think this one is more important than the other two because it’s the one that was a standing complaint before it was decided that nerds couldn’t be trusted to properly curate nerd stuff, and it because it involves actual offences against other nerds (the female ones, mostly) rather than offending the sensibilities of people who don’t know how to roll dice there aren’t actual physical dice for.

A lot of the complaints are “fiction affects reality more than the other way around” which is the weird overlap of critical studies and bible-thumpers – you mention Dark Dungeons. There’s never been any real proof that D&D makes people worship Satan, that GTA makes them violent, or that porn makes them rape.

@Matt M

But why do you assume it’s a conscious strategic calculation? Even actual strategic calculations – “who do we invade next” type stuff – get made fairly irrationally. There’s no war room where they’re deciding “we must pound Nerdistan into the dust to show the United Jock Federation that we are willing to go to war”.

@John Schilling

I’m under no illusion that the Cool Kids want to come and sling dice with me. The ones who do are secret nerds anyway. But the Wrong Sort of Nerds are the kind of people who should be (but often aren’t) kicked out of any community – “Jeff makes women uncomfortable and nobody really likes him but if we tell him to get lost we might as well be locker-stuffers ourselves” is just the nerd version. Every community has their own excuse for why they don’t kick out the shitty members – “we can’t win the big trophy without him so we’ll ignore what he does to women”, “sure she’s predatory and abusive but she’s done some really good activist work and anyway she doesn’t have Male Gaze”, “sure he’s a diddler but handing him over to the secular authorities undermines religious authority”, etc.

@The Nybbler

I don’t know that we have hard numbers about any of this. I think, though, that the reason that some people focus on, say, microaggressions, is that their worldview is one where those things really are in the same league as plain old regular-scale aggressions. If they’ve adopted that worldview for unconscious reasons, sure, that might be the case, often is, but I don’t think they’re consciously thinking “well, we have nothing to go on, let’s invent microaggressions.”

• The Nybbler says:

@dndnrsn

No matter how many ways you write words with the implication of “maybe it’s the nerds’ fault that they’re being attacked, and maybe the SJ people have a point”, the answer is “no”. Not “we’re alike you and I”, not “hey there actually are some bad people around”, not “shouldn’t we clean up our house before defending ourselves”, and certainly not “women find nerd habits discomforting, we should stop them”.

“sure, Jeff keeps saying really inappropriate shit, and makes women uncomfortable[…]”

Stop right there. What’s Jeff saying? Is he insisting on telling everyone around (including the women) about the latest episode of Anime Quest? Does he refuse to shut up about his pet tarantula? Is he explaining in great detail (and for the umpteenth time) some bit of minutia that everyone knows already? Or is he saying “hey baby nice bewbs come sit on my face”? Because here’s an open secret: most women find the habits of the stereotypical male nerd off-putting. One might accurately say that people who act like stereotypical nerds “make them uncomfortable”. Which means that when you say that making women uncomfortable is per se wrong, you’re saying that women not liking nerds is a moral failure on the part of the nerds. Which is a quite typical thing coming from the feminist side (see Dr. Cheryan’s battle over Star Trek paraphenalia), but from a male nerd perspective it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to ostracize another male nerd because women don’t like him.

So called Geek Social Fallacy #1 isn’t a fallacy at all. It’s a fence, and it doesn’t take Chesterton to find the reason for it. Nerds are often people who have been ostracized from a whole lot of other places. They know that when the ostracizing starts in a nerd space, it won’t be long before they lose that space too. People coming in and saying “Hey, nice leper colony… we just need to get rid of the lepers” are properly treated as threats.

• dndnrsn says:

No matter how many ways you write words with the implication of âmaybe itâs the nerdsâ fault that theyâre being attacked, and maybe the SJ people have a pointâ, the answer is ânoâ. Not âweâre alike you and Iâ, not âhey there actually are some bad people aroundâ, not âshouldnât we clean up our house before defending ourselvesâ, and certainly not âwomen find nerd habits discomforting, we should stop themâ.

When I spend probably too many paragraphs describing how a group’s low status can lead to them catching more flak than they deserve, I’m not sure how you get the implication that I’m saying they deserve it. But “well, we’re better than college football teams and movie execs” is a low bar.

There was a guy I knew back in school. He was an awkward nerd. He also was really prone to major violations of women’s boundaries, sometimes in ways that straight up broke the law – groping type stuff. He did some other sleazy stuff too. On the one hand, he probably got more flak for this than he would have had he not been an awkward nerd – he got called “rapey” publicly while slicker and more charismatic serial rapists had their actions whispered about. But on the other hand, we other awkward nerds didn’t violate women’s boundaries like he did: “finds eye contact aggressive” or “won’t shut up about nerdy shit” are in a different bucket from “sticks hands up girls’ skirts uninvited” and “won’t take no for an answer.”

Stop right there. Whatâs Jeff saying? Is he insisting on telling everyone around (including the women) about the latest episode of Anime Quest? Does he refuse to shut up about his pet tarantula? Is he explaining in great detail (and for the umpteenth time) some bit of minutia that everyone knows already? Or is he saying âhey baby nice bewbs come sit on my faceâ? Because hereâs an open secret: most women find the habits of the stereotypical male nerd off-putting. One might accurately say that people who act like stereotypical nerds âmake them uncomfortableâ. Which means that when you say that making women uncomfortable is per se wrong, youâre saying that women not liking nerds is a moral failure on the part of the nerds. Which is a quite typical thing coming from the feminist side (see Dr. Cheryanâs battle over Star Trek paraphenalia), but from a male nerd perspective it doesnât make a whole lot of sense to ostracize another male nerd because women donât like him.

I mean the last one. The first two are annoying to everyone; I don’t think that when it’s a woman saying “this guy won’t shut the fuck up about anime” that’s different from anyone else saying it. Being annoying isn’t a crime. Harassment, on the other hand…

The kind of women who find “stereotypical nerd habits” uncomfortable, and especially the kind of women who go from “this annoys me” to “this makes me feel uncomfortable” to “this makes me feel unsafe”, are probably not trying to join D&D campaigns. (They’d also probably do well to consider that it often can be the people who are the best at not tripping your discomfort sensors who are the most dangerous.)

The women who are trying to join D&D campaigns are generally nerds themselves, which mean that they’re more likely than the general population average to be awkward and so on. Lady nerds are probably not more likely than guy nerds to find awkward but at worst annoying nerd behaviour offputting. I am talking about stuff that falls under “harassment” or worse, not “lack of social skills” or “spectrum-y behaviour”.

I am not talking about “let’s kick all the nerds out of D&D so we can have women who don’t like nerds come in” and – based on my above post – I think I’m making it clear I don’t like the conflation of “these people annoy me” with “these people are bad and dangerous” (and conversely, confusing “this person puts me at my ease” with “this person is good and safe” can be very dangerous) ; I’m saying that there are already a decent number of female nerds, who get harassed or worse by the Jeffs, and then everybody else makes excuses for Jeff, because telling him to stop that, and failing that to fuck off, would be mean or bullying or whatever.

So called Geek Social Fallacy #1 isnât a fallacy at all. Itâs a fence, and it doesnât take Chesterton to find the reason for it. Nerds are often people who have been ostracized from a whole lot of other places. They know that when the ostracizing starts in a nerd space, it wonât be long before they lose that space too. People coming in and saying âHey, nice leper colonyâŠ we just need to get rid of the lepersâ are properly treated as threats.

When does ostracizing turn into protecting sleazy people? Guy I knew, he would behave in a way that he knew was not cool, and that the other awkward nerds didn’t do. He’d also use “oh I’m just an awkward nerd I didn’t know that was something I’m not supposed to do!” as an excuse. I’ll see your leper colony analogy and raise you “we can’t put that kidnapper in prison! Why, that would be KIDNAPPING him!”

“This is a space for people who get treated badly elsewhere because they’re weird and awkward”
is good. “This is a space where predators know they can survive as long as they pretend it’s just them being weird and awkward” is bad, just like how “this is a space where predators know they can survive as long as they can throw a ball real good” or “this is a space where predators know they can survive as long as they have the right politics” are bad.

• Matt M says:

But why do you assume itâs a conscious strategic calculation? Even actual strategic calculations â âwho do we invade nextâ type stuff â get made fairly irrationally. Thereâs no war room where theyâre deciding âwe must pound Nerdistan into the dust to show the United Jock Federation that we are willing to go to warâ.

I obviously can’t prove it, but I simply disagree. I’m not saying it’s common, as I said, it’s the extreme 1% of feminists who are calculating this stuff. But I do think there are some who are doing exactly that. Thinking calmly and rationally about which male-oriented groups they can target first.

Everyone else just falls in line.

And I don’t think your analogy about invading countries is apt. I think there are a whole lot of people thinking really damn hard about which countries to invade and why. You may disagree with their logic. You may find them morally objectionable. But it’s not like there is no logic. It’s not like nobody is being really calculating about this.

• The Nybbler says:

When I spend probably too many paragraphs describing how a groupâs low status can lead to them catching more flak than they deserve, Iâm not sure how you get the implication that Iâm saying they deserve it. But âwell, weâre better than college football teams and movie execsâ is a low bar.

Because there’s always a “but”, as I’ve emphasized above. You write a bunch of apparently-sympathetic words, but you keep coming back to the same thesis.

Not to mention when given alternate explanations for the hostility, you just kinda blow them off.

The kind of women who find âstereotypical nerd habitsâ uncomfortable, and especially the kind of women who go from âthis annoys meâ to âthis makes me feel uncomfortableâ to âthis makes me feel unsafeâ, are probably not trying to join D&D campaigns.

I don’t know that. They’re all over tech. They’re apparently in Magic: The Gathering. I don’t play D&D, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find them there. There was that ridiculous “Tabletop Gaming Has a White Male Terrorism Problem” article, after all; that’s a different kind of attack but it’s related.

I think Iâm making it clear I donât like the conflation of âthese people annoy meâ with âthese people are bad and dangerousâ

And yet you used the usefully ambiguous “makes women uncomfortable” as an example of bad nerd behavior yourself.

• dndnrsn says:

What is the point of their calculation? Is nerd space, like, the Baltic states? Is there realpolitik going on?

I suppose that my general belief is that incompetence (in this sense, incompetence at recognizing one’s own unconscious motivations, and decoupling “these people are gross” from “these people are bad (or, worse than average)” ) is far more powerful than malice (or, to put it less negatively, calculation).

I suspect that the vast majority of clear-headed calculation as to or whatever that is done is about personal calculation within the group – in this case, within activist spaces or the gender studies faculty or whatever. The same pattern recurs within most groups – what’s the maxim that states that people care more about their advancement within the group than the group’s advancement?

• Trofim_Lysenko says:

@dndnrsn

One of the reasons I listed out the specific types of demands I commonly see was to try and illustrate that in at least some of those cases “Not one step back, comrades!” maybe IS the correct response. I’m much more willing to vocally defend “problematic” works with dodgy gender/race/sexual content and to push back against calls for diversity/representation for its own sake than I would be absent the current climate. While I might find some stuff embarrassing or crude, I’ll defend it in a heartbeat against the sort of criticism that’s been rolling around over the past decade or so because I’d rather have a culture where that sort of thing is tolerated with a bit of eyerolling than one where it’s driven out.

And while I think I fall somewhere between you and Nybbler in the argument about creepy/unpleasant people in geeky subcultures, I have to come down more on his side at the end of the day. I’m already willing to call out what I perceive as bad behavior in my social circles. I am exceedingly skeptical of any attempt to broaden that definition or to defer to others’ definitions for precisely the reason outlines in the last paragraph of his latest post. I will acknowledge that there are creepy/shitty people in geek subculture. It MAY even be true that they exist in greater relative frequency than mainstream culture at large due to evaporative social cooling. That does not, in my opinion, constitute sufficient reason to change my current standards.

• dndnrsn says:

Because thereâs always a âbutâ, as Iâve emphasized above. You write a bunch of apparently-sympathetic words, but you keep coming back to the same thesis.

There is a problem with guys who are badly behaved towards women. There’s a problem with that in a lot of groups. Nerds are probably about average as regards that problem. There are groups that are worse. Nerds catch unfair flak because low-status people always catch more flak than they would were they higher status. That there is an unfair attack on the group as a whole is a different issue from there actually being some shittiness within the group that predated the attack. Shittiness within a group is bad for people in that group. I’m not sure what I’m saying here that is objectionable.

Not to mention when given alternate explanations for the hostility, you just kinda blow them off.

My explanation is this: in profitable places, it’s about profit-seeking or rent-seeking (the former is more sympathetic). In unprofitable places, it’s about “gross=bad.”

I donât know that. Theyâre all over tech. Theyâre apparently in Magic: The Gathering. I donât play D&D, but I wouldnât be at all surprised to find them there. There was that ridiculous âTabletop Gaming Has a White Male Terrorism Problemâ article, after all; thatâs a different kind of attack but itâs related.

There’s a major cash incentive in tech, and especially a major cash incentive for people to seek admin/HR type jobs that don’t actually involve being good at tech. I don’t know anything about Magic. D&D is profitable enough that there’s probably an incentive there. Women in nerd spaces complaining not about the nerd spaces being full of nerds, but complaining about being straight up treated badly – to a quantity of badly most people would recognize as such – is older than the general “carve out some space by fulminating against the deudbreaux” trend that’s across the place. I’ve noticed that there’s been a tendency to equivocate between shitty stuff in video gaming and shitty stuff in analog gaming.

And yet you used the usefully ambiguous âmakes women uncomfortableâ as an example of bad nerd behavior yourself.

I was being unclear. I did not mean “annoying behaviour that annoys everyone”; I meant harassing-type behaviour. I should have clarified that I meant “stuff that should make people uncomfortable”, not the way that “uncomfortable” has come to mean “annoyed” and “unsafe” has come to mean “uncomfortable”.

• dndnrsn says:

@Trofim_Lysenko

One of the reasons I listed out the specific types of demands I commonly see was to try and illustrate that in at least some of those cases âNot one step back, comrades!â maybe IS the correct response. Iâm much more willing to vocally defend âproblematicâ works with dodgy gender/race/sexual content and to push back against calls for diversity/representation for its own sake than I would be absent the current climate. While I might find some stuff embarrassing or crude, Iâll defend it in a heartbeat against the sort of criticism thatâs been rolling around over the past decade or so because Iâd rather have a culture where that sort of thing is tolerated with a bit of eyerolling than one where itâs driven out.

I’d say, on that stuff, yeah. But there’s a big gap between “if you want a story with x in it, words are free and anyone can write”, or “chainmail bikinis are lame and dorky but there’s zero evidence they hurt anyone” on the one hand, and “we can’t kick Jeff out of the group – he’s part of the group!” on the other.

One of my general beliefs is that actions matter more than words – I feel weird spelling that out, but I guess it’s not as universal a view in some parts as it used to be? I’ll defend the people who are just kind of embarrassing, or whose views are retrograde but I don’t think they’re harmful. They’re not the problem. But I’ve been a part of too many communities that tolerate people who actually do bad things – in some of them, nobody says boo about the bad people because they’re funny and charming, or they have the right politics (I remember someone remarking that a guy couldn’t be a predator – after all, he went to all the anti-sexual-harassment society meetings!). I don’t think “we can’t ostracize Jeff for being a groper because we are ourselves a society of the ostracized” is a good reason either.

And while I think I fall somewhere between you and Nybbler in the argument about creepy/unpleasant people in geeky subcultures, I have to come down more on his side at the end of the day. Iâm already willing to call out what I perceive as bad behavior in my social circles. I am exceedingly skeptical of any attempt to broaden that definition or to defer to othersâ definitions for precisely the reason outlines in the last paragraph of his latest post. I will acknowledge that there are creepy/shitty people in geek subculture. It MAY even be true that they exist in greater relative frequency than mainstream culture at large due to evaporative social cooling. That does not, in my opinion, constitute sufficient reason to change my current standards.

I’m not big on widening the definition; but “makes harassing comments repeatedly” or “gropes” are, I think, a pretty basic definition. I don’t actually think there’s more of them in nerd culture than society in general – it’s just that the person with above-average or average social graces is less noticeable than the person with lower-than-average social graces when they do a bad thing.

If you call people out when they’re shitty in a way that is serious and real, that’s good. I wish I had done that in the past. Since leaving university, I’ve had the luxury of being able to sort of let ties lapse when I thought someone was a bad person, or just unpleasant to me (someone who’s a jerk to me isn’t a bad person, but I don’t want to spend time around them either). Including with the guy who we always knew did that stuff, and more recently with a guy I’ve learned there’s a credible accusation against. If I found out someone I currently associate with was doing stuff of that variety, I’d have to deal with it in a braver way.

• [Thing] says:

dndnrsn:

Whatâs the reason for the attack, in this case? All I know is that this seems to be a pretty recent thing, and I canât think of any âfloodgates burstâ type event like with Weinstein â some people might say it was the ants business, but for some reason I canât quite put my finger on I think I remember there being stuff in that vein before that. It was more of a slow burn.

I have a theory, which I’m kind of surprised no one else has mentioned in this thread: I tend to date my earliest inkling of the coming nerd culture wars back to the late-2012 Gawker article outing Violentacrez, which, according to my admittedly hazy recollection, was also the point when I first became aware of r/ShitRedditSays, which was the first place I can remember encountering the SJ usage of the words “privilege,” “intersectionality,” and “microaggression.” Elevatorgate and “Nice Guysâą” discourse were two earlier harbingers, but I can’t remember whether I personally became aware of them before or after the Gawker exposĂ©. Anyway, the alleged bad male behavior in both those cases was less bad and less internet-related than in the Violentacrez scandal, which was perfectly calibrated to galvanize the inchoate miasma of disillusionment with our shiny new internet utopia that was starting to waft up from the hordes of MOPs arriving online following the rise of social media and smartphones.

And that’s what I put it down to. Basically, geeks had been raving for ~20 years about how their latest invention would liberate us all with the free speech and the global village and all that, some gaining a lot of wealth and status in the process, and then the MOPs found out that, in practice, this included things like non-consensual porn and r/jailbait, and they were having none of it. When the Fappening and Reproductively Viable Worker Ants came along a couple years later, it was just pouring gasoline on a fire.

I would also add that this is just one aspect of the broader phenomenon of online interactions reshaping human social life in ways that stir up the occasional shitstorm. (The concept of “context collapse,” which I came across while reading about the recent Quinn Norton-NYT skirmish, seems useful here.) Plenty of it seems to be going on more within geek culture than along the geek-normie borderlands. I saw a cool post on Tumblr today connecting the phenomenon to the incentives created by the current social media business model. It’s about the culture war in fandom communities, but the analysis seems to be equally applicable to the whole debate over callout culture among SJ activists, which is less about SJWs versus misogynist geeks than intersectional SJ versus White Feminism and the old-media establishment versus the new-media peanut gallery. So, whatever may divide geeks and normies, we seem to be united in our passion for shrieking at each other about politics online. :/

• dndnrsn says:

@[Thing]

So, you think it’s dislike of internet-related changes? I guess that ties into what @John Schilling thought part of the reason/a possible reason was.

I certainly agree that social media dynamics are on the whole bad. I’ve tried to cut back my use, and I don’t try to chase Likes in the same way I used to. It’s made me happier.

• [Thing] says:

So, you think itâs dislike of internet-related changes?

Yes, but not just how the internet has changed our conversations, also what people in different subcultures have learned about each other that they wouldn’t have known before, because they weren’t talking to each other pre-internet. That’s what context collapse is about. When non-techie feminists started participating in online communities in large numbers, they learned (a) that these communities included people like Violentacrez, and (b) that many of the geeky old-timers who built these communities were willing to defend people like Violentacrez, if only on free-speech absolutist grounds. This gave non-geek feminists two reasons to associate geek culture with misogyny that they didn’t have before.

I guess that ties into what @John Schilling thought part of the reason/a possible reason was.

Yeah, points 2-4 of John’s comment tie in pretty well with my theory.

• Wrong Species says:

Is there any strong evidence that nerds are sexually harassing women at higher rates compared to non-nerds? Because if not, this conversation is fucking pointless. This isnât like the Catholic Church where there was sold evidence of systematic abuse going on. This is a couple of anecdotes used to put down an easy target. I donât believe anyone who blame nerds for whatever problems they think they cause because itâs so easy to do so. Nerds are weird and âcreepyâ. Why would anyone who wasnât one want to defend them?

• Nornagest says:

Is there any strong evidence that nerds are sexually harassing women at higher rates compared to non-nerds?

I would be astonished if this were true, if only because nerds are much less likely to interact with women substantially. Because they’re nerds.

• Matt M says:

The streaming of video game playing is becoming a larger and larger industry… and becoming increasingly dominated by attractive young women with marginal gaming skills, but non-marginal breasts and revealing clothing.

Twitch wraps itself in the flag of nerd culture while increasingly becoming a tool to transfer money away from nerds and to attractive young women.

• dndnrsn says:

If nerds want to pay to watch attractive young women play video games, well, it’s a free market: surely transferring money from men to women through voluntary mutual exchange is the kind of feminism people around here can get behind, eh?

Besides, it’s not as though there’s much of a shortage of things people are willing to pay to watch attractive young women do. Although I’ll be surprised if “play hex-based wargames” is among them.

• Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

Literally what is the problem with this (other than people insisting we act as this is a more reputable activity than it is)?

• dark orchid says:

It depends if they’re catering to nerds or to a more mainstream audience. I’m probably projecting a lot from my own opinions but I’ve always thought of nerd culture as more asexual than mainstream male culture – take Lord of the Rings compared to Game of Thrones for example. Someone once described GoT to me as “like LotR but with incest and boobs” and so I’ve never actually watched GoT. But it’s certainly not just for nerds, if it’s for nerds at all.

Granted there’s very limited female representation in Tolkien’s writing, to the point where the film-makers thought they had to invent Tauriel, but the ones we do get like Eowyn and Galadriel can charge down a ringwraith if they have to. You never get the feeling that they were added just for the sake of diversity and they’re certainly not just eye-candy.

And Tolkien managed to write a whole Silmarillion and portray the unspeakable evil of Melkor without needing to write one explicit rape scene. That’s the kind of culture I enjoy.

Which brings us to Geeks, MOPs and Sociopaths (since I originally found that post off a link from SSC, I’ll assume it’s not completely unknown here). In this model, isn’t a “game livestream” that’s really about her breasts a classic example of the sociopaths figuring out how to monetize this gaming thing much better than the actual
geeks, by making a more mainstream and less-about-gaming version?

If this is true, then the first problem is that there’s not exactly a shortage of livestreams of “attractive women with non-marginal breasts” and whatever your moral stance on that, you don’t need to bring gaming into it and spoil things for people like me.

The second problem is that nerds end up taking the blame for being sexist over an issue that comes from nerd-lite culture created by and for non-nerds. Am I allowed to use the hammer of Cultural Appropriation to condemn this one?

(I’m not so rosy-eyed to claim that there’s no intersection between nerds and porn at all, but I still think that insomuch as there is something as a “core nerd culture” it doesn’t revolve around sex like that. Perhaps my own filter bubble is coming through a bit too strongly here though.)

• BBA says:

I feel like we’re reaching Peak Nerd. The upcoming release of Ready Player One is sure to draw controversy from the usual wokefolk, who are already denouncing it as cishet white male wish fulfillment and therefore problematic as fuck – but it’s also getting bashed by True Nerds, who find it a shallow mishmash of pop culture references without any real appreciation for the underlying culture. (Of course, there is substantial overlap between the two groups, and the woke nerds attacking it on both fronts.)

This is an adaptation of a bestselling novel directed by Steven effin’ Spielberg. If it flops we could see this “nerd lite” bubble rapidly burst. Then maybe I’d be able to get a ticket to Comic-Con again.

@Aapje:

I would suggest that it is a lot more enlightening about various major culture war fights involving nerds, like Damore, GjamerGjate and such, even though those none of those are mentioned, than most writing about those events.

I don’t think that Damore case and GjamerGjate are similar. Damore memo was a politely exposed, science based opinion treated as an insult; GjamerGjate meant real insults, threats and doxing from 4chan trolls. Damore tried (unsuccessfully) to minimize offensiveness; the 4chan trolls, of course, tried to maximize it.

• Aapje says:

Yet the response was very similar. My point is more that in both cases people attacked nerd spaces, then the actual good arguments got ignored in favor of a narrative. In the case of Damore it was extremely obvious, because the reporting was so dissimilar to the memo, but in the GjamerGjate case the legitimate criticism was also ignored.

19. Chalid says:

I have a good friend who recently had a heart attack. He is in his mid-30s. His lifestyle was unhealthy – stressful high-level tech job, fairly unhealthy diet – but not exceptionally so. Think 1 SD below average. Any ideas on things he can do beyond the painfully obvious steps of eating a better diet, exercising, cutting back on work, and seeing the doctor regularly?

He’s making good money so expensive ideas are usable.

• Anonymous says:

See a priest or therapist.

• fortaleza84 says:

You’ve pretty much opened the door to wacky personal theories about health and longevity from non-physicians who have no business offering their opinions on this kind of issue.

With that in mind, I have a few questions: First, what is your friend’s hair like? Is he balding/bald? Does he have heavy body hair? Second, does he produce a lot of earwax and if so, is it oily? Last, to what extent does he sweat a lot and/or have body odor?

• professorgerm says:

I would love to hear the potentially wacky theories attached to those questions.

It particularly caught my eye because I do produce substantial amounts of earwax, although my left ear seems more oily than the right.

In case it’s a relevant correlation, I have thick head hair and little body hair, and generally don’t have much body odor (however, I do take a zinc supplement that seems to help with my formerly odoriferous feet).

• Chalid says:

Wacky personal theories by unqualified, overconfident people? On SSC? Heaven forbid. I’d prefer not to answer those questions without hearing what your theory is, but I’ll say that he has some but not all of the attributes you ask about.

• Nick says:

My guess is it’s about testosterone, which if I remember correctly is linked to male pattern baldness and body hair. Earwax type and intensity of body odor, though, I thought was a genetic thing, so I’m not so sure.

• j1000000 says:

Yeah let’s hear it Fortalenza, I thought it was a joke but Nick below seems to say these have something to do with testosterone.

(Also Chalid I deleted my previous comment where I said this but at this point it seems no more unscientific than the rest of the suggestions — your friend should meditate and get a golden retriever.)

Statins, but that’ll come with the seeing the doctor regularly.

• fortaleza84 says:

By the way, does your friend use cocaine?

• Chalid says:

No, and I think that “quit cocaine” would count as obvious advice.

• fortaleza84 says:

No, and I think that âquit cocaineâ would count as obvious advice.

Of course I agree, but it’s more than just a matter of obvious advice — if he uses cocaine, then there is probably no need to go looking for esoteric or subtle health hacks. Cocaine is almost certainly the problem, end of story,

• christhenottopher says:

Whelp if you know the standard advice and with the proviso that a therapist/doctor is probably going to be better…why not try a less common (aka crazier) idea?

Your friend makes a lot of money, cut consumption to the point that in a short period of time he can retire from his job while still young (see Mr Money Mustache for advice on how to do this, if he’s got a high income already shouldn’t be too hard). Ideally, move out from the city to a cheaper and lower stress area in some beautiful and less developed area of the country. Focus on any family he has, developing a group of good friends, and intellectual pursuits with maybe low stress odd jobs if you get bored (and oh yeah, good video games).

In short, use the “fuck you” money he earns to say “fuck you” to the whole rat race. And if it turns out he hates it, if he’s got tech skills he can always go back later. Either way if your friend does try something like this, there would be a lot of value in documenting how it went (especially if it turned out poorly since failure is an even better learning tool!).

• Chalid says:

Yeah, good thought. I actually had a discussion along those lines with him earlier. It obviously entails a big shift in worldview, but staring death in the face will do that to you.

• Chalid says:

FWIW, the perhaps-not-totally-obvious things that I thought of:

Get checked for sleep apnea (correlates with heart trouble, and he snores loudly)
See if there exist doctors who specialize in people who have heart attacks when young
Look into whether there would be any benefit to a personalized literature review; requires more knowledge of the details of his condition than I have

• DavidS says:

Does he know about family history? Might cast light on it and while doctors ask they often rely on your vague half-remembered responses rather than really digging.

Second the MrMoneyMustache thing.

• Chalid says:

I don’t know what he knows. I suppose if it were important then that is the sort of thing you could use money to find out about.

Is that information likely to be additive to the already known information? If he had an uncle who died of a heart attack at 45 would that tell us anything about my friend that we don’t already know?

• DavidS says:

I’m definitely not an expert! But it seems to me that the same symptoms could relate to different underlying things and the info could help.

Then again, doctors might only ask to calibrate risk rather than identify underlying causes?

• ohwhatisthis? says:

Wacky garbage, as fortaleza84 said.

• Nancy Lebovitz says:

Here’s a non-standard theory which I think isn’t especially wacky.

If the area around the heart is compressed for postural reasons (chest collapsed or pushed forward), then the risks caused by blockage in the arteries are increased.

Cheap method: Natural Posture for Pain-Free Living. “Pain-Free” can be considered hype, but I think the advice in the book would lead to a lot less pain for many people.

20. Why aren’t human testicles better protected? Not only are they vulnerable in mammals in general, but in humans we stand upright, so they are right there to be bitten off by wolves like a man picks fruit from a tree. The ancestral environment was pretty violent, so was there really that little selection pressure on testicles to be well protected?

• Le Maistre Chat says:

I always imagined there was a long period after our ancestors gained sapience that females in warm climates went naked but males made darn sure they had a loincloth. But that doesn’t explain all the generations that they were just bipedal chimps and early Homo.

• BjĂ¶rn says:

Spermatogenesis works best when the testicles are about 35 degrees warm. The scrotum even has the ability to regulate the temperature by changing it’s surface to volume ratio or by moving the testicles closer to the body. It’s seems that ensuring an efficient testicle temperature led to more evolutional success than keeping the testicles protected.

• fortaleza84 says:

Yeah, one can imagine that the selection pressure was pretty intense to crank out the highest possible quality sperm.

• Perhaps a chitinous cage could be formed around the testicles, and the gaps in the “bars” would allow the testicles to breathe, but alas, we did not recieve these mutations.

• johan_larson says:

IronBalls — the lamest X-Man ever. And that’s saying something.

• Randy M says:

Nature in it’s ineffable wisdom decided on a different route–punish the man severely for letting them get knocked about.

And in any event, I think if you’ve got a hungry wolf between your legs you are in trouble either way.

• b_jonas says:

> Nature in itâs ineffable wisdom decided on a different routeâpunish the man severely for letting them get knocked about.

Are you trying to make a group selection argument here?

• Randy M says:

I don’t think so. I’m referencing the almost comically disproportionate pain that comes from groin injuries leading every man to learn early to keep the testicles protected through conscious effort rather than evolved defenses.

• b_jonas says:

Ah, I see! So “punish” refers to the pain, not the loss of fertility.

• ilikekittycat says:

Unexposed testicles = elephants, aardvarks, moles, hedgehogs, etc : (mostly) Plodding, predictable movement without a range of movement that creates much abdominal pressure

Exposed testicles = humans, horses, elephant seals, dogs : Capable of chaotic, sudden range of movement that rapidly increases abdominal pressure

Scrotums have blood vessels that are uncommonly good at maintaining blood pressure between relaxed and excited states, to prevent issues with drainage/circulation while galloping, etc.

21. johan_larson says:

There’s an interesting sci-fi/horror film coming out later this month, called “The Endless.”

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3986820

It’s about a couple of escapees/dissenters from a UFO cult who return to the cult years later and find there seems to be something to the strange beliefs of the cult members.

The trailer is very watchable, particularly for a film made for a mere million dollars.

Rated 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 20 reviews. đ And no release in Canada, darn it. đ

• fortaleza84 says:

It’s refreshing to see a movie which (at least from the trailer) doesn’t follow the usual cliches of shoehorning a Sympathetic and Competent Black Character into the movie along with a Strong Independent Competent Woman.

This successfully lowered my expectation of quality in science journalism on politically-charged topics: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/the-role-of-luck-in-life-success-is-far-greater-than-we-realized/

• John Schilling says:

So talent plays absolutely no role whatsoever in enabling people to avoid or mitigate misfortune? I did not know that.

Fortunately, I already knew better than to trust Scientific American.

• lvlln says:

I too already knew better than to trust Scientific American, but isn’t the point of the article that it’s rolling up misfortunes that talent can avoid and mitigate into the “talent” bucket rather than the “luck” bucket?

It seemed to me the biggest issue was that it seemed to be attacking a strawman or an extremely rare weakman at best. Even the most extreme people-get-what-they-deserve individualist will admit that luck plays some factor in an individual’s success, such as the luck of being born to a family or society that won’t malnurish you during your youngest, most vulnerable years. Like, are there any people seriously arguing that a 1-second old baby has responsibility for taking care of itself and if it ends up dying or suffering long-term due to poor performance during that time, it only has itself to blame for it?

The article’s author Scott Barry Kaufman writes as if the amount of luck that we had “realized” (as mentioned in the headline) was basically nil, and that any sort of luck playing a factor – such as the toy model’s results of the most successful people not being the most talented – as being some sort of mind-blowing revelation that challenges the common understanding of reality.

Likewise that bullet point listing some various weird ways in which non-merit-related reasons are shown to play some factor in success in various endeavors. None of those examples provide any sort of challenges to what is currently commonly thought about how much luck and talent play into success.

What’s really glaring to me, though, is that he completely ignores the strongest argument for luck playing a greater role in life than we realized: talent is just another form of luck! No one chose to be born with the talents they have. No one chose to be born with the personality traits that compelled them to develop the talents they developed through hard work and practice. No one chose to be born to parents or in a society that had incentive structures that incented them to develop the talents they developed through hard work and practice. It all comes down to luck of birth.

Then again, perhaps that’s not really a scientific analysis and can’t really be prettied up to make it look like one, so that probably wouldn’t belong on the Scientific American blog.

• John Schilling says:

but isnât the point of the article that itâs rolling up misfortunes that talent can avoid and mitigate into the âtalentâ bucket rather than the âluckâ bucket?

“Every 6 months, individuals were exposed to a certain number of lucky events and a certain amount of unlucky events. Whenever a person encountered an unlucky event, their success was reduced in half, ”

That reads to me like their model refuses to acknowledge that there is any such thing as a misfortune that talent can avoid or mitigate. Every six months, there’s a flat chance that you’ll have an adverse effect that wipes out half of everything you have earned and/or stumbled across, and there is absolutely nothing whatsoever you can do about that. And then we look at the results, and gosh, the highest scores are from the people who by pure luck (and not at all talent) managed a three-sigma or better stream of dice rolls that don’t say “lose half your success”.

I’m thinking this is an abysmally poor model for reality, and I’d like to see what the model results give if the effect of bad dice rolls is mitigated by talent.

• beleester says:

I spent an hour or so fooling around with python and made a “fair” version of their model, where talent both increased the chance that a good event would double your score, and reduced the chance that a bad event would halve your score. Specifically, my algorithm was:

1. On each iteration, each person has a 10% chance of having an event.
2. Events have a 50-50 chance of being good or bad.
3. When you get a good event, roll a random number. If it’s less than your talent (a number between 0 and 1, normally distributed), you double your score.
4. When you get a bad event, roll a random number. If it’s more than your talent, halve your score.

(This isn’t exactly the same as the original paper, which had events random-walking through the population, but it obeys the same rules for what happens when an event occurs, and it was a lot easier to implement).

I plotted log(success) vs talent, because the doubling and halving meant that the most successful or unsuccessful were orders of magnitude beyond the rest.

The “fair” model had a stronger correlation between talent and log(success) than the “unfair” one (r = 0.680 vs 0.333), but the “fair” one still had a good amount of variance. You could score near the top with average talent, and top talents might never get a lucky break.

However, the probability of events also made a major difference. When I re-ran the model with a 100% event chance, talent and success correlated much better for both models (r = 0.957 for the fair model, and 0.813 for the unfair one). This makes sense – if talent is your ability to take advantage of opportunities, then increasing the number of opportunities available makes talent more important.

So I suppose the real question is: how frequent are opportunities in the real world?

• lvlln says:

âEvery 6 months, individuals were exposed to a certain number of lucky events and a certain amount of unlucky events. Whenever a person encountered an unlucky event, their success was reduced in half, â

That reads to me like their model refuses to acknowledge that there is any such thing as a misfortune that talent can avoid or mitigate. Every six months, thereâs a flat chance that youâll have an adverse effect that wipes out half of everything you have earned and/or stumbled across, and there is absolutely nothing whatsoever you can do about that. And then we look at the results, and gosh, the highest scores are from the people who by pure luck (and not at all talent) managed a three-sigma or better stream of dice rolls that donât say âlose half your successâ.

Iâm thinking this is an abysmally poor model for reality, and Iâd like to see what the model results give if the effect of bad dice rolls is mitigated by talent.

OK, I think you’re probably right, and I was mistaken. Certainly, this is a very bad model for reality.

But the way I see it, you could group luck-based events as ones that CAN be mitigated by talent and ones that CAN’T, and it seems reasonable to give everyone the same flat chance for the latter, while adjusting the probability/effect of the former based on individual talent. This toy model seems to have only scaled the good luck based on talent and applied just a flat bad luck chance. A better model might have had 4 buckets of luck, based on Good/Bad and talent-influenced/not-talent-influenced.

But given that the outcomes of the model are relative positions rather than absolute, couldn’t one argue that both the talent-influenced good luck and talent-influenced bad luck are represented by the fact that it scales its good luck events? And that the not-talent-influenced good luck and not-talent-influenced bad luck events are represented by the application of a flat probability of halving one’s wealth?

Well, even so, the toy model seems way too simplistic to have any meaningful implications about reality. It’s barely even high-school-project level.

• j1000000 says:

@beleester Baseball writer Phil Birnbaum made his own model of success v. luck after reading Robert Frank’s book. I thought it was a fun read:

http://blog.philbirnbaum.com/2018/02/how-much-of-success-in-life-is-luck.html

• anonymousskimmer says:

@beleester

So I suppose the real question is: how frequent are opportunities in the real world?

Correlates to proximity to a major city.

• Kevin C. says:

Like, are there any people seriously arguing that a 1-second old baby has responsibility for taking care of itself and if it ends up dying or suffering long-term due to poor performance during that time, it only has itself to blame for it?

Adherents of Vedic religions that hold that everything good and bad in our current lives are the inevitable consequences of our choices in previous lives?

• John Nerst says:

Whatâs really glaring to me, though, is that he completely ignores the strongest argument for luck playing a greater role in life than we realized: talent is just another form of luck! No one chose to be born with the talents they have. No one chose to be born with the personality traits that compelled them to develop the talents they developed through hard work and practice. No one chose to be born to parents or in a society that had incentive structures that incented them to develop the talents they developed through hard work and practice. It all comes down to luck of birth.

Part of the problem is that “talent” or “skill” (vs “luck”) is ill-defined unless you’re talking about a particular point in time. When you look at talent/skill from an atemporal perspective it evaporates, so that “luck” can mean anything:

[Daniel Dennett] uses a basketball analogy to explain this: how well a team does on the court can be explained by skill or luck, most often a combination of both. But what is skill? Maybe the players are skilled because they had good coaches when they grew up. But werenât they lucky to have good coaches? Maybe they sought them out themselves; but in that case, werenât they lucky to live in the right place and have parents that supported them? Alternatively, werenât they lucky to have the necessary talent, motivation and discipline to practice, through a fortunate conjunction of environment and heredity? And on and on it goes.

If we take the history of the players apart we can show that it is all a matter of luck and there is no such thing as skill. This is what we are doing when we say that people are not free because their decision process can be taken apart into a collection of determined events.â© But something is obviously wrong with this line of reasoning. There is a meaningful distinction to be made between skill and luck when it comes to the performance of a basketball team. Just because an object ceases to exist when we take it apart into its constituent atoms it doesnât follow that it doesnât exist at all. Freedom exists. It’s just like skill or objects an emergent property of a particular arragement of parts.

Basically, using “luck” this way to define away skills/talents is like using causation to define away free will – you can, technically, but only by rejecting commonsense uses of the word.

• Chalid says:

It seemed to me the biggest issue was that it seemed to be attacking a strawman or an extremely rare weakman at best.

I think, if people are asked, our rational brains do think that of course high-achieving people benefitted from luck.

OTOH, we have a tendency to *act* as if success in one endeavor is deserved. Think of returns-chasing retail investors picking mutual fund managers – they certainly have not internalized the lessons from that paper! Or you get people arguing with a straight face that because someone’s business is successful, they must be smart, and we should listen to their opinions on other matters.

• lvlln says:

OTOH, we have a tendency to *act* as if success in one endeavor is deserved. Think of returns-chasing retail investors picking mutual fund managers â they certainly have not internalized the lessons from that paper! Or you get people arguing with a straight face that because someoneâs business is successful, they must be smart, and we should listen to their opinions on other matters.

How common is this, really, though? Do we have any empirical data on this? It certainly doesn’t match my experience. For mutual fund managers, as far as I can tell, the idea of picking managers based purely on past performance is one that’s laughed at in any serious conversation about investments. Some people argue that a mutual fund’s process of picking stocks is particularly good, and at a minimum the fund’s performance would have to be good for such an argument to hold up, but the idea that the performance being good is meaningful evidence for the fund following a particularly good methodology is, again, considered laughable.

Likewise, I’m not sure how much people actually point solely to business success as evidence for someone being smart in other matters. Rather, it’s that they point to qualities of that person (such as intelligence or conscientiousness, of which there’s evidence independent of their business success) that they believe led them to be successful at business.

And even among the people who commit this fallacy, I’m not sure that it’s as black and white as the article author paints it. I don’t think they tend to say that literally any mutual fund that has performed well in the past is likely to perform well in the future, and that the one with the best performance in the past is the one best likely to perform well in the future. Or that literally anyone who has run a company successfully must be smarter than & more worth listening to than literally anyone who has failed to run a successful company. I think, at worst, there’s a tendency to overestimate a real discrepancy that exists – e.g. the population of people who have run a business successfully is smarter on average than the population of people who have failed to run a business successfully, but the amount of overlap is underestimated.

• The Nybbler says:

“Simulation based on toy model reveals assumptions embodied in model”.

• AnarchyDice says:

I would have found it more interesting if they had showed how alterations to their model changed things (I’m thinking along the lines of that Cooperate-Defect game someone here had posted): what if “bad luck” only ruined 20% of the accumulations? How would it change if good luck tripled fortunes instead of doubled? Or only provided a 50% gain? What if the skill distribution varied more or less? What about different strategies, like increasing or decreasing the rate of new encounters after a good or bad luck encounter (i.e. someone who responds to a bad luck event by seeking out more frequent encounters to win it all back or someone who gets very conservative after a win)?

• J Mann says:

Beautiful

• albatross11 says:

It seems like there are two different parts of the model:

a. Who gets random bad or good stuff?

“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” There are things you can do to maximize the chances of good things happening to you. Suppose Alice and Bob are both college students. Alice does the bare minimum needed to get through her classes, Bob works his ass off on every assignment. At some point, if the professor is given the chance to offer one of his students some special opportunity that would be really valuable, he’s almost certainly giving it to Bob instead of Alice.

b. Who benefits the most when something comes along.

“Fortune favors the prepared mind.” Suppose the professor offers both Alice and Bob the chance to, say, spend the summer working with top researchers in their chosen field of study. Alice continues doing the minimum necessary to get by, Bob continues working his ass off. Most likely, Bob gets a lot more benefit from the special surprise goody than Alice.

In both those examples, Bob is a harder worker than Alice. But you could do the same thing with intelligence or talent–Alice and Bob both work equally hard, but Alice struggles to get through the hard parts of the class, whereas Bob just *gets* it intuitively. The professor will want to offer Bob the extra opportunities, and Bob will get more out of them when they come along.

(a) and (b) probably need to be handled separately. Like, if one year, a whole class gets to go do the extra summer work with the top researchers, you can examine (b) without looking at (a) so much. It’s less clear to me how to eliminate (b).

• Chalid says:

As everyone is saying, the SciAm description makes it seem the simulation is something a decent coder could whip up in a day, and it has no conclusions that you couldn’t have predicted with a minute’s thought. Did anyone actually read the paper and see if there’s more to it than the journalist understood? (I’m not volunteering, sorry.)

• J Mann says:

After reading the paper, I can see why Kaufman is inclined to believe luck plays a major role in success.

Are the most successful people mostly just the luckiest people in our society? If this were even a little bit true, then this would have some significant implications for how we distribute limited resources

What does it mean for it to be “just a little bit true” that the most successful people are “mostly” just the luckiest people? I guess literally, if 50.0001% of the most successful are “just” the the luckiest, then it’s just a little bit true that they’re mostly just the luckiest. Or does “just a little bit true” modify “just the luckiest”? If so, what does it mean?

Anyway, if you’re a utilitarian, then you’re mostly interested in incentives and response. Mankiw points out that if it’s true that tall people make more money, then a height tax has some positive implications – it’s hard to reduce your height, at least in the short term, so you are likely to have less disincentive effect than if you tax income.

• rlms says:

I think it’s just badly written, and the word “mostly” should be omitted (so “just a little bit true” means “some very rich people are very lucky rather than very skilful”).

• J Mann says:

It’s also possible that in increase in the role of luck would mean we want to increase returns to success.

If it’s possible to take on more or less risk, and we as a society want lucky innovators to develop things we like, then we want a society where there are positive returns to the lucky. If we take more money from successful businesses and give it to government employees, we are going to get on average fewer successful businesses and more government employees. The fact that the successful business owners have a significant component of luck in their outcome doesn’t change that analysis.

• Matt M says:

If we take more money from successful businesses and give it to government employees, we are going to get on average fewer successful businesses and more government employees.

I’m pretty sure a lot of people see this as a feature, not a bug.

• anonymousskimmer says:

If we take more money from successful businesses and give it to government employees, we are going to get on average fewer successful businesses and more government employees.

Iâm pretty sure a lot of people see this as a feature, not a bug.

Both of you are picturing paper-pushers.

There are a number of government institutions from which startups are launched.

Factoring out the bureaucrats from both business and government (whose jobs can be very important), on an employee basis what’s the rate of spin-off businesses from private companies versus public government? I honestly don’t know, but it’s a relevant question.

• Douglas Knight says:

If the output is power law distributed and the input is normally distributed, then something has to explain the discrepancy. A model which amplifies the differences in a normal distribution into a power law distribution is going to amplify any luck that it involves into a big effect.

23. Kevin C. says:

Does anyone else think that the posthumous exoneration of the “Souain corporals” was wrong, and that the original court-martial and execution for disobeying General RĂ©veilhac’s orders was the proper outcome?

• Randy M says:

Like, morally wrong? The soldiers had a moral duty to comply and officially stating that they should have charged to their deaths is an important thing to do?

Discipline is important, but it kind of seems like if the order is so obviously bad the entire company refuses to comply, maybe the problem was with the commanders.

Fwiw, I don’t know anything about the incident that isn’t in that link.

• Kevin C. says:

Like, morally wrong? The soldiers had a moral duty to comply and officially stating that they should have charged to their deaths is an important thing to do?

Exactly.

maybe the problem was with the commanders.

And if so, then that was a job for their commanders to deal with, not their subordinates. As Lord Tennyson famously wrote:

Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.

• rlms says:

My instinct is that the court-martial would’ve been proper if they were volunteers, but the execution probably wouldn’t have been, and that neither would’ve been appropriate if they were conscripts.

• Kevin C. says:

Why does conscript vs. volunteer matter? Duty is duty, whether you “consented” or not, and the same with obedience and subordination.

Edit: also, why the opposition to the firing squad?

• rlms says:

If I order you to go charge some machine guns, you have no obligation to do so because you haven’t agreed to obey my orders. Likewise for conscripts.

I’m generally opposed to executions; life is sacred etc..

Duty is duty

Ayn Rand says that A is A and therefore self interest is the highest virtue. It’s not an especially compelling argument, but at least it is an argument. What you’ve offered is some naked assertions.

• Randy M says:

Yeah, the question isn’t “is duty duty” but “is pointless death duty”

• anonymousskimmer says:

But who is their ultimate duty to, and what is that duty?

France was a republic at the time, and presumably most, if not all, of the soldiers were citizens of said republic. They had a citizen’s duty to not die foolishly, if they could foresee the foolishness.

• Protagoras says:

Does anyone else think that? Well, surely there’s someone somewhere. But not I.

Nope.

• John Schilling says:

Mercy is a virtue, and one which seems quite appropriate in this instance even if far too late. And I find it difficult to believe that mercy would be wholly prohibited by the laws of the French Army. Meanwhile, the consequences of the courts-martial and executions under those circumstances were almost certainly negative for the morale of the French army, as note the decision of the French army to discontinue that entire type of court-martial a year later.

General RĂ©veilhac should have been relieved of command at very least, both for ordering a pointless suicide attack and then for ordering an artillery barrage on his own men. Probably executed for the latter. With RĂ©veilhac indisposed one way or another, there’s no damning testimony against the corporals and no need to worry about what sort of precedent might be set via mercy, so everybody wins.

• Alphonse says:

This expresses my thoughts more eloquently than I would have. Following orders strikes me as something of great importance in the military, but it isn’t of unlimited importance. And the mistake of the general here seems so incredibly clear that leniency is merited for the soldiers (but not for him — losing his position seems like the minimum fair outcome for ordering an artillery strike on his own soldiers, to me at least).

Sometimes suicidal missions might be necessary in war, but this pretty clearly wasn’t one of those circumstances. Ordering the an attack after shelling your own side rather than the (heavily entrenched) enemy is patently absurd and seems to merit disobedience if anything does.

• Sfoil says:

No. I don’t think there was any real evidence that the attack failed because of cowardice. I’m not that familiar with all the details, but my understanding based on reading the article is: French artillery would suppress the enemy positions, and then French infantry would climb out of their positions and assault the German position. The French artillery hit, the first batch (probably breach/wirecutting) stood up and were immediately killed/suppressed, and the second wave (probably assault) that was supposed to move in right behind them then refused to break cover.

I wouldn’t have (ordered anyone to) keep moving forward once it became evident that artillery hadn’t suppressed the enemy position as planned. Also, ordering a second attack over the corpses of a failed assault is a classic blunder, something which should have been understood even by someone who didn’t appreciate the increased lethality of weapons in WWI.

It is entirely possible that an officer whose formative years occurred in the 1870s didn’t have a proper feel for the change in the noise:harm ratio of weapons that had taken place by 1915. Many didn’t. But that’s an argument for getting rid of the old men, not for putting their charges in front of a firing squad. I’d also point out that if the division general or any other officer expects unconditional aggression by their own men they are always welcome to set an example the old fashioned way, four paces out in front.

• Kevin C. says:

the second wave (probably assault) that was supposed to move in right behind them then refused to break cover.

Thus disobeying lawful orders.

Also, ordering a second attack over the corpses of a failed assault is a classic blunder

And correcting such blunders is the job of superiors, not subordinates, whose duty is to obey orders.

• Aapje says:

And correcting such blunders is the job of superiors, not subordinates, whose duty is to obey orders.

The evidence suggests that the superior was incapable of correcting blunders and actually was dishonorable himself.

For example, RĂ©veilhac ordered the shelling of his troops, but refused to produce a written order when the artillery officer refused to do so, without one. So RĂ©veilhac was not willing to be accountable. Why then should his inferiors be held to account, when the superior is a coward who tries to offload blame on others?

Another example is that on different day, RĂ©veilhac ordered his troops to relaunch an attack, asserting that the percentage of acceptable losses had not been reached for that day. This is not a militarily sensible or honorable reason to attack & is counterproductive to the very reason why the military was created in the first place (winning the war) and makes a mockery of why military discipline was instituted (to get soldiers to make sacrifices that help win the war).

Humans have a tendency to let people with high status get away with things, while punishing those with low status, so if anything, superiors should be judged more harshly for for shirking their duty, because they are much more likely to get away with it.

You seem to have such a strong authoritarian streak that you have an inverted model of honor, where you put strong demands on those with little power/ability and weak demands on those with a lot.

I would argue that this also a reason for your maladaptive self-hatred, where you put demands on yourself that far exceed your actual ability, which in turn results in akrasia.

You want to contribute to society, which you will surely do better at if you stop with self-sabotage, which requires solving your maladaptive self-hatred. Hence, I would suggest fixing your model of honor to properly incorporate ability.

• DavidS says:

The refusing to give written orders thing is pretty damning even if you buy into a very strong ‘it is for the commander to give orders’ model…

• Fahundo says:

If “go die for no reason” is a lawful order, why should anyone care about following the law?

• skef says:

Virtue!

• Matt M says:

As a libertarian I’m with you.

But armies could literally not function without “go die” being a lawful order, and who decides whether there’s a “good reason” or not is typically delegated pretty high up the chain of command, such that your opinion, as the person being ordered to die, is basically irrelevant.

The problem with the conception of “you only have to obey lawful orders” is that, presumably, the person giving orders always thinks they are lawful, and will always outrank you, such that they will win any disputes. I’d love to know how many soldiers, in the history of armed combat, refused to obey an “unlawful” order and ultimately got away with it, being vindicated for their superior moral conscience and standing up to authority. I’d bet it’s under 3 digits…

• John Schilling says:

But armies could literally not function without âgo dieâ being a lawful order, and who decides whether thereâs a âgood reasonâ or not is typically delegated pretty high up the chain of command,

The word you needed to use there was “universally”, except that it doesn’t fit and you know it.

Typically, generals don’t give orders that the average corporal can correctly and with ~100% confidence recognize as being utterly, lethally pointless. When they do, demanding that those orders be carried out and executing those who refuse, does not result in a superbly disciplined army that never retreats, never surrenders, and obeys every order without question.

• Sfoil says:

subordinates, whose duty is to obey orders.

Now explain why an officer ordering an attack doesn’t have a duty to actually lead it. You might also want to say at some point why, in addition to the tried soldiers being guilty, the correct punishment was execution without appeal.

• Matt M says:

Division of labor?

• Nornagest says:

Also maintaining command integrity. Lines of communication would break down real quick if all your officers were in the first rank that just got mown down by machine guns, and that loses battles better than just about anything else. I like the responsibility that leading from the front implies, but there are just too many practical problems for it to be good doctrine.

• Kevin C. says:

Blind obedience to laws/orders is not a virtue in and of itself, nor disobedience a vice.

My understanding is that Confucianism (especially the State Confucianism strain in the legacy of Xunzi) and traditional Chinese Law â which punished disobedience of even outright unlawful orders (usually more severely than they punished the unlawful act performed in obeying the order) â would disagree with you there.

• Aapje says:

I suspect that Atlas is not a confucianist.

Also, he seems to be more of an utilitarian, while you are far more deontological, which explains why he sees duty as being bound by actual effectiveness, while you don’t.

• anonymousskimmer says:

Not my expertise, but:

It’s important to point out that the actual Chinese themselves weren’t suicidal about duty, either, or they would have fought to their own genocide to prevent the various conquests.

And before Kevin C. can jump in and say that the rulers (as the superiors) had the right to surrender – were not those rulers considered subordinate to the gods? Only Shangdi had the ultimate right to allow the emperor or his heirs to surrender.

• Aapje says:

@anonymousskimmer

I would argue that a culture with a pure morality cannot survive.

The perception of a pure morality is used to get people to sacrifice, but this very often seems rather cynical, because quite often the elite who push this morality on the rest of society, defect when they can get away with it.

So Kevin, you got pranked đ

• Kevin C. says:

Have none of you people ever read Hagakure?

• Nornagest says:

Yes. It was written by an Edo period pencil-pusher who had never seen combat and was mainly concerned with what I think the kids now call #aesthetic. Well-written, but probably not the best thing to structure your life around, especially if you have no particular cultural connection to it.

I think the more interesting question is: You seem to think that everyone who has read Hagakure will agree with it and with your opinion on the Souain corporals affair. Why is that?
Okay, you appear to have found it very convincing, but why?

• anonymousskimmer says:

There are reasons those “duty over all” countries have historically been whomped, and whomped hard, at some point.

• Nornagest says:

To be fair, if you read samurai writers from the Sengoku or very early Edo periods — times with less meditating on the nature of the sword and more using it to separate men from their vital fluids, in other words — they tend to be a lot more pragmatic, even though it’s still a warrior culture. And the Hagakure remained obscure for a long time even in the era it was written. Its current popularity comes out of a revival of (notional) samurai ideals circa the Thirties, which is often mistaken for a continuous tradition but which I think is a lot more more revisionist than it’s generally given credit for.

• Barely matters says:

I’ll see your Hagakure and raise you the Art of War:

If fighting is sure to result in victory, than you must fight, even though the ruler forbid it; if fighting will not result in victory, then you must not fight even at the ruler’s bidding.

• bean says:

Not in the slightest. I think Curtis LeMay said it well. “I think that in most cases I would be willing to meet them, and I would say, ‘Well, you were properly expended, Gus. It was part of the price.’â The blatant stupidity displayed by RĂ©veilhac could not in any way be seen as “properly expending” his men, and the injustice of the sentence is matched only by the fact that RĂ©veilhac didn’t end up against a wall himself for blatant stupidity and waste of his men. (I’m well aware of the challenges of generalship during WWI, and I will defend Haig. But not an idiot of this caliber.)
To put it another way RĂ©veilhac seems like he’d fit in well with the Japanese Army. That’s very much not a compliment.

• rahien.din says:

Discipline is important. And yes, as bean points out, sometimes lives need to be expended. A commander can order his troops into certain death, and they are required to leap into the breach. That’s war.

But initiative is more powerful and important than discipline. It represents a unit’s incorporation of and adherence to the objective. It also creates a highly-granular distributed problem-solving system within a fighting force, that is more robust, flexible, powerful, and responsive than any system reliant only on high-level command.

Initiative cannot properly be harnessed without adequate discipline throughout the entire chain of command. In my opinion, the Souain corporals displayed great initiative. There was only one action that would preserve their unit’s ability to attain the (or any) objective, and they took that action despite risk of death. That’s good soldiering. RĂ©veilhac comes across as the undisciplined party, even by the wanton life-wasting standards of WWI.

For a counterexample, consider Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder’s actions at the battle of Malvern Hill :

Magruder’s execution of those orders as if they were current and accurate resulted in an uncoordinated assault that suffered considerable losses and made no headway. Lee afterward, when he personally surveyed the field, thought that no commander on the scene should have gone ahead with an attack. When he asked Magruder, “Why did you attack?” Magruder replied, “In obedience to your orders, twice repeated.”

Was Lee correct in removing him from command?

• Matt M says:

“Do what I say” vs “Do what you think I’d want” is a common conflict in any superior:subordinate relationship.

In this case, Magruder failed to properly understand the preferences of his superior, which is grounds for removal in any job.

• dndnrsn says:

Presumably, the corporals were not responsible for the decision not to attack; unless there was an outright mutiny in the ranks (as would happen in the French army later in the war – or, one could characterize it more as a strike than a mutiny; they were willing to fight defensively but were tired of costly attacks) presumably the leaders (officers and noncommissioned officers) in the unit that declined to attack were responsible. The men who were shot were chosen fairly arbitrarily, weren’t they?

“Senior commanders set objectives and then more junior commanders/leaders closer to the ground figure out how exactly they’ll be carried out, adjusting to the conditions on the ground” is far more associated with military success, throughout history, than “the plan’s a plan, duty’s duty, general said to attack so you gotta attack regardless of what else has happened.”

@bean mentions the challenges of generalship in WWI. In general, the lack of compact-enough-to-be-portable wireless units meant significantly greater levels of “gotta stick to the plan” than, say, armies in WWII or later who had more radios (conversely, armies with fewer radios in WWII tended to be considerably less nimble and coordinated; silly Wehraboos talk about German tanks while The Enlightened talk about the Germans having radios in more tanks in France in 1940, against the Soviets at most times, etc). But there were generals who managed to deal with that without resorting to pointless slaughter. What the general here was ordering is something that without references I would assume was exaggerated parody of WWI generals – it’s like something out of the last season of Blackadder. Scratch that. It’s like something out of Warhammer 40k.

You’re not supposed to watch Paths of Glory and sympathize with the generals.

• anonymousskimmer says:

Anytime people are used as examples you have objectified them, and thus erased the fact that they are basically human.

Either every soldier who disobeyed these orders should have been executed, or none should have been.

Based on the wikipedia article, I believe GĂ©raud RĂ©veilhac should have been tortured to death slowly in a Sarlac pit instead of being sent to the reserves and pensioned off to his country estate.

• Aapje says:

I would suggest finding a spot where the percentage of acceptable losses have not been reached for that day and then send him out to attack the enemy on his own.

24. Jeremiah says:

Some of you may be wondering where the audio version of “SSC Journal Club: Friston on Computational Mood” is (most of you probably are not) unfortunately I’m not in a position to record for the next few days, so I’m releasing the recording of a classic post I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup in lieu of the current post, but I’ll catch up on Monday at the latest. You can find it on the feed or the link will take you to the MP3.

Also a reminder that earlier I did Meditations on Moloch as well.

25. johan_larson says:

More puzzles. This time, I won’t be posting hints or answers, since many answers are possible. Check your favorite reference work.

Name five:
1. US Presidents who served during the 19th century.
2. Cities in Russia with more than 100,000 people.
3. Rivers that empty into the Mediterranean.
4. Winners of Olympic gold medals.
5. Novels by Stephen King.
6. World War II fighter planes.
7. Baroque composers.
8. Moons of Jupiter.
9. Species of ant.
10. Signs of the Zodiac.

I was able to do number 2, 5, 6, and 10. I give myself half marks for number 7; I had the surnames right but missed a couple of personal names. Turns out, I can only name one river that flows into the Mediterranean, and three US presidents from the nineteenth century.

• bean says:

1, 2, 4, 6, 10. Got 3 rivers, although that’s lower than I’d like.

• rlms says:

Do the Presidents have to both start and end their term in the 19th century?

• johan_larson says:

Goodness, that is an edge case. I’ll say no; if any portion of their time in office overlaps the nineteenth century, that’s enough.

• Nick says:

1. Wnzrf Znqvfba, Jvyyvnz Urael Uneevfba, Wnzrf X Cbyx, Noenunz Yvapbya, Tebire Pyrirynaq. Qryvorengryl rpyrpgvp yvfg. đ
2. Zbfpbj, Fg. Crgrefohet, Iynqvibfgbx, Nyrknaqebifx, Crgebcniybifx. V tnir hc naq fgnegrq erylvat ba Gbz Yruere’f Ybonpurifxl.
3. Gvore, Avyr, Frvar, Qnahor, Ryo. V xabj fbzr bs gurfr ner jebat. đ
4. Zvpunry Curycf? V tvir hc.
5. Qhzn Xrl, Pryy, Haqre gur Qbzr, Gur Fgnaq, Vg. Qryvorengryl rpyrpgvp ntnva. đ
6. Ununun abcr. Jr’yy tb… Zrffrefpuzvqg… Uryypng, hu….
7. Huu. Jbystnat Nznqrhf Zbmneg, Wbunaa Fronfgvna Onpu… yrg’f tb jvgu Yvfmg… V tvir.
8. Vb, Pnyyvfgb, Tnalzrqr, hu…. Pynffvpny zlgubybtl bhtug gb uryc zr urer, V guvax fbzr bs gurz ner ybiref bs Whcvgre be Mrhf, ohg V’z ernyyl oynaxvat urer.
9. Hz. Oynpx nagf, sver nagf, fznyyre oynpx nagf… hu, V’yy thrff gurer’f n “pbzzba ubhfr nag” gbb. V’z ybfg ba guvf bar.
10. Huu. Cvfprf, Pnapre, Gnhehf, Ndhnevhf, hu, Pncevpbea? V bayl xabj gurfr orpnhfr bs Gur Fvzf 2.

• quaelegit says:

3. Only the first two are correct (those are also the only two I knew for certain). The last three end in the English Channel, Black Sea, and North Sea respectively. If you think back to your Roman history or classic lit you might be able to get some more đ

4. That was the only one I got, along with Zvffl Senaxyva. Sports schmorts đ

7. Mozart is classical, Liszt is…Romantic?, well definitely not Baroque. For Baroque, think Harpsichord and organists đ (Ok I actually got it by thinking of Italians and Englishmen, but idk if that generalizes.)

[P.s. I mean this post in fun, and because a lot of your answers are similar to mine in my post that got eaten. I hope it doesn’t come across as annoying or conceited]

• Nick says:

Re 3, I admit I considered answering Oceanus or even Styx. đ I suppose the Rubicon should have occurred to me…. I was trying to think of the Po in northern Italy, but I was somehow confusing the name with the Elbe.

Re 7, yeah yeah, revel in my ignorance of composers. Music is one liszt I have no chance at. Well, if it were Hamilton songs I’d have a shot….

• quaelegit says:

Well I don’t know about you but Lin Manuel Miranda is definitely my favorite Baroque composer đ

• Nornagest says:

Rivers in Greek mythology would have been an interesting question. Oceanus, Styx, Acheron, Lethe… uh… Cocytus. There was one more but I forget what it is.

• rlms says:

*Oceanus, Styx, Acheron, PhlegethonâŠ uhâŠ Cocytus. There was one more but I forget what it is.

• Nornagest says:

…yeah, missed an opportunity there.

• b_jonas says:

1. No clue. I don’t know U. S. history.
2. I could list five large ones. V xarj Zbfpbj naq Fnvag-Crgrefohet jrer gur gjb ynetrfg barf. Gur bgure guerr V anzrq ner Bzfx, XnmnaÊč, naq Rxngrevaohet.
3. This one is difficult. The EuĂŽar is the only one I could name.
4. I’m certain in UbffmĂș Xngvaxn (ybat qvfgnapr fjvzzvat) naq Zvpunry Curycf (fubeg qvfgnapr fjvzzvat) naq Hfnva Obyg (fubeg qvfgnapr ehaare). Then there are two famous male gymnasts, but I can’t recall their names. So two slightly older sportspeople will work in a pinch instead: Rtrefmrtv Xevfmgvan naq Qnealv GnzĂĄf (gjb bgure yrtraqnel fjvzzref).
5. Uh. I don’t read that stuff. Gurer’f bar jvgu fbzr fbeg bs gbjre, gung’f nyy V xabj.
6. Pass.
7. Pass.
8. Guerr bs gur sbhe ynetr barf ner Tnalzrqrf, Vb, Rhebcn. V qba’g erpnyy gur anzr bs gur sbhegu bar.
9. I know the name of one. Reqrv IĂ¶eĂ¶funatln.
10. I think I know the complete set of twelve if you give me ten minutes to think, but I don’t know their order. BebfmyĂĄa, Ovxn, Xbf, Onx, Unynx, FxbecvĂł, EĂĄx, FmĆ±m, Vxerx, IĂ­mĂ¶agĆ, Alvynf, ZĂ©eyrt.

3 out of 10 total.

• Edward Scizorhands says:

A long time ago I memorized the common moons in the Solar System, and asking someone to name five moons of Jupiter is pretty rough. I could rattle off a dozen of Saturn with no problem, but I only have 5 moons of Jupiter because I decided to learn one besides the main 4.

• quaelegit says:

Well knowing the four Gallilean moons gets you most of the way there (Idk if those are as easy for everyone else though I guess). Then I just guessed one more person Zeus schtupped and got lucky đ

Is Saturn the one with moons named after Shakespeare characters? Makes it easy if you know Shakespeare I guess. (Wait no, Saturn is Titans… must be Uranus or Neptune that’s Shakespeare moons…)

• Nornagest says:

It’s Uranus, although the only ones I can remember are Titania and Oberon. Neptune’s moons are named after minor water deities from Greco-Roman mythology, but most of them are tiny little rocks; the only one most of us are likely to have heard of is Triton. (Which is huge, weird in a number of ways, and probably a captured KBO. That or a giant cantaloupe.)

• b_jonas says:

The system of naming Jupiter’s moons from Zeus’s lovers was doomed to fail though, because we only know about 22 lovers of Zeus (“https://mythology.stackexchange.com/a/30/197”), but we keep documenting more and more moons of Jupter, and 51 of them are now named. I had the same sense of unease when Scott mentioned the naming convention of Trojan asteroids (“https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/02/27/links-2-18-link-biao-incident/”), since there are only about a thousand names of soldiers in the Trojan war available.

Also, âParisâ is both the name of a Shakespeare character and the name of the Troyan prince. I believe we’ll have to move Uranus to Jupiter’s L_5 Lagrange point to make the naming conventions work better. (There’s already a trojan asteroid named Paris.)

• quaelegit says:

>we only know about 22 lovers of Zeus

Well, that will get you at least 5 moons! (Assuming enough of the names ARE moons. Juno for instance is an asteroid and a very well-named spacecraft.)

> I believe weâll have to move Uranus to Jupiterâs L_5 Lagrange point to make the naming conventions work better.

Planetary engineering done right! đ

• quaelegit says:

1. From the rest of your post it seems like you aren’t American, so that’s reasonable. I can’t name any Hungarian leaders at all besides OrbĂĄn, Nagy and Horthy, and I had to look up the spelling of all three đ

2. I think all the ones you listed have populations over 1 million, so you’re good đ

3. That was my fifth one — a lucky guess really, since I don’t know the geography of the area very well. I got four more by think of rivers famous for Ancient things — if you’re in the West, Ancient usually implies Mediterranean đ

4. I got Zvpunry Curycf and now I’m kicking myself I forgot Hfnva Obyg. Still only would have gotten me up to three, and I don’t recognize any of the other names people have listed.

10. Are those the Hungarian names of the Zodiac? Neat! Now I’m wondering if most languages translate the Zodiac names as opposed to keeping the latin like English did…

• b_jonas says:

1. âNagyâ is confusing because it’s the most common surname among residents of Hungary (as of 2017 “http://www.nyilvantarto.hu/letoltes/statisztikak/kozerdeku_csaladnev_2017.xlsx” and 2004 “http://www.nyilvantarto.hu/archiv_honlap/fixhtml/nepessegfuzet/2004/fuggelek.xls” and probably all years between), so it took me a few seconds to figure out which Nagy you mean. It’s Nagy Imre, the minister-president during World War II. Those are 20th century leaders though. I can name the last five presidents of U.S., it’s looking for 19th century that makes the question much more difficult.

10. You can get some sense of that from the list of translations at “https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Libra” and “https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Aquarius”.

• quaelegit says:

Yes, I meant Nagy Imre, sorry I didn’t realize it was the most common surname. Good point about the 20th vs. 19th century… unless the Hapsburgs count I don’t know any 19th century Hungarian leaders. I’m a bit embarrassed because I was touristing in Budapest in June and I know I read a lot of plaques about the 1848 Revolution and other events, but the names didn’t stick. (Ok I just skimmed the Wikipedia article and Lajos Kossuth is familiar.) If I’m allowed to go further back, I know of Matthias Corvinus, because he had an awesome name!

Now I’m wondering why the U.S. hasn’t had a President Smith… (we have had two Johnsons, which I think is the second most common surname.)

• b_jonas says:

The Habsburgs do count, but don’t try to list them. It would be an unfair trivia question, because there are only three 19th century kings of Hungary (I looked that up).

The question about the American presidents may be easy for Americans, but it’s difficult, almost impossible for Europeans. I too couldn’t name 5 presidents of US in 19th century (I could find only 3: Wrssrefba, Znqvfba, Yvapbya), although I could easily name 10 US presidents of 20th century: Woodrow Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, L. B. Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, George Bush I, Clinton – and of course all those of 21th century. That is because the importance of US in international politics increased enormously in 20th century (especially in the 2nd half).

I could find complete answers (5 examples) only to two questions:

2. Russians towns: Zbfpbj, Crgrefohet, Frinfgbcby, Fbpuv, Xnyvavatenq

10. Zodiac signs: Ivetb, Cvfprf, Fntvgnevhf, Yrb, Pncevpbea

Itâs Nagy Imre, the minister-president during World War II.

Nagy Imre was leader during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

About Hungarian leaders, besides the 3 mentioned by quaelegit – Miklos Horthy (one of Hitler’s allies during WWII), Imre Nagy and Viktor Orban – I know about Kossuth (the 1848 revolutionary leader), Tisza Istvan (prime-minister at the beginning of 20th century, during Franz Joseph’s reign), Bela Kuhn (who tried a communist revolution after WWI) and Janos Kadar (the last communist leader). Who were the leaders between Kadar and Orban I have no idea.

I don’t think the Habsburgs should count – they probably were perceived as foreign conquerors ( the 1848 revolution was against them). Matthias Corvinus was half-Romanian by paternal origin, but his mother was Hungarian and he probably identified as Hungarian and, anyway, his main title was king of Hungary, so yes, he would count.

• rlms says:

Frinfgbcb is a bit cheeky! Regarding Presidents, to this (Western) European at least, I think Wbua Nqnzf, Wnzrf Zbaebr, Naqerj Wnpxfba, Hylffrf F. Tenag, Wnzrf N. Tnesvryq (nffnffvangrq), naq Jvyyvnz ZpXvayrl (nffnffvangrq) are all more famous than any Hungarian leaders mentioned (although perhaps that’s because there aren’t many musicals about famous Hungarian leaders).

@rlms: From your list of American presidents, I knew only about the first (but I expected him to be in 18th century); and one more name from the list (the 4th) sounds somewhat familiar. I know all those things about Hungary just because it’s a neighbor country and its history interacted many times (sometimes unpleasantly) with ours.

• Nornagest says:

Forget Wbua Nqnzf; Gubznf Wrssrefba is technically a 19th-century president, holding the office from 1801 to 1809. That’s a bit of a tricky answer, though, since he’s more famous for his role in the revolution.

@Nornagest:

I mentioned Gubznf Wrssrefba, he was one of the 3 American presidents I remebered (by chance, I have read recently something about his relationship with Fnyyl Urzzvat and I vaguely remembered that the press article that made it public was from early 1800s).

• christhenottopher says:

Sure seems fun!

1. Wrssrefba, Znqvfba, Zbaebr, Wbua Dhvapl Nqnzf, Wnpxfba
2. Zbfpbj, Fg Crgrefohet, Avmual Abitbebq, Xnmna, Ibebarmu
3. Avyr, Eubar, Cb, Gvore, Roeb (what definition of Mediterranean are we using? Does the Adriatic count? If not then I only have 4. If we’re excluding the Tyrrhenian sea too then just 3.)
4. Zvpurny Curycf…(OK I suck at this one)
5. Vg, Gur Fuvavat (another bad one for me)
6. Mreb, Fcvgsver, Uheevpnar, Zhfgnat, Jvyqpng
7. Onpu, Unaqry (well there goes my pretensions of being cultured)
8. Vb, Pnyvcfb, Rhebcn
9. I got nothing without going for colloquial names that I’m not sure are actually useful as species designations.
10. Fpbecvb, Yrb, Ndhnevhf, Trzvav, Fntvggnevhf

Four that I definitely got, five depending on how you define the Mediterranean Sea. I’m cool with that.

• quaelegit says:

Oh man, non-pop-culture trivia is my jam!

I typed a really long comment responding to these only to be logged out when I submitted it! I’m sad đ

Anyways, I got 8/10, missing the ants and the Olympic medalists (Unless we are allowed to list countries that win medals? But that seems trivial đ )

• rlms says:

Meta-question: how would you rank these questions by difficulty (say for the average SSC commenter)? I would say (easy-difficult) 10, 1, 5, 4, 6, 7, 2, 8, 9, 3. The answer probably depends on how many guesses you get; if you only get five then some questions have the risk that you will give an incorrect example (for instance a composer who isn’t Baroque) even if you do know five members of the category.

Other people seem to have found 2 much easier than me. Why do you all know Russian cities that aren’t the big two or Iynqvibfgbx (or Ibytbtenq ol vgf byq anzr)? Likewise for 6, I could probably get 5 WWII planes (including bombers) but fighters specifically is pushing it.

• b_jonas says:

> Why do you all know Russian cities that arenât the big two or Iynqvibfgbx (or Ibytbtenq ol vgf byq anzr)?

I am a Jules Verne fan. In the epynomous novel, Michel Strogoff travels through a lot of what is now Russia. (Perhaps that means my choices should have been Bzfx, AvĆŸavw Abotbebq naq Vexhgfx. But the other two I named are mentioned in the novel as well.)

• Chalid says:

Russian cities: I know a whole bunch from my days as a Civ addict, with a recent refresher from a couple weeks playing 80 Days. I think I could get to 5 (not much more than 5) from remembering various historical/military events though.

• johan_larson says:

People seem to be having a lot of trouble with the ants. And in fairness, the question is harder than I thought it would be. A lot of what I thought were common names for species are just descriptions or behaviors that fit multiple species or whole genuses.

• quaelegit says:

I’m kind of surprised by the apparent difficult of the composer question. Or maybe not that people are having trouble naming Baroque composers (it’s not a super popular era anymore except Bach) but that they keep guessing Romantic composers. I guess my music education really helped with recognizing era groupings and which composers were from which era đ

Russian cities: personally it’s because Geography Sporcle is one of my preferred timewasters, so I can spell 5 of the 10 biggest Russian cities. Can’t say I know much anything them except their names (well beyond the three you mention).

Planes I only know because I just read A Blunted Sickle this winter (on bean’s recommendation, which I second), and that goes into TONS of detail about British WWII aircraft development.

• bean says:

Planes I only know because I just read A Blunted Sickle this winter (on beanâs recommendation, which I second), and that goes into TONS of detail about British WWII aircraft development.

A Blunted Sickle is quite good. Actually, I’m going to challenge myself to do 5 fighters for various nations:

USAAF:
P-40
P-47
P-38
P-51
P-39

USN:
F2A
F4F
F4U
F6F
FM (I admit this is slightly cheating, but the USN didn’t use that many different fighters during the war. On checking wiki, the only one selected for squadron service that isn’t actually one of the first four on the list is the F2G, and that didn’t make it in time for the war. If you insist, I’ll substitute the SBD, which was used for CAP on a couple occasions.)

RAF:
Spitfire
Hurricane
Typhoon
Meteor
Whirlwind

RN:
Fulmar
Firefly
Seafire
Corsair (I’m going to count this one even though it was Lend-Lease. If you don’t like it, have the Roc instead. Which wasn’t much of a fighter, but it was British.)

Luftwaffe:
Bf 109
Fw 190
Bf 110
Me 262
Ta 152

Japan:
Zero/Zeke
Oscar
Nate
Tony
Claude

Russia:
La-5
Yak-3
MiG-3
Yak-9
LaGG-3

I’m not quite able to do France and Italy offhand.

• Douglas Knight says:

If you can name Bach, you can name five or ten Baroque composers…

• Nornagest says:

How so? Even when I looked up a list of them on Wikipedia, the only ones I recognized were Onpu, Unaqry, Ivinyqv, naq Cnpuryory.

I could probably name five or ten composers if you included Romantic and Classical ones, but Baroque ones specifically are a much taller order.

• rlms says:

J.S. Bach is the most famous of that name, but his children J.C., C.P.E., W.F., J.C.F., and of course P.D.Q. were pretty successful too (the first two more than the others); allegedly they were more famous than their father as composers to their contemporaries.

• johan_larson says:

J.S. Bach is the most famous of that name, but his children J.C., C.P.E., W.F., J.C.F., and of course P.D.Q. were pretty successful too (the first two more than the others).

Well yes, but they are usually considered part of the classical era, not the baroque.

• rlms says:

I think C.P.E. could be counted as both classical and baroque. J.S. also had various definitely baroque uncles/brothers (less famous than either him or his most famous children).

• achenx says:

The Bach sons, especially CPE and JC, were mostly “galant” composers, a post-Baroque but pre- or early-Classical style, with some elements of both eras. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galant_music

• quaelegit says:

The Bachs were a whole family of musicians (maybe still are, idk).

I recently learned of a similar family that got started (… or the first still-famous members date from) about the same time: the Benda family, originally hailing from Bohemia. They’re still around! There’s a group called something like the Benda Family players made up of Benda descendents and their spouses/friends that was featured on my local classical radio station recently đ

• Nornagest says:

Why do you all know Russian cities that arenât the big two

Tom Lehrer’s “Lobachevsky”, although there are some Polish and Belarusian cities in there too.

• Protagoras says:

Yeah, that’s also a problem with relying on cities I know from WWII histories. But still, combining Lehrer and historical knowledge makes getting up to 5 I’m pretty sure are in Russia by anybody’s standards fairly easy.

• Nick says:

Yeah, though I checked afterwards and a few of the ones I said actually don’t qualify. I should have stuck with Omsk and Tomsk, dammit….

Why do you all know Russian cities that arenât the big two or Iynqvibfgbx (or Ibytbtenq ol vgf byq anzr)?

Like achenx, I reached 5 Russian cities only adding one in Crimea (“de facto, if not de jure”). Beside the big 2, I remembered the one where there was recently an Olympiad and the one that was formerly a German city in Eastern Prussia, where Kant lived almost all his life.

• John Schilling says:

1. Znqvfba, Wnpxfba, Yvapbya, Tenag, Tnesvryq, naq obahf cbvag sbe gur zvpeb-graher bs Jvyyvnz Urael Uneevfba

2. Zbfpbj, Fg. Crgrefohet, Ibytbtenq, Purylnovafx, Iynqvibfgbx. Jbhyq unir orra gevpxl vs lbh’q znqr vg n zvyyvba.

3. Avyr, Cb, Qnahor, Gvore, naq Yvgnaav.

4. Oehpr Wraare, Znex Fcvgm, Jnlar Tergfxl, Rxngrevan Jvgg, naq Yvaqfrl Ibaa

5. Vg, Gur Fgnaq, Puevfgvar, Pneevr, Gur Qnex Gbjre, naq obahf cbvag sbe “Gur Ehaavat Zna” nf Evpuneq Onpuznaa

6. Bu, yrg’f znxr guvf bar ng yrnfg n yvggyr ovg uneq. Svtugre cynarf abeznyyl xabja nf “C-ahzore”: Yvtugavat, Unjx vapyhqvat Xvggl- Gbzn- naq Jne- fhofcrpvrf, Nvenpboen, Zhfgnat, Guhaqreobyg. HF anil pneevre-onfrq svtugre cynarf va beqre: Ohssnyb, Jvyqpng, Uryypng, Pbefnve, naq Ornepng. Ovcynar svtugref hfrq qhevat JJVV: Cbyvxnecbi 15, Unjxre Tynqvngbe, Svng Pe.40, naq gur Ur-51 naq Uf-123 ner rqtr pnfrf.

7. Gevpxl orpnhfr V’z abg fher jura “Onebdhr” raqf. Onpu, Unaqry, Zraqryffbua, Oenzf, naq V guvax Orrgubira vf gbb yngr ohg V’z thrffvat urer naljnl.

8. Tnarlzrqr, Vb, Rhebcn, Pnyyvfgb, naq Uvznyvn

9. Oynpx, Pnecragre, Sver, Nezl, Yrnsphggre, naq obahf “fcrpvrf” Ercebqhpgviryl Ivnoyr Jbexre, rkprcg gubfr ner nyy trarevp anzrf gung V guvax zbfgyl pbire zhygvcyr fcrpvrf.

10. Fnttvgnevhf, Gnhehf, Cvfprf, Trzvav, Pnapre, ernyyl, pna V whfg anzr gur Gjryir Pbybavrf sebz “Onggyrfgne Tnynpgvpn”?

OK, missed one on #3 unless we are very generously counting the Black Sea as part of the Mediterranean. Complete fail on #7 because I can’t find the line between Baroque and Romantic. And I had to really fudge the definition of “species” to claim #9.

• quaelegit says:

On 7, there’s usually a “classical” era between Baroque and Romantic. Mozart is the poster-boy. Haydn and early Beethoven are probably the next most famous (Beethoven is usually considered one of the “inventors”, sort of, of Romantic music and straddles the boundary). What amuses me is you aren’t sure about Beethoven being too late, but Brahms is six decades later and a poster boy for the Romantic style (at least is my understanding). Your first two (B* and H*) are spot on though!

The eras as I learned it are “early” [pre-Louis XIV roughly], “Baroque”[17th through mid-18th cent], “Classical” [mid 18th-Beethoven’s 5th symphony], “Romantic” (early 19th until things get weird in the 20th century), and the increasingly-misnamed “contemporary” for everything after that. Although these dates are wishy-washy, and vary with composer and place. It’s probably more useful to group by composer than by date, but knowing when and where a composer was writing should give you a pretty good guess of how modern people would classify his music.

• cmurdock says:

1. Wnzrf Ohpunana, Nor Yvapbya, Naqerj Wbuafba, Hylffrf Tenag, Orawnzva Uneevfba
2. pna bayl guvax bs 3: Zbfpbj, Fg Crgrefohet, Iynqvibfgbx
3. pna bayl guvax bs 2 sbe fher: Gvore naq Avyr. Qnahor sybjf vagb gur Oynpx Frn fb vg qbrfa’g pbhag. V jvfu V pbhyq erzrzore gur anzr bs gur evire va Gebl sebz gur Vyvnq ohg V pna’g.
4. pna bayl guvax bs 4: Zvpunry Wbuafba, Xevfgv Lnznthpuv, Zvpunry Curycf, Hfnva Obyg. Lrnu V fgbccrq cnlvat nggragvba gb gur Bylzcvpf n juvyr ntb. Qvqa’g Zvxr Glfba be Zhunzznq Nyv be bar bs gubfr thlf jva na Bylzcvp tbyq zrqny bapr?
5. pna bayl guvax bs 4: Vg, Zreprqrf, Gur Fuvavat, V guvax bar bs gur QG obbxf vf pnyyrq Gur Thafyvatre? Rirelguvat ryfr V pna guvax bs, V’z abg fher vs gurl’er fubeg fgbevrf be abg.
6. whfg 2: Mreb, Fcvgsver
7. uhu?
8. whfg gur 4: Rhebcn, Pnylcfb, Vb, Tnalzrqr
9. nezl nag, yrnsphggre nag, fvnsh, sver nag, pnecragre nag
10. trzvav, fpbecvb, fntvggnevhf, pnapre, ndhnevhf

3 bhg bs 10. đ

• quaelegit says:

7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baroque_music If you’ve heard of one, it’s probably Wbunaa Fronfgvna Onpu. You’ve probably heard the music of several more in the background of random media (for example, Ivinyqv’f “Fcevat”) but the composers themselves don’t have the name recognition of, say, Mozart and Beethoven. If you ever hear old sounding music with a weird tinny plucking instrument, it’s probably Baroque and the instrument is a harpsichord (I can’t find videos now but googling should turn some up if you want to hear it). The harpsichord’s replacement with the newly-invented piano is one of the main divisions between the “Baroque” and “Classical” eras of classical music.

• quaelegit says:

Followup for anyone who wants to know what a harpsichord sounds like. Both are youtube links:

harpsichord alone.

Bach Harpsichord concertos (this are really good for giving your an idea of what Baroque music is like in general).

Also: a really famous/overplayed Baroque piece that you’ve definitely heard before (at least if you live in the US, idk if its as omnipresent in other countries): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dI_JLNrWPCM

• Deiseach says:

If we’re talking Baroque harpischord, this isn’t a piece for harpsichord alone, but The Bells of St Genevieve (La Sonnerie de Sainte GeneviĂšve du Mont de Paris) by Marin Marais really goes.

And if you think you can stick thirty-six minutes of traditional Irish music played on the harpsichord without going nuts, O’Riada’s Farewell đ (I like his version of “Mabel Kelly” very much, a lot of the adaptations of it are a little too sweet and lush).

• quaelegit says:

This is a kind of late reply but thanks for the links Deiseach! I enjoyed both of them đ

• achenx says:

I can do presidents, gold medals, Stephen King, Baroque composers, and zodiac, all easily. (And I don’t think I’ve ever actually read any Stephen King, just know things through cultural osmosis or whatever.)

I can get the big 4 moons of Jupiter easily, but don’t know a fifth. I looked it up and now I’ll remember.

I can get 4 Russian cities after some thought, and as long as I don’t have to spell them.. oh, just thought of the city in Crimea they took over. Now it’s 5. (De facto if not de jure!) Looking at the list on Wikipedia, after the top 2 it’s not the largest ones at all, just some I happen to know.

Rivers, nope. After look at some references, guess I got 3, with some wrong answers.

Planes, no. Actually would do better with WWI.

Ants, I got nothing.

• Nornagest says:

Got 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10. Only remembered three rivers flowing to the Mediterranean (the Avyr, Gvore, naq Ehovpba), and only two Baroque composers (Onpu naq Unaqry). Ants is also marginal, although I can name five ant genuses fairly easily.

Moons of Jupiter was a tricky one. I got the four Galilean moons fairly readily (though I stumbled for a bit on Pnyyvfgb), but for the last I had to go through a mental list of Jupiter’s lovers until I remembered one whose name had been used for a moon. Seems I know Saturn’s system better.
Fortunately, there are lots of both moons and lovers.

• Chevalier Mal Fet says:

1. Wrssrefba, Znqvfba, Zbaebr, Dhvapl Nqnzf, Wnpxfba. V pbhyq xrrc tbvat.
2. Zbfpbj, Fg. Crgrefohet, Iynqvibfgbx, Ibytbtenq, Fnznen
3. Roeb, Ybver, Cb, Gvore, Avyr.
4. Wrffr Bjraf, Tnool Qbhtynf, Zvpunry Curycf, Xevfgv Lnznthpuv, huuu, gur Avargrra Rvtugl HF ubpxrl grnz? Guvf bar cebonoyl qbrfa’g pbhag.
5. Vg, Trenyq’f Tnzr, Ryrira-Gjragl-gjb-Fvkgl-guerr, Crg Frzngnel, Fnyrz’f Ybg.
6. ZR Bar-Bu-Avar, Fcvgsver, Uheevpnar, C-SvsglBar, Mreb.
7. Abcr, tbg abguva’.
8. Tnalzrqr, Pnyyvfgb, Vb, Rhebcn, hu, Yrqn vf cebonoyl bar. Whfg anzvat ybiref bs Mrhf urer.
9. V qb abg xabj nal nagf.
10. Yvoen, Yrb, Cvfprf, Pncevpbea, Pnapre.

4, 7, 8, naq 9 jrer ernyyl uneq.

• b_jonas says:

You have probably already checked these, so you know that one of your answers for 3 is wrong because that river flows to the Atlantic.

• Chevalier Mal Fet says:

Yeah, I meant the Eubar, not the Ybver, for 3. Wrong damn river. Remembered after I missed the edit window.

• rahien.din says:

1. Yvapbya, Wnpxfba, ZpXvayrl, Tenag, ZpXvayrl
2. Zbfpbj, Iynqvibfgbx, Fg. Crgrefohet, Frinfgncby, Tebmal
4. Fgeht, Fcvgm, Curycf, Wbeqna, Onexyrl
5. Vg, Gur Fuvavat, Puevfgvar, Pneevr, Crg Frzrgnel
6. Zhfgnat, fcvgsver, mreb, fpujnyor, guhaqreobyg
7. Onpu, Ivinyqv, Cenrgbevhf, Unlqa, …
9. Pnecragre, sver, gfvnsh, ohyyrg, wnpx-whzcre
10. Gnhehf, trzvav, pncevpbea, cvfprf, fntvggnevhf

• b_jonas says:

4. That’s a fun answer. It seems that three two of those are the surname of at least two different sportsman who’s won an Olympic gold medal. QrNaqer Wbeqna (onfxrgonyy), Zvpunry Wbeqna (onfxrgonyy, obea 1963), Znex Fcvgm (fjvzzvat), Fnovar Fcvgm (pebff-pbhagel plpyvat).

• 1 Gubznf Wrssrefba, Wnzrf Zbaebr, Naqerj Wnpxfba, Noenunz Yvapbya, Hylffrf Tenag
2 Zbfpbj, Fg Crgrefohet, Avmual Abitbebq, Fzbyrafx, Iynqvibfgbx
3 gur Euvar, gur Gvore, gur Cb,
4 Wrffvpn Raavf, Zb Snenu, Zvpunry Curycf, Erorppn Nqyvatgba, Cnhyn Enqpyvssr
5 Vg,
6 Fcvgsver,
7 Onpu,
8 Vb, Rhebcn, Tnalzrqr,
9 Oynpx nag, erq nag, jbbq nag, sver nag, nezl nag
10 Pnapre, Yrb, Yvoen, Pncevpbea, Fntvggnevhf

5/5 for 1, 2, 9, 10
4/5 for 4 (gheaf bhg Cnhyn Enqpyvssr arire jba n tbyq)
3/5 for 8
2/5 for 2 (gur Euvar qbrf abg sybj vagb gur Zrqvgreenarna. nyfb zl Rhebpragevfz vf fubjvat)
1/5 for 5, 6, 7

• johan_larson says:

I don’t think you should give yourself 5/5 for question 9. The names you give are descriptions of appearance and behavior, not the names of species, even by the standards of common usage.

Gurer ner frireny qvssrerag fcrpvrf bs sver nagf naq nezl nagf.

• powerfuller says:

Presidents, novels, and zodiac were easy for me. Got a few of the rest, excluding moons and composers (minus the big one). I got the medalists, surprising myself, but only because I remembered gur havgrq fgngrf onfxrgonyy qernz grnz, (pbhagvat gur vaqvivqhny zrzoref frcnengryl).

• Nornagest says:

Yeah, I included a Qernz Grnz member on my list of medalists, too. Irahf naq Freran Jvyyvnzf also made it an easier question.

• Well... says:

1; 4; 5; 7; 9; 10.

#7 was a beast and I only got it after coming up with a few extras but then checking Wikipedia to find out they were born way later than I had realized. (E.g. Verdi lived into the 20th century?!?!?!)

• quaelegit says:

Opera — it somehow stayed popular for centuries?!

Verdi in particular is hard because “Italian opera composers” pattern matches to a lot of Baroque guys too. In fact, I would definitely conflate him with this guy.

• Lillian says:

Let’s see, off the top of my head:

1) 19th century US Presidents: Pretty easy, i named 10.
2) Russian cities with >100k pop: Also easy, named 12.
3) Rivers into the Mediterranean: Hard, but i managed five.
4) Olympic gold medallists: Ahahahaha, i can’t even name one.
5) Novels by Stephen King: Nope, three and a half. Gur Qnex Gbjre vf gur unys gvgyr)
6) World War II Fighter planes: Named over a dozen, though i got couple of Russian planes wrong, and frustratingly i couldn’t remember the name of the best fighter biplane ever built.
7) Baroque composers: Only got one, i prefer Classical and Romantic.
8) Moons of Jupiter: Only know the Galilean moons, so i’m short one.
9) Species of ant: Huh, i thought i would fail this but i got it.
10) Sigs of the Zodiac: Got 10/12, thank you Saint Seya.

So in summary i succeeded in answering 1,2,3,6,9,10. Failed 4 completely, got 20% credit on 7, 70% credit on 5, and 80% credit on 8.

• Nornagest says:

I’ve got to admit I wouldn’t be able to name half as many signs of the Zodiac if it wasn’t for that damn comic with the gay alien space bugs.

It would be fun to do this scatagories style â i.e. points for unique answers.

• Chevalier Mal Fet says:

As near as I could tell, here are the unique answers from those who gave lists:

Nick:
1. James K Polk, Grover Cleveland. Deliberately eclectic list. đ
2. Alexandrovsk, Petropavlovsk. I gave up and started relying on Tom Lehrerâs Lobachevsky.
5. Duma Key, Cell, Under the Dome, Deliberately eclectic again. đ
7. Uhh. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, âŠ letâs go with LisztâŠ I give.

B_jonas:

2. Omsk, and Ekaterinburg.
4. HosszĂș Katinka (long distance swimming)
9. Erdei VĂ¶rĂ¶shangya.
10. OroszlĂĄn, Bika, Kos, Bak, Halak, SkorpiĂł, RĂĄk, SzĆ±z, Ikrek, VĂ­zĂ¶ntĆ, Nyilas, MĂ©rleg.

Christhenottopher
2. Voronezh

John Schilling
1. Garfield
2. Chelyabinsk,. Would have been tricky if youâd made it a million.
3 Litanni.
4. Bruce Jenner, Wayne Gretsky, Ekaterina Witt, and Lindsey Vonn
5. The Dark Tower, and bonus point for âThe Running Manâ as Richard Bachmann
6. Oh, letâs make this one at least a little bit hard. Fighter planes normally known as âP-numberâ: Lightning, Hawk including Kitty- Toma- and War- subspecies, Airacobra. US navy carrier-based fighter planes in order: Buffalo, Corsair, and Bearcat. Biplane fighters used during WWII: Polikarpov 15, Hawker Gladiator, Fiat Cr.40, and the He-51 and Hs-123 are edge cases.
7. Tricky because Iâm not sure when âBaroqueâ ends. Mendelssohn, Brams, and I think Beethoven is too late but Iâm guessing here anyway.
8. Himalia
9. Reproductively Viable Worker, except those are all generic names that I think mostly cover multiple species.

Cmurdock

1. James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Benjamin Harrison
4. can only think of 4: Michael Johnson. Yeah I stopped paying attention to the Olympics a while ago. Didnât Mike Tyson or Muhammad Ali or one of those guys win an Olympic gold medal once?
5. I can only think of 4: Mercedes, I think one of the DT books is called The Gunslinger? Everything else I can think of, Iâm not sure if theyâre short stories or not.

Chevalier:,
2. Samara
3. Ebro
4. Jesse Owens, Gabby Douglas, uhhh, the Nineteen Eighty US hockey team? This one probably doesnât count.
5. Geraldâs Game, Eleven-Twenty-two-Sixty-three, Salemâs Lot.
8. Leda is probably one. Just naming lovers of Zeus here.

Rahien.din
1. McKinley, McKinley [sic]
2. Sevastapol, Grozny
4. Strug, Jordan, Barkley
6. schwalbe
7., Vivaldi, Praetorius, Haydn, âŠ
9. bullet, jack-jumper

thehousecarpenter
2 Smolensk,
9, wood ant

I don’t know if all are correct – I cut out unique but wrong answers where I was qualified to judge.

26. MrApophenia says:

Interesting paper that appears to confirm the conjecture from the article a few weeks back on joblessness, that joblessness isnât just increasing overall, but is drastically different by region.

Probably shouldnât be a huge shock to anyone, but the scale of the difference is pretty impressive – 5% prime male unemployment in Alexandria, VA vs. 51% in Flint, MI, for instance.

The difference is so great it actually makes me wonder a bit how useful it really is to look at the overall trend line for the country. If you were measuring property values in a neighborhood and one of the houses is currently on fire, the overall trend will decrease too, but you arenât really capturing whatâs going on.

27. rlms says:

The latest episode in the British government’s censorship of criticism of a particular religious group (hint — it isn’t Christians). Apparently the artist being censored was already avoiding performing in public due to safety concerns, but the CPS decided that wasn’t sufficient punishment for daring to question orthodox opinion.

(Although, while censoring speech just because certain people find it offensive is ridiculous, I think prosecution for crimes against art wouldn’t be too unreasonable in this case)

• Jiro says:

The idea that someone avoids performing in public due to “safety concerns” when he’s attacking Jews is absurd. Does he expect his Jewish counterattackers to pelt him with gefilte fish?

• Le Maistre Chat says:

Just another “dog bites man” story, but unforgivable all the same. The Conservatives need to be replaced by a right-wing Party that will actually resist Islam.

• Jiro says:

The article only mentions him attacking Jews, not Muslims.

• How about a far right party that attacks Muslims and Jews? Because that’s pretty much on offer.

28. mtraven says:

A long and long-delayed response to Conflict vs. Mistake. And congratulations, I guess, on getting linked from the NY Times Op-ed pages by David Brooks.

29. entobat says:

Not sure how kosher cross-pollination is, but I was reading Scott’s tumblr and don’t have one of my own, so:

Over on Tumblr, Scott said (intentionally paraphrasing) “Why are people less happy today even though things are getting better? [Or is our perception of this just wrong?]”

This is tackled in a book I read a few years ago, The Progress Paradox by Gregg Easterbrook. I vaguely remember it being goodâthere are a lot of fun-to-read stat dumbs a la Freakonomics or Lies, Damned Lies, and Statisticsâthough the quality declined as the book went on.

• Aapje says:

Does happiness actually decrease with wealth? I don’t think the data supports this.

It seems way more likely that people are relativists, not absolutists, so they want to have it good compared to those they perceive as peers. So the guy with the biggest hovel in a slum is likely to be more satisfied than the person with the smallest villa in Beverley Hills. Unless they define their peer group wider than that, of course.

However, the logical solution to that (minimize wealth difference) won’t tend to appeal to conservatives.

• baconbits9 says:

I don’t know how we separate the two. If you take the guy in the largest hovel and ask him to rate his happiness on a scale of 1 – 10 and he says 9. Then you take him on a tour of Beverly Hills, return him to his hovel and ask him again and he says 3. Is that because he now rates himself against those people in Beverly Hills or because his imagination wasn’t good enough to grasp the magnitude of his depravity? If he works himself up to living in the smallest villa in Beverly Hills and then rates himself a 7 is that 7 really smaller than the first 9? How do you even approach that question?

• However, the logical solution to that (minimize wealth difference) wonât tend to appeal to conservatives.

Why is that the logical solution? Minimizing wealth differences, on your model, makes the poor happier and the rich less happy, which isn’t an obvious win.

Wouldn’t the logical solution be to arrange things so people are more aware of those poorer than themselves than those richer than themselves? Have the news media focus on the problems of the poor rather than the gaudy lifestyle of the rich. Persuade the rich to limit their extravagances to locations where only other rich people will see them.

• Aapje says:

In practice we tend to see that countries with high wealth disparity have relatively few wealthy and many poor, so it seems doubtful that the extra happiness of the wealthy outweighs the increased discontent of the poor.

Giving people a more realistic view of what others actually achieve seems useful, which is why I would suggest that people avoid placing where people boast, like Facebook & that people watch more Russian movies and fewer Hollywood movies.

30. Deiseach says:

Something shared on my Facebook, linking here for all the military history people – a snippet of a news programme from February this year, featuring a 101 year old woman who is the “last remaining female Spitfire pilot”. She was a member of the Air Transport Auxillary which had women pilots flying planes from the factories to the airbases.

• BjĂ¶rn says:

You might be interested in the story of Beate Uhse, who was a transport pilot for the Luftwaffe in the Second World War, and who became a sex shop entrepreneur after the Second World War when she was not allowed to fly anymore due to her Luftwaffe membership.

• The Nybbler says:

Nominative determinism strikes again.

31. Matt M says:

Re: The left being de facto in favor of open borders.

The Nation is formally calling for the abolishment of ICE.

I’d be very interested in knowing what portion of this article/argument people suspect that say, an Elizabeth Warren, would object to or disagree with.

• skef says:

The center-left is becoming more pro-immigrant, whether legal or not. But I don’t think the characterization of the position with “open borders” is accurate. The de facto position on that side has become that if you manage to get in, and you keep your head down, you should be able to stay. The argument (as made in your link) is that the moral and material costs of interfering in domestic communities outweigh any benefits. Therefore, deportation should be limited to those caught on or near the borders themselves, or (possibly) when people get caught up in the criminal justice system.

There is plenty for those who object to non-legal immigration to hate about that, but it doesn’t amount to an open borders policy.

Added: I realize that ICE as presently constituted is responsible for much of the border enforcement as well, but I don’t think that fact is very relevant to either that article (which makes an admittedly cheesy “only turn back the clock to 2003” argument) or to views widely held on the left.

• Matt M says:

Therefore, deportation should be limited to those caught on or near the borders themselves, or (possibly) when people get caught up in the criminal justice system.

Of course, they also don’t want a wall, and generally oppose any and every effort that might be made to strengthen border security in general.

If you want border security so lax that even the world’s most impoverished and resource-lacking people can routinely subvert it, AND you oppose any and every effort to remove anyone who makes it past the (non)security, you have a de facto open borders policy.

ETA: Although I suppose that officially announcing that we totally do not have an open borders policy even when we have little security and zero internal enforcement might do a good job of keeping out highly moral people who have strong priors against disobeying the law, even when it is easy to do so and many others are doing it. So we got that going for us at least.

• dndnrsn says:

ICE dates to 2003 – did it improve border security, deportation numbers, etc? Is it a cornerstone of the US immigration and border system? I agree with the article on that. That said, the rhetoric is a bit overheated:

ICE was a direct product of the postâSeptember 11 panic culture, and was created in the legislation Congress passed in the wake of the attacks. From the start, the agency was paired with the brand-new Department of Homeland Securityâs increased surveillance of communities of color and immigrant communities. By putting ICE under the scope of DHS, the government framed immigration as a national security issue rather than an issue of community development, diversity or human rights.

As though there’s no middle ground. It’s a pity that immigration (legal or otherwise) is a boon to one party and a bane to the other in such a big way, and also that the status quo is a nudge-nudge-wink-wink toleration of illegal immigration for the sake of those who employ it, coupled with a rather dysfunctional legal immigration system – it means it’s a political football, rather than a policy question.

I think the US could handle a lot more immigrants than it takes in every year, but it would require a better system in many ways – including one that’s honest about labour supply and demand. It’s unfair to suddenly round up and kick people out who have been tacitly tolerated for so long.

• John Schilling says:

ICE dates to 2003 â did it improve border security, deportation numbers, etc?

ICE was established in 2003 by combining the Immigration and Naturalization Service with the enforcement arm of the Customs Service, both of which continued performing their old functions under new management. This is one of the usual bureaucratic dodges that results in no great changes, positive or negative, and you know that.

But when The Nation talks about “abolishing ICE”, they aren’t talking about separating INS and C&BP, about abolishing just the top-level management of the combined agency. They are talking explicitly about defunding the entire organization. And they are dismissing concerns about how the current functions of DHS, formerly the functions of INS and C&BP, are to be carried out in their brave new world, they explicitly state “the goal of abolishing the agency is to abolish the function”.

That isn’t dialing the clock back to 2003, that’s dialing the clock back to 1924 at the latest.

• dndnrsn says: