Open Thread 99.5

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

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570 Responses to Open Thread 99.5

  1. johan_larson says:

    The Venezuelan oil industry is starting to fail, and without that the country is totally boned.

    How do the learned fellows of SSC see this playing out? And for bonus points, what institution’s propaganda arm is responsible for the article I linked to?

    • christhenottopher says:

      Venezuela’s been on a long term decline in oil production since 2014, likely because of underinvestment and mismanagement. The decline’s been accelerating since 2017 however so I expect the problems from this story to accelerate. With the much lower production numbers, I’m not surprised to see cutbacks in the workforce, and in fact these mass resignations might be what the government actually wants. As a nationalized industry, I wouldn’t be surprised if politicians have been pushing for over hiring prior to the current crisis as rewards for supporters. Outright firing them now that the company can’t afford to pay them would likely be seen as a betrayal by those supporters, but getting them to quit en mass solves the financial problem while politicians can blame the management for bad conditions. Blaming them for firing the excess employees doesn’t work as well. The response would be something like “hey you clearly have influence over hiring decisions since you got me hired. Why can’t you influence firing decisions?”.

      The broader collapse in the economy has been extremely painful already, and the total time with GDP growth being negative is no longer than Greece faced and much deeper, this isn’t unprecedented in Venezuelan history. The period from 1977 to the mid-80s also saw a collapse in GDP per capita even larger than what has happened so far. In fact, Venezuela has never recovered to the per capita GDP it had in 1977. In the long term, I think the best thing to hope for is that the collapse in the Venezuelan oil industry is permanent. The rest of South America is managing to give steady growth that improves living standards and isn’t overly dependent on one commodity, even Peru has higher per capita GDP (PPP) than Venezuela now. Oil has encouraged an overly state-controlled economy and enabled the rise of demagogues using the oil industry to support their base. Recovery in oil will just start the cycle of growth, stagnation, collapse that Venezuela has been seeing for at least the past 40 years again.

    • John Schilling says:

      The Venezuelan oil industry is starting to fail,

      You’re about twenty years late for that observation. The Venezuelan oil industry started to fail at about the time Hugo Chavez won the presidency on a platform of “Greedy Rich Capitalists are Enemies of the People and should be treated accordingly”, defining the GRC class to include the relatively high-income engineers and technicians of the oil industry. There have since been several rounds of purging the workforce of people who think they might be entitled to relatively high salaries or wages and replacing them with ideologically pure poor Bolivaran socialists who can be counted on to support the current regime. It isn’t clear whether the people Reuters is talking to are holdouts from the pre-Chavez workforce or some of the new guys who have learned enough to know to actually run an oil field. That would be interesting to know, but as you note the Reuters article is being driven by nameless sources with an agenda of their own.

      This plays out the way you would expect if Ayn Rand were writing it as a novel, which is what you get if you hire the villains of an Ayn Rand novel to run your country. Except, this time, Galt’s Gulch is the entire mostly-capitalist outside world, and they won’t be coming back. There’s one fork where the regime is suborned by narcoterrorists looking for a secure base of operations and waving around more hard currency than anyone else can bring to the table in Venezuela. Another where it sells out to the Chinese, who bring in their own people to run (and protect) the oil fields.

      • albatross11 says:

        Probably also a fork where things continue to be chaotic and badly run for the forseeable future.

      • bean says:

        Another fork: The US decides that Imperialism wasn’t such a bad idea and goes in to fix it, as we would have in the old days.

        • John Schilling says:

          That’s slightly less plausible than the one where communism works and everyone lives happily ever after once they fix the one mistyped cell in the spreadsheet governing the Venezuelan economy.

          • bean says:

            Very true, but they can have their dreams, and I can have mine.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            In terms of likely to happen, sure. In terms of likely to work…I mean, I wouldn’t put chalk on it, but it’s not impossible. I don’t think we’d see mass suicide bombings or active large scale insurgency, and it’s at least conceivable that we’d install technocratic corporate leadership, hold “free and fair elections” confirming said leadership, and more or less move on.

            Unlikely to happen, dumb to try, way more likely to work than true communism, no? (And can’t you see Donald Trump getting talked into him being the perfect guy to show those idiots how to run a proper business?)

  2. CatCube says:

    Looks like we just had somebody killed on a flight from Philadelphia, when an apparent uncontained engine failure punched out a window. Considering that one design criterion is to not have engine parts leave the housing during a failure, I’m sure the NTSB is going to have a close look at what happened.

    As far as I know, this is the first death on a domestic scheduled airline flight since Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in July 2013, and even that one was only 3 fatalities. It’s kind of amazing how the (already low) accident rate for air travel has dropped off even further in the past 15 years.

    • bean says:

      The flight was LGA-DAL, and landed at Philadelphia. And it was the first time in 9 years a US-flag carrier lost a passenger. A sad day for everyone involved. But this is the second unconstrained failure on a CFM-56 in the past two years, so you bet there will be scrutiny.

  3. mikybee93 says:

    A while back there was a concept that was mentioned here (or maybe on lesswrong). The basic idea of it was that people are more likely to be mad at an organization or individual for trying and not doing enough than for doing nothing at all.

    For example, if I donated $200 to a charity that supports hungry kids in Chicago, I may upset people who think that money should go to mosquito nets in Africa. However if I didn’t donate the $200 at all, nobody would be miffed.

    Does anyone remember where this idea came from or what it’s called?

    • Montfort says:

      Around here, it’s usually called the Copenhagen interpretation of ethics; that post was linked in a link post a while back, not sure if that blog is where it comes from originally.

    • christianschwalbach says:

      Isnt this a rather simple case of simply creating awareness of a cause by the donation itself, thereby inviting judgement on whether it goes far enough? Whereas if you do/give nothing, you are not exposing yourself to criticism?

  4. tayfie says:

    Since this is a highly literate crowd, I am fairly certain there are plenty of writers here, but what about other forms of artistry? Do we have many painters, musicians, sculptors, carpenters, blacksmiths, etc.? What is your art form and how did you get into it?

    I, for example, play piano. I enjoy being able to play for myself and others, find it relaxing to practice, and am encouraged by the ability to make easily observed improvements. Unlike many, I did not start until my 20s. I started playing because I felt I needed a new creative outlet to get over some hard times.

    • AG says:

      Writing, percussion, used to do piano waaaaay back when (and plan to refresh on it), drawing, calligraphy, digital image and video editing, digital sound/music editing, have done origami to the 3D level, have done various cooking and baking projects (including with aesthetic concerns), have made some jewelry for cosplay purposes, have styled hair for cosplay purposes, have made large-sized cardboard structures, have made basic props for cosplay purposes, have designed and carved pumpkins (and one pomegranate that was a pain in the ass) slightly above the basic level, plan to get into clothing modifications/tailoring. Want to get more formal instruction in dance at some point.

      My parents made sure my siblings and I were firmly entrenched in music. Everything else was basically the result of wanting to make the things in my imagination (fueled in turn by seeing the cool creations of others) become reality, and researching how to do that. “Can I do that?/I can do that!” So, not very different from what gets me into physical activities or learning new analytical skills.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      I’m a singer. Last few years I’ve performed pretty heavily in the musical theater community around Seattle. Not professionally good, but worked a lot at the second tier in the area. Heck, I get paid to do so, though well under minimum wage.

      I play a little piano but not nearly enough to be useful for more than sounding out chords while learning songs. I’d love to be able to accompany myself, but doesn’t seem like I’ll get there for more than a handful of songs.

      I’m also a reasonably good cook and bartender, both of which are artistry in my books.

    • christianschwalbach says:

      Ive dabbled in a few things. My most recent pursuit that I actually invested time in other than writing was horticulture, actually. I wouldnt consider it a strict art, but Garden planning and esp. the mixing of edible and non edible plants in a garden is an exercise in sustainability and visual art. I figure I will always maintain some attraction to plants my entire life….used to draw a bit, though rarely freehand. Much better at doing patterns and motifs in that manner, enjoy painting furniture and pottery, oddly enough. Would love to have a wood-working space some day, as perhaps an old-man hobby when my body slows down. I love the visuals of well-worked wood.

    • KG says:

      I’m a writer, but I also draw. In both cases these are amateur expressions of creativity for me, as I started drawing as a toddler and just kept doing it until I could write (really bad) short stories, when I began to switch back and forth. I don’t know why I started, but as I got older it became a form of storytelling for me, hence why I began writing when I could do so. I’d draw monsters and aliens and whathaveyou doing silly things, often in comic form and sometimes with faux RPG aspects. I’m less into drawing now, since writing allows me much more freedom of expression, but I still do it sometimes.

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      Fairly serious choral composer, moderately serious choral singer, pretty amateurish but enthusiastic bel canto solo singer. Started choir when I was five, was a confirmed choir dork by thirteen or so. Got into bel canto in my mid 20s when I realized I needed to take voice lessons if I was ever going to be a good-not-just-decent choral singer. Got into composing in my early 30s because the choir I was able to be in by virtue of having become a good-not-just-decent choral singer had a bunch of friendly composers in it.

    • rahien.din says:

      My favorite art form is cooking. I’ve enjoyed it in some sense for most of my life, but I got a lot better once I had my own kitchen and could experiment (oh, and had to eat my own experiments). I love to be able to feed my family, to see them eat something delicious. I love the improvisation necessary to cook, and the magic of seeing a set of ingredients formed into a dish. And, it requires an embrace of the senses and a precise physicality that I don’t otherwise get from my daily life. I even enjoy mise en place and cleaning up. The whole thing. It’s just fantastic.

      I write poetry – I just always have. It’s not something I do often lately, as I’m too focused on other things to be able to sit and write and revise. Now, I mostly write short poems as gifts for my wife.

      I enjoy writing music (MIDI) and hearing my songs come to life. If I had more time, I would buy a nicer audio card and compose more.

      I have a story in my head which I would like to write, but I’m not confident that I can pull it off. So I have mostly back-burner-ed that.

      I used to play the trombone, but you can’t really play the trombone by yourself for fun. I also used to play the harmonica, but I found it limiting and I wasn’t sure if other people thought it was annoying. I would like to be able to play the guitar, but I’m not naturally good at it and whenever I take it out my kids swarm me and start to strum, swat, and detune the thing, and I hate insisting they leave it alone. So I don’t really get time to practice. Maybe when they’re older.

    • James says:

      Late, but I write (passably?) and sing (poorly) synthpop. It’s my main thing outside of my day job. When I have any songs worth listening to maybe I’ll post them here.

  5. rlms says:

    An odd site I stumbled across: one of apparently several groups that claim to be the successors to the Knights Templar.

    • christhenottopher says:

      Oh hey look the guys from Assassin’s Creed! Well isn’t that…wait a minute.

      We take particular exception to the claim that “the age of the fundamentalist sword wielding knight has long gone”, when we look around the world and see Christians being marginalised and isolated by atheists and spiteful ‘minorities’, persecuted by the liberal-left Establishments of the West and slaughtered by militant Islamists in the Middle East and neo-Nazi thugs in eastern Ukraine.

      Huh, weird choice but hang on.

      Likewise, we go beyond the other Orders’ worthy call for closer relations between Western Christian denominations and Orthodoxy, to argue and work for an end to the anti-Christian and deeply dangerous warmongering against re-Christianised Russia, which is all too common in these troubled and dangerous times.

      Are these guys ANOTHER Russian psyops campaign?!

      • rlms says:

        I was wondering that, but then you also have the £595 membership fee, which makes it seem like a shameless money grab, and the general vibe which gives off an impression of amateurism. I guess it could be several of these at once.

        Evidence in favour of the Russian psyop theory is the inconsistent perspective in the campaigns section — “Ban The Burqa” is American but “Make St. Georges Day A National Holiday” is English.

        • christhenottopher says:

          A little digging says apparently they showed up around 2014, which would work timeline wise for Russian influence in the start given that Russia announced it’s “cyber forces” in 2013. Apparently though they started associating with a British far-right guy named Jim Dawson in 2016 and all these sources I’m looking find them working with Russia quite a bit. Also apparently Jim Dowson is a Calvinist minister. Which is wild. A medieval Catholic holy crusading order that apparently is going non-denominational with Protestants and Orthodox support? What kind of rampant heresy is this?!

          You know I at least thought I could count on the hard core traditionalists to keep up the tradition of calling all other denominations heretics.

          • Deiseach says:

            A medieval Catholic holy crusading order that apparently is going non-denominational with Protestants and Orthodox support? What kind of rampant heresy is this?!

            It happens a lot. There are various off-shoots of the Lefebvrists which ended up going weird places; one local example was an Irish guy who started off as one of the Lefebvre bunch ending up running his own little church and ordaining Sinéad O’Connor. Going from “Mass in the vernacular is the devil’s doing!” to women’s ordination like that? Yeah, they go weird when they cut loose from the Barque of Peter.

            And this is why the pope is important. You start going “No, the pope is wrong and I am right!” and you end up with ever-fancier robes and ever-wackier beliefs.

            Also, a lot of the defunct military orders like that were revived or taken over by people with bees in their bonnets who managed by some means to get the rights to use the name and then started LARPing with abandon and claiming they were so the real Knights Templar or what you will, and handing out memberships in exchange for fat donations, in much the same way that the wealthy but not worldly-wise can be persuaded to buy a lairdship or a title; technically this does not entitle them to call themselves a laird or represent themselves as nobility, but such fine details often escape the nouveau riche arriviste who sees no reason why, having whacked down the wodge of cash for the title, he cannot then call himself Lord Jones 🙂

            You know I at least thought I could count on the hard core traditionalists to keep up the tradition of calling all other denominations heretics.

            I would do and quite happily, but the pope said we couldn’t any more! And since I owe filial obedience to the Holy Father, I can’t go around calling our separated brethren things like that now 🙁

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Deiseach: Francis is really testing my patience with that “the Pope is indispensable” doctrine, though. 😛
            I guess I just have to remember that, so long as he doesn’t declare any part of leftism Church dogma, his policies are less of an existential problem than Alexander VI’s…

          • Nick says:

            Alas, the various doctrines on papal authority are de fide. There’s no getting around them. Francis is a quite able principle of disunity in the present Church, but we’d be in much worse straits without a pope to steer the Barque. A Deiseach points out, a decentralized Church would get you the same doctrinal madness you’re seeing in the present synods, but dialed up to eleven and everywhere and all the time.

    • Nornagest says:

      Somewhere, Umberto Eco is laughing.

  6. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Continued from here:

    Before splitting up to take care of the consensus supplies, we christened our ship the SS Library of Alexandria. On the day we left, there were reporters to see us off. Ellsworth and I got most of their questions. I knew from their enthusiasm for his trans-Antarctic flight plan that none had read Dyer’s paper. So it came as little surprise that mixed with some paleontology questions was a softball about the ship’s name. I gave them a line about it being a scientific expedition and that I first learned science at the Alexandria Public Library. Somehow reporters eat schmaltz like that up.
    So on that September day 1935 we steamed south, approximating the Dyer expedition’s path by passing through the Panama Canal, then refueling and replacing rations at Eden, Australia while Agent Frank placed a call to the embassy in Canberra. On Day 40, we sighted Ross Island. Our captain drove the Library of Alexandria into the ice on the McMurdo Sound mainland opposite it, part of a clever plan Ellsworth had proposed to me to use the ship as Base Camp, obviating the widespread belief that Antarctic camp facilities were too harsh for women. For his services, he got another of the rare Northrop Gamma airplanes, whiched he named Wyatt Earp, to join his baby the Polar Star. Agent Frank’s friends from the Army made a cover story for government agencies outside the loop that they were being tested as a possible long-range attack plane for future service.

    I went to talk with Starkweather on deck, where he was looking out over the bow at the planes now sitting on the ice. The crewmen were returning from moving them via rafts, and I saw the geology students looking out, eagerly awaiting their turn to disembark. Dyer was showing Dr. White a map of where his expedition had found fossils.
    He looked me up and down in parka, snow trousers and other gear. “Yes?”
    “I’m going to Advance Base. Studying those ruins is more important to science than drilling for fossil crinoids.”
    “And I suppose you’re going to tell me that you’ll inherently perform a science experiment on whether women can survive Antarctic camp conditions?”
    “You can look at it that way. No reason to discriminating against female scientists on future expeditions, if I can make it.”
    Starkweather shook his head. “Catherine, you actually had me convinced that you thought trying to find missing links between the Old Ones and known crinoids was your passion.”
    “That’s one way to disprove Dyer’s belief that they came from outer space early enough to create all multi-cellular life. However they could also be space invaders who came much later.”
    He needed more persuading to listen to me, but within an hour we were in the air. There were ten of us to a plane, plus eight sled dogs. I spent the first part of the flight petting them, seeing which one I had the best rapport with. The plan was to detach one husky from the team when it took us to a site, as the Dyer expedition had learned they invariably freaked out near Old Ones. So I found a favorite dog, named Spot, for that duty.
    It was around 800 miles before the towering mountains of the plateau, which we now knew to be the prelude to even higher ones beyond, came close enough to make out the regular blocks that had once been buildings, still nearly cubic after being untouched by intelligent beings for the entire Pleistocene.
    “Dr. Dyer, were you expecting to see the mirage again?” I asked.
    “Frankly I had no idea what to expect, beyond danger.”
    “Well I hope there aren’t any mirages to mess up my aerial survey when the Polar Star crosses this continent.” Ellsworth chimed in.
    “Continent… speaking of that, how did Earth end up with its highest mountains here, if continental drift theory is true?” I asked. “The Himalayas would have been formed when India drifted north from a larger continent including Antarctica and wedged its northern edge under Eurasia. No similar thing should have happened here unless Eastern and Western Antarctica are separate…”
    “A good point, but low enough on the list of mysteries that I suppose it will take decades of scientific invasions before we know. If all the men who come aren’t killed first, by shoggoths or that more horrific thing the Old Ones feared.”

    Some time later, I watched breathless as the Polar Star passed over the first of the cubic ramparts on the glacial plateau’s edge, looking down from the aeroplane window for any clue as to whether this had been the original edge of the city, dropping off like a pre-human cross between Lhasa and a Pueblo canyon, or whether there had once been more conurbation and then suburbs on this side, before some geological disaster had changed the terrain. No, no way to tell yet…
    After 30 more miles, Ellsworth expertly put the Polar Star down on its skis in a long strip of bare snow and ice, dotted no more than a quarter-mile to his right and left by ruined buildings. We all disembarked: Ellsworth, myself, Dyer, Professor Daniels, three graduate students, a photographer named Bridges, Hauser the chief dog handler and Agent Frank. As Bridges and the students helped Hauser unload camp supplies one sled load at a time, I watched Frank walk slowly around the perimeter of the camp site they were laying out. He opened a satchel and took out a dull metallic object which he placed securely on the snowy ground, then walked 45 degrees around a circle and took out another. This time I could see that it was one of those fist-sized talismans with a swastika on it that he had alluded to. The worldly, no-nonsense FBI agent was laying out a mystical ward. I slipped a hand inside my parka, feeling the borrowed crucifix of my mother’s on my upper chest. My whole adult life I had considered myself a scientist as opposed to a Christian, but hearing Agent Frank back on the Alexandria waterfront talk about taking talismans on a scientific expedition for protection, like taking the crucifix and consecrated wafers for vampires, made me want this. Watching this weird behavior unfold before my eyes on a scientific expedition brought back that uncanny feeling that science as I knew it didn’t have all the answers.
    I was oblivious when Starkweather approached. “Well, Moore, it’s only a mile sled ride back to the closest building of the main conurbation. You want the first shift in there, with Smith and Daniels? It would take me awhile to find the best spot near here for drilling.”
    “Yes, that works.” I turned away from him and raised my voice. “Professors! Bridges! Time to see how much we can learn about the Old Ones.”

    • Nornagest says:

      “Continent… speaking of that, how did Earth end up with its highest mountains here, if continental drift theory is true?” I asked. “The Himalayas would have been formed when India drifted north from a larger continent including Antarctica and wedged its northern edge under Eurasia. No similar thing should have happened here unless Eastern and Western Antarctica are separate…”

      Damn, I should have thought of that. Although a little research shows that she’s thinking along the right lines — there’s an active rift valley under the ice. One branch of which is the wonderfully named “Terror Rift”.

      Although that just raises the question of how the ruins survived intact since the Pleistocene if there was that kind of geological chaos going on. The mountains could be volcanic too, but that presents similar problems. On the other hand, there are some big volcanoes on the continent — Mount Erebus, on Ross Island, has one of only five or so persistent lava lakes in the world, and Mount Sidley, which pokes up from the ice deeper into the continent, is a fourteener with a giant St. Helens-esque summit caldera that implies it was once considerably taller.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        @Nornagest: a little more research shows that the rift opened from what’s now the Ross Sea in the Paleogene, while Terror Rift and the volcanic mountains only formed after the terminal Oligocene! That complicates my preference for saying that the Antarctic Old Ones died out in the early Oligocene, shortly after making those decadent murals that depict the last common ancestor of humans and New World monkeys.

        I would think a small settlement could survive volcanic upheaval intact after being buried by one eruption, like Pompeii. However AtMoM clearly establishes that the ruins were 30 miles across and longer than wide. And even if the ruins were built at sea level and thrust up, the Old Ones depicted mountains that the city’s river flowed down from…

  7. JohnBuridan says:

    I wonder if this is a Russian advertising gimmick to get me to share this link?
    Fake flight listings in Crimea. 🙂

  8. christianschwalbach says:

    Posting this here given what I assume is the Middle Aged average of SSC readership (35-55). Correct me if you feel I am wrong. Here is my question: Why does it seem (completely subjective of course) , that when people in the age range I mentioned, or older, for that matter, decide to take up physical activity (either newly, or after time away from exercise) , they tend to gravitate towards running/cycling, sometimes swimming, either separately, or as part of a foray into Triathlon /Multisport. I have nothing against these activities, but as someone who has done strength training for a while now, and much prefers that over endurance training, I see a lot of muscular men and women in the Gym that seem older that likely do not run and are still quite fit. evidence has shown that strength training has very beneficial results in helping older people maintain body composition and neuro-muscular fitness, which obviously declines with age. The running/cardio is quite beneficial also, but I usually hear of sedentary people wanting to accomplish , say, a .5 marathon, but without prior background in it, I dont as often read about people wanting to adopt say a power-lifting routine or even take up cross-fit (which has become popular, but still seems to lean towards the 35 and younger age set)…..Any ideas? Am I off-base as heck? semi -accurate?

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I’m 41.

      When I was a kid, there was very little sense that you could lose weight from strength training. It was, to my recollection, universally accepted that you had to do aerobic exercise in order to burn fat. Sometime in my 20’s, the dogma seemed to shift and it became more and more conventionally accepted that you could burn fat by strength training.

      So for people 5+ years older than I, they might have just learned that that was how you lose weight early in life and never bothered to update their mental models.

      Cross-fit sounds like it would be really bad for my joints.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      I am only one datapoint, but I am near the lower end of your age range, and pretty much the only exercise I do is various folk dance (which isn’t particularly strenuous, and which I was already into before I became a regular here) and strength training (which I was persuaded to start as a result of reading stuff on Less Wrong and associated blogs).

    • cassander says:

      Cultural reasons aside, those sports are all things that are easy to get into with a minimum of training, equipment, knowledge, or other investment. Low barriers to entry seem significant.

    • AG says:

      Applications are my guess. I have decent strength, able to help out with lifting furniture and stuff, but if I want to get more active in any particular activity (team sport of choice, dancing, hiking, etc.), endurance is the number one thing I have to get back into shape in order to be useful, or for the activity to be fun.

    • Brad says:

      Late 30s here. Just took up strength training about six weeks ago (before that nothing). Probably the influence of the broader rationalsphere though, and I have gotten some surprised reactions from peers.

      • dndnrsn says:

        If you do in fact swing to the right, be sure to record it in the same book you use to keep track of lifts.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          But how will we distinguish the people who got into lifting as a result of reading the broader rationalsphere and swung to the right as a result of lifting, from those who both swung to the right *and* got into lifting as a direct result of reading the broader rationalsphere? 😛

        • Brad says:

          There’s an confounder, my income increased dramatically at about the same time. That’s classically associated with a shift to the right.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          “Tuesday, 4/18/18: Bench press +3%; hatred for hippies +4%”

        • Protagoras says:

          I used to do some strength training, and it didn’t seem to correlate with any change in my politics. I tend to lean toward it being the trivial inconveniences thing; the period when I was strength training was one when I had free access to a fairly nearby, fairly good gym.

    • Well... says:

      I’m in my early 30s. Since my early 20s I’ve been partial to weightlifting, swimming, ultimate frisbee, and tai chi. Ideally I would do all four of those things 6 days a week, but in practice right now all I do is weightlifting.

      For a couple summers there I commuted to work on a bike and also did some occasional longer weekend rides with friends, but I’m not wild about cycling. I find it very uncomfortable. I only liked it because I found I could just hop on an old heavy 10-speed road bike I bought at a garage sale for $20, and without any training, I could keep up with more serious cyclists on their fancy, light, 27+ speed bikes that cost >$1000, and that made me feel invincible. (Until an hour or so into it when my crotch REALLY started aching.)

      I like weightlifting because of how it makes me look and feel. I like swimming because of that and because I feel like it helps make me a little more flexible, plus it’s fantastic cardio and it works out every damn muscle in my body. I like ultimate because I love tossing frisbees around and am decent at it. I like tai chi because of the flexibility thing but also because it helps with balance, and of course it’s super meditative and calming (note: I have never successfully meditated and am not interesting in trying; but I like many activities that are meditative).

      So, that’s my datapoint anyway.

      Why do so many (if true) middle-aged people tend toward the types of exercise you listed? I have a few guesses but I’m not sure about any of them.

    • Aapje says:


      I am already indoors a lot & consider indoor exercise boring. So I like to ride my bike to enjoy the outdoors and see a bit of the world. A minor benefit is that it is easy to impress people with rather mundane efforts (as people have enough frame of reference to be impressed by a longish ride).

      Cycling can also be done at various levels of sociability, which can be chosen based on personal preference.

      Goal-setting may be easier, because there are clear goals that others tend to be reasonably familiar with, so one can declare a goal and then depend on social pressure/expectation to provide motivation to actually train. Supposedly, lots of people get gym memberships and then fail to actually use it. Middle aged people may have more motivational problems for various reasons.

      Ultimately, it seems personal preference what one prefers.

    • j1000000 says:

      I’d say you’re right, and I can understand how it’s a pretty rational choice for most people, even if strength training does have more benefits.

      Running/cycling doesn’t really have any learning curve, and my sense is that the common injuries are generally more mild and short-lived. Lifting has a learning curve — it costs money to get a personal trainer several times and belong to a gym with enough squat racks, nearly every “authority” has strong and conflicting opinions on proper technique, and relative to running it’s probably easier to end up with an injury that nags you for the rest of your life, like a tweaked back from deadlifting or a messed up shoulder from benching.

      (Then again I guess people get hit by cars while cycling once in a while so that might have to factor in.)

    • Education Hero says:

      I doubt that most people who take up exercise would study literature reviews to identify which activities provide the greatest health benefits. It appears far more likely that they would tend to take up activities which are culturally popular and visible. As a counter-example, yoga is essentially a form of low-impact bodyweight strength training that is much more common than strength training.

    • Eric Rall says:

      One aspect of it was the conventional wisdom of the medical and fitness industries during our formative years, which also got reflected in public policy recommendations and public health education programs. This emphasized steady-state cardio over strength training, since the former was better-studied than the latter and had well-demonstrated benefits over not exercising at all, and since there was an obvious theoretical argument that burning calories would help weight loss and that activity to raise your heart rate would strengthen your heart. Weight relative to height was also used as a proxy for obesity (it still is, but less so than it used to be) because of ease of measurement, so studies and recommendations pointed towards skinny = healthy, which contraindicated strength training to bulk up.

      It probably didn’t help that drug abuse was rampant among weightlifters and bodybuilders for most of the second half of the 20th century. Steriods are the headliners here, and high-dose steroids are genuinely bad for you (especially oral testosterone, which puts a ton of stress on your liver, but super-physiological doses of any form of testosterone can increase the risk of heart disease), but it was also common to use amphetamines and large doses and metformin and other drugs to minimize body fat to increase muscle definition. Because of this, a ton of top-level competitive bodybuilders died young of heart, liver, or kidney issues. And this drug abuse wasn’t widely known outside of bodybuilding/weightlifting circles for the earlier part of the era, so from the outside it looked like hard-core strength training was horrible for your long-term health.

      Another aspect was the big-box gym business model: a tradition “black iron” strength training gym setup is expensive to maintain and very intimidating to newbies, and coaching barbell and dumbbell exercises well is a specialized (and expensive) skill; but the now-standard setup of treadmills, stationary bikes, and nautilus-style machines is much more cost-effective, much less intimidating to take up, and while coaching is still a skilled task it’s a much less specialized and expensive skill than coaching free weights. So the mainstream of the gym industry standardized on the latter, with the former mostly relegated to a niche market (apart from one or two token squat racks in the corner). And as it happens, nautilus machines aren’t as effective as free weights for serious strength training, but treadmills and stationary bikes are great for endurance training, which contributed to increased popularity for the latter.

      It also “helped” that casual exercisers are the best gym customers. A hard-core gym rat is going to show up for an hour or two at a time at least three days a week and is going to spend that time using your best equipment, but a casual exerciser is going to show up maybe once or twice a month and futz around on a treadmill for half an hour before going home. The two pay the same dues to any given gym, which makes the latter a lot more profitable, so it makes perfect economic sense to focus your business model on the latter.

    • John Schilling says:

      I should do more strength training than I do, I know that, and I periodically remind myself of that. But, cardio has significant health benefits of its own and it overlaps with things that are useful (cycling), fun (hiking), and/or social (ultimate). Plus, low impact, low risk, and in most cases low entry cost. Plus, much more cultural support for cardio than strength training in Grey and Blue tribes, though that’s beginning to change. For all of those reasons, the activation energy for cardio is much lower.

    • Rex says:

      This article discusses choice of exercise as it relates to class. At the same time, my sense is that weightlifting has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in recent years (which is why, for example, the r/fitness subreddit is mainly concerned with weightlifting even though it’s ostensibly about fitness in general).

      I’m sure there are lots of different explanations, but one may be that many young people are interested in weightlifting to look good, and I’d guess people past a certain age aren’t as concerned about that.

    • rahien.din says:

      I used to ride my bike several miles a day. Great exercise and a lot of fun. But from gearing up to doing a satisfying ride to cooling down to cleaning up is a really time-consuming. Moreover, if I’m needed while I’m on a ride, there’s no good way to get back in good time. It just ends up that there isn’t enough time in the day. Plus my pudendal nerves really, really hate my saddle.

      I ran for a while, but my joints couldn’t take it. I gave myself a couple of stress fractures in my feet, and, I had an unrelated injury to my ankles which gets easily aggravated by running. It just isn’t good for me (at least at my current weight).

      Also my job is pretty sedentary. Coupled with some natural body changes that start in your early 30’s, I lost some muscle mass.

      So I took up lifting. I started with “You Are Your Own Gym,” and have since moved on to some basic lifting. I lift alone in my basement while everyone else is asleep, and I don’t have a cage or rack, and I don’t want to glom up my basement with dumbbells. So, I do bodyweight exercises for upper body, and I deadlift. It’s time-efficient, I can track results numerically and visually, and it is just satisfying to be strong.

      Over the winter, I ski, and over the summer I swim (when I can). My skiing noticeably improved after increasing my deadlift by about 140 pounds.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        If you want to add safety-conscious squats and bench presses, I don’t know if you can get the exact same model where you are, but I got one of those adjustable-width half-rack-with-spotter-bars things, which disassembles into two parts by undoing the crossbar that sits on the floor, meaning you can stack both halves handily in a corner when you’re done, so it doesn’t take up much space the rest of the time.

    • fion says:

      Is it not the case that as people get older they lose their capacity for maximum strength/explosiveness, but not really their capacity for stamina? Doing something that you’re getting better at is much more satisfying than doing something that you can’t do as well as you could when you were younger.

  9. johan_larson says:

    Here’s an interesting article from CityLab about why the New York subways, after a period of vigorous growth in the early twentieth century, are now essentially static.

    Three themes mentioned in the article:
    – the lure of the suburbs
    – battles over control
    – deferred maintenance/cost constraints

    My takeaway from the article is that the only way to run the subways that really worked was to let private but regulated companies do it. Government ownership was a recipe for stagnation.

    • AG says:

      Is the Tokyo subway government run?

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        There are several subway systems in Tokyo.

        The two biggest are Tokyo Metro (which is a private company, though it was only privatized in 2004) and the Toei Subway (which is city-government run). There are like half a dozen other much smaller subway systems — I think most of them private — that connect into these as well.

        • AG says:

          Is that like how San Francisco has BART and Muni?
          Paris has at least two different systems, as well.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            BART is regional, while Muni is municipal.

            I don’t know the origins of the different Tokyo subway systems, but of note: Tokyo is fucking huge. It’s just enormous on a scale that makes comparisons to US cities, particularly really quite physically small US cities like San Francisco, fraught.

            (Tokyo is twice the physical size of NYC and 20x the physical size of SF).

          • AG says:

            But both BART and Muni are still government run?

    • cassander says:

      I’d say that competition matters more than ownership, but that government ownership has a pronounced tendency towards consolidation.

      • AG says:

        I’d say barriers to entry are the most important aspect. If a giant profit-maximizing company owns a particular line, they will close said line the moment it no longer provides enough revenue, not even necessarily waiting until it becomes un-profitable.
        But the case of a smaller company keeping a lower-traffic line open (or a mid-level traffic line open in a poor area with necessarily low ticket prices) at a very small margin becomes impossible if it takes exorbitant costs to go into business/maintain the line in the first place.

        The argument for consolidation appears to be like that of insurance: the big breadwinner lines subsidize the nonprofitable little fish, who nonetheless need the nonprofitable line to service them.

        • cassander says:

          we’re talking about subways that have massive fixed capital costs. once you’ve dug the line, keeping it open is a pretty small price to pay, and if you can’t make it profitable, it seems certain that someone could once they bought it from you at auction.

          And that’s generally not how insurance works. Normal insurance does not work by cross subsidy, it works by charging everyone their actuarial risk and making money on the float.

          • AG says:

            Capital costs can be lowered through changing of regulations (how much property rights wrangling you have to go through to get permission to tunnel under certain places, etc.). More corrupt governments may have some sort of cronyist “approved vendors” regulation forcing inefficient designs or component choice.
            BART also shows the case where labor costs have been at the expense of maintenance, which has led to a bit of a long term decay.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      My takeaway from the article is that the only way to run the subways that really worked was to let private but regulated companies do it. Government ownership was a recipe for stagnation.

      I’m not really in agreement. Per the article, the city required the private companies to hold fares constant for decades. That leads to a lot of deferred maintenance over a year.

      The specific kind of regulation definitely matters.

      Also, since highways are subsidized, you should count on subsidizing the mass transit companies as well. If not, well, you’re not going to have an extensive, well-used transit network.

      FWIW, I am not even sure that spending more money on subways and trains are a good use of city money. It could very well be crowding out spending for more economical buses, causing both a decline in ridership and an increase in costs.

      Plus, we’ve got more highways and cars and suburbs now.

      • Nornagest says:

        Buses are cheap compared to light rail or especially subways, but you can’t make a reliable transit network entirely out of buses in a congested urban area, because they’re affected by the congestion. (You can put them in HOV lanes on highways, but it doesn’t work very well, and anyway you can rarely fit an HOV lane onto city streets.) That both increases costs (more gas, more maintenance, more hours on the clock for drivers) and reduces their appeal: it makes it impossible for them to keep to a schedule, and if you need to deal with traffic anyway, you might as well drive and at least not have to make twenty stops along the way. That latter makes traffic even worse, but Moloch.

        Throwing more money at a bus system can’t fix this problem, either.

    • BBA says:

      Only if your sole metric is new lines being built. A major drawback to private operation as NYC had was that you couldn’t transfer from one company’s lines to another’s without paying another fare.

      Also, the routes were determined by the city government and built at city expense from the beginning. Given the use of eminent domain and public rights-of-way in construction, a purely private transit system doesn’t seem possible.

      Also also: how many subway lines were simply replacing existing elevated and streetcar lines?

      • Nornagest says:

        Using eminent domain to build privately run enterprises which are deemed to be in the public interest is… usually controversial, but not exactly unheard of. If it can be done to build hotels, it can be done to build subway lines.

      • Brad says:

        It’s pretty clear that something is broken with the subway. All of: capital improvements, not just line extensions but things like handicap retrofitting, ongoing maintenance, and ordinary operations are ungodly expensive both as compared to the past and as compared to everywhere else in the world. And even at those prices not done very well.

        We can argue about why, but the what is fairly inarguable.

  10. rlms says:

    Today in odd things that are offensive in other cultures: this well-known rhythm (see here).

  11. JohnWittle says:

    edit: hmm. Comment ended up at the wrong place. Ignore this

  12. Sudanna says:

    I’m looking for information on the reality of Dissociative Identity Disorder. I know there’s no consensus view, and I know that “is it real” is a simplification of the controversy, but I was hoping someone could point me towards some trusted viewpoints or summaries suitable for laymen that can’t read beyond an abstract. Both skeptical and supportive information would be appreciated.

  13. LadyJane says:

    I saw a grad student reading Slate Star Codex (specifically this post: during class today. I’ve never seen him browsing SSC before and it’s a fairly old post, does anyone have any idea why that particular entry might currently be trending right now? Was there an article that linked to it recently?

    • christhenottopher says:

      Association arising from the rise of Jordan Peterson’s popularity? Admittedly it’s not the most direct of ties, but this would go something like 1) Peterson rises in popularity, 2) Peterson does talk about IQ being real and important, 3) Search for books about IQ and Garett Jones’ Hive Mind shows up.

      EDIT: Atlas’s explanation makes way more sense. Go with that.

    • Atlas says:

      does anyone have any idea why that particular entry might currently be trending right now?

      Well, why would it necessarily have to be “trending” for someone to be reading it? I, at least, quite often read older essays by my favorite bloggers.

      One reason why it might be topical is the Sam Harris-Ezra Klein brouhaha; if someone is interested in the issues raised there, they might also find Jones’ thesis in Hive Mind interesting.

    • Wrong Species says:

      They could have heard about the book and then googled it. It’s the first review that shows up in the results.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      It’s probably not trending, it’s just a small world.

      I overheard a guy explaining Roko’s Basilisk to his friends at a hot pot restaurant a few months ago. It was surreal but internet people actually exist in real life.

      • IrishDude says:

        The latest episode of Silicon Valley had a reference to Roko’s Basilisk. Great show.

  14. johan_larson says:

    Your mission: find the most explicitly sexual pop song from the last 70 years. Only works that received wide public airplay within the Anglosphere are eligible. Don’t bother telling us about that daring post-punk Romanian group and their single, “Fuck Me According to These Instructions”. It’s not eligible.

    Just to kick this off, here’s Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar on Me:

    Take a bottle, shake it up
    Break the bubble, break it up

    Pour some sugar on me
    Ooh, in the name of love
    Pour some sugar on me
    C’mon, fire me up
    Pour your sugar on me
    I can’t get enough

    I’m hot, sticky sweet
    From my head to my feet, yeah

    That’s certainly suggestive, but since it’s all metaphoical, it’s not particularly explicit. Who can do better?

    • SamChevre says:

      This one’s old, but…

      Well, she went to to the railroad track
      And I went down to meet her,
      She pulled up her petticoats,
      And I pulled out ..for Tulsa

      Take me back to Tulsa, I’m too young to marry…

      (Remembering that “Peter” has the same slang meaning as the short form of “Richard”…)

      I’m 90% sure that some of the Bob Wills recordings have that line; I know the Asleep at the Wheel version does.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      This was the standard answer among white bread teenagers in the early 2000s. Certainly trumps Pour Some Sugar, though I don’t know if it’s globally optimal.

      IDK if this is popular enough for you but it’s also pretty explicit (it’s a popular song with the zouk dancers I know, unsurprising given how sensual a partner dance that is. Makes me sort of believe the old joke about Methodists: why don’t Methodists have sex standing up? It might get mistaken for dancing.)

      • grendelkhan says:

        The funny part here is that, at least according to Wikipedia, “Closer” isn’t even about sex; it’s about self-loathing and obsession.

        I’m surprised no one’s mentioned “The Bad Touch” yet. (It made the top 40 and all.)

        Sweat baby, sweat baby, sex is a Texas drought
        Me and you do the kind of stuff that only Prince would sing about
        So put your hands down my pants and I’ll bet you’ll feel nuts
        Yes, I’m Siskel, yes, I’m Ebert and you’re getting two thumbs up
        You’ve had enough of two-hand touch, you want it rough, you’re out of bounds
        I want you smothered, want you covered, like my Waffle House hash browns
        Come quicker than FedEx, never reach an apex, just like Coca-Cola stock, you are inclined
        To make me rise an hour early, just like Daylight Savings Time

        You and me, baby, ain’t nothing but mammals
        So, let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel …

        It’s not exactly serious, but it’s pretty on-the-nose. Or “Work It”. (Peaked at number three on the top forty.)

        Your girl acting stank, then call me over
        Not on the bed, lay me on your sofa
        Call before you come, I need to shave my chocha
        You do or you don’t or you will or won’t ya?
        Go downtown and eat it like a vulture
        See my hips and my tips, don’t ya?
        See my ass and my lips, don’t ya?

        I’m not sure how they edited that one for the radio.

    • cassander says:

      Momma’s got a squeezebox?

      She goes in and out and in
      And out and in and out and in and out
      She’s playing all night
      And the music’s all right
      Mama’s got a squeeze box
      Daddy never sleeps at night

    • Yaleocon says:

      An artist named CupcakKe now exists. (If you don’t get her name, don’t ask.) Look at pretty much any song she’s made for a picture of exactly how explicit her songs are (“Deep Throat” and “Vagina” are her most popular). She is fairly popular and has gotten a good amount of acclaim–but I’m not sure her songs get played on the radio, due to how graphic they are. Her wiki page (linked above) says that most of her following comes from going viral online.

      So if I were forced to abide by the strict terms laid out… off the top of my head, Britney Spears made “If U seek Amy”, whose chorus ends “all of the boys and all of the girls are begging to if you seek Amy,” which can only be sensibly parsed by reading “if you seek Amy” as a homophone for “F U C K me.” It did actually get some radio play time, I think, although there were attempts at suppressing it due to its obviously licentious message.

    • christhenottopher says:

      Nobody remember Wait (The Whisper Song)?

      A few exhibits from the lyrics:

      “And they say a closed mouth dont get fed
      So I don’t mind asking for your head”

      “We need to make our way to the bed
      You can start usin’ ya head
      Ya like to fuck, have ya legs open all in the buck
      Do it up, slappin’ ass, gurl the sex get rough
      Switch position and let the dick get down to business”

      “Hey bitch, wait til’ you see my dick
      I’m a beat that pussy up”

      Not exactly going for subtly there.

      • ilikekittycat says:

        Yea, if the limit is wide public airplay within the Anglosphere, it’s definitely something in the Lil Jon/Yin Yang Twins/Three Six Mafia zone of either Trap or Crunk Music. Anything still relying on metaphor is out

        edit: to contribute, some Young Thug – Future Swag

        I fuck on your baby mama
        I fuck on your baby mama
        Let’s fuck on your baby mama
        I wanna fuck on your baby mama
        Some head from your baby mama
        I need some brain from your baby mama
        The head from your baby mama
        I need me some brain from your baby mama
        Lil mama she wet like a boat, a boat
        Lil mama, she wet like a boat
        Lil mama she wet like a boat, a boat
        Lil mama, she wet like a boat
        Lil mama, she ready for war
        She ready for dick in her ass and her throat
        Lil mama she wet for the faculty
        Lil mama, she ready, she after me

    • skef says:

      This doesn’t really count, but Madonna had a huge hit with a song comparing oral sex to prayer that somehow managed to be very controversial without much of anyone realizing what it was really about.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Why doesn’t it count?

        • skef says:

          I mean … how “explicit” can it really be if no one gets it?

          • The Nybbler says:

            I certainly got it at the time.

            The line “I’m down on my knees, I wanna take you there” kinda gave away the game IMO. I’m pretty sure most of those carefully not saying what it was about knew exactly what it was about.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Not very explicit, but makes up with it in popularity as a number one hit.

      Cutting Crew – I just died in your arms 1986

      In this case “died” refers to la petite mort, orgasm.

    • Well... says:

      Some contenders that jump to mind….

      Frank Zappa – G-Spot Tornado (obligatory)
      Kelis – Milkshake
      Freak Nasty – Da Dip
      Ohio Express (Resnik/Levine) – Yummy Yummy Yummy

      Last but not least, and the likely winner:

      Isley Brothers – Between the Sheets

    • psmith says:

      Not exactly an answer to your question, but Link Wray’s “Rumble” was banned from radio play despite being an instrumental.

    • Barely matters says:

      Ok, this thread is directly in my wheelhouse.

      Lots of the hits are going to be songs that have mainstream airplay while being on the cusp of another genre. If hiphop anywhere this side of AMG is allowed there’s really nothing else that can compete. If not, we’re looking at a lot of R&B crossover, anything they play within the Reggae/DanceHall sphere where daggering is on the menu, and even occasional country crossovers.

      Off the top of my head:

      1) Too Close from “Next” manages to sound classy, which is impressive given that it’s a full song about rubbing boners against clubgirls.

      2) Shake Ya Ass by Mystikal managed widespread radio play with relatively few changed lyrics. Nastier than a full grown German Shepherd.

      3) You Can Do It by Ice Cube is another staple of the genre that acts as a musical hallmark card to express that ‘I appreciate that you’re in my life because when I’ve got dick for days, you’ve got ass for weeks.’

      4) Briefly digressing away from the hiphop scene, Kid Rock brings us So Hott , a solid country ballad that describes a situation we’ve all been in but couldn’t find the right words to describe.

      5) With a similar feel, BuckCherry weights in with Crazy Bitch which always makes me think of the Black Crowes version of ‘Hard to Handle’ if it were further covered by Mickey Avalon. Near and dear to the heart of highschool pseudogoths and closet Juggalos everywhere.

      6) Overall, the white anglosphere can’t compete with the urban scene in terms of sheer degeneracy that is still accepted for radioplay, so we’re back to Lil’ John’s Get Low. From the the window, to the the wall, til sweat drips down my balls, all these bitches… should realize that this song has been covered in a Perfect Pitch movie and has even made the rounds on the college acapella circuit.

      7) For something completely different, unbelievably, Wheeler Walker Jr has broken into the US country top 10 with both of his last two albums and has performed at the 2016 CMT awards alongside Pharrell Williams, Cheap Trick, and Pitbull. I don’t even know anymore.

      Niche Honourable mentions that don’t technically qualify but I nonetheless love dearly:

      Steel Panther’s Community Property
      FSR coming at you with Hey Ladies
      AMG’s Bitch Better Have My Money
      Mickey Avalon with My Dick
      Johnny McGovern’s Dickmatized

    • Barely matters says:

      I think my first reply has the most well earned “Your comment is awaiting moderation” tag possible. We’ll see if it makes the cut.

    • albatross11 says:

      I’m not sure it’s the most sexually explicit, but I’ve gone to several daddy/daughter dances with my 9-year old daughter at her Catholic school, at at every single one, they’ve played Despacito, which is pretty clear about its subject (if mostly pretty poetic) if you understand Spanish.

      • AG says:

        I’ve been to plenty of family-friendly festivals, where they have cover bands on the music stage, and people dance and enthusiastically sing along all the same when it’s EW&F’s September that goes straight into Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines.

        Turns out people care more about the music groove than the lyrical content, who knew? /sarcasm

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I was at a wedding once where someone requested Ben Folds Five “Brick.” That was awkward.

    • kenziegirl says:

      What about Baby Got Back? “But I gotta be straight when I say I want to fuck til the break of dawn”…”And I’d rather stay and play ’cause I’m long and I’m strong and I’m down to get the friction on”

      Or Fergalicious “Baby if you really want me / honey get some patience maybe then you’ll get a taste / I’ll be tasty tasty, I’ll be laced with lacy, it’s so tasty tasty, it’ll make you crazy”

      • mdet says:

        Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back and Nicki Minaj’s sequel, Anaconda, are the top candidates for me.

        This thread is really just a poll on who listens to hip hop / R&B and who doesn’t

        Edit: Actually, R&B that is distinct from hip hop isn’t much more explicit than any other genre. But there’s a good bit of overlap between the two

    • no one special says:

      Prince’s Erotic City seems like a pretty clear candidate.

      If we cannot make babies,
      maybe we can make some time
      Thoughts of pretty u and me,
      Erotic City come alive
      We can funk until the dawn,
      making love ’til cherry’s gone
      Erotic City can’t u see,
      thoughts of pretty u and me

      I’m pretty sure the lyrics are not funk. Not really, anyway.

    • AG says:

      Rihanna’s “S&M”
      Big Sean ft. Nicki Minaj’s “Dance (A$$)”

      I’m sad that the cutoff was 70 years, though, which means 50s or later, because some of the classic Cole Porter and even Rodgers songs are plenty bawdy:
      Love for Sale
      Too Darn Hot
      Let’s Misbehave
      Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered

    • achenx says:

      There should be some kind of honorable mention for Jimmy Buffet’s “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw”.

    • Education Hero says:

      Ludacris – What’s Your Fantasy ft. Shawnna

      I wanna, li-li-li-lick you from your head to your toes
      And I wanna, move from the bed down to the – down to the, to the flo’
      Then I wanna, “ahh ahh” – you make it so good I don’t wanna leave
      But I gotta kn-kn-kn-know: what-what’s your fan-ta-ta-sy?

      I wanna get you in the back seat, windows up
      That’s the way you like to fuck,
      clogged up, fog alert
      Rip the pants and rip the shirt,
      rough sex, make it hurt
      In the garden all in the dirt

    • AG says:

      On the other hand, old song that used to be chaste but has inadvertently aged into filthy has to go to “Beat Me Daddy, 8 To The Bar”

    • littskad says:

      The Divinyls had a big hit back in 1990 with “I Touch Myself”:

      I love myself, I want you to love me
      When I feel down, I want you above me
      I search myself, I want you to find me
      I forget myself, I want you to remind me

      I don’t want anybody else
      When I think about you, I touch myself
      Oh, I don’t want anybody else, oh, no Oh, no, oh, no

      You’re the one who makes me coming running
      You’re the sun who makes me shine
      When you’re around I’m always laughin’,
      I want to make you mine

      I close my eyes and see you before me
      Think I would die if you were to ignore me
      A fool could see just how much I adore you
      I’d get down on my knees, I’d do anything for you

      I don’t want anybody else
      When I think about you, I touch myself
      Oh, I don’t want anybody else, oh, no Oh, no, oh, no

    • rahien.din says:

      So here’s a different tack.

      If a song is explicit to the degree that it describes sexual actions and desires in gloriously unflinching detail, then sure, nothing beats hip hop. Like Eminem’s “Guilty Conscience” :

      Now listen to me, while you’re kissin’ her cheek
      And smearing her lipstick, slip this in her drink
      Now all you gotta do is nibble on this little bitch’s earlobe
      (Yo, this girl’s only fifteen years old
      You shouldn’t take advantage of her, it’s not fair)
      Yo, look at her bush, does it got hair?
      Fuck this bitch right here on the spot, bare
      ‘Til she passes out and she forgot how she got there
      (Man, ain’t you ever seen that one movie Kids?)
      No, but I seen the porno with Sun Doobiest
      (Shit, you wanna get hauled off to jail?)
      Man, fuck that, hit that shit raw dog and bail!

      But I would contend that we expect that from hip-hop. Exhibitionism and boasting are its currency. When Big Boi talks about “chickenhead drillin'” he’s not disclosing some activity or desire which would have otherwise been hidden, he’s fulfilling a quota. It’s the same for rock and metal. These genres demand swagger. One could make the case that this intent reduces the “explicitness” of the material.

      So I submit Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Drive,” from her sugar-candy-sweet Euro-house album “Kiss.” It’s not explicit in the purest denotative sense, but, it’s absolutely, 100% about road head. All of this is juxtaposed with super-cheery synths, a bouncy four-on-the-floor beat, and Jepsen’s earnest vocals which strike a perfect balance between coquette and doe-eyed innocent.

      Whereas rappers and rockers are actively inviting the listener into their scene, the interaction described in “Drive” is one in which we, the listener, do not necessarily belong. It’s maybe less denotatively descriptive than a hip-hop lyric, but, it unearths something that is no less sexual, and far more private and intimate. That makes it more explicit.

      Disclaimer : I mostly listen to metal, which means I don’t really listen to the radio. Honestly don’t know what things have gotten airplay.

    • IrishDude says:

      Bloodhound Gang – Bad Touch

      It was popular when I was in high school.

      [Verse 1]
      Sweat baby, sweat baby, sex is a Texas drought
      Me and you do the kind of stuff that only Prince would sing about
      So put your hands down my pants and I’ll bet you’ll feel nuts
      Yes, I’m Siskel, yes, I’m Ebert and you’re getting two thumbs up
      You’ve had enough of two-hand touch, you want it rough, you’re out of bounds
      I want you smothered, want you covered, like my Waffle House hash browns
      Come quicker than FedEx, never reach an apex, just like Coca-Cola stock, you are inclined
      To make me rise an hour early, just like Daylight Savings Time

      Do it now
      You and me, baby, ain’t nothing but mammals
      So, let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel
      Do it again now
      You and me, baby, ain’t nothing but mammals
      So, let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel
      Getting horny now

      [Verse 2]
      Love, the kind you clean up with a mop and bucket
      Like the lost catacombs of Egypt, only God knows where we stuck it
      Hieroglyphics, let me be Pacific: I wanna be down in your South Seas
      But I got this notion that the motion of your ocean means “Small Craft Advisory”
      So, if I capsize on your thighs high tide, B-5, you sunk my battleship
      Please turn me on, I’m Mister Coffee with an automatic drip
      So show me yours, I’ll show you mine, “Tool Time,” you’ll Lovett just like Lyle
      And then we’ll do it doggy style so we can both watch “X-Files”

  15. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    So how do people feel about the subreddit going full SJW?

    If I was Scott, I’d be pretty nervous about having my entire mod team go in on “no enemies to the left; no friends to the right.” They’re already well to his left at this point.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      I only occasionally drop into the subreddit, but in what way is this happening? Is it just the moratorium? Or has there been other drama?

      • The Nybbler says:

        Well, avoiding the CW itself, one of the moderators announced a deep and abiding love (philos, I think) for a certain shitposter.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      “no enemies to the left; no friends to the right.”

      I’ve never read the subreddit but I know enough about leftists to know none are holding this view

    • cassander says:

      I’ve never been active there, what did they do?

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Standard operating procedure. Entryism and a lot of astroturfing as the lead up to mass bans.

        First they created a bunch of new no-name mods. The only one who I recognize was one of the resident lefty culture warriors.

        Then a no-name poster made a thread asking for a one week ban on H B D. A slim majority of posters thought it was a horrible idea, a plurality supported it, and a handful were undecided. The mods, apparently not big on arithmetic, declared this response “strongly positive” and instituted an indefinite ban.

        Given the number of removed comment threads piling up, it looks like they’re in full purge mode. If there’s a commenter to the right of Che by the next culture war thread I’ll be shocked.

        • Immortal Lurker says:

          I am willing to offer you 100 to 1 odds that there will be at least a single commenter to the right of Che in the next culture war thread. If there are none, I will donate $100 dollars to any legal charity, your choice. If there is at least one, you would donate $1 to the against malaria foundation. If you are willing to exchange personal information with an internet rando, I can send the $100 dollars to you instead.

          We can work out the details if you accept.

          I won’t be checking this thread until this evening, so you can think about accepting until then.

          • a reader says:

            @Nabil ad Dajjal & Immortal Lurker

            Given the number of removed comment threads piling up, it looks like they’re in full purge mode. If there’s a commenter to the right of Che by the next culture war thread I’ll be shocked.

            I am willing to offer you 100 to 1 odds that there will be at least a single commenter to the right of Che in the next culture war thread.

            But do you both really know Che’s positions on the issues of contemporary CW? You may be surprised 😉 I can’t give details because it’s a no culture war topic – maybe next open thread.

            Btw, how similar (or not) is the SSC subreddit to this blog’s comment section? Are there the same people, similar subjects, the same politeness? I like very much the discussions here and the community, the only frustrating thing being that open threads “disappear” in oblivion after a few days.

          • Aapje says:

            Some people nybble on both sides, but for the most part the population seems distinct. The other place has many more discussions of articles. It seems to be less polite and needs more moderating.

          • Randy M says:

            Some people nybble on both sides

            Not to name any names or anything…

          • rlms says:

            My impression is that the average quality of comments on the subreddit is significantly lower than here, but I don’t read it much.

          • Aapje says:

            @Randy M

            He’s very open about it, didn’t think he would mind.

          • Randy M says:

            I was just highlighting the pun. And I learned a new word!

        • beleester says:

          [Citation Needed] on that “bunch of new no-name mods.” The subreddit’s mod list is here, and lists the date they were added.

          You’ll notice that only two new mods have been added within the past month. One of them has no permissions. The other one is HlynkaCG, who is a pretty well-known name on both of these forums. And he’s been running the Friday Fun Threads on the subreddit for a while now.

          EDIT: Flipping back to the CW thread from two weeks ago (why only complain now?), I found that there was one other mod, Iskandar11, who didn’t last more than a few days. No explanation for his removal besides “he didn’t fit in.” They did explain why Marinuso was there with no permissions – he was helping with automating maintenance of the ban list, so they only gave him permissions long enough to implement those changes.

          Still don’t get how you’re reading “this is the prelude to the great purge” out of these changes.

          EDIT 2: The current CW thread where they announced the moratorium clearly says that it’s a 4-week experiment. Your claim of an “indefinite ban” appears made-up.

          • Brad says:


            Wait, really? That’s who NaD is calling a SJW?!?

          • The Nybbler says:

            It says the moratorium is “at least from April 16-May 6”. That’s indefinite.

          • Aapje says:


            They later clarified that Iskandar11 was removing for wanting to change the sub/being entryist.

            He went on a bit of a rampage after being demodded.

          • beleester says:

            @Aapje: Link? The thread I found seemed pretty amiable, no accusations of entryism.

            Regardless of his motives, the fact that he got removed within a few days suggests that the leadership of the sub is definitely not using him to prepare for the Great Purge.

          • Aapje says:


            Here you go

        • Deiseach says:

          I think I’m to the right of Che, and I’m happy enough that the sub-reddit decided to cool off on that particular topic for a bit, because every time it comes up over there it goes nowhere; the usual suspects spouting their usual responses about it, both those who are THIS TOPIC IS VITAL TO THE FUTURE OF THE HUMAN RACE!!!! and those who think that such opinions reveal other less desirable opinions.

          It goes round and round the mulberry bush and there’s no progress on it. If this is SJW in action, I’m easy about it.

          • Jiro says:

            The ban has two main problems:

            1) It’s a ban on one side of a controversy, not a ban on discussing the controversy at all, which allows people to post things that nobody can rebut because they’re not permitted to.

            2) Because some people think that the position is evil and should never be discussed seriously, banning it is a win for that side, and actually encourages bad behavior by them next time so they can instigate another ban.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Jiro, if I had the time and if I believed in Horrible Banned Discourse, I’d be tempted to respond to every such post with something like “I have a marvelous rebuttal which this forum is too small-minded to contain (link to the post announcing the ban).”

          • albatross11 says:

            I know nothing about the subreddit. But my experience is that it’s entirely workable to have moderators deal with a controversial topic with “we don’t discuss that here.” But someone putting a moderatorial thumb on the scales of a discussion where there’s actually some question who’s right leaves a really bad taste in my mouth.

    • The Nybbler says:

      This is culture-war free open thread, so probably can’t discuss.

    • Montfort says:

      Mostly I would prefer that subreddit drama stayed on the subreddit, so the drama doesn’t metastasize to all available SSC-adjacent fora.

      • Well... says:

        Wait, are we fora or fauna?

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Who moderates the mods?

        That’s not rhetorical. The mods on r/SSC ultimately aren’t responsible to anyone but themselves and they’re building up for an old-fashioned SJW witch-hunt.

        Right now Scott is probably the only person who can stop them from driving off his audience. He doesn’t even need to endorse wrongthink, just point out that this is exactly the kind of censorious nonsense he has written about time after time.

        • Montfort says:

          I am genuinely sorry that you and others find the subreddit deficient in various ways. It’s nice to have a community.

          If things on the subreddit were really so bad that, e.g., no one could even discuss negative opinions of the moderation or the direction the subreddit is heading, then it might make sense to try to organize some kind of action (getting a critical mass to migrate to a new subreddit, ask scott to remove the subreddit from the blogroll, etc.) here or in another SSC venue.

          This kind of coordination would likely clearly describe what’s going wrong (optionally linking evidence to minimize the inevitable bickering about what the situation really is), and describe the intervention you desire and how it might help. Or you might just describe the situation and ask for suggestions on how to resolve things.

          Instead, your first post in this thread reads to me as an unsupported accusation phrased so as to gin up some controversy and outrage. We have a reasonably nice comment section here, and you’re just starting trouble, not fixing your problem.

          • JohnWittle says:

            Edit: this is my second attempt at posting this, i can only assume it got caught by the wordfilters

            I don’t know about that. Disclosure: I don’t use the subreddit. But this top-level comment made me want to investigate, and that led me to the ssc subreddit ban log, available for viewing here:

            I’m not 100% sure what “sample comment (best effort)” means, but the way it usually works on subreddits is that that column contains the comment that the user was banned for. If this is the case, I kind of have to think that NaD is right. There are permabans on that log for just mentioning the fact that the moderation team is left-leaning. There are permabans for comments critical of left-wing ideology. There are permabans for good-faith arguments that the moderaters should stop permabanning people for political reasons. If this ban log is representative, I have to think that Nabil ad Dajjal is right. Of course, it’s also possible that the “example comment (best effort)” column does not contain the comment the individual was banned for… maybe the column label actually means that this comment is the least ban-worthy comment the user has made, i.e. the user’s “best effort” at participating in peaceful discourse? In which case everything i’ve said is wrong… but that would be a very strange way to do things.

            Maybe someone more involved with the subreddit can tell us what the hell “example comment (best effort)” means? Regardless of what it means, it’s also pretty clear that discussions of differences between races are indeed verboten, and that the ratio of people banned for right-wing posts to people banned for left-wing posts is incredibly skewed, and remains that way even after you stop counting the posts that included outright hostility or insults. In fact, I don’t see a single left-wing user ban on the first few pages of the log; it’s all right-wing users.

            Maybe this page is super outdated? Maybe it’s not representative? Whatever the case, reading that ban list makes me feel that the left-wingers on the subreddit do not assume good faith of the right-oriented folk, that an evaporative cooling cycle is currently ongoing.

          • skef says:

            The page is self-evidently not outdated given the date column on the left.

            “example comment (best effort)” likely means that the maintainers of this list (who are not necessarily the moderators*) have picked out the linked comment as exemplary of the ban, but only on a “best effort” basis — it could be some other comment or comments, or something else might be going on.

            Follow the comment link on “/u/219041249”, for example, and the mod specifies that the account is banned on suspicion that it is getting around another ban, to which another user comments:

            Why ban them for an innocuous comment that is making good points? If they are really ban evading then when they do something wrong you can immediately ban them for that. This is really a poor show.

            * It looks like most of the edits are on the part of moderators. So “best effort” may primarily have to do with the difficulty of summarizing a situation with a single comment.

          • Montfort says:

            Is this reply in the correct subthread? It doesn’t seem to relate to my position.

            Whether or not the subreddit is actually as terrible as NaD believes is pretty much immaterial to me; that doesn’t justify (in my opinion, but he did ask) coming over to other forums and making trouble. It would justify coming to other forums with significant user overlap to come up with and coordinate a response, if necessary.

            But this thread was of the former type, not the latter, hence: “I would prefer that subreddit drama stayed on the subreddit.”

          • Deiseach says:

            Well, I do manage to get myself banned frequently over there, but that’s possibly because I am much more aggressive in tone when commenting on the sub-reddit.

            I agree that there is a tendency in the mods to be on the left and that they do interpret views as there is the neutral, reasonable, factual, common-sense view and the right-wing (possibly raving nutcase) view, and plainly the conservative view is in the wrong because it’s not the neutral, reasonable, etc. Say that it isn’t a case of neutral reality vs right-wingers but that their “centrist, moderate, unbiased” view is left-wing and leaning towards that bias, and you do get pushback on it.

            But I don’t think they’re out to deliberately purge anyone, it’s just that they seem sensitive to “progressive commenter got down-voted, they’re being persecuted, we must intervene to restore the balance” kinds of reactions. But then again, an awful lot of people have argued that this main site is infested, over-run and under the control of the right-wing, and I doubt that to be the truth, so I also think it’s perhaps more that the typical(?) reddit way of interaction is engaged in over at the sub-reddit, so it looks more than it is.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Deiseach, you’re permabanned there now, right?

            I know at least two (actually I think three) of the moderators have expressed a personal antipathy towards me (agreeableness 0, tends to happen). Amusingly on more than one occasion a mod warning or ban directed at me has been downvoted into the negatives. Meantime, a few serious shitposters with views more in keeping with the Reddit mainstream get a pass because the mods like them. To be fair some of them did eventually get banned.

            Making things much much worse is them modding someone who wanted to disrupt the subreddit, and who on being demodded invited some screaming hordes from the rest of reddit to attack.

          • Deiseach says:

            Deiseach, you’re permabanned there now, right?

            I’m not at all sure, I haven’t tried leaving any comments because the big blow-up right now is the whole Banned Topic and I do not want to get next, nigh or near that mess.

            I’ve had a look on the Registry of Bans but don’t see my account, though I think that depends if they’ve updated or not. Could be banned and not included.

            I don’t read any of the messages in the inbox because reading them was too much stress on my blood pressure, so if a mod messaged “Oi! You! You’re barred!”, I’ve missed it 🙂

            Definitely I have had a tussle with one mod who is very to the left and thinks they’re neutral, factual, all-good-people-hold-these-views, but I’ve tried not to get into a real fight with them because it’s counterproductive, I am an aggressive bitch on the sub-reddit at times and do deserve a smack on the nose, and the Principle of Charity.

            I think Reddit tends to bring out the toxicity in most debates, to be honest, due to its model (part of why I think things like upvotes and downvotes and gold are big mistakes) so the SSC sub-reddit going down that road wouldn’t surprise me but I would be saddened.

            Making things much much worse is them modding someone who wanted to disrupt the subreddit, and who on being demodded invited some screaming hordes from the rest of reddit to attack.

            I did feel sorry for them the way that worked out; they tried to bring in fresh blood and it blew up in their faces in a way that was maximum “oh crap”. Though reading some of the background the reasoning seemed dubious – why on earth would you pick someone with a cadre of admitted alts? – and with hindsight it’s easy to say “yeah really bad idea executed dreadfully”.

            The vengefulness of the ex-mod seemed over the top, though. I have no idea why they decided SSC-reddit was something they’d like to get involved in. A psychological study there for anyone who cares to take it up!

            EDIT: Had a look and by jings, The Nybbler is correct! I’ve got myself permabanned for being sarcastic about California/politicians/Californian politicians! 😀

            The California Democrats actually cared about average citizens, embraced the inevitable diversity of 21st-century society, weren’t afraid of real innovation, and were ready to start solving the many challenges of our time, including climate change. [This bit is a quote from the original post]

            Wow, Californians, can you tell me what it is like to live in LITERAL UTOPIA HEAVEN ON EARTH? With politicians that REALLY CARE THEY REEELLLY REEELLLY DO?

            Apart from warnings about coffee giving you cancer, that is!

            And some name I don’t even recognise (this is not the mod I formerly had rows with) stuck this comment underneath:

            This is a garbage comment. You have 9 entries in the moderator notes of you making other garbage comments, at least 4 of which were bans. Gonna perma ban for now, but message the moderators and we can talk about something less drastic.

            So I’m going to assume I got banned for not thinking Californian Democrat politicians when in power were Gods Among Men Persons uplifting suffering humanity by the promptings of their Bodhisattva nature but instead were probably ordinary run-of-the-mill career politicians no better and no worse than the rest of their ilk? (My sarcasm was due to the “actually cared about average citizens” as though no other political party in any other country did, or claimed to do, the same; feck it, I think Dev cared about the average citizen and he wasn’t a California Democrat).

            I realise I should be chastened, but the image of the earnest, shining faces of the California Democrats as they tie their shoelaces and roll up their sleeves and greet the new day all ready to solve climate change, their little lunchboxes with their nice sandwiches in their little hands as they leave the house, pick and shovel over their shoulders as they head off to work hard on that problem which will surely yield to grit, moxie, the can-do spirit and good old American know-how, makes me smile too much to be properly shame-faced 🙂

          • Nick says:

            I’ve had a look on the Registry of Bans but don’t see my account, though I think that depends if they’ve updated or not. Could be banned and not included.

            The post that got you permabanned says the mods would be willing to discuss things. So it sounds like it’s a provisional permaban.

          • The Nybbler says:


            In my experience in dealing with authority, taking them up on an offer like that means a trip through the supplicant’s door. (And they may say “no” even after you crawl through)

          • Deiseach says:

            The post that got you permabanned says the mods would be willing to discuss things.

            I’m willing to accept their unconditional surrender if they grovel prettily enough 🙂

          • Gobbobobble says:

            So I’m going to assume I got banned for not thinking Californian Democrat politicians when in power were Gods Among Men Persons uplifting suffering humanity by the promptings of their Bodhisattva nature but instead were probably ordinary run-of-the-mill career politicians no better and no worse than the rest of their ilk?

            Sounds to me like you got banned because “taking the piss” is not something that mod understands and so reflexively bans.

            You should explain to them how culturally insensitive that is.

          • Nick says:

            Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that talking to them is a good idea. I just wanted to clarify what the situation was. It’s not like you have a choice if you want to post there again, though.

            Incidentally, I think Deiseach’s right that something about the subreddit makes folks want to kick each other’s teeth in. Even setting aside all the nasty things collected on the ban registry, it seems like the quality is lower on average. I spent part of yesterday browsing the archives and just about wanted to strangle someone by the end of it, and I’m the Czar of Agreeableness compared to the lot of you. 😛 I don’t know that voting or gold can really be the cause, though; I’ve always opposed comment voting systems, but it doesn’t seem to me like those failure modes are what are going wrong here.

          • Nornagest says:

            LW was a Reddit fork (didn’t have gold, though), and it was reasonably civil. It ultimately didn’t prove resistant to abuse, but I think that’s more an issue of moderation (or lack thereof) than the voting scheme.

            I still think that upvote-only systems (LW 2.0, Facebook) give worse incentives than upvote+downvote, but voteless ones are growing on me.

    • That would be the temporary, experimental ban on the topic that is perma-banned round here?

      • Aapje says:

        The topic is not banned, right? Just the term.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        As Aapje said, only the keyword itself is banned not the topic.

        Scott was very explicit about his reasoning. He doesn’t want search engines to direct people looking for bizarre homework questions about alien thickness certain topics to his blog. He’s happy to let people discuss the issue as long as they avoid using that particular string of letters.

        This is different. Right now if I wanted to I could go to the sub with one of my alts and strike up a conversation about Scott’s own article about the DC public school system. Anyone who wanted to participate in that discussion would then have two choices: stick to exclusively environmental explanations (i.e. structural racism) or eat a ban. That’s effectively ceding the field to the mainstream center-left viewpoint.

        Not to mention that this was an abrupt unannounced change based on a transparently false excuse.

    • Brad says:

      You shouldn’t be bringing reddit drama here. Especially not on a no-culture war week.

      I think you have a poor model of Scott given what he’s done over the years here where he is the sole moderator. But if you really think he’d be concerned and isn’t aware his email is around.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Especially not on a no-culture war week.

        Winner winner chicken dinner.

        There’s something I heard on NPR this weekend that I want to discuss here, but it’s CW-adjacent so I’m waiting a few days.

    • John Schilling says:

      So how do people feel about the subreddit going full SJW?

      I feel like I would rather not be reminded that SSC has an associated subreddit, and inviting the various participants in any subreddit drama to argue their points here goes against that. And I think that sort of thing is more likely to bring the same problems into play here, than to solve them over there.

      • Anonymous says:


        For some reason, this comment section is actually vastly superior to that of that subreddit, and reddit in general for that matter. I would guess the proximate, personal authority of the Rightful Caliph, not some cabal of holier-than-thou internet activists.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think successful internet discussions are partly due to moderation but mostly due to a community of participants who want to keep the discussion working.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I’m pretty sure Scott moderates this site with a tiny fraction of effort that goes in the subreddit. He hasn’t even deleted this thread which is clearly against the rules. Part of the reason he needs to do less is the people who participate here but I think the more important point is that we’re just a lot smaller. There’s probably 30 or so users who are fairly active and even then not all the time. Compare that to the size of the culture war threads.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Wrong Species

            I’m pretty sure Scott moderates this site with a tiny fraction of effort that goes in the subreddit. He hasn’t even deleted this thread which is clearly against the rules.

            Better one tyrant, than many, for one tyrant needs to sleep sometimes. 😉

          • rlms says:

            @Wrong Species
            Indeed. As well as this comment section having fewer commenters, I think its properties (new commenters here come from the pool of SSC readers, new commenters on Reddit can come from the pool of generic redditors) probably also improves the quality of commenters here.

        • Deiseach says:

          I think it must be the gosh-darned Aura Of Niceness. Over on the sub-reddit I find the tone/tenor of some comments really does make me want to punch some people in the face, and I’m much more aggressive over there. On here I love you all, you wonderful darling people! 😀

  16. David Speyer says:

    Possible bug report: The top of the page displays “Draft [should not be visible]” between “About/Top posts” and “Archives”. Should this be visible to me?

  17. Iain says:

    Hive mind of SSC!

    I’m going to be in Chicago for a couple of days on a work trip, and it looks like I will have at least one evening free. Recommend things to see / do. I’m staying in a hotel at the north end of the Loop.

    • hls2003 says:

      Depends on your arrival date and the weather. You’ll not want to be doing much on the lakeshore in the next week or two. Assuming you have Uber-esque capacity from your hotel, I would certainly recommend the Field Museum. If you’re into it, the Museum of Contemporary Art is walkable (longish) from your hotel, and they usually have at least one special exhibition worth seeing. I would recommend breakfast at Xoco. You’ll be quite near the theatre district if that holds any interest. If it’s nicer weather, a walking loop south to Millennium Park then north along the lake up to Oak Street beach and back gives some great skyline views. I also have to plug a trip up the Willis Sears Tower, even though it’s very expensive and frankly a ripoff for what you get. The views are still worth it on a clear day. If you’re an architecture type you might be tempted by the Oak Park tours of Frank Lloyd Wright homes but I don’t recommend it unless you have your own car. You’d be better off doing your own walking version downtown, head south in the Loop down to the Rookery / Monadnock / Printer’s Row.

      EDIT: Also, please don’t take my endorsement of the MCA as any denigration of the Art Institute. MCA’s just a little more off the beaten path.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        You’ll not want to be doing much on the lakeshore in the next week or two

        I mean, I know it snowed this morning, but we can still look at the lake!

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Any particular interests or time frames?

      If I were going to have a friend come over for an evening, I’d go for an adventurous walk along the Riverwalk (north Loop) and go all the way down to the Field Museum or Shedd Aquarium (Art Institue for any art-inclined folks). Then I’d uber over to the West Loop to munch at Kuma’s Corner (metal-themed burger place) and drink away the rest of the night at any of the places in West Loop.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      What sort of things do you like?

      I love Chicago. Some of my favorites, in no particular order:

      – The Aviary is the best bar I’ve ever been to ever anywhere. If you like cocktails and weirdness, this is the place for you. If you don’t, you won’t. (How weird? Think: tiki drink with boba, except the boba are spherified rum. Carrot cake gin fizz. Drinks served with sand timers, because you’re supposed to sip it every two minutes, because it changes flavor as components melt and infuse at different rates.) Tricky to get in, try to go off peak times (or get tickets in advance), be willing to wait.

      – Museum of surgical science. This is odd: it is half an art museum and half a science/history museum. Alternate rooms will have busts of famous doctors from the middle ages, a collection of ancient Roman gynecological tools, and a recreation of a 19th-century druggist’s supplies. I’m pretty easily squicked and I was fine here, and the content is fascinating.

      – I like a lot of the well-known Chicago restaurants (Purple Pig and Girl & the Goat come immediately to mind) but honestly if you’re in a major part of the city just about everything is good; I have never had an actually bad meal in Chicago.

      – I hear the theater is good; I have never seen a stage show in the city. I have seen improv multiple times and had a great experience. My favorite was these guys–HIGHLY recommended.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        I like a lot of the well-known Chicago restaurants (Purple Pig and Girl & the Goat come immediately to mind) but honestly if you’re in a major part of the city just about everything is good; I have never had an actually bad meal in Chicago.

        A lot of people will tell you that you NEED to have deep dish pizza while you are here. These people are wrong.

        Steaks are a better option, but for the price I prefer my own steaks.

        • hls2003 says:

          It’s true that it’s not a must. It’s also true that an Edwardo’s stuffed special is phenomenal.

          • LHN says:

            Sic transit gloria mundi. Edwardo’s is down to three locations, only one of which is in Chicago and it’s delivery/carry-out only. (Though it’s close enough to the Loop that I expect it would deliver there.)

            If you want sit-down stuffed pizza, I’d recommend Giordano’s. If more traditional deep dish, I’d give the nod to Lou Malnati’s. (Though Gino’s East and Uno’s have their partisans.)

          • hls2003 says:

            @LHN: I used to live about two blocks from the downtown Edwardo’s, so it was a Sunday evening tradition for my roommate and me to get delivery of a large stuffed special, and it was quick after order due to proximity. Personally I prefer Giordano’s over Gino’s East or Lou’s. That’s my go-to now that I’m away from the Edwardo’s location.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          Oh, yeah, good point.

          I like deep dish pizza and I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve had in Chicago. It is by no means a must at _all_.

    • Iain says:

      Timeframe clarification: I am currently sitting in the airport waiting for my flight to Chicago.

      Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. I will be able to follow very few of them (none of the Museums are open on a Tuesday night), but I’ll do my best. Improv, in particular, seems promising.

      (I’m also going to spend some time just walking around. I can’t complain about the weather, given how much better it is than the place I’m leaving.)

  18. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    An illiterate man was a teacher in the US for 17 years.

    This points out a *lot* of problems with the educational system, even though I don’t think he could get away with it now, and he might have been a better than average teacher.

    I’ve been pushing the idea of more availability of adult literacy courses, and the response is almost always negative. The assumption seems to be that anyone who doesn’t learn to read in school can’t learn it at all.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I feel like the lesson here is the overemphasis on things. A guy who can do a ton of other things, including an athletic scholarship, prom king and can fake his way through being literate for 17 years of teaching feels like a failure (probably because he was dyslexic or something similar).

    • Wrong Species says:

      The closer you get to the present the more implausible it becomes. Maybe a kid growing up in the 50’s didn’t learn to read but had the capability. But there is no way that’s going to happen now in modern America. If you can’t read as a kid, they are going to put you in special education classes, going over and over basic literary until you learn. If you are an 18 year old American who grew up in a normal environment and can’t read, the chances of you learning now are effectively zero.

    • CatCube says:

      I think there’s something to what @baconbits9 is saying about making somebody who could do as much as that man did feel like a failure. My dad told me about the most successful guy to ever come out of his class. The man ended up dropping out in 8th grade because he couldn’t read (my dad suspected dyslexia, but that diagnosis would have been decades away, since this was the class of ’62). However, he was phenomenal at mechanics, and good with names, faces, and personal details. He ended up inventing the first brake rotor lathe that could be used still on the car, and ended up getting a nickel for every single disc brake resurfaced until the patent ran out. He was able to handle the business side very well, due to his ability at dealing with people and remembering names.

      The other thing that is worth thinking about is that sometimes just passing somebody along merely to give them their high school diploma can be setting them up for failure–if it had been recognized that the teacher in your link couldn’t read in sixth grade it would have been a lot easier for people (including himself) to admit to needing to give him help, where once he’s graduated it turned his entire life into an ever-more-frantic exercise in keeping people from finding out the truth.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Not just feel like a failure, but to feel like he should take huge risks to hide it. If he was caught the story would probably be “entitled star athlete cheats his way through life, finally gets his comeuppance”.

      • SamChevre says:


        Your dad’s friend reminds me of this guy, with whom I went to school–he was several grades behind me. He really struggled with reading; I think he still can’t easily read a newspaper.

        But you’ll note–he’s running a well-known business in his field (diesel engines) and he designed a several of his truck’s key systems. He’s not stupid or incompetent, although I’m sure he felt that way in school. Going to school until he was 18 instead of 13 would just have made his life worse.

  19. johan_larson says:

    What do you do for a living? And if you could rewind time to your adolescence, would you still pursue the same career?

    I’m a software developer, and it turns out that while I really like programming, large-scale software development is pretty darn tedious. If I had it all to do over again, I’d do something else. I think I’d be well suited to a military career, and would aim for something like helicopter pilot.

    • Incurian says:

      Maybe we can go back and trade.

    • fion says:

      I’m a physicist, thinking about making the switch from academia to school-teaching. Part of me wishes I’d done mechanical engineering at university instead of physics.

      • smocc says:

        Hey, I’m just finishing my physics PhD and just lined up a job as a private high school teacher lined up starting next fall. I haven’t actually done it yet, but I feel much better about my future now than when I was contemplating academia.

        EDIT: To add to the thread, I don’t regret getting a physics PhD, despite having figured out that the tenure track is not for me.

        • fion says:

          Ah, well I hope it goes well for you! Out of interest, have you come into contact with many teachers as you’ve been lining up the switch? This is going to come across as a bit elitist, but I’ve found that the teachers I’ve come into contact with have been noticeably less intellectual (and probably also intelligent) than the academics I’ve come into contact with. I sometimes worry how well I’d fit in in the staff room as it were, since I’m used to and love being surrounded by people smarter than me (or as smart, or whatever). Do you have the same impression? Is it something that concerned you?

          (Also, you’re getting a job as a teacher without doing a teaching qualification? That seems unusual to me…?)

          • smocc says:

            I deliberately sought jobs at private schools for a couple of reasons. One is that I won’t have to do teacher licensing or qualification. Certification has never come up. If I didn’t have a PhD maybe that would be a little different. The second reason is I expect to find that the students and the teachers will be a little smarter / more creative / more engaged than at the modal public school. I could be wrong about this, of course, but my experience in campus interviews and sample teaching seems to support it. The teachers I’ve talked to have largely seemed to be very clever people doing clever things and thinking hard about their job.

            I don’t expect it to be the same professional environment as chatting with my supersmart theorist professors, but no one I’ve met so far is a dullard.

            I’ve been told by relatives who have been in schools for a long time, including doing hiring, that it’s very hard to find good physics teachers, in large part because they often end up being jerks.

          • fion says:


            That’s interesting. I think I probably wouldn’t work in a private school for emotional reasons. (It would feel a bit like going against my principles, and even if that’s nonsense, my friends and family would never let me hear the end of it! 😛 )

            But yeah, I can very easily believe that the advantages you describe are real. (Although whenever I hear stuff about private schools getting better teachers I think back to my old maths teacher, who left my school to teach at one of the poshest private schools in the area, and she was *hopeless*. I genuinely believe that my mathematical understanding at 14 was better than hers after a university degree and a teaching qualification. Just an anecdote of course. What you’re saying is probably closer to the norm.)

            I’ve always assumed the main reason it’s hard to find good physics teachers is that there’s a lot of higher-paying, higher-status jobs that you can get into with a physics degree.

      • Chalid says:

        The main thing I wish I’d done differently would be that I should have left physics sooner than I did. (Currently in finance.)

    • Michael Handy says:

      I’m in Marketing. And no I would not. Even though it pays well and I can avoid most of my job requirements. There’s a saying that everyone in advertising is a failure in some way, and that’s true as far as I’ve seen.

      I studied science in high school/uni. believing it would give me access to the levers of influence. If I’d known I’d have studied classics at Oxford or equivalent and gotten a job in the Foreign Office or customs like my uncle.

    • Urstoff says:

      I’m an instructional designer. This was a career I fell into rather than pursued. Ultimately, I don’t think my personality is suited to “pursuing a career”, but I certainly didn’t know that when I was young. I’d probably just tell myself not to get to tied down to any one thing and maybe skip grad school.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’m a PhD candidate in biomedical sciences. I like where I am generally and while I probably could have shaved a few years off this process by making better choices when I was younger that’s ultimately small potatoes.

      The one big thing that I might change is my undergraduate major. If I was on a pre-med track rather than just straight biochemistry and I had taken the MCATs I might have gotten into an MD/PhD program instead. My grades probably wouldn’t be good enough to get into a medical school as good as my current graduate school, but the value of an MD would have been worth the hit in terms of prestige. There’s just a lot more that you can do when you have an MD even if you’re not interested in practicing medicine.

    • Anonymous says:

      What do you do for a living?

      Run a small business. I rent apartments and sell IT services of various sorts.

      And if you could rewind time to your adolescence, would you still pursue the same career?

      I’d get started way earlier – start looking for jobs the moment I’m not banned from holding a job due to my age. Probably apply to university only to get my foot in the door in the IT sector, then quit when I have some experience. Do better at learning languages of wealthy nations, seek employment abroad, cash in mad money when still young.

    • Alphonse says:

      I’m a third year law student, preparing to join a major firm after graduation. As is standard in “biglaw,” this past summer I worked at the firm where I will be post-graduation, so I have some idea of what the work will entail, even if the universal opinion is that being a first year associate is substantially more difficult than being a “summer associate.”

      Yes, I would definitely have pursued the same career. Even leaving aside that I met my spouse because we shared mutual interest in legal activities (and meeting my partner was the single best thing to happen in my life by far), I genuinely enjoy most of what I understand to be the work of being a lawyer. I don’t mind tracking billable hours and I mostly enjoy proofreading lengthy documents to catch tiny errors. I also like the more traditional aspects, such as working on teams of smart, highly-motivated people, and researching intellectually challenging topics. None of the partners at my firm appeared to have tendencies toward yelling at associates, but I guess I’ll have a better idea after I’ve been there full-time for a longer period.

      That I will be making more money after graduation than I had ever dreamed of earning when I was an adolescent also doesn’t hurt (even if the student loans kind of do).

      (Although even with all of that, I would be very hesitant to recommend law as a career. The market is incredibly over-saturated with J.D. graduates. Biglaw is basically only feasible if you get into a very highly-ranked, very competitive school, and even then it only seems to be bearable for a specific personality type. I’ve heard stories that law used to be a great field for reasonably intelligent people without any other specific interests; whatever the truth of that claim in the past, it doesn’t fit the current situation at all.)

    • Thanatos says:

      I’m a software developer, and it turns out that while I really like programming, large-scale software development is pretty darn tedious

      I feel the same. I wonder if there are developer jobs out there that won’t require me to get into a codebase of 100.000+ lines of poorly commented code.

      • johan_larson says:

        I’ve had eight different jobs, all in software development, and all of them required me to work with large bodies of existing code. There’s bad and there’s worse, to be sure. If you’re lucky, the people who wrote the code are still around and you can find design documents for major features that aren’t hopelessly wrong. But don’t count on it.

      • pontifex says:

        Just keep rewriting stuff until the codebase “smells like you.” Then you can be the Bastard Programmer from Hell, just like your predecessors.

        I’m joking, of course. Or am I?

        • tayfie says:

          The difference is that I have the benefit of hindsight.

          You are mistaken in thinking that code written before you was written by a single person, bastard or not, with a coherent plan and understanding. It was more likely evolved from a bunch of fixes by people that didn’t have time or weren’t willing to refactor.

          • pontifex says:

            Well, to be fair, I said “predecessors,” not “predecessor” 🙂

            I actually don’t mind refactoring at this point. I’ve come to even enjoy it in some ways. When it comes to code, with enough persistence, you can always get your way. And once you do understand the system, you have an advantage over those who don’t.

            Management can pay me to refactor the code, or they can pay me to fix it incrementally. They pay either way 🙂

      • tayfie says:

        These jobs exist, but they are never hiring because people in them never leave.

        Good work environments have little churn. Bad work environments have lots and need to hire new blood frequently. Of course, the churn creates even worse conditions as no one is willing to stick around long enough to make a genuine improvement anywhere.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’m a software developer. Unfortunately, I’ve been burned out for a decade. There’s nothing else I was suited for as an adolescent (or now), so I’d stick with it anyway.

    • CatCube says:

      I’m a structural engineer for the US government. I got here in something of a strange way: I got my degree in civil engineering (with an emphasis on structures), joined the Army, then after 9 years got assigned to the Corps of Engineers, rediscovered how much I like doing technical work, and transitioned into a civilian position (if I had stayed in–assuming I got promoted, which probably wasn’t in the cards–I would have had to move on to a totally different job).

      My job is fuckin’ rad. The stuff I work with looks like architecture out of the Lord of the Rings. Next week I have to analyze strain gage data for a gate of a navigation lock, which is literally a door as tall as a skyscraper. This is one of the few jobs where you can stand on a hill overlooking your project and scream “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I’m in Accounts Receivable. Basically I keep track of what money people owe us and I yell at them to pay us. We’re the “nice” people, until we sell your debt to a collections company. They are the mean people.

      Your second question:

      would you still pursue the same career?

      No one “pursues” this career. No one woke up one day and thought “hey, I want to be a collections person!” 🙂

      Overall I like this job because it’s not hardcore collections. It’s somewhat analytical and I get to sit behind a desk (which suits my personality). It’s not particularly hard and it’s typically 40 hours a week.

      Now if I could go back now…most likely I’d study harder in high school to guarantee entry to a slightly better university, with scholarships. However, I was already accepted into Indiana University on a scholarship, so my adolescence was probably irrelevant. I should have gone to Indiana and done internships, and probably majored in Accounting.

      Corporate Accounting generally requires actual Accounting degrees (which I do not have), and is generally pretty easy on the hours. It pays decently well, and you have job opportunities wherever you go.

    • Brad says:

      I’ve daydreamed about having become a cop out of high school way back when. Where I live they make good money, especially if you make detective. And right about now I’d be only a couple of years away from retiring with a pension that by itself would be me in a good spot financially and have wide open options for a second act.

      But then in my more realistic moments I realize I’m totally unsuited for it and probably would have ended up in an “accident”.

    • pontifex says:

      I’m a programmer. If I could go back to my adolescence, I would try to find a way to skip as much of grade school and high school as possible, since they were mostly wastes of time. I don’t regret being a programmer. I do regret not being more picky about which companies I worked at. If I had chosen a little more wisely, I could have retired by now.

      I’m a software developer, and it turns out that while I really like programming, large-scale software development is pretty darn tedious.

      Maybe you should find a better employer? I struggled with feelings like this in the past, and it always turned out that the problem was the organization, not the job.

      If I had it all to do over again, I’d do something else. I think I’d be well suited to a military career, and would aim for something like helicopter pilot.

      I had a friend working in software who got his pilot’s license. I never understood the attraction, though. I mean… you make one mistake, and you die. And there’s no room for creativity– it’s basically Following Checklists: the job.

    • SamChevre says:

      I’m an actuary, and I largely stumbled into it.

      If I had it to do over again–I’d likely do the same thing, but…

      The big issue is that there are few jobs for actuaries in places I like otherwise, and that the insurance industry as a whole is under a lot of pressure and so working conditions have gotten much worse in the last 10 years – and the 10 years before that, and the 10 years before that.

      If I had it to do over, with a little less pressure and a little more information, I’d probably try to go into either engineering or medicine. I’m still enough of a medical amateur to talk with a doctor and keep up easily, but being around people who are sick all the time would be hard for me–that’s why I didn’t pursue medicine in the first place.

    • christhenottopher says:

      Current career: an analyst for the consumer complaints of an absurdly well known drink company. In practice and laymen’s terms my job is 60% making sure call center agents aren’t screwing up reports on their complaints, 15% doing light investigative work to detect fraud (favorite part, easily), 25% volunteering for random assignments to keep me from getting bored.

      I certainly didn’t pursue this from adolescence. I was going to be a lawyer then politician, but learned enough politics to hate that and went for grad school in history rather than law, and well, wound up miles away from both. Would I change that? Well I graduated undergrad in the middle of the employment slumps of the Great Recession, so honestly nah. I’m pretty content. The one thing I would want to introduce my younger self to is Money Mustache (which would have been well timed with leaving college damn it).

      • Douglas Knight says:

        What kind of fraud? Fraudulent complaints, or fraud about which you received a complaint?

        • christhenottopher says:

          Fraudulent complaints primarily. We do rarely get a complaint about an employee committing fraud, but that’s generally at local plants/distribution centers and the local managers typically handle those.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I’m an actor. I love it, and wouldn’t change it, but going back and pursuing it more competently when I was younger might be an improvement.

      If I had to make a switch, I’d read maths and philosophy instead of French and philosophy, with a view to a career in AI research.

    • tayfie says:

      Programmer. If I could rewind time knowing what I know now (necessary to change anything), I would forget all about my career and use my knowledge of the future to make a fortune.

      Realistically, I would echo @pontifex and try to skip as much K-12 as possible. I went to otherwise good schools that were too slow for me while learning a bunch of crap that was never useful. My mother even offered her full help and support for an alternate route, but I turned her down because I didn’t want to leave my old friends and bought the media line that high school is the best time of your life. That was the wrong decision since my friends all scattered to the wind for college anyway and we never keep in touch.

      large-scale software development is pretty darn tedious

      The majority of any job is tedious. Otherwise, people would do it for free. The difference with software is that you have a much better shot to automate the tedium. Even if management doesn’t always let you do it, there is some hope to ease the pain. Have you ever noticed software for programmers are far better designed and more useful than software designed for any other profession? How many office jobs today are slaves to Microsoft Office?

      For a more helpful suggestion, have you tried a startup?

      Overall, I am still withholding judgment on my career as a whole, and even my current job. I am only 15 months into my first job out of college and just finishing my first project.

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      Software developer turned manager of same. The human side of helping people be better engineers is surprisingly rewarding and in many ways less tedious to those who find large-scale development tedious. If you have not considered people management, please do– people who are committed to, and genuinely good at, people management while also having the technical background necessary to manage engineers effectively are in desperately short supply, and I can personally vouch that severe introversion is not a disqualifier.

      If I could rewind time and advise my adolescent self… well, maybe I’d say consider skipping at least part of pure math grad school and getting in on the tech boom that much earlier. What I would do if money were no object is a different question entirely.

    • rahien.din says:

      I’m an epileptologist, meaning, a physician who reads EEG’s and who primarily treats epilepsy.

      I’ve actually thought about this question. Almost everyone in medicine seems to go through some kind of existential crisis. A lot of us joke that the crushing debt inflicted on US med students is the major reason why we don’t just quit…

      On one hand, I am eerily well-suited for my job. My undergraduate degree is in biomedical engineering, which gives me more of a background in biologic signal acquisition and digital signal processing than most of my colleagues. I enjoy sifting through probabilities, and EEG interpretation is an absolute thicket of probabilities. A lot of my interests converge on EEG. Looking back, I feel extremely fortunate to be in my job.

      On the other hand, this is an impossible question to answer. Training changes you – utterly changes you. (I guess that’s the point.) My retrospection is completely biased by those alterations to my character. And there’s a lot of things about medicine I don’t enjoy, mostly the mountain of paperwork to scale every day and all the anxious phone calls. Dealing with these is not my strongest suit, and if I had known about them, I might not have gone into medicine. And that might have been a mistake.

  20. johan_larson says:

    Today’s quiz is a single question with 14 answers.

    Name the countries that Russia borders. (Include only land borders with fully-recognized states.)

    I managed 9/14.

    • a reader says:

      1. Treznal
      2. Hxenvar
      3. Orynehf
      4. Yngivn
      5. Rfgbavn
      6. Yrgbavn
      7. Nmreonvqwna
      8. Trbetvn
      9. Hmorxvfgna
      10. Nezravn
      11. Gnqwvxvfgna
      12. Puvan
      13. Svaynaq
      14. Cbynaq

      10/14 – rather few for an Eastern European. Geography was always my weakest point – and most of these countries didn’t exist (existed only as “soviet socialist republics”) when I was a child and begun to learn geography.

    • johan_larson says:

      And the actual answers:

      Abejnl, Svaynaq, Rfgbavn, Yngivn, Yvguhnavn, Cbynaq (ivn gur Xnyvavatenq Boynfg), Orynehf, Hxenvar, Trbetvn, Nmreonvwna, Xnmnxufgna, Zbatbyvn, gur Crbcyr’f Erchoyvp bs Puvan naq Abegu Xbern.

    • fion says:

      1 zbatbyvn
      2 puvan
      3 xnmnxufgna
      4 abejnl
      5 svaynaq
      6 rfgbavn
      7 yngivn
      8 yvguhnavn
      9 orynehf
      10 hxenvar
      11 trbetvn
      12 cbynaq

      13 nmreonvwna?
      14 abegu xbern?
      V qba’g guvax vg obeqref nal bgure *fgnaf, ohg vs rvgure bs gur nobir gjb ner jebat, gung jbhyq or zl arkg thrff.

      [EDIT: Awwww yeah! 😀 ]

    • christhenottopher says:

      1. Abejnl
      2. Svaynaq
      3. Rfgbavn
      4. Yngivn
      5. Yvguhnavn
      6. Cbynaq
      7. Orynehf
      8. Hxenvar
      9. Trbetvn
      10. Nmreonvwna
      11. Xnmnxufgna
      12. Puvan
      13. Zbatbyvn
      14. Abegu Xbern

      Since political geography quizzes are relatively easy for me, bonus I’m adding mostly non-recognized but de facto independent separatist countries bordering Russia.

      15. Qbaonff
      16. Noxunmvn
      17. Fbhgu Bffrgvn

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        what about Hvturefgna?

        • christhenottopher says:

          To my knowledge they don’t actually control territory. Puvan has them on decently tight lock down aside from occasional terrorist actions.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      13/14. Missed Abejnl

      Originally thought Armenia, then remembered, no, that’s why I hated The Sum of All Fears (just fly over Georgia, you don’t need to fly over Armenia!)

    • 1 Cbynaq
      2 Yvguhnavn
      3 Yngivn
      4 Rfgbavn
      5 Svaynaq
      6 Orynehf
      7 Hxenvar
      8 Trbetvn
      9 Nmreonvwna
      10 Xnmnxufgna
      11 Puvan
      12 Zbatbyvn
      13 Abejnl
      aargh, I can’t think of the 14th
      (Vg’f Abegu Xbern. V jnf fher Abegu Xbern qvqa’g obeqre Ehffvn. Vg gheaf bhg vg qbrf, ohg gur obeqre vf gval.)

    • John Schilling says:

      Going clockwise from Vladivostok, I get 17/14. So let’s see:

      1. Abegu Xbern
      2. Puvan
      3. Zbatbyvn
      4. Nstunavfgna
      5. Vena
      6. Xunmnxfgna
      7. Nmreonvwna
      8. Trbetvn
      9. Ghexrl
      10. Hxenvar
      11. Orynehf
      12. Cbynaq
      13. Yngivn
      14. Yvguhnavn
      15. Rfgbavn
      16. Svaynaq
      17. Abejnl

      #9 is wrong because #7 and #8 completely block off that connection, similarly #4 and #5 are wrong because #6 is in the way.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      14)Abegu Xbern

      Unira’g purpxrq gb pbasvez guvf, ohg V’z cerggl pbasvqrag gung gur obeqre jvgu Abejnl vf fgvyy gurer naq vg qbrfa’g gbhpu nal bs gur bgure ‘fgnaf be Nezravn be fbzrguvat.

      Edit: Nailed it. Good thing I’ve played so many WWII/Cold War strategy games. As the saying goes, God created war to teach Americans geography.

    • Nornagest says:

      10/14: Svaynaq, Rfgbavn, Yngivn, Yvguhnavn, Orynehf, Cbynaq, Hxenvar, Xnmnxufgna, Puvan, Zbatbyvn.

      Missed Trbetvn naq Nmreonvwna, which I should have remembered, and the short borders with Abejnl naq Abegu Xbern, which I probably wouldn’t have.

  21. A1987dM says:

    The tab “Draft [should not be visible]” at the top is visible (but the page it links to is password-protected).

  22. timujin says:

    Stupid question: if electroconvulsive therapy is so effective against depression, why don’t we just do it on every depressed patient, instead of screwing around with dozens of antidepressants and antipsychotics until something sticks?

    • brmic says:

      You’ll find lots of reason here:

      For attitudes see e.g. (Knowledge and attitudes on electroconvulsive therapy in Germany: A web based survey. Wilhelmy, Saskia et al., Psychiatry Research , Volume 262 , 407 – 412)
      Basically, on the patient side both because of its history and because of its trappings it’s a harder sell than taking a pill. On the physician side, you need a trained anesthesiologist and Big Pharma doesn’t support it, whereas the traditional pill pushing is well established. On a meta-level with the risks and memory side effects and effectiveness ‘only’ around 50% ECT probably isn’t so obviously superior that anyone would be willing to stick their neck out and expend the political capital to really push for it. The latter would be equivalent to your ‘why don’t we just do it ‘, i.e. would involve modifying guidelines to make ECT the first choice of treatment.

    • gbdub says:

      The memory loss is awful, and the need for anesthesia makes it unpleasant, expensive, and somewhat dangerous. Plus it knocks you on your ass for at least a full day.

      Should probably be used more often for acute cases, but it won’t (nor should it) be popular for maintenance or a first line treatment, without trying pills first.

      If not for the stigma I’d think it’d be pretty good treatment to use early when someone shows up to the psych ward extremely violent or suicidal.

      One of my big frustrations with a local mental hospital was that they refused to give my gf ECT without observing her for like 5 days first, even though she wanted it, had had it before with excellent effect, and knew that basically every other treatment didn’t work. Basically resulted in her being completely miserable unnecessarily for a week and wasting everyone’s time.

      • John Schilling says:

        One of Lois Bujold’s many delightful science-fictional inventions is a surgically-implanted ECT device that the patient can activate as needed, at a time and place most conducive to being knocked on their ass for a good fraction of a day but not requiring anesthesia or inpatient hospitalization. Potentially quite useful, also potentially quite prone to abuse I should think. And probably not far beyond what could be built today, though getting the project past the IRB and then FDA would be interesting.

        Doesn’t get the full Bujold treatment in terms of exploring social implications, but Miles does wind up needing to make a quick career change when his less than optimal use of the device leads to catastrophic results in his old job.

        • gbdub says:

          Isn’t that basically the idea of implantable vagal nerve stimulators for depression? My gf uses that and while it’s nothing like the “knock you on your ass” effects of full ECT, it seems to have most of the same benefits as “maintenance” level/frequency of ECT with none of the side effects.

          Potential downside of the stronger one would obviously be accidental activation at a bad time – my gf’s VNS can be triggered by a magnet (epileptics use this option to halt a seizure) and has had it go off from getting too close to a metal detector and also from a backpack that we didn’t realize had a magnetic clasp in the chest strap. The VNS is just unpleasant, but anything stronger could be real bad.

        • albatross11 says:

          Nitpick: I think he got the device after a less-than-optimal event that came out of *not yet having it*.

          • John Schilling says:

            You may be right; I’ll have to check my, er, Memory. But definitely playing fast and loose with his management of the underlying condition.

          • albatross11 says:

            The Dendari generously took 10% off their client on that mission.

          • John Schilling says:

            Puns are the lowest form of wit, and that one just got a few inches shorter.

          • Randy M says:

            I’ve heard that before, but I’d contest it. Lower than shaggy dog stories? Lower than pratfalls? Lower than wearing a fake nose and mustache? Lower than smashing watermelons? Please.
            There’s a lot of range in puns, too. A word that works perfectly well on the surface context but completely changes the meaning of the statement is sublime.

    • Rob K says:

      An anecdotal case, which I’m taking a few steps to anonymize beyond the usual anonymity of this environment: some years ago, a relative of mine was treated with ECT for intense suicidal depression after the death of one of her children at a young age.

      It eventually worked, in that she stopped trying to kill herself and recovered to return to her family, but the process along the way was horrific. Specifically, because of the memory impact of the treatments, she had to repeatedly wake up restrained in a psychiatric facility with no knowledge of why she was there and learn from a relative that her child had died.

      In that case I believe it was necessary and saved her life, but given how horrific that treatment process was for everyone involved if anything else would have worked it would have been vastly preferable. Even knowing the eventual outcome I’m not sure the relative who was responsible for breaking the news to her over and over again is sure it was the correct choice.

  23. Andrew Hunter says:

    So I try to eat quite low carb. I also like a lot of foods that have gooey or drippy sauces–stews, ragus, stir fries, etc. Stuff normally served over a pile of starch.

    Treating them as soups works fine, but sometimes I really wish I could sop up my drippings on a nice bed of rice. Any of you guys avoid carbs and have good solutions for this?

    • DavidS says:

      It took me ages to try as they sound so depressing but zoodles (zucchini noodles) are actually not bad. I’ve only tried them fried so far (but that was super easy: some recipes have a complex pre-drying process but I just grated into strips and fried with garlic and chilli.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        People have said that before, my one issue is that zucchini is one of the three vegetables I loathe beyond all measure. (Maybe as noodles they’re better, but the slimy texture–just…ugh.) The other two are eggplant and most forms of squash. I’ll eat just about any other green thing with gusto.

        Maybe four: I never loved spinach’s particular tang and grittiness, and after a bad food poisoning a few years back the idea of spinach, especially raw, turns my stomach. But kale, mustard, pretty much any brassica really, peas, peppers, arugala…all great.

        • Randy M says:

          You find zucchini slimy? I find it more spongy. Have you tried slicing and pan-frying them?

        • beleester says:

          Have you tried spaghetti squash? It has a fairly similar texture to spaghetti, and it’s straightforward to make. Cut squash in half, put it in the oven until it becomes tender enough that you can scrape out the insides as spaghetti.

    • Levantine says:

      The other day I came across an argument that rice isn’t all that bad *: hey, East Asia chokes itself on it and retains healthy lean bodies. Of course, it’s a massive oversimplification that’s nearly meaningless in cognitive terms. The reason I point it out is that it serves highly useful purposes: keeps away excessive anxiety, puts things ‘in perspective’.

      (* link)

    • Jordan D. says:

      May I suggest cauliflower rice?

      It’s very easy to make by grinding up some cauliflower and tossing it into a pan with liquid and seasoning. You can then easily cook it much like rice with a variety of things to add flavor- a bit of broth, grated cheese, or almond milk, for example. It also makes an incredible risotto if you like it that way, and you can even stir-fry it.

      It isn’t as absorbent as rice is, but it will actually hold sauces and the flavor is exceedingly neutral. You can vary the cook times and amount of liquid to determine the exact texture, and it doesn’t cost much.

      Even if, like me, you don’t care for cauliflower I strongly recommend that everyone play around with it.

    • SamChevre says:

      I don’t avoid carbs, but my go-to for eating with soup or sauces if I’m not having rice or bread is shredded leaf lettuce (the slightly bitter, floppy kind) or some other salad green.

      I grew up with the characteristically southern salad with hot bacon grease and vinegar as a dressing; if you put lettuce with a hot sauce or soup, you get a similar texture.

    • dodrian says:

      I would second the zucchini and cauliflower recommendations.

      The trick is to ensure that you press as much water out as possible. I’ve been moderately successful with paper towels, though recently bought some cheesecloth as that’s supposed to do the job better.

    • baconbits9 says:

      As a carb replacement, not a rice specific one, Jerusalem Artichokes are delicious. They do give some people gas issues, so don’t go off eating a ton your first time out.

    • KG says:

      Maybe shirataki noodles? They don’t have the best texture, in my opinion, but they are almost as low in carbs and calories as you can get.

    • AG says:

      Sopping up things seems to be more about the shape/structure of the sopping agent than the composition. You want a large surface area to volume ratio, which is usually accomplished via a microporous type structure. The liquid clings to the substrate area, but also is close enough to other liquid to cling to each other, taking full advantage of all surface tension properties.

      Anyways, cauliflower and broccoli seem to fit the bill. I’ve definitely sopped up some plates’ leftover sauce with florets of the latter. Some of the firmer forms of tofu may work.

      Or, if you’re okay with spending the money, then make carb substitute things with cricket flour.

      Use quinoa?

    • christianschwalbach says:

      I think Americans over-estimate the level of Rice/Noodle/Pasta in traditional “carb heavy” ethnic foods (ie not middle american). Now, of course a starving peasant type will load up on cheap starches rather than pricier sauces, but in general, Modern Italian Pasta dishes, for example, or Japanese Rice dishes, involve 1/2 cup to a cup levels of the base starch. Often, the starch isnt even the main aspect of the meal. Given this , I would explore simply minimizing the carb aspect and going heavier on sauce, since thats where nutrients will more likely be. Of course this assumes that you arent looking to go super low-carb, which in case, the Zucchini/Squash options may be a better fit. Another advantage to simply replacing a carb proportion with sauce is it makes a meal more filling, at least for many people. The times I do find myself eating pasta, for example, I usually have just as much sauce in it as I do starch, if not more…

      • AG says:

        Andrew’s issue is less about cutting out the carbs, as having something to sop up the remaining sauce on the plate/bowl.

  24. christhenottopher says:

    OK SSCers, it time…TIME TO CONQUER THE WORLD!!1!

    Here’s the set up, you are put in charge of a country using whatever selection process that country normally uses. But you secretly have only one goal: turn the entire world map your country’s color. Forget morals, forget domestic goals, forget promoting your preferred culture, any of those are mere instrumental objectives to the true objective of world conquest. Also note: puppet governments count, but we’re talking the level of control the British Empire had over a country like Egypt. Mere alliances will not satisfy your desire for C O N T R O L. For instance, who cares if the UK always follows the US into the latter’s wars? Unless the US president gets a direct veto on who is the PM of the UK, they are unconquered. So here are the ground rules:

    1. You can pick any UN member nation or any country recognized by at least one UN member nation.
    2. The world is the current real world as best as we can model it in this discussion. People can (and should) debate your model of the current world, but it should be for the purposes of realism not the purpose of making the world conquest more feasible or less feasible.
    3. You don’t have to pull off the world conquest in your life time, as long as you are reliably setting up future generations to continue The Great Project.
    4. You are the head of government of what ever country you select, not the entire government. So for instance, if you choose the US you are President, Germany you are Chancellor, China you are General Secretary of the Communist party (and president and chairman of the central military committee). Your current powers are equivalent to the powers exercised by the current rulers of your country, if you want to expand them you’ll have to work out how to do that.

    So, what country do you select and what are your first steps to global domination? I’m not expecting the full plan in a first reply, hopefully that can grow as people comment and critique plans.

    • Protagoras says:

      Got to be China, and I suppose I try to avoid messing up the country’s economic growth while siphoning off enough funding for my secret friendly AI research project, as I don’t see a realistic plan for a merely human leader like myself with merely human advisors (at least, not one that doesn’t depend on massive luck). Obviously, I cannot anticipate what strategies my superhuman AI advisor might recommend once I’ve managed to get it built.

      • christhenottopher says:

        Agreed, China’s probably the easiest to pull off. Great starting population/economy with an autocratic government that is good as suppressing internal dissent (and therefore less likely to get distracted by a democratic movement for isolationism). But the friendly AI project is still a bit of a moonshot. We don’t really have any good idea for when that may pan out or if it will. So given that, probably best to not solely rely on the AI to save our world conquest dreams.

        • Protagoras says:

          Anything’s going to be a bit of a moonshot. Maintaining a flexible and creative population (to keep from falling behind economically and technologically) and maintaining control are always going to be in painful tension. If I could pick a historical starting point, I might pick 18th century England, but pursuing this agenda would require strengthening royal authority, while the biggest mistake of 18th century England I’d want to fix would be that I would give parliamentary representation to Ireland and the colonies. It would be a delicate and probably impossible balancing act to keep parliament under control while keeping it relevant enough for its presence to prevent unrest. And I don’t think any modern state is in as promising a position as was 18th century England for this project.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I pick Russia. First, I retake through conquest old Soviet territory that the West won’t challenge me on. Then I extend a tendril into the Middle East by establishing Syria as my puppet. I sow confusion among my enemies using psychological warfare; I start various propaganda organizations pitting them against themselves. I spread rumors of backing various foreign candidates in democracies so when it becomes time to run one I well and truly control, everyone will think of the boy who cried wolf.

      • cassander says:

        Much of the old soviet territory is either more trouble than it’s worth or part of NATO. Plus you’re charge of a thoroughly rotten society plagued by corruption that, unlike many developing countries, doesn’t appear to be getting better.

      • christhenottopher says:

        I find the propaganda infighting an intriguing idea. But clearly it’s not straightforward to take over a democracy completely from the outside like that. Yet, there might be a use there nonetheless. Consider that if Russia is willing to give up nukes, it and the USA are probably the nations you’d need to agree to disarm the world. Nukes give too big an advantage to the defender, so I think the most viable path to world conquest lies through getting rid of them. Completely controlling the US would probably be difficult, but confusion via propaganda coupled with a very legit seeming anti-nuclear movement could work. Maybe coupled with a few nuclear “accidents”. Dealing with the US is always going to be the toughest part for any non-US world contender, but a US without nukes is easier to handle.

    • Michael Handy says:

      I pick Germany (because it worked out so well the last time.), Victory via a negotiated Franco-German fiscal union followed (over decades) by EU integration into a single state. That should bork NATO, which is the big show-stopper.

      The main issues are a)Getting Italy and Spain on board, which can be done via waiting for financial troubles and squeezing them for political concessions in exchange for aid. b)dealing with perfidious Albion via either breaking off the Celts or just waiting for the old people to die and reintegrating into the EU. c) warding off Chinese domination of central Asia and Africa. This is probably best served by starting similar “Silk Road” projects, especially in former French Colonies, and making sure that China has to go through them for influence.

      Middle Eastern policy is to isolate Turkey in a way that doesn’t drive them out of NATO, pivot Iran away from Russia, and to dump Saudi like the steaming turd it is.

      In the east, the EU would support development of ASEAN nations into a similar but weaker state, possibly by bringing Australia and New Zealand and maybe Singapore into the EU fold while remaining close to east asia.

      This should contain China and Russia, give me control of perhaps 1/3 of the worlds resources and industrial capacity, prime me for annexation of Africa and parts of the middle east, once Turkey has been dealt with, and head off any US expansion to the west. By this point (40 or so years down the track) people will likely be on to my scheme, though, so things will get hard.

      • Protagoras says:

        How do you get the Germans on board? Remember that the scenario makes you head of government, and so, in the case of Germany, Chancellor, not all-powerful tyrant. How do you manage to commit the nation to your agenda for the long term? How do you even get them to re-elect you next time there’s an election (or do you plan an enabling act? Or do you have a plan for using your term to create a long lasting shadow state that will manipulate things behind the scenes)?

        • Michael Handy says:

          Practicality, mostly. The Germans are already on board with the EU project, and at every step my program serves German interests even more than European ones. Getting it past the Bundestag is mostly outmanuvering AFD and Der Linke, and unifying the moderates in the SPD with the CDU/CSU. Which has already mostly been done by Merkel. The real issue is how to railroad a German project past the French. Once this is done centralising EU power into a stronger executive to prevent HRE syndrome will be key, but easier than unifying the 2 main European powers.

          One of the reasons I chose this is that, at least in the early stages, this is what Germany is already trying to do, just turned up to 11.

          • Aapje says:

            The Germans are already on board with the EU project, and at every step my program serves German interests even more than European ones.

            Many Germans still feel so guilty over WW 2 that they are very suspicious about solutions that serve German interests more than European ones.

            Of course, you may be able to ride the backlash to that.

      • christianschwalbach says:

        If the Chinese were to approach the Francophone ex colonies with French speaking diplomats, etc… and really play up the “ex colony” “ex-dominators” aspect of the history of French colonialism, plus the typical deals for building infrastructure in exchange for resources, military base, whatever……wouldnt that be a relatively solid foothold? I understand that many African Francophone nations arent that resource rich, and so perhaps China would put it as low priority, but I see the Sino advantage of a lack of colonial history as relatively substantial.

    • Aapje says:

      Start with China.

      First step is to keep improving the Sharp Eyes facial recognition system and pattern analysis. Also, force feed English to Chinese kids (not just English classes, but have classes on other topics also be in English).

      Second step is to start selling this technology to leaders that want to control their people (there are plenty). The operators will be locals, making it seem like they are in control, but of course, there are a few backdoors. This might then be adopted by India, Russia, much of Africa, the Middle East, much of South America (Mexico!), etc. The US and EU will remain wary, of course.

      At this point, you focus on collecting the secrets of leaders in politics and business, to blackmail them with.

      You extend Sharp Eyes into a global system that has profiles of every person on the planet. You bribe/cajole/entice the leaders to connect their Sharp Eyes system with the Chinese one, to ‘catch international terrorists’ and such. Just like Facebook has profiles for people without a Facebook account, you have profiles for people outside of the countries that adopted Sharp Eyes. You feed publicly available, ‘self-surveillance’ data in there (that people share themselves). You try to make deals with Facebook (or buy them) and other data sources. By this time, the very English-proficient kids may be old enough to work as programmers and can be used to create software that the rest of the world wants to adopt.

      Bonus points if you can send tailored messages to various groups, manipulating them into culture warring for you (objecting to China is xenophobia/protectionism/pro-terrorist/etc).

      Hopefully this gives you enough leverage on the US and EU to start flipping states/countries. Get a US state and a EU country to adopt it first, helping them reduce the terrorism/crime levels substantially.

      Double bonus points if you can increase the terrorism/crime levels in states/countries that don’t use your system, without people figuring out your involvement.

    • Incurian says:

      Nice try, Putin.

    • johan_larson says:

      What country is left in the best condition after a large-scale nuclear war? I’m thinking the plan is a) start a large-scale nuclear war, and b) dominate the aftermath. The question is whether any country that can do b) is in a position to do a).

      • albatross11 says:

        If you start as the leader of one of the belligerent countries in a civilization-wrecking nuclear war, you’ve also got to figure out how to survive and retain power.

      • Civilis says:

        Assuming you could find a way to start the war, Australia would be the way to bet as far as survival goes. It’s got a strong economic and natural resource footing, it’s geographically isolated, good chunks of the country are already wasteland, and if you take Indonesia and New Guinea you get a two army per turn bonus.

      • fion says:

        This was my first thought too. Painting the map your colour is perhaps easier to do if you’ve wiped out most of the people on it. Maybe biological weapons as well/instead of nuclear weapons?

        • albatross11 says:

          Yeah, I think it’s much easier to conquer an empty world than a full one. So start in control with some country with advanced biological weapons programs and a lot of isolated small human populations (concentration camps, gulags, prisons) for experiments. Russia seems like a reasonable choice.

          Start out by building up my country’s biomedical research community, both the aboveground and classified parts.

          Our goal is to develop several diseases that are about as contagious as a cold, but with nasty long-term effects that don’t become apparent until long after the initial infection.

          a. Borrowing from HIV, one of our engineered diseases will trash your lymphatic system and wipe out most of your memory T cells, with visible effects starting several years after you’re initially infected.

          b. Another virus will set up a latent infection after its acute phase that makes some kind of nasty protein plaques that will accumulate and eventually break things in your brain and liver.

          c. Still another virus will result in sterilization in most men who are infected.

          d. We will also develop a couple of more-quickly-lethal engineered diseases that spread effectively. One will be designed to induce an autoimmune reaction to heart muscle, stealing from the way this can happen from a strep infection.

          I spend many years developing these engineered diseases alongside vaccines against them, testing them on my captive populations, etc. I make sure to vaccinate all the key people within my power structure, and make a start at vaccinating the whole population of my country, just before I release the whole package of diseases at several locations around the world, several times. (Bonus points: ship them as contaminants in an experimental antimalaria vaccine.)

          Just as the world begins noticing what’s going on, researchers at our top biomedical facility will announce their discovery of a couple of the viruses, along with some kind of very expensive but possible supportive care that will help keep the worst-stricken people alive. This will serve to drain the resources of all our enemies. We announce our discoveries early and implement aggressive quarantine and public health measures, which appear to save us the worst of the damage. (Mainly it’s because we vaccinated everyone we could before releasing the bioweapons.)

          As the crisis intensifies, we release the additional diseases to clobber the survivors and cut off all trade. Again, ship some of the diseases as contaminants in our miraculous vaccine against one of the slow-acting diseases that’s ravaging the world. (At this point, it’s too late to stop that disease’s damage.)

          In another couple decades, the rest of the world has had its population reduced by like 90%, the global economy is in shambles, and the old international order has come to an end. My country’s biomedical researchers by that point will have announced and shipped effective vaccines against all of the diseases, come up with supportive care for the survivors, and my country, as the one which best weathered the crisis and helped save humanity, will naturally be in a leadership role among the much-diminished nations of the world. That plus our having lost more like 10% of our population will put us in an excellent position to help recolonized depopulated nations and paint the map with our colors.

        • quaelegit says:

          Step 1: Be Madagascar
          Step 2: Release the deadly virus
          Step 3: Close your port and airport…

          (Ok, I don’t see how to dominate the world in the aftermath but I’ve been wanting to make a Pandemic reference all day!)

    • bean says:

      But you secretly have only one goal: turn the entire world map your country’s color.

      Send your secret service to the printers and start playing games with their inks. Other than that, this seems like a bad idea in general.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Just not feasible. Any attempt at regional hegemony, let alone global hegemony, is going to get checked by the United States. Russia is a major power stuck to invading marginal scraps of land in their neighbors. China can’t even attack their breakaway province without starting WWIII.

      Your best options are Russia or China. Russia needs to control Europe through political subterfuge, much like they established control in Eastern Europe after WWII, but the current European governments are quite stable, so this is damn near impossible. If the Red Brigades couldn’t take France and Italy in the 60s and 70s, Putin’s trolls can’t do it now or at any point in the next 20 years.

      Your asymmetric play is to re-establish the caliphate and try to use the Muslim populations in India and Europe as Fifth Columns. Your best option is probably Turkey, because it can build up control within the NATO umbrella and maintain favorable relations with Israel. The trick is getting someone ELSE to nuke Israel for you, but maybe your Fifth Columnist government in France will take care of that for you.

      • Michael Handy says:

        I’d say that any plan for world domination would require a breakup of the USA.

      • rlms says:

        Any attempt at regional hegemony, let alone global hegemony, is going to get checked by the United States.

        There’s an important exception to that statement.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Possibly be more explicit? The only exceptions I can think of are really India and the European Union. We can’t do much about India but that’ll change if India starts impacting operations in the Arabian Gulf. We are mostly okay with the EU-integration project because it’s not in contest with our own political domination (and we think the EU will actually help us in the long-run).

          Any I am missing?

          • Randy M says:

            I think the exception he had in mind was the United States.

          • hls2003 says:

            I assume he’s referring to hegemony by the United States.

          • rlms says:

            Indeed, that’s the obvious one (although I bet the US wouldn’t intervene if Israel somehow acquired regional hegemony).

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Ha, good luck conquering the world as the US. Though if Empire-building comes back into fashion, the US is probably your best bet. If the Brits could be convinced to create an empire spanning the whole planet, no intrinsic reason Americans couldn’t be.

            It’s just a question of how many dead American soldiers you can have on the nightly news…and censoring the nightly news in the US is a tricky proposition. You’d need stronger puppets than we’ve ever had in foreign nations. That or robot soldiers.

    • ManyCookies says:

      Can I rewind time and pick the British Empire?

      • Protagoras says:

        It probably still wouldn’t work. As I mentioned above, you need to simultaneously rein in parliament (which will otherwise constantly whine about how much your wars of conquest are costing and will find endless ways to undermine you) while using the carrot of parliamentary representation to keep the colonies adequately loyal (and letting colonies elect MPs is itself one of the things your existing parliament will fight tooth and nail). I just don’t think there’s a way to do both simultaneously, and without that I don’t see a way to be much more successful than the British empire already was.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Is “Stay out of WWI” too late to at least prevent (well, delay) the decline of the empire?

          • Protagoras says:

            Stay out of WWI could be part of a keep what there is of the empire together longer strategy, but it’s much too late to be part of a world conquest strategy. For world conquest, you have to start a century and a half earlier; they really needed to integrate the American colonies more closely rather than letting them go.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Cecil Rhodes didn’t think 1900 was too late for reunion. But I don’t know what he meant by a union; maybe UKUSA or NATO counts as achieving that part of his goal.

        • DavidS says:

          This is confused a bit because ‘head of government’s in Britain at this time means PM which somewhat means parliamentary control. Not sure what period combines a strong foreign policy position with strong majority of the means to make one.

          • Protagoras says:

            In the 18th century, which is really when you would have had to start the world conquest, the position of head of government was kind of awkwardly shared between the monarch and the prime minister (appointed by the monarch, but practically required to be sufficiently popular with parliament). Prime Minister as clearly independent head of government starts in the early 19th century.

    • gbdub says:

      You have to either be the US, or eliminate the USian nuclear stockpile without being the target of it. And the Russian one too of course. That’s the biggest pickle.

      The US is probably too tough to take over as a militaristic dictator, and Russia is probably too much of a mess to be an effective global conqueror.

      You probably have to be China, and get the US and Russia to voluntarily disarm to token levels, then covertly get them at each others throats to use whatever they have left in a militarily crippling but not civilization destroying exchange. Then swoop in to play peacemaker and use the position of influence to start straight up British empiring everybody.

    • Nornagest says:

      Lots of people smarter than me have tried world conquest through direct military force. No one’s done it. Someone might eventually get lucky, but it is probably impossible to come up with a scheme for it that can be checked in advance, especially if we’re limited to present-day countries in their rough present-day state — tomorrow’s inventions could be an extremely effective spoiler for any plan you can come up with.

      So we need to go for the cultural victory. Since the scenario requires painting the map, just making sure that everyone in the world wears their Levis to McDonalds isn’t enough — we need a memeplex that’s at least as virulent as Western mass culture but which also implies political union. Basically the equivalent of the New World Order that bumper stickers back home are concerned with, except, you know, real. Growing this out of the UN is probably a non-starter for structural reasons. Growing it out of the global financial system doesn’t give enough incentive for political union. An outgrowth of the EU has a decent shot at dominating Eurasia but would probably stall once it runs out of cultural/historical steam, to say nothing of the current wave of Euroskepticism.

      I think our best bet is an expansionist religion, or religious-equivalent ideology, that comes packaged with political hierarchy. If someone can generate the same kind of energy now that Islam did in the 7th century, but leveraging global media, I think it has a real shot at taking over the world. Where it starts and who starts it is almost irrelevant, although starting it in China would probably help — that’s where the biggest media barriers are concentrated. The big challenge is getting broad enough appeal: people live under a much larger variety of material conditions now than there was in the early 600s, and our hypothetical super-religion needs to appeal to all of those people, or at least enough of them to establish local hegemony, everywhere. Last time this had a reasonable chance of happening was probably the Twenties and Thirties under international communism, but it didn’t get the economics right.

      • cassander says:

        people live under a much larger variety of material conditions now than there was in the early 600s, and our hypothetical super-religion needs to appeal to all of those people, or at least enough of them to establish local hegemony, everywhere.

        I actually think the opposite is the case. Merchant in constantinople, farmers in rural france, and mongolian herdsman lived in radically different economic, political and cultural worlds in 600. Those three groups all exist today, and I would guess that they have a lot more in common now than than.

        • Nornagest says:

          Subsistence farmers and herdsmen still exist. They’re rarer now, proportionally, than they were in 600, but there are still enough of them that you need to appeal to them if you want to take over the world.

          • cassander says:

            I’m pretty sure if you get everyone but the subsistence farmers and herdsmen, you’ve have no trouble finishing them off.

          • Nornagest says:

            Subsistence farmers and herdsmen can be surprisingly stubborn, as the Soviets learned in Afghanistan and we learned in, er, also Afghanistan, among other places. Both times they had outside support, but I don’t contemplate this being virulent enough to get everybody (that’s never happened, and if it had it would be an I Win button), just enough people to reliably achieve political dominance. That means you need to worry about insurgency for at least a generation or two, and after the first or second generation this sort of expansion tends to get a lot more fragile. The Rashiduns conquered more than half the area that unitary political Islam ever controlled.

      • quaelegit says:

        >So we need to go for the cultural victory.

        Too bad science victory isn’t a real win condition, cause I’d want to go for that!

        (People who have played Civ in the last decade: what are the exact rules again? Do the moon landings count or is it a generation ship or something?)

        • christhenottopher says:

          I last played Civ V which had the sleeper ship to Alpha Centauri. Not sure what Civ VI does.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            In Civ VI you have to establish a colony on Mars.

            Mechanical steps are: build (at least one) spaceport; launch a satellite; complete the Apollo mission; build the three parts of the Mars colonization ship. Not too different to Civ V as far as the mechanics go, the flavour is just more topical and a little less improbable given the technology you’re supposedly using.

            (Might be different in terms of game balance, though, because once you’ve got the necessary tech you can build the colonization ship very quickly if you have the right Great People. I don’t remember whether you can do something similar in Civ V or not.)

    • John Schilling says:

      OK, starting as President of France, I will negotiate demilitarized zones between myself and Italy, and a more thorough but secret alliance with Germany that includes a faux German invasion heroically stopped in Burgundy. Meanwhile, diplomacy backed by a strong show of force should secure the Iberian peninsula for my Empire, while carefully leaving my fleets a bit farther out in the Atlantic than this would optimally require. Thus, when Britain is busy meddling in Scandinavia and imagining France and Germany both neutralized, a Franco-Spanish armada can slip in through the Western Approaches and land at Liverpool. Germany will of course send her fleets to the North Sea to block this naked French aggression, but Germany being actually aligned with France means that England is quickly dismembered. I’ll give Scotland and Belgium to the Hun as payment for their services.

      Then, when the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires form a solid alliance against Italy, I will offer my support in defense of a beleaguered Italy (and claim her North African provinces as payment). This puts Italy entirely at my mercy during a long, grinding war of attrition. When Russia joins the Empires of the East in their dastardly war against the forces of Western Goodness, I will of course offer to lead the Triple Alliance in defense of the West, and with Germany outnumbered on the front they will have to accept.

      With the French and German fleets combined, Scandinavia should quickly fall. Germany can then take Eastern Europe and the Baltics, while supporting French armies into St. Petersburg and ultimately Moscow. Napoleon shall be avenged. Through all of this, German and Italian forces will be advancing triumphantly – and farther from Germany and Italy at every step. My own fleets, and the strategic mobility they represent, will be supporting from the flanks, while French armies are stuck in “useless” reserve positions adjacent to e.g. Rome and Munich.

      It will take ten years of scrupulously honest* dealing with friend and foe alike, but I will ultimately be able to set up a magnificent stab that seizes seven supply centers in a single coordinated attack. Total world domination will at that point be inevitable.

      Oh, wait, that’s the early 20th century version of How I Conquered The World. I’ll come up with something for the 21st century in just a bit.

      * Some restrictions apply, your mileage may vary. Read terms and conditions carefully.

      • rlms says:

        Damn you John! We (Italy) had been wondering when you’d stab us since approximately fall 1903*, but after the unexpected Austro-Hungarian/Ottoman alliance we had little choice but to trust you (although we really should’ve suggested that Germany ask you to move your Northern fleets away from their supply centres).

        *Quoting myself a few days ago from our strategic planning Google doc: “It looks like France is suggesting the game is coming to a close. It seems pretty likely to me that they will turn on us soon, I would guess in fall but it could be in spring. So we should probably prepare for that.” Probably should’ve followed my own advice on that last sentence.

        • John Schilling says:

          There was nothing you could plausibly have done this last turn. Well, barring certain knowledge of my plans and/or a solid alliance with the Austro-Hungarian-Ottoman empire at least. With maximum hedging by you and Germany, I’d still have been at sixteen centers and the mandatory disbands would have left gaps in your defenses that would have given me the win in a year or two regardless.

          Last year was the critical period, when the window for a successful stab opened for me and when Germany no longer needed her fleets and, in fall, her Livonian army. If those forces had been quickly shifted to defensive positions in the west, noting the deployment of my fleets as justification, I’d have had to settle for the three-way draw.

          And yeah, you were living on borrowed time since 1903. But it was in my interest to keep you struggling through the end whereas the Great Enemy would have finished you off by ’05.

          We should probably put together a full recap for the next OT.

          • Iain says:

            We should probably put together a full recap for the next OT.


          • quaelegit says:

            Yes please!

          • Nick says:

            Please do!

          • John Schilling says:

            rlms, If I recall you organized the game; would you like to take the lead on setting up a recap thread? I’ve got a long (7662 words) set of running notes that I’m willing to pastebin, and I’ll post a condensed summary here, but it’s decidedly France-centric and the game had a great deal of interest beyond just France’s inevitable, glorious triumph.

          • Randy M says:

            Ah, congrats. I kind of pulled out of back-seat driving Austria because my teammate had it well in hand and I didn’t have much advice about how to maneuver out of the stalemate that seemed to be developing.

          • rlms says:

            @John Schilling
            Sure, I’ll post in the new OT and send emails. I think Chevalier Mal Fet said something about him writing a recap before we started, if he’s been doing that as we went along we can publish a version of that edited with stuff from other players, otherwise we can collectively combine notes into something.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          I (Turkey) *did* offer you the chance to change sides! It’s what Italy does!!

          • John Schilling says:

            France is notorious for surrendering and for not conquering Moscow. The Ottoman Empire is notorious for not forming stable, lasting alliances with the Austro-Hungarian Empire. So we’re all playing against type here :-)

      • bean says:

        Why am I somehow completely unsurprised that John won the Diplomacy game?

      • The Nybbler says:

        What keeps Germany from backstabbing you at Step 1?

        • John Schilling says:

          The French army preemptively ordered to Burgundy on my first move. The attack I asked Germany to make is the strongest attack Germany can make against France on the first turn, and can be completely blocked unless it comes as a surprise. Otherwise, it’s an ineffectual wasted move for an army on both side. But neither of us needed that army to go anywhere else to meet our 1901 objectives, and both of us needed our other neighbors to not see us as threatening them.

      • tayfie says:

        No wonder. Congrats on a victorious game. It was an honor to lose to you.

        Your secret alliance with Germany had me (England) completely fooled. I thought you would keep each other busy for a few years and I could wait on the outside until someone invited me in on favorable terms. Your taking Liverpool was well timed and too well executed for me to do anything.

        • John Schilling says:

          Thank you. It was a very close thing, deciding between you and Germany as an initial ally, and at a few points I had my doubts as to whether I’d made the right choice. But the triangle of England, France, Germany has to be resolved early, and it is rarely resolved with a three-way alliance. If you wind up as the odd man out, there’s not much that can be done about it.

          You played well for as long as you could, and the only things you missed were things Germany and I went to the greatest possible length to conceal.

    • John Schilling says:

      OK, others have pointed out one of the problems with this, which is that the United States of America absolutely is not going to let anyone (else) take over the world, and has the means to make that stick. The other two problems are that Russia and China also won’t allow it and have the means to make that stick. So even if you play the game as one of the three, you are blocked twice over. So we’re going to have to neutralize at least two very large and powerful nations armed with hundreds of thermonuclear missiles. And credit to johan larson and fion for noticing that the world is easier to conquer if we blow up most of it first.

      I’m going to play this game on the difficult setting, as Supreme Leader of North Korea. Because that way, at least, I do control the entire government and indeed society. Anyone disagreeing with me on that point gets a date with an anti-aircraft gun.

      First step of this plan, I have to lose a war with the United States. Hey, it worked for the Grand Duchy of Fenwick. But I’m looking for a very specific level of defeat, somewhere between Syria’s recent experience on the wrong end of a cruise missile strike, and Iraq/1991. I need it to look like a serious fight, but I can’t afford my nation or my military to be too badly damaged. And I need the United States to look like the bullying aggressor in this conflict, with me the aggrieved and innocent(ish) victim.

      Fortunately, I’ve got a summit meeting with Donald Trump coming up, so I think I can manage that.

      Admittedly, I do have to walk a fine line here, with a very good chance of getting my nation destroyed and/or myself killed. But there are no great rewards without great risks, so I’m going for it. And when I go about doing it, the most important message I want to send is to South Korea and Japan, and to some extent China: You guys came this close to getting your own cities nuked, to satisfy Donald Trump’s ego.

      Coming out of that war, I am certain that the US will impose Maximum Absolute Sanctions, but they’ll be doing it without bases or support from any neighboring nations. So, the usual deal of “anyone who does business with the DPRK, doesn’t do business with any part of the global economy or financial system that we have any influence over”, but not an actual material blockade. That’s the sweet spot.

      That, plus the cred I get from surviving the war, should help me set up the Trade Agreement of Nations What Are All Under Maximum Absolute US Sanctions Anyway. And with Donald Trump in charge of US trade policy for the next two years at least, that should be a decently comfortable trade group. I’m also introducing Deng-style economic reforms at home, and in the true spirit of Juche trying to make my economy as self-sufficient as possible. But true autarky isn’t going to cut it, and there’s a limit to what I can get from trade with China.

      In addition to bringing my industrial base solidly into the 1980s, I need that trade group to spread my influence. Most of the other members, e.g. Assad’s Syria, aren’t going to be as industrialized as the DPRK, so I’m going to be “helping” them by putting Korean industrial enclaves in their countries. Industrial, social, military, and political enclaves, really, but the outside world doesn’t need to know that. And I’m going to be massively expanding my intelligence-gathering and covert-operations activities. We’ve already established that I can assassinate dissidents in Kuala Lumpur, kidnap movie stars in Hong Kong, hack movie studios in Hollywood, but that needs to be dialed up to eleven and gone fully global. Which can’t be done directly from Pyongyang.

      At home, my new economy is going to continue supporting my arsenal of shiny new strategic missiles, as always. I’m looking for at least a hundred ICBMs, and half a dozen or so SSBs. But I’m also going to bring my conventional military back into shape, at least to the 1980s state of the art and with an emphasis on power projection. Finally, I’m going to be going big on tunneling. Not that North Korea is any slouch in that department already, but I want the Dwarves of Moria to look on my works with envy.

      Finally, and we’re talking a decade or two down the road here, I need to start a nuclear war between the USA, PRC, and USSR. USA/PRC is easy; the United States assumes North Korea is a Chinese puppet state and blames Beijing for anything I do. Still, I’d like the ratio of China-bound ICBMs vs those aimed at my country to be a bit more favorable than if everybody knows I’m the one who fired the first shot. But I think I can pull it off. I’ve got lots of spies, I’ve got two countries that don’t much like each other anyway, and if necessary I’ve got submarine-launched missiles for deniability. Russia is going to be harder, but see above for my assets. This is a gamble to be sure, but again, no great rewards without great risks.

      And when the war does take place, I need it to involve everyone. There’s no escaping the fact that North Korea is going to get plastered, dozens of missiles and probably a hundred thermonuclear warheads minimum. We’re getting our hair mussed. So everybody else has to get the same. Europe can’t sit this one out. Fortunately, Europe is part of NATO and so can’t sit out American wars. India needs to play, but I’ll have Pakistan on my team so that should happen. The Middle East isn’t going to be a problem. The Pacific Rim might be, after the effort I went through to decouple them from the US in Phase I, but if I have to nuke Japan myself, well, I’m pretending to be Korean so that will be easy. Not sure how to go about getting South America involved; something something Venezuela and post-Chavez industrial reconstruction?

      Point is, I’m going to sneak and lie and poke and prod and if necessary directly nuke as needed to make this a full-on game of Global Thermonuclear War, the one where everybody gets nuked. And I’m the only player who knew in advance when it would happen and had deep hard-rock tunnels for every thing and every one I cared about.

      A regular army a million strong, equipped to 1980s standards and backed with an intact 1980s industrial base designed for maximum self-sufficiency. Strategic nuclear weapons. Lilly-pad bases around the word, and up-to-date intelligence on key military and economic targets that should be promptly seized or destroyed if they somehow survive the war. The remnant Great Powers will probably have more raw material strength than I, but they won’t be nearly as well prepared and they’ll probably still be at war with each other.

      I’ll be Top Dog in the world of Mad Max. The remainder of the plan is left as an exercise for the student.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        Comment of the year.

      • baconbits9 says:

        At home, my new economy is going to continue supporting my arsenal of shiny new strategic missiles, as always.

        And here, among all of the long shots, is the longest shot. It is almost certainly impossible to generate the type of economy that you need without ceding huge amounts of effective power. Anyone who demonstrates competence within your new economy is going to be a threat to your power and one that grows with the economy, liquidate to many competent people and you don’t get growth you need.

        • John Schilling says:

          I specified Deng-style reforms, not Rand/Galt. China serves as an existence proof for being able to sustain ~10% annual GDP growth for decades when coming out of a dysfunctional Communist economy, while keeping direct government control over ~30% of the economy and not going all 10-289 and liquidating the people you need to maintain that growth. That’s all I need to make this project work.

          The Chinese government is using that power towards different ends, mostly fluffy stuff like “soft power” and uplifting a billion peasants to the middle class through makework jobs at SOEs if necessary, while building only a minimal number of thermonuclear missiles. But then, Beijing isn’t trying to Conquer the World. I am, and it probably helps if you all still see starving peasants (shifting towards being oppressed workers in Satanic Mills).

          • baconbits9 says:

            30% control over the economy isn’t nearly enough to keep your secret plans and funnel off enough money to build up your arsenal. If you were operating from China maybe you could make that happen as the sheer size of the country means to support a million man army in a bunch of cavs means you can siphon from 1,000 citizens to support 1 military person, so the taxable disposable income gains can be small per captia, but large in aggregate. For North Korea you are looking at 25:1, 30% control of the economy isn’t remotely enough, not after a year, or 10 years of growth to support such a massive build up of effective forces.

    • christhenottopher says:

      I’m awarding some arbitrary game achievements at this point.


      Got to be China, and I suppose I try to avoid messing up the country’s economic growth while siphoning off enough funding for my secret friendly AI research projec

      Achievement Unlocked: The Revolutionary Leap of Genius


      I spread rumors of backing various foreign candidates in democracies so when it becomes time to run one I well and truly control, everyone will think of the boy who cried wolf.

      Achievement Unlocked: Facebook News Feed

      @Michael Handy

      The real issue is how to railroad a German project past the French.

      Achievement Unlocked: Schlieffen Plan 3.0


      First step is to keep improving the Sharp Eyes facial recognition system and pattern analysis.

      Achievement Unlocked: Turn Around Bright Eyes


      Nice try, Putin.

      Achievement Unlocked: Seriously, Pay Me Putin Look At My Crowd Sourcing Skills


      What country is left in the best condition after a large-scale nuclear war? I’m thinking the plan is a) start a large-scale nuclear war, and b) dominate the aftermath. The question is whether any country that can do b) is in a position to do a).

      Achievement Unlocked: Nuke ‘Em From Orbit


      Send your secret service to the printers and start playing games with their inks.

      Achievement Unlocked: The Best Kind Of Correct

      @A Definite Beta Guy

      Your asymmetric play is to re-establish the caliphate and try to use the Muslim populations in India and Europe as Fifth Columns.

      Achievement Unlocked: Guarding The GLA Underground

      @Many Cookies

      Can I rewind time and pick the British Empire?

      Achievement Unlocked: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again


      You probably have to be China, and get the US and Russia to voluntarily disarm to token levels, then covertly get them at each others throats to use whatever they have left in a militarily crippling but not civilization destroying exchange. Then swoop in to play peacemaker and use the position of influence to start straight up British empiring everybody.

      Achievement Unlocked: Greenpeace World Conquest


      I think our best bet is an expansionist religion, or religious-equivalent ideology, that comes packaged with political hierarchy. If someone can generate the same kind of energy now that Islam did in the 7th century, but leveraging global media, I think it has a real shot at taking over the world.

      Achievement Unlocked: Deus Vult

      @John Schilling

      OK, starting as President of France, I will negotiate demilitarized zones between myself and Italy, and a more thorough but secret alliance with Germany that includes a faux German invasion heroically stopped in Burgundy….(read the whole thing)

      Achievement Unlocked: But What Did He Mean By That?

      @John Schilling

      I’m going to play this game on the difficult setting, as Supreme Leader of North Korea…(read the whole thing)

      Achievement Unlocked: Nuclear Unicorn Victory

  25. grendelkhan says:

    I’ve been banging the drum about SB 827–a bill going into committee in the California State Senate this week which would loosen zoning restrictions (height limits, parking minimums) around transit stops. (Mentioned in a previous open thread.)

    CA YIMBY has a nifty tool that will let you call through the entire Housing and Transportation committee of the State Senate. If you’re a Californian, please go to and fill out the form; the system will call you and walk you through the process.

    There aren’t many obvious wins in public policy. This is one of them.

    • shakeddown says:

      Link is broken.

      Is it legal to do this if you’re not a US citizen (but live in California [legally])?

      • grendelkhan says:

        Gah. I missed the trailing slash.

        I have no specific legal knowledge here, of course, but MetaFilter says probably yes. You’re a resident, even if you can’t vote there. I don’t see anything specifically wrong with calling them.

        • Nicholas Weininger says:

          Aaaaand it died in committee, sigh. Not happy to have my 60% prediction from an earlier open thread come true.

          At this point I think maybe we need to focus on influencing the legal academy at least as much as the voting populace: the right long-term outcome to push for here is that federal courts ban SFR-only zoning everywhere, without exception, on disparate impact grounds. Rehabilitating and extending the logic of Thurgood Marshall’s dissent in Village of Belle Terre vs. Boraas would be one way to go.

    • cube says:

      From what I’ve read, I’m not convinced this is an obvious win in public policy. It seems like it is likely to have a number of unintended consequences, including potential future disincentive for creating qualifying transit corridors, and possibly unforeseen ways that developers could exploit this, perhaps ways undesirable to the proponents and opponents alike.

      At the level of city government, if the voters want this type of zoning allowances, why hasn’t it been approved? And if the voters don’t want it at the local level, why will they support it at the state level? I don’t think I’m convinced this is simply a coordination problem, with each city wanting its neighbors to build housing along transit corridors.

      The way that this bill’s effects would be realized somewhat differently within, say, Los Angeles vs. San Francisco vs. San Diego makes me wonder if a one-size-fits-all at the state level is the way to go. I’ve been meaning to ask a friend who works in urban planning about her take on it, but I haven’t had the chance.

      What would you say to someone not yet convinced this is an obvious win? Specifically, if it’s an obvious win, what good things does it bring to the NIMBY crowd that they are overly trepidatious of or that they mistakenly believe they disprefer? What would you tell them to convince them that it is?

      • Alphonse says:

        I’m not especially familiar with these proposals, although I have been vaguely following the discussions from my distant HCOL-but-not-CA city.

        With respect to the “potential future disincentive for creating qualifying transit corridors” concern, hasn’t that ship sailed already?

        Whether it passes or not, this seems like a fairly serious proposal. If I were an anti-development person, I’d anticipate that more proposals like it are likely in the future. I probably can’t eliminate currently existing transit corridors, but I can oppose the creation of new ones.

        I’ll grant that my incentives to oppose new transit corridors are somewhat stronger if the bill passes than if it doesn’t, but the incentive now exists regardless, inasmuch as anti-development groups can predict that such corridors may be used to foster future pro-development rules.

        Put another way, anti-development groups will already increase their opposition to new transit corridors now that this strategy has been revealed. So pro-development groups might as well ignore any concerns about increased future opposition to new transit corridors because of these development rules, since that increase was likely almost entirely already actually triggered by the proposal rather than the enactment of the new rules.

      • grendelkhan says:

        Alphonse is correct in pointing out (as the bill’s author did) that NIMBYs already oppose transit.

        But more broadly, yes, this is a good idea. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office is in favor of reducing local restrictions on land use, for example. But maybe the best argument is one from Matt Yglesias that I brought to the Culture War thread last week:

        If you capped car production at 20% of current levels, car prices would rise, automakers would focus on high-end luxury models only and some people would conclude that market forces will never serve middle class people’s automotive needs.

        Car scarcity would create a robust market for short-term car rentals, and that market would be blamed for diminishing the supply of affordable used cars.

        We’d hear stories about billionaire car collectors just warehousing cars for fun, foreign investors scooping up cars as a store of value, vacant cars rich people store at their summer houses, etc.

        And of course the argument that uncapping car production isn’t a panacea, would leave problems unaddressed, and would even cause some problems (think of the traffic jams!) would even be true. Nonetheless, uncapping production would help a lot!

        If it helps, here are some academics, here’s the Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California, here’s a bunch of environmental groups writing in support of the bill. I encourage you to read back through the Culture War series that I’ve been posting, as well. Thanks for taking an interest!

      • veeloxtrox says:

        To add to grendelkhan’s great reply.

        I think it is a valid concern that a state level bill will not work great at the city level because a one-size-fits-all solution will fail in some manner in LA vs San Fran. With that said, I think the reason a state level bill idea is that allowing zoning at the city level leads to a tragedy of the commons. That is because everyone wants lower housing prices but no one wants more housing on their block/ in their city.

        I assert that it is well established that CA cities make choices that in aggregate make housing prices increase faster than inflation. This has happened for decades. While SB 827 will have negative impacts on some, and it is not a perfect solution, I think it is a move in the right direction and I hope it passes.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          As to the commons, the State has a plan for how many units each town is supposed to add over time. The problem is that it has no enforcement mechanism. I’m not sure about 827, but some of the proposals only take control of local zoning from towns that failed to achieve their targets.

        • Education Hero says:

          That is because everyone wants lower housing prices but no one wants more housing on their block/ in their city.

          Is this a given? It seems likely that current owners of property would not necessarily appreciate lower housing prices…

          • gbdub says:

            The housing prices would be getting cheaper mostly because denser housing would be replacing existing low density housing. Currently owned property would not necessarily decrease in value – if anything you’d think it would go up: it would now be attractive to developers, and low density housing would become more rare, for those that desired it.

          • AG says:

            @gdbub, not if the “wrong kind of people” move into said low density housing and cause a flight elsewhere, depressing property values across the entire region. Same logic as not having public transportation in an area, even if none of those undesirables even live in that area.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            No, that isn’t a plausible outcome (even aside from people thinking like AG, rationally or irrationally).

            Increasing allowed density increases the value of land, specifically the option value, but decreases the value of interior space. If you own a vacant lot, you win. If you own an existing house you get an option that you won’t exercise. It doesn’t make up for the loss in the value of the house. To exercise the option requires tearing down the house, but the house is worth more than the increased value of the vacant lot, so you won’t do it.

            Of course, if the density increases enough, you’ll do it, but would require such a large increase that it’s not plausible. For example, if SB 287 had passed, people near transit would have hit the jackpot. But that’s because they would have had a monopoly on the right to build apartment buildings. Everyone else in town loses value. If the whole town rezones to allow them, a few will be built and most of the value goes to the developer, not the owner of the land. If the whole town is replaced by a city, the original owners make a lot of money, but that is a large change, very different from the proposed marginal increases.

  26. dndnrsn says:

    Gaming thread!

    So, on @Iain’s recommendation, I checked out one of the * World games – I picked up a copy of Apocalypse World, being as it was the first one, and on sale. I’ve flipped through it, and the big thing I notice (well, besides the fact that there are major incentives for PCs to have sex with NPCs/each other, which, I read it was a game he and his wife put together, which, I mean, OK, whatever turns your crank, but the guys I game with? Don’t wanna go there) is that the GM (pet peeve: games with alternate names for the GM; if it’s a game from the 80s or earlier I can get there wasn’t a standard, but “GM” is fine) is basically told to prep as little as possible, and the rules are structured to basically demand GM improvisation, based on player action. It’s coded into the rules.

    So, that got me thinking about improvisation in games. It’s usually something “outside” of the rules – everybody does it to some extent (anything not pre-scripted is improvised, in a way) or another (GM improvising everything on the fly, often in response to what the players do/say, or based on asking the players questions) – I’ve done this, or close to it, and it can be fun) – with the middle ground being “loose prep, and then go from there.” I’m increasingly liking to run games that way for everything that isn’t an investigative scenario (prep just has to be tighter, usually, although even for those I’m increasingly partial to looser prep).

    One thing I’ve noticed is that there’s probably more games now that feature improvisation as something “core” to the game. The * World games are a good example – the improvisation is about halfway between “full improv” and “loose prep” as far as I can tell. It’s “official” in the rules though; it isn’t just the GM deciding to improvise rather than prep something to whatever level. On the other hand, if you frame it differently, and things like random encounter tables are seen as forcing the GM to improvise instead of have encounters etc put together already, as random encounters and so on have become less an element of pen and paper games, one could argue that games have become less likely to feature improvisation – it just wasn’t recognized as improvisation in the days of yore.

    The game I’ve seen with the strongest improvisation baked into the rules system is probably Blood and Honour by John Wick. Winning dice rolls in that game lets players determine what goes on in a given scene, including stating facts about elements in the world, or about the plot. The GM is supposed, as far as I can tell (I’ve read through the book once and skimmed over a few bits again, so I may be getting things wrong) to present the kernel of a situation – but the players will often define most of the details. Which makes it probably the game with the most player control over the story I’ve seen.

    I don’t know if I’d full-on want to run that, but I’ve been really enjoying improvising more lately. Forcing myself to prep less, using more random elements, and just rolling with whatever happens – it feels a lot fresher. My tendency is towards prep-heavy investigative scenarios, huge amounts of behind-the-scenes work, and that will really burn you out.

    Any games I’m missing? What are people’s thoughts on improvising in games? Thing you love, thing you hate, scary thing?

    (Also, unless I’m missing something, isn’t it kind of odd that improvise is an “ise” word in both American and UK English? “Improvize” seems like a rare usage, and spellcheck says its wrong.)

    • Ventrue Capital says:

      I am an old-school GM (from back before there was any such thing as new school) and I follow Justin Alexander’s advice: I don’t prep plots, I prep situations.

      I think I’m pretty good at improvising, but since you (dndnrsn) play in my game, I’ll let you speak to that.

      I’ll also say that I try to encourage the players to contribute to the world-building.

      All this requires a social contract whereby the players are comfortable trusting the GM to improvise and not screw them over.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      One of my favorite games, the incredibly obscure Prince Valiant RPG, has a sort of improvisational metagame built into it.

      The whole game seems to have been designed around the idea of teaching inexperienced players or young children how to play an RPG. The basic way to play is to take the simple rules and starting scenario on the first page and just start playing. The “advanced” rules in the rest of the book are mostly identical but also feature a mechanic where players can temporarily take over as GM and run a quick scene in exchange for the ability to use a metagame power later on.

      So, for example, if I was the GM and my player T wanted to be Storyteller for a scene I would pick one of the pre-made scenarios like “Huns Attack!” She would run the encounter like it was the world’s smallest published module while I sit back and only step in if she’s doing something that would mess up the game. If the players enjoy the encounter and I think she ran it well, she gets a gold star* on her character sheet. Later on she can use one GM “special effect” during play, for example she might use “Escape” to save J’s character from an otherwise lethal situation.

      I like it because it combines a few different features that support improvisation. Firstly, the SFX are very similar to Apocalypse World’s GM Moves despite Prince Valiant being twenty one years older. Secondly, the self-contained scenes are useful for breaking up the action just like traditional random encounters. And third, the process teaches the players how to run a game themselves and what sorts of tricks the GM has at his disposal during a game.

      *Or that’s what the rules say at least. Personally I just hand out tokens or make a mark on the sheet. Literal gold stars seem a bit patronizing for graduate students.

      • dndnrsn says:

        That sounds really cool and ahead of its time. It’s weird how sometimes you’ll find something from long ago that feels way more “modern” in terms of features like that.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Yeah that was my feeling reading it.

          The weirdest part for me is that the creator, Greg Stafford, is the same guy who went on to make the King Arthur’s Pendragon games. It’s like he wrote this nearly perfect rules-lite game and then said “You know what? Fuck players. If they want to pretend to be Arthurian knights so badly they can suck on 800 pages of fiddly confusing rules.”

          It’s just one of those weird cases of convergent evolution in gaming. Every advance he made was abandoned immediately and the people who built on the same concepts later had clearly reinvented them from scratch.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Pendragon is a weird case. As you note, it was really complicated and crunchy. But it was doing something that’s perceived as “modern” – having rules that straight-up guide, or that provide incentives to guide, PC actions according to character traits – that suddenly became a thing a lot in the mid to late 00s, I think. So it’s this ahead-of-its-time idea bolted to very of-its-time rules.

  27. hash872 says:

    Anyone else enjoy kratom? I was a weed guy for a long time, but I’m relatively old now and need a Friday/Saturday night buzz that leaves me more….. I guess focused, for lack of a better word, the next day. If you’ve never done it kratom feels like a mild opioid, without any of the negative side effects. I’ve been buying these small liquid bottles of it (like 5 Hour Energy Size), and consuming one is simultaneously a mild high and also satisfying enough that I don’t feel the need to get, like, super-high. Goes well with some alcohol too. Curious to hear others’ experiences

    • psmith says:

      Constipation from hell, and reasonably credible reports of chronic use lowering testosterone. Once or twice was plenty for me.

      • hash872 says:

        Interesting, yeah I don’t get any stomach or intestinal issues from the specific bottled product that I buy. I think pretty much any intoxicating substance or anything that’s fun is going to lower your testosterone a bit lol, you could say the same thing about drinking. Hopefully doing it once a week doesn’t do too much damage

    • Dog says:

      Kratom feels like an opioid because it is an opioid. The active constituents are agonists at the μ-opioid receptor. Some people don’t have problems, but for others it becomes very addictive. Just be aware of what you are playing with. I would suggest kava as an alternative maybe?

  28. Chlopodo says:

    Peter Turchin comments on a Nature article which he views as a major example of multi-level selection.

    I haven’t yet made up my mind on it (not being an expert). I’m wondering what others think, though.

  29. keranih says:

    Layman article about cloning polo ponies.

    A few thoughts –

    The dual track/push pull of animal cloning as viable agriculture improvement tool vs emotional vanity project seems to me to match the broader history of animal breeding – for every group of researchers slowly tolling away at improving animal welfare by eliminating the need for painful surgeries you have another set spending hundreds of thousands of dollars imperfectly replicating a small companion carnivore just because they can.

    The article gives a nod to epigenetics, but I find the social/management replications even more interesting, given what we think we know about shared environments. I would love for someone with at better understanding of the field to say how well CJ Cherryh’s Cyteen has held up over the decades (!!!) since original publication.

    And finally, one of my favorite Kipling stories: The Maltese Cat. (notes on the text )

  30. queenshulamit says:

    I’m moving to Seattle literally tomorrow and I’m legally marrying Rob nostalgebraist (author of The Northern Caves, Floornight and Almost Nowhere, and of rationalist-adjacent tumblr fame) on 25th April. (We are having a proper wedding ceremony at a later date but need to legally marry ASAP for visa reasons.)

    I don’t want to be lonely in Seattle and I know there are regular EA meetups I plan to attend, but any social contact is good (although I will probably spend the first couple of weeks recovering from jet lag and making up for lost time with Rob.)

    My rationalist tumblr aliases have been this username, ursaeinsilviscacant and birdblogwhichisforbirds and my irl name is Esther K[redacted] which I use on EA facebook groups and various rationalist discords. (I don’t think there are any other Esther K’s so I should be recognisable from that.) Anyone in or near Seattle who wants to hang out, hmu. My email is glowing dot ember dot girl at gmail com or you can facebook message, send me an ask on tumblr (I only check birdblogwhichisforbirds now), reply to this comment with your own contact details, or contact me via Rob if you know him.

    • Brad says:

      I assume you have a good lawyer and know what you are doing. But just in case if you are entering on a K visa you have 90 days to get married, it doesn’t have to be the instant you land. And if you are entering on a non-immigrant visa without dual intent (like a tourist visa) it is an affirmatively bad idea to get married right away as they will presume you entered fraudulently. (

      Again, not trying to butt-in just want to make sure you aren’t making a mistake.

      • christhenottopher says:

        From Nostalgebraist’s tumblr post, seems like they went through the K Visa process. So looks like they’re OK on doing the early wedding (and having spent a year and a half planning this, I’d say they probably have the legal stuff squared away by now). I do applaud the intent of your comment however!

        Also, congratulations Esther and Rob!

        • queenshulamit says:

          Yes, this is a k1 visa and I can now report I have arrived safely with no issues. I know we do have the full 90 days to get married but we wanted it done as soon as possible so we have more time to sort out and submit the paperwork to adjust my status and get my work authorisation etc.

          And thank you! 🙂

  31. a reader says:

    Kings trivia quiz:

    Name 3 monarchs that:
    1. killed their sons
    2. killed their wives
    3. killed their brothers (including half brothers)
    4. married their nieces
    5. had alleged sexual relations with their sisters (including half-sisters)
    6. were allegedly mad
    7. were assassinated
    8. were executed
    9. were allegedly gay or bisexual
    10. were women who started as consorts (and/or regents for their sons) but ended reigning as monarchs on their own.

    The monarchs can be kings, emperors, sultans, shahs, pharaohs etc. They can be women, if they were reigning queens/empresses (not consorts).

    • a reader says:

      Bonus points at 1 if you can name 3 son-killers living in the same century or having the same capital city.

      And btw, I had the idea of this quiz working on this listicle about monarchs that killed/mutilated sons:

      In it you can find 5 monarchs who ruled from the same capital city and killed or mutilated their sons. 3 of them killed their sons, one of them blinded him and one of them cut his nose and right hand. One of them killed two sons and 4 grandsons. One of them is a woman. One is called “the Great”, one is called “the Magnificent”. Two of them are considered saints. Who are the 5 monarchs and which is the city?

      Btw, if you read my listicle to find out (or verify), please tell me if you see any errors in it: factual errors, style errors and especially language errors.

      Edited to add: Maybe we can use as an alternative to rot13 code to post answers – what do you think? I remember somebody complaining about seeing long threads in rot13.

    • John Schilling says:

      I think you’ve just given me a new set of goals for my final Crusader Kings II campaign…

    • 1.
      2. Vina gur Greevoyr, Urael IVVV bs Ratynaq
      5. Pnyvthyn
      6. Trbetr VVV, Puneyrf gur Znq bs Senapr
      7. Avpubynf VV bs Ehffvn, Pbzzbqhf, Nyrknaqre VVV bs Ehffvn
      8. Puneyrf V bs Ratynaq, Ybhvf KIV bs Senapr, Ynql Wnar Terl
      9. Wnzrf V bs Ratynaq, Serqrevpx gur Terng, Unqevna
      10. Jh Mrgvna, Zngvyqn bs Ratynaq

      Not a great performance here. I could only do 7-9.

      V inpvyyngrq ba jurgure Vina gur Greevoyr xvyyrq uvf jvsr be fba, V jrag sbe gur sbezre, gung cebirq jebat. Yvxrjvfr V inpvyyngrq ba jurgure vg jnf Nyrknaqre VV be VVV gung tbg nffnffvangrq, V jrag sbe gur ynggre, gung cebirq jebat. Zngvyqn qbrfa’g ernyyl pbhag rvgure orpnhfr fur jnf n pbafbeg bs n xvat va n qvssrerag xvatqbz (juvpu V qba’g guvax vf va gur fcvevg bs gur dhrfgvba) naq fur jnf arire cebcreyl pebjarq naq arire qr snpgb ehyrq gur jubyr xvatqbz.

    • christhenottopher says:

      1. Fhyrvzna Gur Zntavsvprag, Vina gur Greevoyr,
      2. Urael IVVV, Pngurevar gur Terng, Pyrbcngen
      3. Fryvz V, Grzhwva Xuna, Pnenpnyyn
      4. Got nothing on this
      5. Ghgnaxunzha, Cgbyrzl KVI, Pnyvthyn
      6. Vina gur Greevoyr, Trbetr VVV, Pnyvthyn
      7. Nyrknaqre VV, Areb, Qbzvgvna
      8. Avpubynf VV, Ybhvf KVI, Znel Dhrra bs Fpbgf
      9. Gvorevhf, Nyrmnaqre gur Terng, Cuvyyvc VV
      10. Pngurevar gur Terng, Pyrbcngen, Mrabovn

      9/10, killed it! Thank you History of Rome podcast and weird rules for marriage/succession in the Ottoman and Egyptian empires!

    • shakeddown says:

      I can’t answer any of these, but I’ll point out that the biblical King David fits into most of them.

      • S_J says:

        Somehow, I don’t think King David fits into most of these items.

        I can see David fitting into item 1. (Though this might be contested : David ordered his men not to execute Absalom, but one of the military leaders did execute Absalom. The quiz questions allow for “ordered killing of son”, and maybe even “fought against son in battle, and son died”. But I don’t know if they cover “fought in battle, ordered son capture alive, but son died anyways.”)

        Some interpretations of David’s lament over the death of Jonathon might put him into item 9.

        Now, the dynasty of David does have some of these items.

        Absalom did kill his half-brother Amnon, so he fits in item 3…if Absalom is considered a valid King. Amnon was never a King, but he did the deed mentioned in item 5.

        Later, after Solomon ascended to the throne, he ordered the death of another of his brothers.

        I can’t recall official marriages with nieces in the dynasty.

        A queen named Athaliah might fit into item 10, and items 7, 8. She was wife of a King, and mother to the next King. When that King died abroad (in the middle of an assassination attempt against the King of the rival kingdom of Samaria), Athaliah usurped power at home. The heir-apparent was about one year old, and had to be hidden to be kept alive. Some years later, when the heir-apparent reached the age of seven years, the Temple leadership staged a coup in which Athaliah was deposed.

    • a reader says:

      Because nobody answered at 4 – monarchs who married their nieces:
      – emperor Claudius married his niece Agrippina (who later allegedly poisoned him)
      – Byzantine emperor Heraclius married his niece Martina
      – Phillip II of Spain married his niece Anna (formerly engaged to his son Don Carlos)
      and there are other cases among Portugal royalty, that I don’t remember by name.

  32. holmesisback says:

    Disclaimer: Absolute physics newbie, just curious.
    This is interesting question, and I saw some discussion thereof that left me quite surprised: Basically, is physics merely one theory away from culmination in the most signficant sense, and then it will only have left only to refine its work?
    I saw this discussed in the interesting opening piece by Steven Weinberg of his anthological collection Lake Views. He says that the Standard Model can explain essentially everything except the way gravity works at minute levels. (All other unresolved problems could be resolved using the current model, given enough work e.g. turbulence in ocean currents or the way protein folds… How somebody could actually be certain about this remains mysterious to me).
    He seemingly posits that we need one more final theory that will explain gravity and serve as the basis for the Standard Model. This theory should also solve the SM’s other problem, namely having a bunch of random constants that just work but nobody is sure why the heck they do. And this theory will be essentially It, in a major way The End of the story of physics.
    This theory Weinberg believes, could come tomorrow from a spark of genius or more likely in the future as we gain more experimental data to give physicist clues. But essentially we remain on the threshold of having solved physics, one step, one grand theory away.
    Now I just have to ask your thoughts on this? Does anyone else find Weinberg perhaps excessively confident and wonder like me, perhaps naively, that if one threshold of science is conquered a new vista may well open up?
    In these sorts of discussions the epicly bad prediction of Albert A. Michelson always comes up. He postulated in 1894 that “… it seems probable that most of the grand underlying principles [of physics] have been firmly established … An eminent physicist remarked that the future truths of physical science are to be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.” So all subsequent prophets of the END, be careful.
    (BTW: For those who thought this was Lord Kelvin in 1900, that is just a massive misattribution.)
    So anyway to sum up what makes Weinberg so confident that we are nearing our final destination and should we be so certain that mankind might nearly have figured it all out? The fact that we could be anywhere near having solved the major mysteries physics boggles my mind…

    • mustacheion says:

      When I was a child (~10 yrs) I learned that the human genome had been sequenced. I knew just enough about biology to know that was a big deal. I assumed that meant that biology had been pretty much solved, that I wouldn’t grow up quickly enough to become a biologist, so I didn’t bother studying it, and became a physicist instead. But of course that clearly wasn’t correct.

      I can think of several physics topics that wouldn’t be solved simply by uniting the standard model with gravity. 1) What is dark matter/energy? Actually, it is somewhat likely that a SM/gravity unification would in fact answer this, but right now our understanding of dark matter/energy is so poor I wouldn’t want to make that assumption. 2) High-temperature superconductors: We have good theory that explains the low-temperature metallic superconductors but so far nobody has been able to apply those same ideas to the high-temperature ceramic superconductors (like YBCO). We have no reason to believe the mechanism is different, but the math is so gnarly that we can’t even predict that YBCO should be superconducting. 3) Plasma/magnetohydrodynamics. I am not very familiar with this sub-branch of physics, and it isn’t like there are any fundamental mysteries here, but again the math is so gnarly that there are lots of questions in this field that we don’t really know how to tackle yet. 4) Astronomy: There would still be lost of interesting empirical work to be done in astronomy apart from looking at dark matter/energy. Things like nucleosynthesis/distribution of atoms in the universe. Also, there is a lot of work to be done in explaining the history of the universe, how it formed, and what happened with the big bang. 5) Current theory predicts that protons should decay, but it happens so absurdly slowly that it is unimaginable that we could ever build a detector that could detect it. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t try.

      6) But probably the most important question that would remain unsolved is simply WTF is up with quantum mechanics. What does it actually mean to say that the wavefunction collapses, and what actually causes it. This is a question that is often considered by physicists to be simply outside of the domain of physics. I am not sure that I agree with that opinion. But everybody can agree it is weird and that we would like a better answer. The standard model of course built out of quantum mechanics, and essentially takes wavefunction collapse as a postulate without having anything deeper to say about it. If I were bold I would say that answering this question is the real, most fundamental question in physics.

      • fion says:

        Regarding point (6), I agree with you that the question of wave-function collapse is within physics and physicists should worry about it. I would like to take this opportunity to push the Everettean interpretation of quantum mechanics in which wave-function collapse never takes place. All time evolution of quantum states obeys the Schrodinger equation. Any behaviour that looks to us like wave-function collapse is actually a consequence of wave-functions becoming entangled.

        Any physicist who believes in wave-function collapse should be very worried about it and should agree with you that it’s (at least) one of the most important fundamental questions in physics.

        • smocc says:

          And lest we oversell Many-Worlds, physicists who believe in the Everett interpretation should be very worried about why the Born rule is true.

          • fion says:

            Yes, nobody reading this should pay much attention to my opinion on this. There is no consensus, and my opinion is not even the largest minority. Many physicists much more experienced and skilled than me disagree with me.

            Disclaimers out the way, I’m going to argue for Everett QM.

            There are various approaches to deriving the Born rule in EQM. One approach is to think about the time post-measurement and pre-observation, when the ‘worlds’ have become separated by decoherence but you don’t know which branch you’re in. Your credences should depend on the overlap between the wavefunction and the eigenfunction corresponding to each particular result.

          • smocc says:

            I haven’t done nearly enough reading on this, but my primary question about that whole school of reasoning is “why am I even allowed to know what the overlap is?” There’s a difference between a vector space and an inner product space, and to bring the overlap into your proofs you have to either include the inner product as an axiom (which starts to smell unnatural), or derive it somehow. The only derivations I can think of for the inner product will refer to some special observable, and then you have to justify singling out that observable (which I think leads you to the so-called “preferred basis problem”. As far as I can tell, people are still arguing about this)

            I know there are lots of arguments about this and I’ve only read the barest amount, but I don’t get the impression that most people consider it solved.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            The problem with the Everett interpretation (by itself) from my perspective is that the theory is linear. Like, perfectly linear. That means that every possible way of chopping up the wavefunction is equally valid, which to me says that there’s no possible way to get the Born rule out.

            It seems a reasonable guess that a successful replacement theory would include an less ad-hoc source of non-linearity than collapse due to measurement, that when you do the math the Born rule will drop out, and that the results will look more like the Everett interpretation than it will look like the Copenhagen interpretation. But until such time, if ever, as we actually come up with that theory, the Everett interpretation by itself isn’t terribly useful as far as I can see.

            (On the other hand, the maths behind the Everett interpretation is important, because it says that it doesn’t matter exactly when you decide to collapse the wavefunction, the results will be the same for any reasonable choice.)

          • fion says:


            To be honest, I’m not very well-read on this either. Your objection sounds like an objection to any formulation of quantum mechanics, unless I’m missing something. Am I right in thinking that the Hilbert space is an inner-product space? And that most formulations of quantum mechanics simply postulate it?

            @Harry Maurice Johnston

            I’m not sure I understand your point. How is “perfectly linear” different from just being linear?
            (If you’ve got a link that explains your point in more detail I’d be grateful to read it. I’m interested in learning more about this.)

          • smocc says:

            Yes, my objection is an objection to all formulations of quantum mechanics that I know. I tend to lean Copenhagen-ish because it feels more honest about what we don’t actually understand, not because I feel it answers any of the questions better. But I remain officially agnostic.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @fion, when I said “perfectly linear” I just meant to clarify that I didn’t mean “as near to linear as makes no odds” which is how the word is usually used. There’s no precedent that I’m aware of for any physical system being perfectly linear, e.g., Maxwell’s equations are linear, but even in a perfect vacuum the actual EM field is subject to photon-photon interactions.

            Sorry, no link, I arrived at my objection independently (and fairly recently) after nearly thirty years of taking the Everett interpretation for granted. Ironically, what changed my mind was reading Elizier’s arguments for the Everett interpretation in the book version of the Sequences. Up until then I hadn’t really thought about the fact that wavefunction collapse was the one and only source of non-linearity in QM, or about how one might go about deriving the Born rule from first principles.

            Smocc has very neatly summed up the main reason why I now lean towards Copenhagen – not because I think it is closer to reality, but because it makes it more obvious that there’s something missing from the theory.

          • fion says:

            The point you both make about “making it obvious that something is missing from the theory” is an interesting one that I hadn’t thought of before. My impression of most physicists is that they act as if wave-function collapse is a thing and don’t really question it. Anybody suggesting that quantum mechanics is not correct or not complete tends to get looked at funny.

            @Harry Maurice Johnston, why would you expect quantum mechanics to be non-linear? Are you concerned that a linear theory of quantum mechanics won’t be able to give rise to a non-linear quantum field theory?

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            Are you concerned that a linear theory of quantum mechanics won’t be able to give rise to a non-linear quantum field theory?

            No, that shouldn’t be a problem. The Hamiltonian can contain terms that are linear with respect to the wavefunction but non-linear with respect to the observables, right?

            What concerns me is that the Everett interpretation requires you to choose a particular way to decompose the wavefunction – the one in which the parts represent the different possible outcomes of a measurement – and to say that the magnitude of those parts has an effect on our observations.

            Given a linear theory I don’t see any way to justify this. There ought to be something physical that makes that particular decomposition of the wavefunction special (the one in which the components are no longer coherent with respect to one another) and makes the components with the higher amplitude more likely to be observed.

            I have some very vague and perhaps nonsensical ideas in my head about how that might work given even a very small source of non-linearity, but I can’t see how it could possibly work without one.

        • Tarhalindur says:

          I wonder about wave-function collapse, these days.

          To wit: is wave-function collapse just selection?

          Yes, as in the biological principle. There’s a similarity of form there, one I think it’s easier to get at by looking at it in reverse: selection at the perspective of the individual organism can be viewed as a superposition of all the possible sets of alleles passed to the next generation that’s collapsed by interaction with the environment (in the form of “did this organism successfully reproduce?”, and in sexual reproduction also “which particular set of genes made it into the gametes that successfully conceived?”). Evolution, of course, is simply that process iterated.

          If that similarity of form is real, you could reframe, say, the detector in the double-slit experiment as putting selection pressure on the photon “paths”.

    • Deiseach says:

      I dunno. Complete ignoramus here, but the track record for “End of Everything Theories” isn’t too good; we’ve already had the End of History (pity History didn’t get a copy of the book and instead stubbornly insists on keeping on happening), the End of Poverty (I was very amused by this since it was announced by a Really Rich Denomination that with a little hard work and elbow grease the end of global poverty was achievable – and then the recession hit and a lot of their property-based wealth went up in smoke so they were still rich, just not as Really Rich as before) and various other “This time we really know all there is to be known” announcements.

      And then some bugger comes along and says “Actually I’ve just discovered this finicky small thing which doesn’t fit in the Shiny Theory” and everyone has to scrap the theory and start over 🙂

    • James C says:

      Basically, is physics merely one theory away from culmination in the most signficant sense, and then it will only have left only to refine its work?

      Short answer: Yes

      Long answer: Yes, but we’ve been one theory from solving ‘physics’ for about… well the whole of human history and there’s no real reason to think the next one will leave any fewer loose threads to pull on. Last time physics was declared nearly solved was back in the 18th/19th century, we just had to figure out why some rare rocks emitted heat. We’re still going down that rabbit hole!

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Your long answer is just wrong. Yes, there are lose threads today, but there is a huge difference today that chemistry has been reduced to physics. In the 19th century, no one believed that they had solved physics because they couldn’t predict chemistry. There were crude valence patterns, but the details required measurement. Whereas, today there is an algorithm to predict chemistry from physics. It’s hard to be sure it’s correct, because the calculations are intractable (until quantum computers), but it makes definite predictions.

    • fion says:

      Theoretical physicist here.

      First I want to stress that there is vastly more to physics than the quest for a theory of everything. That’s the goal of “fundamental physics”, which is not the only thing there is. The study of collective phenomena (you mention turbulence and protein folding, mustacheion mentions superconductivity, astronomy, cosmology etc.) is always going to be a rich field of study, because you can’t solve the fundamental equations in large scale in order to get useful results for large and complex phenomena.

      I once heard a condensed matter* theorist describing the above issue in quite a nice way. He said that his field was basically all about how the electrons in a solid behave. The way an electron in a solid behaves is basically perfectly understood – it’s the Schrodinger equation. It’s almost like we’ve already got our “fundamental theory” for condensed matter, but that’s no good, because the biggest computer in the world can’t solve the Schrodinger equation for all the electrons in a gram of silicon. So you have to develop methods. You have to develop equations that are effective for the region you’re interested in – approximate equations that work for all the electrons as a whole rather than solving the many-body system of all of them.

      This comment on “effective theories” is worth taking a tangent on. In physics we have less fundamental theories and more fundamental ones. The best-understood example is probably the link between thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. In thermodynamics you consider that a gas (for example) is a substance that has a few properties such as temperature, pressure etc. In statistical mechanics you consider it instead as a collection of a large number of particles which move obeying Newton’s laws and bounce off each other. There is no such thing as temperature; instead there is the speed and direction of every single individual particle – a vast number of variables. These two theories are completely incompatible, so we can’t ask “what temperature does this particle have?” or “don’t the particles slow down as they move through the ‘substance’?” On the particle level, the temperature, pressure etc. do not exist, and on the substance level the particle speeds do not exist. We say the particle picture is the more fundamental theory and we call the substance picture an “effective theory”, which means it works for what we want from it, but it’s not the full story. Now, we also know that the ‘particles’ that make up the statistical mechanics picture are not fundamental either, but they are molecules made of atoms etc, and they don’t bounce off each other but rather get close enough that electromagnetic forces repel them. So it, too is an effective theory.

      The above is not particularly exciting, but what is exciting is that this “effective theory” stuff is actually an incredibly precise area of theoretical physics. We can derive the less-fundamental theories from the more-fundamental ones (for a given distribution of moving particles we can derive the temperature of the gas, for example) and we can put precise limits on when the less-fundamental theory breaks down and when we must use the more fundamental theory. Even more excitingly, we can put tight bounds and constraints on the more-fundamental theories from the nature of the less fundamental theories, because we know in detail the theories they have to give rise to.

      So the standard model is an effective theory**. It is valid at energies less than 1 TeV*** and probably quite a bit higher than that. Whatever the more fundamental theory is, it has to reduce to the standard model in the “low energy limit” when energies are lower than 1 TeV. In other words, the two theories should give you exactly the same result for questions that concern particles with energies lower than 1 TeV.

      A lot of people don’t know this, and a lot of theoretical physicists play it down, but we actually have a theory of everything, that combines the standard model and quantum general relativity. Unfortunately it’s an effective theory that breaks down at high energies, but it works perfectly at low energies! We would like a theory that works up to infinite energy, just for the mathematical neatness of it all, but we shouldn’t downplay the awesomeness of the theory we do have.

      Of course it has problems. It doesn’t explain dark energy or dark matter, it has some surprisingly improbable values of various constants. Exploring these problems is where the most exciting theoretical physics is in my opinion.

      One more point I want to make: Weinberg is part of the majority of physicists who think that quantum mechanics is correct and we need to come up with a quantum mechanical theory of gravity in order to mesh it with our quantum mechanical theories of matter. There is a minority of physicists including Roger Penrose who believe that quantum mechanics is wrong in some fundamental way too, and that quantum gravity will require a bit more of a meeting-in-the-middle. Some of Penrose’s arguments for this are rather compelling.

      But the most important thing is that a theory of everything will not be the end of physics. All of chemistry is governed by the laws of electromagnetism and quantum mechanics, but the field has continued to be exciting and diverse a hundred years on from its fundamental physics being explained. The only thing that will end when we have a theory of everything is the search for a theory of everything.

      (I would strongly recommend Sean Carroll’s blog, in particular this post, which I think does a good job of addressing your parenthetical mystery about how we know that the fundamental physics of protein folding is understood.)

      *Condensed matter physics is basically another name for solid state physics. It’s the field that superconductors, semiconductors, and a whole load of other stuff are part of.

      **more accurately it’s an effective field theory but I don’t think the distinction is worth getting into

      ***This is a unit of energy, but it’s not important how much energy it is. It’s high, though. Much higher than any particles in your body can ever get up to.

    • On the idea the physicists in the late 19th century thought they were close to a theory of everything, here’s what Feynmann has to say (talking specifically about the specific heat of gases):

      Ten years ago, in a lecture, he [Maxwell] said, “I have now put before you what I consider to be the greatest difficulty yet encountered by molecular theory.” Those words represent the first discovery that the laws of classical physics were wrong. This was the first indication that there was something fundamentally impossible, because a rigorously proved theorem did not agree with experiment. About 1890, Jeans was to talk about this puzzle again. One often hears it said that physicists at the latter part of the nineteenth century thought they knew all the significant physical laws and that all they had to do was to calculate more decimal places. Someone may have said that once, and others copied it. But a thorough reading of the literature of the time shows they were all worrying about something. Jeans said about this puzzle that it is a very mysterious phenomenon, and it seems as though as the temperature falls, certain kinds of motion “freeze out.”

      (The Feynmann Lectures on Physics, Volume I, section 40-6)

    • Tarhalindur says:

      As for your question: physics in general feels like it’s due for a paradigm shift these days. Nonequilibrium thermodynamics + information theory looks like a likely candidate to me (and a couple of other currents – notably predictive processing – are pushing that way as well), but the math for that is going to be an angry pack of bugbears.

      (Relevant to Douglas Knight’s comment: Nineteenth century physics couldn’t integrate chemistry; modern physics hasn’t properly integrated biology, especially the evo-eco side.)

  33. bean says:

    Naval Gazing wraps up the current look at WWII Anti-submarine warfare with weapons. I’ll return to look at some of the operational aspects at some point down the road. (But it’s going to be quite a while, because I have lots of other things to do first.)

    • John Schilling says:

      You mention the inability to change fuze settings on aircraft depth charges. This lead to an early victory for Operations Research, aka using lots of rationalist-type math to solve real-world problems. The obvious depth setting for an aircraft depth charge was 100 feet, on the grounds that an attacking aircraft would be spotted an average of four miles away and would have time to crash-dive to an average depth of 100′ while the aircraft made its attack run. But almost no submarines were ever sunk or seriously damaged that way.

      Enter Dr. E.J. Williams, Fellow of the Royal Society and previously known as a top boffin in particle physics. Told do think about something useful for a change, he analyzed every reported aerial depth charge attack for which data was available, applied math, and had the depth settings changed to a ridiculously shallow 25 feet. The rate at which submarines were sunk by aerial depth charge attack (normalized by number of attacks), increased by a factor of seven.

      Exercise for the student: Why, aside from “because the math said so”, did this work?

      • albatross11 says:

        It sounds like the airplanes that were successfully sunk by aerial depth charges weren’t trying to evade–maybe when the sub detects the airplane four miles away, it has enough time to evade that there’s little chance of hitting it even if you get the right depth setting. But a sub that doesn’t see the airplane will stay in place and be easier to hit.

        This is just a guess, though–I know nothing at all about naval stuff.

      • bean says:

        Blast it, John. I was saving that one for later. (Seriously, I was planning to use exactly that for the operations research in WWII ASW post, and will this refrain from answering.)

      • sfoil says:

        I don’t know much about this subject, but my guess is: 25′ is deep enough to accomplish the sub’s purpose of not being seen from above unless the water is ridiculously clear, so instead of diving as deep as possible (to 100′), they only dove to 25′. Going out on a limb here since I know nothing about performance characteristics, perhaps subs preferred to dive to 25′ and maneuver than to dive 100′ and not maneuver. Perhaps Dr. Williams’ math showed that submarines could not be spotted at much shallower depths in non-ideal circumstances.

        • bean says:

          No. Diving submarines is surprisingly tricky, and if you want to go down fast, you’re going down a long ways. It’s basically impossible to dive quickly to 25′. (Which, incidentally, would leave you visible. The submarine has a height dimension, and 25′ would leave parts of it very close to the surface, definitely close enough to give it away.

      • SolveIt says:

        Presumably submarines that managed to get to 100ft were well-nigh impossible to sink, hence the

        But almost no submarines were ever sunk or seriously damaged that way.

        So the only sinkable targets were those that, for whatever reason, didn’t manage to get that deep, but by setting the depth of the charges to 100ft, the aircraft wouldn’t be able to sink those either. Changing the settings to 25 ft fixed that problem.

        tl;dr although most subs are at 100 ft, the subs at 25 ft are so much easier to sink that weighting for sinkability, most of the sinkable mass is at 25 ft.

        • bean says:

          That’s half of it. Yes, the problem was that a target at 100′ was basically immune, and the charges set for 100′ were too deep to kill a 25′ target. The next half is why this was.

          • yossarian says:

            Maybe at 100′ the submarine is too deep to be noticed from the plane, so the fliers would basically waste the bombs dropping them at the guessed last location they saw, while at 25′ the submarine can still be detected, so the fliers, knowing they have their depth meters set to 25′, would only bomb still-visible submarines and refrain from wasting ammo when the sub is not visible?

          • bean says:

            That’s closer, but there’s still a key component that you’re missing.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            I’d expect the CEP to go up dramatically higher with depth, as a coupled function of two facts:

            – depth charges presumably drift due to currents, etc, and have more time to do so as they go deep.
            – a deeper sub is a sub that submerged longer ago, and thus has had more time to get away from the plane’s best estimate of location.

            We’re trying to max \int_{D} P(sub at depth D) * P(sub killed at depth D | we set charge at depth C.) The prior for sub depth isn’t under our control, and John’s story doesn’t seem to deny the fact that most subs would be deep, so you seem to be asking for why P(sub killed at 100 | charge at 100) << P(sub killed at 25 | charge at 25), and unless e.g. water pressure matters here (doubtful) that basically has to cash out in CEP, no?

          • christhenottopher says:

            Total guess here:

            At depths of 100 feet the pressure of the water contained the blast radius of the depth charges more, shrinking the area they could threaten and making the sub harder to sink.

            Other guess:

            Visibility is the same but the area the sub can be is larger making a hit harder. At 25 ft the sub has only been diving for 1/4th as long, thus having less time to manuever away from the airplane’s path.

          • bean says:

            Andrew, your second one is the correct insight. Target errors dominate weapon errors in most ASW.

          • bean says:


            At depths of 100 feet the pressure of the water contained the blast radius of the depth charges more, shrinking the area they could threaten and making the sub harder to sink.

            This is not a thing. Depth charges probably get more effective at depth, as the hull is under higher stress to start with. At reasonable depths (not at the bottom of the Marianas Trench) the depth charge is unaffected by pressure.

            Visibility is the same but the area the sub can be is larger making a hit harder. At 25 ft the sub has only been diving for 1/4th as long, thus having less time to manuever away from the airplane’s path.

            This one is exactly right. Submarines would hit the rudder when they went under, which meant that in 4 minutes/100′, they could be anywhere in a very large area. After only 30 seconds-1 minute (I’d have to look up the exact times) the submarine’s position was still known well enough for a strike, but it was too shallow for the 100′ charges to be effective.

      • johan_larson says:

        Airplanes only find submarines that are on the surface. Also, aircraft are hard to spot, so submarines that get found typically have little or no time to dive. It therefore makes sense to set depth charges shallow.

    • Montfort says:

      I think there is a distinction between “traitor” and “extremely reckless with sensitive information,” and unless you have evidence that either May or the newspapers intended for Japan to catch wind of the information on depth charges, the latter seems more appropriate. His war-profiteering seems much more disloyal than his indiscretion.

      • bean says:

        At the very best, it was depraved indifference to the lives of our submariners, and everyone involved should have ended up in jail for a very long time. Except the censors who approved publication, who should have been shot. But I probably should fix the wording.

    • gbdub says:

      I’m not quite sure what you meant by this: “The British preferred the Squid, the Americans the Hedgehog, probably as a result of the Americans having generally better sonar operating practices.”

      Why would “generally better sonar practices” lead one to prefer one system over the other?

      • bean says:

        AIUI (and this is a case where several sources said the same thing, but didn’t really explain it) the US managed to get their sonar working well with Hedgehog before the British did. I don’t know how much was procedural and how much was technical, at least not offhand. The US evaluation of Squid was that it wasn’t any better than Hedgehog, but I’d guess the British got their operational methods/gear right for it, in a way they didn’t for Hedgehog.

    • Urstoff says:

      I saw a picture of the USS Lexington (CV-2) recently and thought its superstructure looked kind of odd. Why are there two distinct superstructure towers rather than just the one as on later carriers?

      • bean says:

        I’m not entirely sure. One aspect is that Lex and Sara were really high-powered compared to later carriers, which means getting rid of lots of gas (The aft one is just a funnel). Another is that they had existing infrastructure to work around, which may have constrained what they could do.
        If I remember, I’ll check the relevant Friedman, but do remember that Lex and Sara were still somewhat experimental. Wildly successful experiments, but a lot wasn’t known when they were built.

      • cassander says:

        There were some connections between the two towers on the lower levels. Bean is right to point out that they were experimental ships, converted from partially complete battlecruisers, so they might not have been able to line everything up exactly. But If I had to guess, I suspect the spacing came about as a way to improve visibility around the large exhaust stack. Possibly for AA fire as well, but I since the lexington wasn’t originally equipped with light AA, that seems somewhat unlikely. Light AA was added almost immediately after completion, though, so maybe someone had thought about it.

      • bean says:

        Speculation: Lexington, unlike other US carriers, was designed with a substantial surface armament. She thus had a full heavy-gun fire control suite. Those are mounted high up to ensure maximum range. But that often causes trouble with funnel gasses, particularly in a ship as powerful as Lady Lex. So they had to separate the bridge (with mounted director) from the funnel. Later carriers had only 5″ guns, which can have lower directors.

        • Urstoff says:

          Thanks for answering! Was its being so powerful an artifact of it starting as a cruiser?

          • cassander says:

            They were battlecruisers, not mere cruisers. And being so powerful was was why they selected for conversion to carriers. Speed is very important for carriers, because it makes both landing and taking off easier. That said, there was not a small amount of resistance to carriers that were so large in the navy. The lexingtons were about twice the size of any existing carrier in the world, far bigger than was thought helpful, especially since total carrier tonnage was limited by the treaty that resulted in their conversion. Teddy Roosevelt junior (who was an assistant Navy secretary) had a clause slipped into the treaty against the wishes of some admirals that allowed for their conversion knowing that congress would insist on the conversion if it were an option.

            As it turns out, though, bigger was basically better for carriers. Larger carriers were more stable in rough seas, were better able accommodate aircraft that grew rapidly in size and weight (which meant longer takeoff runs), and the power of a strike grew geometrically with air group size.

          • bean says:

            Pretty much what cassander said. They were some of the most powerful ships of their day, and absolutely enormous by contemporary carrier standards. Which turned out to be a really good thing, because they could keep up with growing airplanes, and their contemporaries couldn’t.

            the power of a strike grew geometrically with air group size.

            That’s not quite right. They were a bit too big for the airplanes of the early/mid-20s. Once you pass 90-100 airplanes, you can’t operate them effectively, and a smaller ship would have been more useful. The Midways had the same issue in the late 40s. But the planes grew into both ships.

          • cassander says:

            That’s not quite right. They were a bit too big for the airplanes of the early/mid-20s. Once you pass 90-100 airplanes, you can’t operate them effectively, and a smaller ship would have been more useful. The Midways had the same issue in the late 40s. But the planes grew into both ships.

            Hah! I actually wrote a sentence about this problem referencing the midways, but couldn’t remember if it had been a problem for lex and sara too or if I was just conflating them with the midways.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Speed is very important for carriers, because it makes both landing and taking off easier.

            I imagine speed is also important because Fisher’s dictum that “Speed is armour” applies to carriers. A carrier isn’t designed to stand in the line of battle against large surface warships(*), so unless her air wing can reliably sink fleets from outside of gun range, a carrier needs to be able to hold the range open against anything her escorts can’t handle. And until well into WW2, the effectiveness against carrier air wings against heavy surface fleets was an open question.

            (*) I suppose you could probably design a carrier to stand in the line of battle, but that would be silly because adding armor makes a worse carrier (more tons of armor == less tons of aircraft, etc), and because sticking around while a surface combatant closes on you gives up the huge advantage that carriers can hit ships at ranges where they can’t hit back.

          • bean says:

            I imagine speed is also important because Fisher’s dictum that “Speed is armour” applies to carriers.

            That’s not quite what “speed is armor” meant. It was specifically a matter of beliefs about fire control, and the ability of speed to thwart enemy solutions. That was obsolete by WWII.

          • Eric Rall says:

            That’s not quite what “speed is armor” meant. It was specifically a matter of beliefs about fire control, and the ability of speed to thwart enemy solutions.

            I remember hearing about that (probably from you), but I thought “speed is armour” also referred to the ability of the vessel or fleet with a substantial speed advantage to dictate the terms of the engagement: choosing the range, choosing when to break off or continue, etc; but a slower ship would need to be tough enough to fight an engagement on disadvantageous terms.

            I’m pretty sure Fisher saw dictating the terms of the engagement as a key benefit of faster ships, but I might be mistaken in conflating it with the “speed is armour” slogan.

          • bean says:

            I’m pretty sure Fisher saw dictating the terms of the engagement as a key benefit of faster ships, but I might be mistaken in conflating it with the “speed is armour” slogan.

            That was part of his thinking, yes. One problem with trying to figure out Fisher is that he changed his mind every few years, and even when he was being consistent, he certainly wasn’t above saying what he thought people wanted to hear.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Note that the new British carriers are also built with two islands- bridge in the forward island, flight control (and a backup conning position for emergencies) in the aft one.

        Various reasons have been given for this, including the ability to site both in the ideal place for the best view without having to compromise, better routing for exhaust trunking (they have two fully independent gas-turbine systems, each with uptake and downtake in one of the islands), reduced turbulence over the flight deck, and better separation of radars.

        Of course, there are also disadvantages like more reliance on intercom to coordinate between OOW and flight controllers.

        • bean says:

          David Hobbs, who should know if anyone does, says it was primarily trunking, which makes sense. Gas turbines require a lot of air.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      A random question: is it not possible to build AESA sonar, and if so why not? Too much frequency dispersion in water waves as compared to radio (my best guess, but I don’t know any of the realities.)

      Every discussion of sub warfare points out that active sonar reveals your location. But we can build active (so to speak) LPIR systems by–well, as more of an information theorist than a radar guy, what I’d call variants of CDMA.

      In principle wave superpositions should work in audio to make interesting phased array chirps too, no? The only reason I can think of this isn’t a thing are a) too much decoherence somehow to maintain the desired interference patterns b) inability to build the transmitters, but I don’t actually know anything here.

      • cassander says:

        My understanding is that existing sonar systems work more like a PISA, but have transmitter/receivers that are individually wired and thus could be individually controlled given sufficient software and processing technology, and that the latest generation sonars are headed somewhat in this direction, but the sub community is a lot more tight lipped than the air force is, and “advanced signal processing” could really mean a lot of things.

      • bean says:

        Phased arrays have been standard in sonar since the end of WWII. I’m not sure that an AESA/PESA distinction makes much sense in a sonar context, but I’m not an electrical guy. So far as it does, sound is easier to play games with than radio, so they’ve probably been there for a couple of decades. I’d guess that they’ve done what they could on LPI, but water is a lot messier to sonar than air usually is to radar. Probably coherence plays a major part.

  34. Anatoly says:

    100 prisoners in jail face a curious trial.

    There’s a room in the prison with a lamp in it. The lamp is always either on or off, and there’s a switch on the wall that turns it on or off. Starting soon on a known day, a guard will, once a day, take one of the prisoners to the room and let them observe the lamp and, should they so desire, flip the switch. No one else touches the switch or the lamp. The initial state of the lamp is off. The prisoners do not see each other after the trial begins, and have no way to transmit any information besides the state of the lamp (for example, no tricks with the lamp being off but retaining former warmth, scratching something on the switch or positioning it in some nonstandard way – no tricks at all). Only one prisoner is taken to the lamp every day.

    The guard is free to select which prisoner visits the lamp on any given day, and in particular can bring the same prisoner two or many days in a row. The only thing that’s guaranteed is that every prisoner will get unlimited visits to the lamp. In other words, every prisoner knows that they will get a visit to the lamp, and after every such visit, eventually another visit, and so on. The prisoners will stay alive however long is necessary.

    After any visit, a prisoner can declare “I believe that all the 100 prisoners have seen the lamp”. If the claim is correct, they are all immediately freed, and if wrong, they’re all immediately executed. The prisoners can coordinate a strategy before the trial, but can’t communicate after the start, save through the state of the lamp. Find a way for the prisoners to win their freedom.

    (this is an old puzzle with many variations; I’ll post two more challenging ones in a child comment after this one is solved. Please rot-13 your answers etc.)

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      Nffvta rnpu cevfbare n ahzore sebz bar gb bar uhaqerq. Cevfbare Bar guebhtu Cevfbare Avargl-avar rnpu pbzzvg gb gheavat gur ynzc ba rknpgyl bapr, gur svefg gvzr gurl trg gurer naq svaq vg bss, naq abg gbhpuvat vg bgurejvfr. Cevfbare Bar Uhaqerq pbzzvgf gb yrnivat gur ynzc nybar vs ur svaqf vg bss, naq gheavat vg bss rirel gvzr ur svaqf vg ba. Jura Cevfbare Bar Uhaqerq unf ghearq gur ynzc bss avargl-avar gvzrf, ur’yy xabj gung rirelbar unf frra gur ynzc.

      • cube says:

        I came up with a solution much more complicated than The Pachyderminator’s (but mine is probably less elegant, slower, and more vulnerable to a malicious guard):

        Nffvta rnpu cevfbare n ahzore: mreb guebhtu avargl-avar. Pbafvqre gur “xabja qnl” ba juvpu gur thneq fgnegf gnxvat cevfbaref gb gur ebbz gb or Qnl Mreb.

        Ba nal tvira qnl A, fhccbfr cevfbare jvgu ahzore C vf gnxra gb gur ebbz. Vs gur cevfbare svaqf gur yvtug ba, gura cevfbare C erpbeqf gung gur cevfbare jvgu ahzore A zvahf bar (zbqhyb bar uhaqerq) unf ivfvgrq gur ebbz, naq gheaf gur yvtug bss. Ertneqyrff bs gur fgngr bs gur ebbz hcba ragel, vs C vf pbatehrag gb A (zbqhyb bar uhaqerq), gura cevfbare C jvyy ghea gur yvtug ba orsber yrnivat gur ebbz.

        Vs jr nffhzr gung gur thneq enaqbzyl fryrpgf* cevfbaref sebz n havsbez qvfgevohgvba (fhpu gung nyy cevfbaref jvyy ivfvg gur ebbz na “hayvzvgrq” ahzore bs gvzrf), gura riraghnyyl bar cevfbare jvyy unir n erpbeq bs nyy gur bgure cevfbaref univat ivfvgrq gur ebbz naq pna qrpyner gung rirelbar unf frra gur ynzc.

        *N znyvpvbhf thneq znl abg fryrpg enaqbzyl. V unir n zvgvtngvba sbe guvf, ohg vf rira yrff cenpgvpny.

    • secret_tunnel says:

      Orsber gur gevny, gur cevfbaref pubbfr bar bs gurz gb or Fcrpvny.

      Vs Fcrpvny Cevfbare frrf gung gur ynzc vf bss, ur syvcf vg ba.

      Vs nal cevfbare frrf gur fjvgpu syvccrq hc gjvpr jvguva n 100 qnl crevbq, ur syvcf vg bss.

      Vs, 100 qnlf nsgre zbfg erpragyl syvccvat gur fjvgpu ba, Fcrpvny Cevfbare frrf gung gur fjvgpu vf ba, ur qrpynerf gung rirel cevfbare unf frra vg.


      Fun problem! Looks like The Pachyderminator’s answer would be way faster in an average case due to mine erdhvevat n fcrpvsvp frdhrapr bs cevfbaref jvgu ab ercrngf.

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        Looks like The Pachyderminator’s answer would be faster in an average case due to mine erdhvevat Fcrpvny Cevfbare gb or pubfra rknpgyl 100 qnlf ncneg.

        Actually, that might never happen at all. As I understand it, solutions to problems like this need to be robust against a malicious guard who knows the strategy and is trying to thwart it. (The guard’s only constraint being, in this case, that every prisoner will have unlimited visits to the lamp eventually.)

    • The Nybbler says:

      Gur svefg cevfbare gb or cvpxrq gheaf gur ynzc ba rirel gvzr. Rirel bgure cevfbare gheaf gur ynzc bss vs vg vf ba rknpgyl bapr; gur bgure gvzrf, gurl yrnir gur ynzc nybar. Gur uhaqerqgu gvzr gur svefg cevfbare frrf gur ynzc bss, ur qrpynerf gung rirelbar unf frra gur ynzc.

      (Vs gur cevfbaref jvyy abg or noyr gb gryy juvpu vf cvpxrq svefg, gurl cvpx n xrl cevfbare va nqinapr.)

    • Chlopodo says:

      Abg n irel ryrtnag fbyhgvba, ohg V guvax guvf jbexf:

      Gur cevfbaref nterr orsberunaq gung n cevfbare gnxra gb gur ebbz jvyy bayl thrff ba qnl 100, be 200, be 300, be 400, rgp. Rnpu cevfbare jura gnxra gb gur ebbz yrnirf gur ynzc bss. Vs, ubjrire, nalobql frrf gur ynzc zber guna bapr ba qnlf 1-gueh-100 gurl jvyy ghea gur ynzc ba, naq gung jvyy or n fvtany gb gur cevfbare gnxra ba qnl 100 gb ABG thrff, naq gb erfrg gur ynzc gb “bss”. Gura, fgnegvat ba qnl 101, gurl gel ntnva: nal cevfbare jub frrf gur ynzc zber guna bapr ba qnlf 101-gueh-200 gheaf vg ba nf n “qba’g thrff!” zrffntr gb Ze. Qnl 200.
      RIRAGHNYYL, nsgre bbqyrf bs lrnef, gurl jvyy cnff guebhtu n 100-qnl plpyr va juvpu abobql frrf gur ynzc gjvpr. Fb abobql gheaf vg ba. Fb gur cevfbare gnxra ba Qnl [k]00 thrffrf pbeerpgyl gung gurl unir nyy frr vg. Hagvy guvf unccraf, ubjrire, gurer’f ab thnenagrr gung ng yrnfg bar cevfbare vfa’g orvat xrcg va gur cevfba naq arire gnxra gb gur ynzc.

      EDIT: Bah! This wouldn’t work. See Pachyderminator’s comment above.

    • beleester says:

      I’ve seen this one before, so I’ll post one of the variants that I’ve heard:

      Instead of the lamp being turned off at the start, the prisoners do not know the initial state of the lamp. How do they win their freedom now?

      • The Nybbler says:

        My answer still works in this case, though the one in the parenthetical (which is equivalent to Pachyderminator’s) does not.

      • cube says:

        Does this modification also mean that gur “xabja qnl” pynhfr bs gur ceboyrz qbrf abg ubyq va gur zbqvsvrq ceboyrz?

        • beleester says:

          Yeah, I should have included that condition as well. My intent was to make the problem the same as Anatoly’s #1 below.

    • Anatoly says:

      Great job finding the strategies! Here are two variants I promised that make the life worse for the prisoners:

      1. Vg’f abg xabja jura gur gevny jvyy fgneg (gur cevfbaref ner frtertngrq nsgre pbzvat hc jvgu n fgengrtl, naq fbzr gvzr nsgrejneqf gur gevny fgnegf). Nyfb, gur thneq znl oevat zber guna bar cevfbare n qnl be fxvc qnlf – onfvpnyyl, qnl-ahzorevat fgbcf orvat hfrshy. Nyfb, gur vavgvny fgngr bs gur ynzc vf haxabja.

      2. Nf nobir, ohg nyfb, gur cevfbaref unir gb rkrphgr na vqragvpny fgengrtl (v.r. gurl pna’g pubbfr bar bs gurz gb cynl n fcrpvny ebyr bs nal xvaq). Gb yrnir fbzr xvaq bs ubcr fgvyy, va guvf inevnag cevfbaref ner rkcyvpvgyl nyybjrq gb orunir cebonovyvfgvpnyyl (v.r. gb ebyy qvpr be bgurejvfr pubbfr gurve orunivbe jvgu fbzr bqqf), naq ner zreryl erdhverq gb riraghnyyl jva jvgu cebonovyvgl 1.

      • fion says:

        Could I request that you rot13 this?

        I have been mulling over the original problem for about a year and have been stubbornly refusing to look it up (even though it’s probably beyond me at this point). I feel as though your proposed variants gave me some clues as to how to solve the easier version that you gave in your original comment (and that I was originally asked a year or so ago).

        Of course, I acknowledge that it was my fault for reading the responses to a puzzle I don’t want spoilers on, but I guess that’s what rot13 is for anyway.

        • Anatoly says:

          It was probably a good idea to rot13 this, I meant to and forgot – I apologize for that. Unfortunately the comment is beyond the editing window at this point and I can’t change or delete it. I’ll ask Scott for help.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        Solution to variant 1:
        Cerggl zhpu gur fnzr nf gur onfvp fbyhgvba: Ahzore cevfbaref bar gb bar uhaqerq, cevfbaref bar gb avargl-avar pbzzvg gb fjvgpuvat gur ynzc sebz bss gb ba gjvpr naq bgurejvfr qbvat abguvat, cevfbare bar uhaqerq pbzzvgf gb bayl fjvgpuvat gur ynzc bss, bapr ur unf fjvgpurq vg bss bar uhaqerq avargl-rvtug gvzrf ur xabjf rirelbar unf ivfvgrq ng yrnfg bapr.

      • The Nybbler says:

        1. Rirel cevfbare rkprcg gur neovgenevyl-pubfra #1 gheaf gur yvtug bss (vs vg’f ba) rknpgyl gjvpr. Ahzore 1 nyjnlf gheaf gur yvtug ba. Jura #1 frrf gur yvtug ghearq bss sbe gur bar avargl rvtugu gvzr, ur pnyyf sbe gur jva. Guvf vf rvgure gur yvtug fgnegvat bss + bar avargl frira gvzrf orvat ghearq bss, be gur yvtug fgnegvat ba + bar avargl rvtug gvzrf orvat ghearq bss. Rvgure jnl, rirel cevfbare unf frra gur yvtug. (ur pna fyvtugyl bcgvzvmr — vs ur frrf gur yvtug ba gur svefg gvzr ur’f pnyyrq, ur pna jnvg sbe bayl bar avargl frira ghea-bssf)

        2. Uzz, qba’g xabj ubj gurl pna jva jvgu C=1 va na rkcrpgrq svavgr ahzore bs ebhaqf.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        This is a question about variant 2, rot13ing it because if I’m right, it reveals the sort of strategy you need to employ:
        Jura lbh fnl “riraghnyyl jva jvgu cebonovyvgl 1”, qbrf gung znxr ebbz sbe “pbhagnoyl vasvavgr” gevpxf, be zhfg gurl jva va svavgr gvzr?

        • Anatoly says:

          Vs gur thneq vf orunivat nqirefnevnyyl, V guvax gurer’f ab jnl gb obhaq na rkcrpgrq jvaavat gvzr (gur thneq znl whfg pbagvahr abg fhzzbavat nalbar sbe neovgenevyl ybat fgergpurf bs gvzr, be xrrc fhzzbavat gur fnzr crefba). Gur fbyhgvba V unq va zvaq cebprrqf gbjneqf n jva nf zhpu nf gur thneq ernfbanoyl nygreangrf cevfbaref, naq V guvax lbh trg rkcrpgrq svavgr gvzr vs gur thneq pubbfrf gur cevfbaref havsbezyl enaqbzyl. Ab pbhagnoyr vasvavgl gevpxf.

          V guvax vg zvtug or zber urycshy gb guvax nobhg guvf inevnag juvyr nffhzvat enaqbz cevfbare fryrpgvba.

      • marshwiggle says:

        Problem one I was able to do in the shower, though I haven’t checked it carefully. It’s only a slight modification to my solution to the base problem, which means my solution to the base problem may have been way way too slow.

        Cevfbare ahzore bar: ba uvf svefg ivfvg, gheaf gur yvtug ba be xrrcf vg ba.
        Ba uvf frpbaq ivfvg, gheaf vg bss.
        Ba fhofrdhrag ivfvgf, vs gur yvtug jnf bss, ur gheaf vg ba.
        Vs gur yvtug jnf ba naq vg jnf bss ba uvf ynfg ivfvg, ur gheaf vg bss.
        Vs gur yvtug jnf ba naq vg jnf ba uvf ynfg ivfvg, ur gheaf vg bss naq nqqf bar gb uvf pbhag (fgnegvat sebz mreb)
        Vs uvf pbhag ernpurf avtugl avar, ur xabjf rirelbar unf ivfvgrq.

        Nyy gur bgure cevfbaref: vs gur yvtug vf ba, qb abguvat.
        Vs gur cevfbare unf ghearq gur yvtug ba orsber, qb abguvat.
        Vs gur yvtug vf bss naq gur cevfbare unf frra gur yvtug ba orsber, naq unf abg ghearq gur yvtug ba orsber, ghea ba gur yvtug.

        Problem 2 I solved in principle. Which means no actual math – I’d need pencil and paper and at least half an hour for that.

      • uau says:

        It seems to me that variant 2 is impossible, at least assuming that the guard knows the strategy used and can choose the next prisoner based on what the prisoners have done so far. Are you making some additional assumptions, like requiring that the guard chooses a fixed order before the visits start?

    • MereComments says:

      Onfrq ba gur bgure nafjref urer V’z cebonoyl zvffvat fbzrguvat boivbhf, ohg jung’f jebat jvgu guvf fbyhgvba?

      Jura rnpu cevfbare ragref gur ebbz sbe gur svefg gvzr, gurl punatr gur yvtug fgngr. Vs vg’f bss gurl ghea vg ba, naq ivpr irefn. Vs gurl’er ragrevat gur ebbz na nqqvgvbany gvzr, gurl qb abguvat. Nsgre gur ynzc’f fgngr unf punatrq 100 gvzrf, rirel cevfbare unf orra va gur ebbz.

      • Iain says:

        Ubj qb gur cevfbaref xabj gung gur ynzc’f fgngr unf orra punatrq 100 gvzrf? Gur bayl vasbezngvba nal cevfbare vf tvira vf gur fgngr bs gur ynzc (ba be bss) jura gurl ragre gur ebbz. Gur ynzc znl xabj ubj bsgra vg’f orra gbttyrq, ohg vg’f abg nyybjrq gb thrff ba gur cevfbaref’ orunys.

        • MereComments says:

          Nu! V xarj V unq gb or zvffvat fbzrguvat fhcre boivbhf urer. Gur yvar, “Gur cevfbaref qb abg frr rnpu bgure nsgre gur gevny ortvaf, naq unir ab jnl gb genafzvg nal vasbezngvba orfvqrf gur fgngr bs gur ynzc” gevccrq zr hc. Gurl pna’g genafzvg gung vasbezngvba ng nal tvira gvzr orgjrra rnpu bgure. >_<

  35. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Freakonomics on index funds Podcast and transcript.

    I had no idea index funds only went back to 1975, nor that the idea faced a lot of resistance when it was first proposed.

    The story pulls in two directions– on the one hand, John Bogle, the inventor of the index fund, had an extraordinary idea, but on the other hand, the premise of index funds is that extraordinary ideas are extremely rare.

    He saved people some 4 trillion dollars. He’s got less than a hundred million himself.

    Only about 30% of all mutual and exchange-traded funds are being passively managed, which seems shockingly low to me– it does look a lot like a Hansonian status-driven world. To be fair, the effect of the fees charged by actively managed funds isn’t exactly intuitive.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I don’t think earning $100 million is exactly chump change. Actually the link says there are $4 trillion under Vanguard management, not that he saved people that much. The savings are in the fees brokers and investment managers charge, which have been mostly foregone in index funds. Probably a considerable amount, but not $4 trillion.

      I have most my investments in index funds. I think it is a very good thing that index funds are a thing, but I could see how that could be a problem if pretty much everyone bought them. At this point I guess that’s not an issue, since only 30% of the market. But it everyone bought them, then who would be leading the market and keeping corporations accountable? Index funds just follow the rest of the market. There does need to be someone out there who analyzes the market and buys the best corps and sells the worst ones. What would keep corps accountable to shareholders if no one traded their shares based on performance? Although I suppose if a higher percentage of shareholders held index funds, there would be more profit opportunities in exploiting these holes in the market, so someone would do it.

      • Alphonse says:

        The worry of “what if everyone exclusively invested in index funds” seems to perennially arise in such discussions, which is always perplexing to me.

        As a threshold matter, the premise will never happen. There are way too many people who think they can beat the market, or who will simply be susceptible to well-polished pitches about why X firm has a Strategy ™ for beating the market and you should invest your money with them (for only 1% AUM! Maybe with a slight load fee too…).

        But even if this fantastical world were to arise, it’s easily self-correcting. If 99% of the money is in index funds, then beating the market probably becomes sufficiently easy that active management really could outperform. And once that was demonstrated, enough people would switch over to active management to drive down the expected returns to, at absolute best, little more than the expected fees.

        (In the real world, almost any possible out-performance for non-Private Equity active management is more than consumed by the guaranteed fees which you will pay whether the fund over or under-performs, but that’s just a reflection of the fact that many, many, many people are some combination of ill-informed about their options and over-confident regarding their prospects of beating the market.)

        • skef says:

          The worry of “what if everyone exclusively invested in index funds” seems to perennially arise in such discussions, which is always perplexing to me.

          A better, more general way of putting the concern is “what if non-index-fund investment strategies were to become predominantly short-term, and (because index fund investors do not change their investment strategy) corporate incentives were therefore no longer to include long-term stock price increases?”

          If 99% of the money is in index funds, then beating the market probably becomes sufficiently easy that active management really could outperform. And once that was demonstrated, enough people would switch over to active management to drive down the expected returns to, at absolute best, little more than the expected fees.

          By assumption, the reasoning that supports index fund investment hasn’t yet convinced many investors. The idea that some data pointing in the other direction would convince index fund investors to go the other way seems optimistic. There would still be plenty of poor managed investment in this new situation. Teasing the good investment apart from lucky investment would be tricky at best.

          • Alphonse says:

            To your first point, I don’t think that criticism really has anything to do with the prevalence of passive index investing rather than the distribution of long versus short-term strategies among active traders.

            Imagine two scenarios:
            Scenario 1: 10% of money is in passive index funds, 80% of money is in active funds with a short-term focus, and 10% of money is in active funds with a long-term focus.
            Scenario 2: 90% of money is in passive index funds, 5% of money is in active funds with a short-term focus, and 5% of money is in active funds with a long-term focus.

            I expect more short-term focus by corporations in scenario 1 than in scenario 2.
            Granted, if we expect that there is some floor of actively traded money that is short-term focused, or if we think money is disproportionately shifting from long-term focused active management to passive management, then we might think it’s a problem (but still only if “long-term focus” and “short-term focus” are sufficiently distinguishable in their effects as to cause inefficiencies, which is a fairly complex topic).

            With regard to the latter point, I don’t think the two situations are equivalent. You have to look at why people aren’t convinced in each scenario. In the status quo, people tend to stick with active management because (to a first approximation): (1) people generically overestimate their chances of winning and extend that to beating the market as well; (2) active funds, with higher fees, can afford to engage in greater marketing and client acquisition efforts.

            I’m reasonably confident that the former consideration isn’t disappearing, although if it did at least we could console ourselves with the prompt death of virtually all lotteries. The latter is pretty much an ironclad result of how the fees play out, so I can’t construct a reasonable scenario where the actively managed funds lose out on that marketing advantage (especially in a world where their claims to out-performance are actually true!).

          • skef says:

            To your first point, I don’t think that criticism really has anything to do with the prevalence of passive index investing rather than the distribution of long versus short-term strategies among active traders.

            Sure, but unless the index itself is being “managed” to reflect short-term gains (why would that be the case?), investing in index funds would still not make sense in this world, as it is a long term strategy. That is, the underlying concern is not that everyone will wind up in index funds so there will be no active incentives on stock prices, but that few or none of the incentives on stock prices will align with the strategy implicit in index fund investment.

          • Alphonse says:

            I still think your objection misses the point, so I’ll try explaining my argument in more detail.

            As a threshold matter, index investing isn’t a long-term or a short-term strategy per se, just as buying actively-managed funds isn’t a long-term or a short-term strategy. Proponents of passive investing often also emphasize the importance of a long-term view for stock market investments, but it’s not the same thing.

            But let’s assume what we’re worried about are stock prices and long-term investment horizons for index funds. Should a dominance of short-term focus among the actively managed funds pose a problem? I don’t see how in any reasonable scenario.

            Let’s say actively-managed firm X only cares about the short-term. One way of improving short-term results is to make the company “better” in various ways (e.g. improving the efficiency of the supply chain). That seems fine in the long-term too. So I’ll focus on strategies which are positive in the short-term but negative in the long-term (taking on too much risk when underwriting loans? Breaking hard to detect environmental regulations with draconian penalties?).

            So, firm X buys a company. They decide to maximize its short-term value by, say, selling a bunch of life insurance policies below cost. Great thinking! The company won’t get hit for years.

            Now what does firm X need to do? They have to sell. Importantly, the value of the firm doesn’t go up just by increasing revenues — all the passively managed money doesn’t analyze that (or anything else besides price) and isn’t tricked. The people firm X have to fool are the other active investors. And, sure, if firm X tricks actively-managed firm Y into thinking that the company is now more valuable, then firm X comes out ahead, but firm Y comes out behind. That’s kind of the game with active management.

            The passive money will shift along with the valuations along the way, but as long as the active managers have real money at stake, I don’t see much potential for abuse. Maybe if firm X colluded with firm Y to juice up the price way above the justifiable level and then share the profits from the passive money that got siphoned off along the way, but that’s one monumental coordination to pull off in a granular, fully public, incredibly competitive market. Maybe if enough active funds die that we’re down to like five, trading manually or something, but that’s a remarkably different world from ours.
            (That’s all leaving aside the part where everyone involved goes to prison for a very long time. I can’t imagine how this kind of scheme wouldn’t be unbelievably obvious to an even somewhat competent SEC.)

          • skef says:

            As a threshold matter, index investing isn’t a long-term or a short-term strategy per se, just as buying actively-managed funds isn’t a long-term or a short-term strategy. Proponents of passive investing often also emphasize the importance of a long-term view for stock market investments, but it’s not the same thing.

            Advocates of passive management recommend not changing one’s investment portfolio in response to changing prices. An advocate of passive investment in a vehicle that is itself active could be an advocate of a kind of short term investment. But indexes tend to be pretty stable given their primary role. So an advocate of passive investment in index funds is an advocate of long term investment, and the point you raise is a distinction without a difference.

            I’m not going to copy-and-comment the rest of your argument; I’ll just try to provide a simplistic counter-example:

            Suppose that the average price of a segment of the stock market (say, tech stocks) repeatedly rises gradually over a period of 8-12 years and then quickly falls back to its previous level (inflation-adjusted). Given that a tech index is intended as a measure of that segment, its level also follows this saw-tooth pattern. At each bottom the tech companies give new option grants to important employees, blaming the broader market for the correction and explaining the need to reestablish incentives.

            The short term investors are just making money (or not) on the small fluctuations in the saw-tooth. The company executives are taking care of themselves and the employees they need to. Long-term investors in the segment, including those in funds based on the index, don’t make any money on average.

            This situation “shouldn’t” be stable over longer periods because the price shouldn’t gradually head back up if there is no money to be made investing in it that way (assuming one can’t time the drop). So the company executives shouldn’t be able to provide for themselves at the bottom. But it can exist longer-term as long as money will flow into companies in the segment anyway, which it will as long as there are enough people investing in the index and ignoring fluctuations. The latter could continue for as long as, say, 1.5 investment lifetimes (maybe 60 years?), at which point the strategy itself would inevitably wind up discredited.

            The accuracy of prices is entirely beside this point. The problem is that if there is no underlying incentive for stock prices to rise over the long haul then long term investors may make no money. I’ve just described one way that long-term stock investment could become unprofitable and the rest of the system could plug away — there are likely many others.

          • Alphonse says:

            I think we’re talking past each other, and I think you’re addressing a substantively different point than what I’ve been defending in all of my posts. Obviously “if there is no underlying incentive for stock prices to rise over the long haul then long term investors may make no money.” That’s how investments work — they have to have positive returns in order for you to get, well, a positive return.

            That’s true for money passively invested via index funds, money actively invested via hedge funds, money used to purchase rental real estate, or even money used to purchase lottery tickets. If your return on investment is not positive . . . then you won’t make money. It’s obviously possible to lose money in the stock market, even over the long term, as Japan illustrates. I never suggested the contrary.

            The sole point I made above, and which I defend here, is that the notion that widespread passive index investing will lead to negative outcomes in the stock market doesn’t make sense. The system is self-correcting, and if incentives arise such that beating the market is profitable (on a risk-adjusted and effort-adjusted basis), people will do so. I don’t think your last comment addresses this point at all.

            Even in the example you gave, the only way that ACTIVE management would outperform PASSIVE management in such a hypothetical tech sector fund is if the active management could time the market drops with sufficient accuracy to provide a net benefit to its shareholders (after fees).

            Such a net benefit could mean that the active fund loses less than the passive. Or it could mean the active gains real value while the passive loses it. Or it could mean the active fund gains more value than does the passive fund, even while both gain value. But the question of whether an asset appreciates in value at all using a particular strategy is a different question than whether a strategy outperforms a baseline strategy (unless your baseline strategy is “invest in TIPS”).

            Your hypothetical also seems to assume that everyone knows that the tech sector will just keep going through such cycles without any real increase in value (hence why the “situation ‘shouldn’t’ be stable over longer periods”). But that assumption only works if people have future knowledge about what the market will do. I’m sure that we can posit all kinds of bizarre activity if we presume that everyone has accurate future knowledge, but that’s an odd criticism of market behavior in the real world where we only have best-effort predictions and have to judge actions retrospectively (this is sort of like criticizing everyone who bought Japanese stocks in the lead-up to 1989 — obviously if they had known what would happen, people wouldn’t have bought at those valuations, but that’s kind of the risk one takes when putting one’s money into the stock market).

            At the risk of making this even more excessively lengthy, I’ll briefly preempt one more response. One might express concern that in a scenario where everyone “knows” ex ante that the tech cycle will see no real returns, the passive investor just gets dragged along with the market cycle and earns no returns. That’s true, but it’s a reflection of the (bizarre) hypothetical, not the investment style. The goal of passive investing is to track the index, not beat it. So if you have full knowledge ex ante that the index will experience 0% real returns, then that’s what you’re going to get. But (almost) no one would ever invest in a stock index fund if that were their expectation — they’d put their money in TIPS, or a bond fund, or real estate, or gold, or numerous other things. People invest in stocks because they expect the average return, in the long-term, to be positive.
            Regardless of the accuracy of that assumption, whether you are better off operationalizing your assumptions about the future real returns of stocks (or bonds or what have you) via passive low-fee investing or active non-low-fee investing is about the comparison between the returns for those two strategies as applied to the same substantive investment. You can obviously lose money with either (or make money with both) — but that’s a separate question.

          • skef says:

            That’s true for money passively invested via index funds, money actively invested via hedge funds, money used to purchase rental real estate, or even money used to purchase lottery tickets. If your return on investment is not positive . . . then you won’t make money. It’s obviously possible to lose money in the stock market, even over the long term, as Japan illustrates. I never suggested the contrary.

            I don’t really want to take this into further detail. I’ll just point out that you’re not really maintaining a distinction between short and long term strategies in your response, which washes away my point. Hedge funds that use short term strategies can make money even when stock prices don’t rise over the long term. So they can make money while long-term investors in index funds lose money.

            You, and many other people, seem to be assuming that somehow the whole system would fall down if stock prices were not increasing over the long term. There are economic arguments for that premise, but the question here is whether that premise holds up when all investors know that a substantial amount of money will remain in, and even be added to, certain investments anyway. Passive investment has the potential to stabilize a system that would otherwise “self-correct”.

            (And just to note, no, I was not assuming that everyone would know the sawtooth pattern as it was happening. Short-term investors (especially with hedging) wouldn’t necessarily care. And all the executives need to know is that, counter-factually, they can grant new options in the case of a downturn.)

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          My notion is that if there’s too much passive investment for prices to be reasonable, experts in various fields will move in and do enough trading to correct the prices.

          There will probably be some cycling as non-experts get excited and try to harvest “easy” money.

          • Alphonse says:

            This is pretty much my view, with the caveat that I think active management is sufficiently comprehensive that there are almost no areas where the experts need to “move in” rather than already being present and continuously driving prices to their efficient level.

            (Which isn’t to say Wall Street doesn’t make mistakes! Sometimes the stock market gets things horrifically wrong. But unless your name is Warren Buffet, you almost certainly aren’t going to be able to beat the market on a risk-adjusted basis, at least at any scale.)

        • John Schilling says:

          As a threshold matter, the premise will never happen. There are way too many people who think they can beat the market,

          And so all decisions about the relative value of firms and the appropriate allocation of capital, will be made by the sort of person who thinks they can beat the market. Everybody else will be required to take their collective assessment as a brute fact.

          I can see this potentially causing significant harm before the inevitable correction.

          • Alphonse says:

            I’ll agree that this is, in some sense, unfortunate compared to a hypothetical perfectly accurate pricing mechanism. But what’s the alternative?

            Analyzing companies to determine their value is challenging, time-consuming work. People have to be compensated for it somehow.

            Maybe there’s a better way of paying for that pricing activity than offering rewards to those who manage to do it well (which they then capture in the form of fees charged to those who invest with them), but I’m not thinking of it.

            (And no one is “required to take their collective assessment as a brute fact” — individual stock picking remains very much alive, even in the face of extensive research showing that you’re better off sticking to passive, low-fee index investing. In a hypothetical world where the vast majority of money shifts to passive index funds, there’s still no “require[ment]” that people refrain from exercising their own judgment. Picking individual stocks may be stupid for virtually all investors, but we’re a long way away from it being illegal. The self-correcting component only disappears if trying to beat the market is prohibited.)

      • Chalid says:

        In the world with little active management, you’d probably end up with a lot of the price setting being done by the less-ethical corporate insiders.

        • Alphonse says:

          I also shudder to think of living in a world where ethically deficient corporate entities determine stock prices, with little input from typical investors.

          Thankfully, we have BlackRock and UBS and J.P. Morgan to set prices instead.

          In all seriousness, I don’t know what this means. Corporate insiders largely don’t determine prices — the market does. If the corporate insiders want to set the stock price to a certain level by selling some of their holdings at that price point (and note that it’s important to distinguish firm ownership from firm management), they still have to find a willing buyer on the other end of the transaction.

          Maybe if 99.999% of money in the market is passively managed and the only price-setting activity is done by people deciding how to price shares at the IPO or something, but does anyone seriously think there’s any real chance of that happening?

          (And if “less ethical corporate insiders” refers to the people running massive hedge funds and private equity firms rather than the firm management of the traded company . . . well, who do you think is doing the active management?)

          • Chalid says:

            Corporate insiders in this context are people in corporations exploiting their informational advantage to trade their own company’s stock and the stocks of their competitors and supply chain partners.

            To a first approximation, prices are set by people who have informational advantages. Trading by everyone else can be thought of as noise. In the current world, people with informational advantages are corporate insiders and active money managers. (Mutual funds and hedge funds really do have stock-picking ability on average; index funds outperform active managers because active management is expensive, not because stock-picking is impossible.)

            If you take away active money management, then corporate insiders will be the ones setting prices, in that they’ll be the ones who buy if the stock is undervalued and sell if it’s overvalued; retail investors and index funds are just noise. Also, if you take away hedge funds/mutual funds you’re going to increase the incentive for such trading because prices will on average be more wrong.

            Even in the current state of the world, corporate insiders in aggregate make significantly profitable trades. Filings of trading activity by corporate managers are one of the few (<10) standard quant finance datasets that anyone who does lower-frequency trading has to know about. And that's just the legal regulated and reported stuff. It's extremely common for stocks to rise prior to a company releasing good news and that information leakage is almost certainly making some insider some money somehow.

    • SteveReilly says:

      Thank for the link. It’s a cool topic.

      I’m surprised more people don’t passively invest. I get that there are people who think they can reliably beat the market (and some probably can.) But thinking you’re good at picking mutual funds? It’s not even like that’s a brag-worthy skill. And since lots of investment is decade-long stuff that’s going to decide how well you can retire, you’d think more people would spend a few hours looking into this stuff.

      Well, I guess they’re the ones who keep the market moving for the rest of us to passively profit from.

  36. Grek says:

    I delight in eating things which I have never eaten before. Please suggest things which you think I might like.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      It would help if you write about what sorts of things you’ve already eaten.

      Quince. Pawpaw.

      • Jaskologist says:

        More broadly, just running by your local ethic supermarkets and picking up the foreign fruit is a good place to start.

        • AG says:

          Dragon fruit is good stuff, of course, but the thing that I sadly never find sold in America is the Lian-wu:

          Always the highlight of going to Taiwan is getting to eat these things again.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            That reminds me– Asian pears are very nice.

            And on the spice side, I’ll put in a good word for grains of paradise. They’re something like black pepper, but with something of a fruit flavor.

          • onyomi says:

            Other tropical and exotic fruits you may not have tried: durian (smells like rotting onions but unique texture and great, complex flavor–the roquefort of fruits), mangosteen (sweet, juicy, mild, fragrant), atemoya (mild, creamy, and fragrant*), lychee and longan (better than rambutan, imo), jackfruit (oddly rubbery texture, but interesting fragrance and still yummy, also the world’s largest fruit), persimmons (sweet, orange tomatoes, basically–also good dried), and anything flavored with yuzu (small Japanese citrus fruit that is a bit bitter and sour by itself, but has an amazing fragrance that goes well with many things).

            *A hybrid of the cherimoya and custard apple, I think, also in the same family as the soursop and pawpaw, I believe; the taste and texture is amazing, but I’ve cut back on it since I read it contains small amounts of neurotoxins (acetogenins)? If anyone can tell me why I shouldn’t be OCD about it I’d appreciate.

          • AG says:

            Yeah, jackfruit and palm seed (the latter is like a kinda gelatinous bean thing) is pretty nice. Get it canned in light syrup from your local asian mart.

            Huge warning: you will continue to taste and kinda-smell that durian for the rest of your day, even in eating durian chewy candies. Best form is as a creamy filling in a flaky pastry.

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, I have yet to figure out any way to contain the smell of durian flesh (once the durian is open–the fruit’s spiky exterior itself does a great job, presumably by keeping out oxygen). You can put it in a ziplock bag inside another ziplock bag inside a tupperware inside another tupperware and somehow your whole refrigerator (and your milk and your butter and…) end up smelling like it.

          • Education Hero says:

            Yeah, I have yet to figure out any way to contain the smell of durian flesh

            Your plans for the durian permitting, one trick is to freeze it.

    • holmesisback says:

      If your sole criteria for gastronomic delight is things you have never eaten before, then might I suggest you try partaking in the vast universe of inedibles (e.g. wood and sawdust to name a couple of potential future favourites for you). These are are sure to please your palette.
      Sorry if too snarky – couldn’t resist 😉

    • Deiseach says:

      Tripe and onions. If cooked properly, a delicate dish suitable for a finicky stomach. The classic recipe here.

      Crubeens. Pig’s feet, I wouldn’t be too gone on them as they’re mostly gristle, but if you’ve never eaten them before you can then say “I have eaten crubeens/trotters (and I need never do so again)”. Here is a very fancy recipe (’tis far from “dipped in breadcrumbs and oven-roasted” we were reared) if you can find, or want to find, some trotters/pig’s feet in your local butchers.

      • Grek says:

        Tripe is an interesting idea. And I do like pig’s feet – particularly because they’re gristly, which is a pleasing mouth feel as far as I’m concerned. It’s engaging and demands attention.

    • queenshulamit says:

      Unless you are from Staffordshire, you’ve probably never had Staffordshire oatcakes before. They are a kind of oat-based pancake and they are lovely. I like them with mushrooms. Recipe is easily googlable and ingredients shouldn’t be that hard to find (not posting a recipe link bc that might get this comment flagged as spam)

      • Grek says:

        That sounds spectacular, particularly with the mushrooms. I will try that next time I find the time to cook something breakfasty.

    • keranih says:


      Cabbage palm stewed with pork.

      Sweetbread, lightly grilled and tucked inside a fresh roll.

      ANZAC cookies.

      • Grek says:

        ANZAC cookies are actually my third favourite kind! And sweetbread is very good breaded (I have not have it grilled or in a roll).

        I will be sure to try the other two.

    • WashedOut says:

      Assuming by your question you have no problem eating meat, i recommend eating kangaroo. It’s very lean, a bit gamey but is a good susbtitute for beef and lamb in most contexts.

      Not sure how hard it is to find outside of Australia.

      • Grek says:

        If I ever visit Australia, I will be certain to give it a try.

        • Well... says:

          I thought it was great in chili, not great as a burger. Tastes much more similar to lamb than beef.

          You should be able to find it outside Australia.

        • gbdub says:

          I found it very venison like. My favorite venison preparation is seared tenderloin medallions with a pan sauce made of red wine, mushrooms, shallots, and rosemary.

          The best kangaroo dish I had in Oz was actually a red curry in a little Thai restaurant in Melbourne.

    • zz says:

      Minor, but 1kg potassium chloride can be picked up for ~$20 on Amazon and has the same valence structure as sodium chloride, meaning that they substitute nicely, but (I’m guessing) because the ion is larger, it tastes different. I’ve had some amount of fun playing with the NaCl/KCl ratios; the results are mostly different, rather than better/worse, such that I’ve never ventured close to disaster territory.

      • Grek says:

        I am currently on a potassium-limited diet for medical reasons. But I might investigate other safely edible salts!

        • AlphaGamma says:

          Potentially ammonium chloride. While you have (arguably) almost certainly eaten it in small quantities if you have eaten commercially baked cookies that contain table salt and ammonium bicarbonate as raising agent, it is also used as an ingredient itself in salted licorice such as the Finnish salmiakki and the Dutch zoute drop.

    • Well... says:

      This has got me thinking about how you can classify people’s eating habits along the axes of adventurousness and discrimination. (Those are my labels.) Adventurousness is how much you seek out or regularly eat new/weird/obscure or exotic foods. Discrimination is how high your standards are (i.e. how “discriminating” are your tastes).

      If each axis is 1-10 where 1 is low, I’m probably an 8 on adventurousness and a 7 or 8 on discrimination.

      Grek sounds like a 9 or 10 on adventurousness. Grek, what do you think your discrimination score is?

      • Grek says:

        I am reluctant to eat things that will definitely make me sick, which are illegal or unethical to obtain, or which resemble parasitic worms. And there are many things which I have tried and disliked enough that I refuse to try them again without good reason. Cheesecake, for example.

        So maybe 3 or 4 for discrimination?

        • Well... says:

          You know whether you like your mealworms fresh vs. dessicated. I think your discrimination score should be higher.

        • Deiseach says:

          Cheesecake, for example.

          *reels back, clutching chest in shock*

          I love cheesecake! What is the objection there, where you’d happily eat crubeens?

          • CatCube says:

            Probably mouthfeel, given that he states he likes gristle above. For me, it’s exactly the other way around–I love cheesecake, but gristle will make me want to vomit.

          • Grek says:

            @Deiseach: It’s squelchy and damp and curdled. It tastes too much like sour milk for my liking.

            @CatCube: She, actually! And yes, it’s the texture/mouthfeel of it. I have the same issue with the runnier kinds of cream cheese and the thicker kinds of sour creme.

      • Deiseach says:

        Adventurousness is how much you seek out or regularly eat new/weird/obscure or exotic foods. Discrimination is how high your standards are (i.e. how “discriminating” are your tastes).

        I’d say I’m not very adventurous (maybe a 5 on a good day?), and my discrimination is all over the place – I’ve been very sniffy about “yes, they’re trying but they’re trying too hard” over dishes at a Michelin-starred local restaurant and yet I’ve happily snarfed down bog-standard fast food, so… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        • AG says:

          One can be quite discriminating about fast food. For example, I find that In-and-Out has the best sub-$6 burger, while Five Guys has the best seasoned fries, etc.

          • Well... says:

            Rally’s/Checkers has the best fries, gimme a break.

          • AG says:

            Five Guys has the best SEASONED fries, but it’s still a toss-up for plain fries, curly fries, or battered ones.

            For plain, I find it more varies location to location, than can be reliably determined from franchise branding. Probably NOT Burger King or Wendy’s, though.

          • Well... says:

            The fryerarchy goes like this: (national chains only)

            1. Rally’s/Checkers
            2. Popeyes
            3. Arby’s curly fries
            4. Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr. (brought to you by Carl’s Jr.)
            5. Chick Fil A
            6. Burger King
            7. Long John Silver’s
            8. DQ
            9. 5 Guys (quantity does not make up for quality, though it comes close)
            10. Penn Station
            11. Wendy’s
            12. KFC
            13. McDonald’s
            14. Steak n Shake (take your shoelace fries and shove’em)

          • quaelegit says:

            I don’t generally like french fries so can’t comment on your list, but “fryerarchy” is a fabulous word 🙂

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            The fryerarchy goes like this: (national chains only)

            I don’t know most of those chains, but putting Burger King before McDonald’s is a horrendous mistake. Burger King fries taste kind of rotten. I love fries but I can’t eat theirs. While Mcdonald’s are pretty good — thin and crispy.

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah, McDonalds food isn’t particularly good in general, but they have some of the better fries of the old-school fast food chains. I’d place them above Burger King (soggy) or Dairy Queen and Carl’s Jr (mealy), though below In-N-Out and most of the fast casual places.

          • AG says:

            A pox on any of the restaurants that serve wedge “fries,” though Fuddruckers tries to make up for it with unlimited cheese sauce. At that point you might as well just have proper roasted potato pieces.

            As I said, the biggest chains are inconsistent. Sometimes McD’s is crispy, sometimes BK’s are, sometimes BK’s are mealy, sometimes McD’s are soggy (the way I like ’em!). The Discourse around In-and-Out’s fresh fries approach is about as vehement as the pineapple-on-pizza debate, and yet again I find that the supposed mealiness from the fresh made approach varies a lot (potentially on what time of day people go, and thus just how fresh the fries in the basket are).

            Seasoning/battering removes a lot of that nuance, which is why Arby’s, Jack-in-the-Box’s curly fries, and Popeye’s fries can be more consistent, and is only dependent on the temperature you get them.

            (Speaking of which, Jack-in-the-Box’s fries are mid-to-upper tier, A&W tends towards mealy so meh, at least in my area. Haven’t been to Wienerschnitzel’s in a while, but obviously the lack of a good memory doesn’t bode well.)

            There’s something about McDonald’s chicken nuggets, though. Like I know full well they probably have a bunch of non-chicken content in that mush, but somehow the resulting texture is irresistable.
            BK keeps putting their nuggets on discount because those things are pieces of shit and that’s the only way they could get people to buy them.
            Wendy’s nuggets are also meh.

          • Well... says:

            I’ll take wedge fries over shoelace fries any day.

            Battered fries are clearly the best.

            When in England I’m consistently happy with the fries (“chips”) I get from those kebab shops. As far as unbattered fries go, that’s the benchmark.

            McDonald’s fries taste good but they’re too close to shoelace thickness. Thus the low rating.

            I agree BK is inconsistent, but when they’re good they’re better than McDonald’s even when McDonald’s is good.

            One trick, BTW, is to ask for your fries without salt. That way you’re likely to get a very fresh hot batch because they usually salt the fries right after taking them out of the oil.

            I agree about McDonald’s chicken nuggets: mystery meat to some (probably large) extent, but irresistible nonetheless. My daughter never shares hers and of course I never order any for myself so the few I eat are those I sneak before I hand them back to her. (We’re usually in the car if we’re eating fast food.) Same goes for Wendy’s nuggets.

    • Odovacer says:


      Some Mexican restaurants serve them, but there are also available in certain other locations.

      Also, try other edible insects.

      • Grek says:

        Grasshoppers are delicious, as are desiccated mealworms. (I find the fresh ones to be unpleasantly moist.) But they’re generally sold as pet food in my area and are of inferior quality.

    • Education Hero says:
    • AlphaGamma says:

      Yak? I had it because it was on the menu (in a Tibetan restaurant in the US) and I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity, and I enjoyed it enough that I would happily eat it again. Apparently they farm them in Nebraska.

      Also, alligator or crocodile.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I’ll vouch for alligator.

        I’ve had deep-fried rattlesnake, which I don’t recommend except for knocking an item off your to-try list.

        • AG says:

          I went to one of those “eat everything but the bones” snake restaurants. The meat, which went into soup, was the wrong kind of chewy squid-ish texture, but since I’ve much enjoyed gator and frog, perhaps it was just the cooking method. Skin was okay, but meh. The pan-fried guts, on the other hand, were somehow the best eating.
          But maybe just pan frying/deep frying any part would have made it more delicious.

        • Grek says:

          In my experience, snake is best prepared as a broth and used to make a gumbo-like dish.

      • gbdub says:

        +1 for gator / croc.

      • Nornagest says:

        Alligator/crocodile is good. “Tastes like chicken” is the cliche, but it’s only half right — it’s got the mild, meaty flavor of chicken but the tenderness and some of the flakiness of white fish. I’ve had it a few times; the best preparation I’ve encountered is what amounts to crocodile ceviche, with onions and hot peppers in a vinegar sauce.

        I’ve had yak butter, but not yak meat. The butter was good — stronger flavor than cow butter, which was not unwelcome.

    • Tarpitz says:

      Kudu steak is delicious.

      If you haven’t sampled the delights of a Scottish chippy (deep fried haggis, black and white puddings, king rib, Mars bars and more) they are not to be missed.

    • johan_larson says:

      Do you like sweet things? Then try ice wine; it’s like drinking raisins.

    • Chalid says:

      You can buy human breast milk, and apparently some bodybuilders swear by it.

      If you want to go really really far off the beaten path, you could try human placenta, too.

    • Anonymous says:


      • AlphaGamma says:

        There are many varieties of halva (makes sense since it is IIRC a generic word for “sweet”). I think the most common sort in the US is sesame-based.

        • What is called Halva in the U.S. is, in my experience, sesame based. The word itself, as you say, means “sweets.” I believe the Indian Hulawat, which is basically fried dough balls in syrup, is the same word, and there are lots of medieval Hulwas of various sorts.

    • beleester says:

      A few unusual ones I’ve seen at a Tu B’shevat Seder:
      Sugar Cane (not really edible, it tastes sweet when you chew on it but you can’t swallow it.)

      Also, I recently had a cake made with pickled cherry blossoms, a Japanese treat. It worked surprisingly well. You need to soak them in water to wash off the salt first, though.

    • KG says:

      Assuming you haven’t eaten Korean food (since I think most people here are white), I suggest ddukbokki. My wife had this urge for Korean food a couple weeks ago and we cooked a bunch of stuff, this was my favorite of the bunch. Note, it’s spicy.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      This includes tomatillos and ground cherries, which are completely different from each other except for having a papery husk. I’ve only had one kind of ground cherry, so I’m missing out on something.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      May be hard to get hold of outside Brazil, but have you tried tacacá, an Amazonian soup, one of whose ingredients is the leaves of this plant, which give you an odd tingling/numbing sensation?

    • christianschwalbach says:

      I have been challenging myself to eat more animal organ meats, especially collagen heavy meals. I have surprisingly enjoyed it, and as I read up on nutritional anthropology, the more I realize that americans have our meat eating waaay screwed up.

    • christianschwalbach says:

      I have been challenging myself to eat more animal organ meats, especially collagen heavy meals. I have surprisingly enjoyed it, and as I read up on nutritional anthropology, the more I realize that americans have our meat eating waaay screwed up. We have a local vietnamese place that serves Pho soup, and they have an “all meat” option which includes standard beef, but also tripe, and some pieces with a healthy level of collagen. Unlike the standard beef Pho, it actually has flavor, and makes amazing “sick food”…

      • Nornagest says:

        I thought “three kinds of thinly sliced beef, tendon, tripe, sometimes meatballs” was the standard beef pho. It’s the first thing on the menu at pretty much every Vietnamese place I go to, at least.

        That said, I love tendon. Don’t know why Americans don’t eat it more, it’s the best part of the cow. Tripe’s okay; interesting texture, but kind of flavorless.

        • Deiseach says:

          Tripe’s okay; interesting texture, but kind of flavorless.

          Well, that’s why the onions 🙂 And really it’s a very easily digestible dish, so someone who has been ill or otherwise hasn’t much of an appetite can easily eat it because it’s tending to the bland. Tripe is one of those foods where you put in all the flavouring with the seasoning, and I imagine you could get very adventurous if you wished. I’m sure non-North Western European cuisines do a lot more exciting things with tripe!

          Finishing up with a snippet from The Screwtape Letters:

          I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions.

          • Nornagest says:

            Menudo is a spicy tripe soup traditionally served on special occasions in Mexican cuisine. Having it on the menu is one of the marks of a good taqueria, along with having lengua (beef tongue) and cabeza (roasted beef head) as options for meat.

        • Education Hero says:

          I thought “three kinds of thinly sliced beef, tendon, tripe, sometimes meatballs” was the standard beef pho. It’s the first thing on the menu at pretty much every Vietnamese place I go to, at least.

          Vietnamese restaurants generally do have the standard mix of beef parts as the first thing on their menu. These typically include bò tái (rare filet), bò chín (well-done brisket), nạm (flank), gân (tendon), and sách (tripe).

          However, some cater to a more Westernized audience, and accordingly have phở tái (with just filet) as the first thing on the menu. Example.

        • quaelegit says:

          I think it depends on how Americanized a pho place you go to (can’t speak for Vietnamese restaurants outside the U.S.*) Our family favorite definitely emphasized the brisket and more (U.S.) standard meats. I haven’t been back to that place since discovering that tripe+tendon is indeed the best meat combo for pho, so I don’t even know if it’s on the menu.

          *I actually have been to Vietnam, but I was 10, and my main impression of the cuisine was that rice porridge for breakfast is okay but WHY DO PEOPLE WANT TO PUT FISH IN IT?!

          • AG says:

            Savory breakfast is pretty common in Asia. Also in that rice porridge would go green onion, preserved duck egg (pidan), pickled veggies, and ginger.
            Another is a kind of thin-skinned turnover with chives, scrambled egg, and rice noodles as the filling.
            And my favorite, the shaobing youtiao, or the breakfast sandwich that consists of deep fried dough inside grill-fried flaky bread.
            The salty turnip-filling baked/fried buns are pretty great, too.

            Dim sum was originally for breakfast purposes.

    • rahien.din says:

      Amaebi : shrimp heads fried until yhe shells are as crispy as potato chips. The most intensely shrimpy bite I have ever had.

    • sunnydestroy says:

      On the list of things that I never would expect a human to discover, much less attempt eating: High Meat.

      That’s raw meat left to rot anywhere from weeks to months in an air filled jar. Apparently it essentially turns to liquid at the high end of the timescale. This guy talks about doing it.

      • Aapje says:

        Some people just have to try things. There is a YouTuber that eats very old MREs. He has a pretty remarkable willingness to eat crap. For example, here is a video of him eating dried beef from an 1899-1902 British Emergency Ration (Boer war).

        Also, in history people have gotten desperate quite a few times, which made them try things.