OT100: One Hunthread

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server. Also:

1. Thanks to everyone who donated to the Bay Area rationality community center’s Patreon last week. Unfortunately, it’s still not really enough. I have doubled my previous donation, and I encourage anyone else who can contribute to do so. Don’t worry, I won’t move the SSC meetups there if people don’t want me to.

2. Related: Less Wrong now has a high-tech meetup page which helps you figure out where and when the SSC meetups nearest you are happening. Default includes LW, EA, and SSC meetups, but there’s an option to limit it to SSC meetups only. If you’re a meetup organizer, please get on there and make sure your meetup is listed. I’m going to be transferring the meetup tab of the blog to point there in a few days unless people disagree for some reason.

3. Comment quality this week was generally embarrassing. So in lieu of a Comment of the Week, read lunaranus’ summary of Civilization and Capitalism on the subreddit.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1,034 Responses to OT100: One Hunthread

  1. The Nybbler says:

    Embarrassing? Comment quality was hilarious. I was going to skip a certain post because it concerned something I have no real interest in, but then I saw some excerpts on the subreddit and checked it out and found COMEDY GOLD.

    • Lillian says:

      You of course that you must now provide us with a greatest hits compilation.

    • marshwiggle says:

      Hilarious doesn’t mean it isn’t a possible threat to the good thing this blog and comment section have going. It can dishearten our gracious host, damage community norms against ad hominem attacks, and weaken our sense of charity. Even when we think someone is incorrect, we should want them and their ideas to be treated lovingly. That by no means precludes convincingly shooting down an idea, but as a community I think we ended up going well beyond what was necessary for truth seeking. Brawling isn’t exactly what we should be rooting for even when it is funny.

      • Alethenous says:


        Sure, the Gupta thing was sort of funny. But… god damn it, can nowhere be something more than a damned playground?! Deiseach is fun and provides an interesting perspective, and watching her in action was amusing, but… but… this is SSC! What the hell happened to niceness, community and civilisation?! I’m not sure if Gupta would have responded well to any line of discussion, and the refusal to engage when someone finally, finally made the obvious question of tabooing “enlightenment” to try to find out what he actually meant makes it seem a little unlikely, but since when did we descend into flame wars? For goodness’ sake, even now most of the comments are about his weight and appearance! Cast out the ad hominem beam out of thine own eye.

        I think yodats from the subreddit had a point. The SSC community… doesn’t seem to be in a good way at the moment.

        • Barely matters says:

          The standards fell straight through the floor the second Scott put up the redtext saying “This is clearly unacceptable in any other context, but I’ll allow it. Don’t think you can get away with this anywhere else.”

          That’s a really good demonstration of exactly how much heavy lifting the well enforced community norms of niceness and civility are doing in all the other threads. All it takes is one officially sanctioned shitposter before everyone gears up and gets dirty.

          • Incurian says:

            No. He was asking for it. That doesn’t usually happen.

          • Barely matters says:

            That’s true too.

            Posters here often push limits, but you’re right that it’s almost never that blatant.

          • Zephalinda says:

            Quite early in the thread he mentioned mental illness on both sides of his family, as well as a pretty heavy-duty trauma history. If that’s true, I don’t see why we’d be surprised that the dude is prone to inappropriate reactions under stress. Past a certain point, seems like continuing to prod is just baiting the weirdo.

            I will say that his posts closely matched the writing of an acquaintance of mine with a similar trauma/ mental illness history and similar anxious grandiosity, whom I’ve always suspected of being a narcissist. Have made a mental note to treat him with kid gloves from here on out, now that I’ve seen how spectacularly things can fall apart with that type of person.

          • David Shaffer says:

            He responded to questioning with accusations of racism, proceeded to be the only one in the thread to actually use racist rhetoric, then threatened to break Deiseach’s arm. I do not care about his trauma or mental illnesses; at that point he has abandoned all human decency.

          • fion says:

            @David Shaffer

            he has abandoned all human decency

            Agreed. To which the correct response is “You’ve abandoned all human decency (and also lowered the tone of this blog, whose comments section prides itself on treating people with respect) and we will not engage with this level of discussion.” and perhaps even an appeal to Scott to step in and tell him off/ban him.

            Not mockery, nor insults. That’s fighting fire with fire.

          • Brad says:

            I will say that his posts closely matched the writing of an acquaintance of mine with a similar trauma/ mental illness history and similar anxious grandiosity, whom I’ve always suspected of being a narcissist. Have made a mental note to treat him with kid gloves from here on out, now that I’ve seen how spectacularly things can fall apart with that type of person.

            What exactly is our obligation to strangers that are behaving badly but of whom we suspect mental illness? Is it more or less in comportment with notions of mutual respect and non-condescension to give such a person a pass? Is breaking the feedback loop doing anyone a favor?

        • Bugmaster says:

          On the one hand, I do agree with you regarding niceness, community, and civilization. On the other hand, though, I don’t think any community can afford to be super-cereal 24/7. We are supposed to be Humans, not Vulcans; and sometimes, it’s nice to be able to just kick back and watch a wizard duel unfold.

          I think that Gupta’s rampage should’ve been stopped as soon as he posted something that actually hurt people, but from what I can tell, that never happened. True, he threw out a bunch of insults, but they were so over the top crazy that no one (AFAICT) really took them seriously.

          I wouldn’t want this site to become all Gupta all the time, but it’s nice to have a fun, relaxing thread once in a while, even if no practically useful information gets exchanged in the process. That said, I think that Scott should put some effort into fixing those “Report” buttons; this way, it will become much easier to cut people off once they stop being fun.

          • outis says:

            I think that Gupta’s rampage should’ve been stopped as soon as he posted something that actually hurt people, but from what I can tell, that never happened. True, he threw out a bunch of insults, but they were so over the top crazy that no one (AFAICT) really took them seriously.

            Actually, his SJ-flavored ad hominems are taken seriously in professional and academic environments nowadays, and his overt anti-white racism is openly tolerated, if not approved, in the mainstream American “discourse”. This community is very unusual in not taking them seriously, which I think is part of what drove him apoplectic. But this feels like the sort of thing where you’re laughing one day, and you’re fired the next.

            If this had happened on my blog, I too might have been hesitant to ban Gupta; in part because it seems appropriate for a person discussed in the article to be allowed to speak in the comments; in part because having minor celebrities posting on one’s blog is a seductive form of validation.
            However, there is no point in blaming “the community” once a person is granted the special privilege to engage in that behavior.

          • skef says:

            Actually, his SJ-flavored ad hominems are taken seriously in professional and academic environments nowadays, and his overt anti-white racism is openly tolerated, if not approved, in the mainstream American “discourse”.

            His, or just comments in the same “family”? Given how much he lamp-shades his own unreasonableness and bad temperament, I find it hard to really blame him on that front.

          • outis says:

            skef: no, I did not mean to suggest that his literal comments on SSC, per se, are directly discussed in professional or academic contexts. Perhaps I should have said “the SJ flavor of ad hominems he employs”, and “overt anti-white racism like his”.

          • Brad says:

            and his overt anti-white racism is openly tolerated, if not approved, in the mainstream American “discourse”

            You have a distorted idea of what’s mainstream (possibly motivated error).

          • WarOnReasons says:


            You have a distorted idea of what’s mainstream (possibly motivated error).

            About a year ago I’ve read a report about a group of Berkeley students who formed human chain to stop white students from getting to class. I don’t know what happened next but if such an action is not within the norms of the academic mainstream, my expectation would be that the university authorities immediately called the police to protect the rights of their white students and later expelled or at least punished everyone in the group. Do you by chance know that this is indeed what happened?

          • John Schilling says:

            First, if your go-to example comes from Berkeley, that pretty much guarantees you’re not talking about something mainstream.

            Second, university authorities almost always arrange things so that they have several layers between Stupid Shit Undergraduates Do, and actual police showing up to arrest people. Including, for example, their own tame police departments devoted to making sure SSUD-stuff retroactively never happened.

          • WarOnReasons says:

            @ John

            if your go-to example comes from Berkeley, that pretty much guarantees you’re not talking about something mainstream

            I want to make sure we agree on the definitions. To me the word “mainstream” implies attitudes or activities that are regarded as normal, but not necessarily shared by the majority (such as, for example, being left-handed). So if Berkeley’s policies get a strong negative backlash from other universities (like the BDS movement) then it is totally fair to say that Berkeley is outside of academic mainstream. But if its politics is simply to the left of the academic center then they are still within the mainstream.

            their own tame police departments devoted to making sure SSUD-stuff retroactively never happened

            Suppose tomorrow another group of students forms human chain to stop black students from getting to class. Do you think there is any major university in the US where the local tame police department will make sure that it retroactively never happened?

          • John Schilling says:

            But if its politics is simply to the left of the academic center then they are still within the mainstream.

            Politics which are “left of the academic center but still within the mainstream”, will almost certainly manifest at many universities, not just Berkeley. Politics which only manifest at Berkeley (or Oberlin, Evergreen, etc), are almost certainly not mainstream. And the selection of examples is not random or uniform; if in the course of arguing “Wrong Thing X has gone mainstream!” someone cites an incident at Berkeley, it is likely because they(*) couldn’t find an example from a less-polarized university.

            * Or whoever is sourcing their talking points.

          • Brad says:

            There’s a great more to life and America than what you can discover by reading what right wing outrage twitter is saying those pesky college kids did this time. I suggest broadening your horizons and/or getting a different hobby.

          • WarOnReasons says:

            Thank you for your answer. If it’s not too much to ask, I would also appreciate your opinion on one particular aspect of the internet debate culture. In general, when people reply to a specific question with a patronizing response that does not actually answer the question do they do it because they sincerely think this is the best method of persuasion?

          • vV_Vv says:

            Politics which are “left of the academic center but still within the mainstream”, will almost certainly manifest at many universities, not just Berkeley. Politics which only manifest at Berkeley (or Oberlin, Evergreen, etc), are almost certainly not mainstream.

            Let’s say that they are at least well within the Overton window, and can be about mainstream in certain industries (e.g. tech).

            EDIT: Considering the specific example of an Indian man spewing anti-white racism on the Internet, there was Manveer Heir, a lead designer at Bioware for the game Mass Effect Andromeda, who spent his time lashing out against whites on Twitter. This attracted attention, with various people threatening to boycott the game, but his company never publicly dissociated from his comments, or told him to tone it down, or fire him. Now, I’m of the opinion that what you say on your private social media accounts shouldn’t be your employer’s business, but what would have happened if a white person said these things about people of other races?

          • outis says:


            You have a distorted idea of what’s mainstream (possibly motivated error).

            Eh, I think different people live in different environments. When people complain about how the lives of gay teens are threatened by bible-thumpers, that doesn’t sound like any part of America I’ve lived in, but I accept that there are places where it happens. I expect the same level of charity in return. But on top of that, my mainstream is what directs culture, and the rest of the country ends up following it, willing or not. So the most I’m willing to concede is that it’s not that mainstream yet; come back in 5-10 years.

        • moscanarius says:

          Well, maybe we just need a (mild, harmless) flamewar from time to time to release the tension of being charitable all the time. It would work like Fat Tuesday – one day of craze and indulgence before the Lent. It may even make us value the community norms and the Principle of Charity more dearly, after seeing what we can do without them 😛

          On a more serious note, I saw most commenters trying hard to be civil to Gupta even when he was chimping out. Excluding Deiseach and Gupta, the sum of interactions is a flamewar only by the high SSC standards; Aapje, John Schilling and Bugmaster – who make for the bulk of the answers to Gupta – were mostly respectful. But it’s just very hard to extract any info from a guy who is more concerned with defending the honor of his “warrior culture” than actually engaging in discussion.

          Sure, we could say that it’s up to the crowd to uphold the Principle of Charity and the dispassionate debate; but in practice, any debate will require boh sides to be at least a bit invested in being charitable and at least trying to speak clearly. The good will to listen to their points should be answered by their good will of trying to make themselves understood. Otherwise, communication gets too difficult (as you will be doing all the interpretative job without any help from the other side, and even with active disruption) and charity will be futile. Some cooperation there must be, specially on difficult topics, and Gupta was trying very hard to be as uncooperative as possible. Usually this gets dealt with banning the divisive element, but Scott allowed him to stay, so…

          I think that maybe the serious point he wanted to get across was that his idea of Enlightenment has nothing to do with the more popular Buddhist one, and therefore Scott and the crowd might not have understood what he’s saying. Eventually, the message got transmitted; but that took a lot of proding and screaming and we still don’t know exactly what he means with 90% of his writing.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I skimmed it, and it sounded like he was saying that people were assuming he should be acting like a certain pop-version of enlightenment that’s based on bits and pieces of bits and pieces of Buddhism mostly. And his version of enlightenment was more like having a PhD: nobody says “you sure talk about how you are educated a lot, you must not really be educated!” And several people were picking up (what they saw as) signals of insecurity, and going from “seems insecure” to “seems unenlightened” due to the aforementioned pop-version of enlightenment.

          • Michael Handy says:

            This was perhaps true, but then he decided to partially or completely discount the possibility of enlightenment in Buddhism, Catholic mysticism, Western Existentialism, and Western occultism, to people with some knowledge of those topics.

            Which is kind of asking for it when his point of “Hindu Enlightenment doesn’t (always) make you nice. And I have experience from a long institutional lineage of one of those variants” could have come across way, way easier.

          • dndnrsn says:

            For sure, and that wouldn’t have come off as insecure, either. I suspect a majority of people here come from a, geez, “tradition” or whatever you want to call it, that extends across multiple cultures, where real heavy-duty boasting comes off as insecure, or at least as gauche. In some cases, can come off as unhinged.

          • Aapje says:

            Ultimately, he admitted that the actual reason why he believes in it is a combination of enculturation and because it changed his life in ways that he likes.

            Those are fairly reasonable, albeit not very objective or persuasive, claims. I do think we got somewhere in the end…although with a lot of unnecessary evasiveness and posturing. Talking to Gupta feels like sex with an orthodox Catholic with Tourette’s, he keeps pulling out when you are finally getting somewhere, while talking dirty a lot.

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            @Aapje You have a lot to learn about sex with orthodox Catholics. 😉

          • vV_Vv says:

            Ultimately, he admitted that the actual reason why he believes in it is a combination of enculturation and because it changed his life in ways that he likes.

            He may like it, but from the outside the life of somebody who lashes out this way on the Internet doesn’t look pretty. So either Gupta is mistaken about being enlightened or enlightenment is at best useless and at worst harmful as a way of fulfilling the life goals of most people.

            I’m generalizing from one example, of course, so it could be the case that Gupta is not representative of enlightened people, but then Scott presented him as a sort of expert on the matter, and I never met, online or in person, anybody else who claimed to be enlightened (all the people I know who practice Eastern-style meditation claim that enlightenment is an end state almost impossible to attain) therefore I’ll stick to my generalization.

          • skef says:

            He may like it, but from the outside the life of somebody who lashes out this way on the Internet doesn’t look pretty. So either Gupta is mistaken about being enlightened or enlightenment is at best useless and at worst harmful as a way of fulfilling the life goals of most people.

            I’m not sure this follows. Isn’t Gupta an at least somewhat successful internet entrepreneur? Wouldn’t a lot of people give their eyeteeth to be in that position? If I offered a pill for that sort of success with the side effect that it makes one a turd on the internet, wouldn’t a lot of people take that pill?

          • Aapje says:


            You clearly can be a (more) successful internet entrepreneur without being enlightened, unless Zuckerberg has a secret that we don’t know about.

            There are also people who claim to be enlightened who are not successful internet entrepreneurs.

            How do we know that these two things are not fully orthogonal?

          • vV_Vv says:

            I’m not sure this follows. Isn’t Gupta an at least somewhat successful internet entrepreneur?

            There are many Internet entrepreneurs more successful than him who neither claim to be enlightened nor threaten to break the arms of people for disrespecting their “warrior culture” heritage.

          • skef says:

            How do we know that these two things are not fully orthogonal?

            We don’t. Nevertheless, there is a basis to contest “the life of somebody who … doesn’t look pretty”.

          • rlms says:

            I don’t think Gupta claimed that enlightenment was responsible for any of his material successes, his bragging was a separate thing. In fact, his entire point seemed to be that enlightenment doesn’t necessarily have any effects visible to the unenlightened.

          • dndnrsn says:


            Who’s giving up their eyeteeth? Globally speaking, I bet the average commenter here has a position that most people would trade a lot for. Even limiting it to the US, I would guess the median SES here is higher than the median for the US (or whatever country). “Most people would do x to be this guy” depends on who “most people” are and what x is. A significant portion (most? I don’t know) of people worldwide would do a lot to have the standard of living, etc, of a median American. “Be a turd on the internet” is a pretty low bar. So, “a lot of people would want to be this guy” doesn’t really prove much about the guy.

          • skef says:

            So, “a lot of people would want to be this guy” doesn’t really prove much about the guy.

            Does it prove much less than the opposite? Because that was the initial point.

          • dndnrsn says:

            OK, that’s a fair point. “Most people would/wouldn’t want to be this guy” doesn’t say much about the guy’s personal characteristics.

          • Viliam says:

            You clearly can be a (more) successful internet entrepreneur without being enlightened… There are also people who claim to be enlightened who are not successful internet entrepreneurs. How do we know that these two things are not fully orthogonal?

            I would even ask this question the other way round. Something being orthogonal to some other thing is the null hypothesis. What evidence do we have for enlightenment not being orthogonal to:
            – being a successful entrepreneur;
            – being a nice person;
            …and generally anything other than being able to observe your own breath for hours until you start to hallucinate.

            Long ago, someone told us a story about “enlightenment”. Did that person provide any evidence? Why do we feel so outraged when Mr. Gupta now gives us a different story?

            Even the accusations of racism, if we try to steelman them, essentially point out that many people see “enlightenment” through the noble savage framework. (“Gupta doesn’t seem like a sufficiently noble savage, therefore he cannot be enlightened.”)

            So either Gupta is mistaken about being enlightened or enlightenment is at best useless and at worst harmful as a way of fulfilling the life goals of most people. …it could be the case that Gupta is not representative of enlightened people, but then Scott presented him as a sort of expert on the matter,

            Seems like an implied assumptions that “enlightenment” changes one’s personality. I don’t see a reason why it should be so. A nice person can become an enlightened nice person, and a horrible can become an enlightened horrible person. Just like a nice/horrible person can become a nice/horrible person with a PhD. Is PhD “at best useless and at worst harmful as a way of fulfilling the life goals of most people”? Well, if you expect it to magically solve all your goals, then you are going to be disappointed. But it can still be useful in some areas, and irrelevant in everything else. And a horrible person with PhD can still provide correct descriptions of how to obtain PhD.

          • Aapje says:


            Is PhD “at best useless and at worst harmful as a way of fulfilling the life goals of most people”?

            Well, we know that a PhD opens up certain career opportunities & closes off others. It’s also reasonably transparent for outside observers.

            If it would just close off career opportunities or have absolutely no effect on one’s job prospects, I think that many would call it “at best useless and at worst harmful.”

            But [enlightenment] can still be useful in some areas, and irrelevant in everything else.

            We have people taking great pride in being enlightened or having an enlightenment culture (is that the same?), which suggests that it has some huge advantage. In fact, some well known people who call themselves enlightened point to huge advantages, that seem quite unbelievable.

            So many are interested, yet the actual explanations of what enlightenment is or how it changes are person is generally very unsatisfactory.

            After the many (non-)explanations by Gupta, I still know little more than that it takes a lot of time.

    • Barely matters says:

      It’s not every day that we manage to one-up the Navy Seal Copypasta.
      That thread was the funniest thing I’ve seen on the internet in ages.

      For one glorious Sunday afternoon we all stood as equals. Rich and poor, right and left, sane and unhinged, enlightened and terminally delusional, everyone came together to mutually beak off on the internet like a big dysfunctional family.

      It was beautiful in its own unbelievable and confusing way.

      May it never happen again.

      • fahertym says:

        I gotta ask – where is it? Which post and which key words can I Ctrl-F?

        • James says:

          I have no idea, but based on the hilarity last time SSC engaged with him, my guess is it’s gotta be Gupta in the comments to the Enlightenment post.

          EDIT: a momentary glance confirms this.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Honestly, you could probably just Ctrl-F “Gupta”. The guy is incredible. As of a few hours ago, he’s still going !

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I’m dying here, I’m absolutely dying. Dude’s amazing and has made me achieve enlightenment. I’m going on one breath per minute here because I can’t stop laughing.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Oh my, this is the perfect antidote to Monday blues. Perfect.

    • Deiseach says:

      Once again I have dragged this fine and noble establishment into the gutter *hangs head in shame*

      If anyone can get onto the r/drama thread, please let them know I’m not a rationalist! I’d hate for people to think I represent the views or people of this community, tell them I’m some weirdo who hangs around here like a pathetic mongrel begging for scraps and my views, opinions and judgement and any rows and ructions I get into are my own responsibility and don’t represent the rest of the blog!

      It was partly my fault for having too much fun being on the receiving end of a Navy SEAL copy-pasta type experience, and I probably goaded Mr Gupta more than I should have past a certain point. I apologise to Scott for lowering the tone (but dang it was fun!)

      • ManyCookies says:

        There was some mean-spirited baiting towards the end. With that said, the Navy Buddhist Warrior post and your response was the best thing I’ve read this month. And I read pretty much everything with a generic tone, but man did I hear the full Irish accent there.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yeah, I was getting very tempted to go full-on ad hominem at the end and that’s when I knew I should pull back. I had to give one last blast of the trumpet though when I just now read his story of being the All-Time Champeen in the Golden Dawn O.T.O. Grand Scuffle and Down’n’Dirty Mud-Wrassling.

          Reminded me of nothing so much as Crowley’s revenge novel Moonchild, where he rewrites history to give (one of his) self-insert character a magickal victory over the character Gates, a stand-in for Yeats who was the winner in the real world Golden Dawn scuffle (briefly, Crowley resorted to trying to use influence-peddling and setting up magickal rites and conjurations, Yeats relied on his secular authority as secretary of the group to change the locks and keep the new keys, so the pretenders couldn’t get into the premises and won the rights in court):

          Even in his occult activities, Yeats was an organisation man. He was an adept of the magical, secret, Rosicrucian Inner Order of the Golden Dawn. In April 1900, the Scottish magician and charlatan, Aleister Crowley, tried to steal the order’s secret rituals from the Second Order’s Temple (the ‘temple’ consisting of rooms above a dingy shop on west London’s Blythe Road behind Olympia). Yeats, with a bouncer, saw him off the premises, called in the police and ended up (victorious) in court. The ‘Battle of Blythe Road’, as it is known in Yeats scholarship, involved much correspondence on the part of ‘Frater Yeats’.

          Darn it, I wasn’t going to do this, but it fits so beautifully right here; somebody over on the Drama sub-reddit did an occultist version of the Navy SEAL copy pasta:

          What the fuck did you just fucking say about me, you little witch? I’ll have you know I graduated top of my lodge in the Golden Dawn, and I’ve been involved in numerous evocations of my Holy Guardian Angel, and I have over 300 confirmed conjurations.

          I am trained in Goetic evocation and I’m the top exorcist in the entire Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. You are nothing to me but just another new age hippie. I will curse you with precision the likes of which has never been seen before on the astral plane, mark my fucking words.

          You think you can get away with saying those incantations to me over the Internet? Think again, witch. As we speak I am activating my secret network of sigils across the USA and your crystal supplier is being traced right now so you better prepare for the banishment, hippie. The banishment that wipes out the pathetic little things you call your rituals. You’re spiritually dead, neophyte.

          I can evoke anywhere, anytime, and I can create a sacred space in over seven hundred ways, and that’s just with the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram alone. Not only am I extensively trained in banishing, but I have access to a temple and a set of elemental weapons and I will use them to their full extent to wipe your miserable practices off the face of the continent, you little Wiccan.

          If only you could have known what holy retribution your little “clever” incantation was about to bring down upon you, maybe you would have held your fucking pentagram. But you couldn’t, you didn’t, and now you’re feeling the rule of three, you goddamn fool. I will evoke fury all over you and you will be driven insane by it. You’re fucking cursed, neophyte.

          EDIT: Okay, I am shutting up for good about this, I promise! I just couldn’t resist the occult links – how did copy pasta guy know that Gupta was going to brag about being in the Golden Dawn???

          • Nornagest says:

            Reminded me of nothing so much as Crowley’s revenge novel Moonchild[…]

            I tried to read that once. I got about a third of the way in before I was too bored to continue. And that was on a fourteen-hour flight to Hong Kong.

            Crowley’s nonfiction is really lucid and engaging, but holy hell is he not a good fiction writer.

          • Callum G says:

            Yeah, his comments didn’t bode well in an internet setting and for the most part everything was very cringe. Maybe I’m giving him too much the benefit of the doubt but I do wonder how much is down to differing cultural norms.

            His point about folk tradition interpretation of enlightenment being different from his tradition of enlightenment feels true to me. I get associations with Gandhi, yoga, drugs and meditation. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more than that.

            His point on racism did seem very premature; I don’t think any of the comments were directly racist at all. Instead I see his interpretation as related to the above. His model of enlightenment is different and more sophisticated than ours; ours stemming largely from western interpretations. If he feels like we’re denying him his claims of enlightenment based on our more infantile western model then I see how that could tie into race.

            There were better ways to express the above, but that’s what I found the exchange was about.

          • Nornagest says:

            Oh, I’d absolutely buy that pop Western conceptions of enlightenment are (a) largely Buddhist-flavored, which doesn’t necessarily mean “bad” but does exclude tons of other traditions with similar concepts, and (b) pretty sketchy and dumbed down and contaminated by the Victorian and Edwardian equivalents of new-age hippie shit, which probably does actually mean “bad”. (There is also a separate conversation to be had about native Western mysticism, but I don’t think that’s influenced the pop side much.) But there’s a million ways to communicate that that don’t involve threatening violence or making grandiose claims about your warrior heritage or accusing anybody that looks at you funny of racism.

            About the most charitable way I can make sense of this travesty is to take him at his word when he says (paraphrasing) “I’m a simple man; I see a racist, I punch”. Combined with a really expansive notion of racism and two scoops of his own, ah, cultural pride. But I think the whole stupid thread makes a pretty good case for how that’s a bad idea.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: I’ve known Indian acharyas and gurus, and they can say or do cringey things, but there’s an overwhelming aura of niceness that falls directly out of Vedanta doctrine (hurting someone else is hurting yourself). Gupta is a huge jerk who’s skillful at meditation, so let no one think “enlightenment” is a synonym for yoga (yoking). 🙂

          • moscanarius says:

            @Callum G

            Contray to what one would expect from his name and his pride for being Asian, he was born and raised in Scotland (according to this profile found in his Twitter) and his mother is a Scot. He has had plenty of time to learn the cultural norms of that place, which I’m sure don’t include saying the things he said.

          • John Schilling says:

            [Gupta] was born and raised in Scotland and his mother is a Scot. He has had plenty of time to learn the cultural norms of that place,

            Ah, I see. He’s Scottish, and therefore should be of calm temperament and not prone to outbursts of literal or figurative violence.

            I think we’ve we previously discussed the culture of the subset of Scotsmen who found it necessary to migrate to the United States to fit in? Indeed, I seem to recall a part of that migration that involved stopping over in Ireland for a generation or two only to be forced out on the grounds of being to abrasive and violent for the Irish to tolerate. All of which is presumably coincidence, and we shouldn’t cast Gupta’s character as an indictment of anyone’s culture, of course, but the temptation is strong here.

          • moscanarius says:

            @John Schilling

            Haha, the story fits very well, and adds a whole new perspective; he claims to have gotten mad at Deiseach for mocking his Enlightened Warrior Asian Lineage, but… what if it was the other side of the lineage that actually took offense?

            What if we just found out the bad blood between Scots and Irish runs deeper than the deepest Enlightenment?

          • Viliam says:

            “I’m a simple man; I see a racist, I punch”. Combined with a really expansive notion of racism and two scoops of his own, ah, cultural pride.

            This is what enlightened antifa looks like. 😀

            Contray to what one would expect from his name and his pride for being Asian, he was born and raised in Scotland (according to this profile found in his Twitter) and his mother is a Scot.

            So, a Scotsman decides to identify as an enlightened Asian, then during a debate about enlightenment it karmically/kabbalistically backfires, and he gets accused of being “no true Scotsman”.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Agreed. In my mind, Deiseach now looks like this, or possibly like this. As for Gupta… well, he just looks like himself.

      • Anonymous says:

        Links to the Incident?

      • moscanarius says:

        I read it only now, Deiseach; you were a bit mean, but I hold you justified. That enlightened being threatening to break your arm (cuz he’s “from a warrior culture”) and chimping out calling everyone a chimp was just too good to let pass, almost as good as the “can you fight?” in the previous thread.

        It’s amazing how thin-skinned and how hateful that guy is. With just a bit of encouragement we saw him call people monkeys, brag about his high lineage, threaten a woman (hilariously mistaking for a man), call a major world religion bullshit, scream WHITE PRIVILEGE when called out on his behaviour, and basically expose us to the a whole new Sociopathic Theory of Enlightment. that’s not something we see everyday.

        Should I make a compilation of the best moments or do people here think it’s best to let all that stay where it is?

      • David Shaffer says:

        This was not your fault Deiseach. You acquitted yourself well. The worst that can be said for any of us is that we probably should have ignored the rabid dog, rather than playing along.

      • xXxanonxXx says:

        Late to the party. I wanted to say I found it all very funny. It was also in blatant violation of commenting policy. I thought about de-lurking just to ask you not to get yourself banned.

    • Brad says:

      Reading some of the outtakes was amusing, but I’m kind of glad I skipped participating in that one.

    • hls2003 says:

      Hilarious and embarrassing (and rather sad!) are not mutually exclusive. I can certainly see why, having made a separate post (two, if you count the prior mention of the blockchain dating stuff) signal-boosting the guy, Scott is not pleased with how the resulting comment storm reflects on his credibility.

    • temujin9 says:

      I went back and looked. It was enlightening, pun intended.

      If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the caliber of response to Gupta was what Scott was embarrassed by, rather than Gupta’s increasing disinterest in playing along with it.

      I’ll be looking up Gupta more directly. Can’t say as I’m inclined to report back to y’all, however.

      • triclops41 says:

        I would suspect it was both the Gupta and the reaction.

        “Hey friends, meet this cool guy I have been learning about”…comes back five minutes later, and everyone is snarling, gleefully covered in blood and feces.

        Scott probably put the odds of Gupta acting like such a perfect caricature of a self-important ass at less than 1%, and the odds of SSC acting like a bunch of high school delinquents laughing at an inept substitute teacher at less than 1%. Yet both is what he got!

      • gph says:

        >I’ll be looking up Gupta more directly. Can’t say as I’m inclined to report back to y’all, however.

        Please don’t.

    • Was it all Nepalese Navy Seal? There was also an attempt at starting a conspiracy theory over some unexceptional events over at r/SSC, and some predictable awfulness about weapons’n’freedpm.

    • Randy M says:

      Is a lot of the sturm und drang of the previous thread related to the fact that enlightenment has a few different meanings in English?
      For one, it’s a period of history in Europe and a set of ideas about approaching the world rationally that came out of it (somewhat ironically given the way some mystical enlightenment proponents seem to be finding requests for objective evidence insulting).
      For another, it’s a synonym for a thorough understanding of a situation.
      Then there’s the ties to Eastern religions, most particularly Buddhism but let’s say also Hinduism or others may well be separate meanings since that distinction was thoroughly emphasized. Here the term basically means “the mental state you get after meditating long enough.”

      Who do we blame for this overlap? Was it historians using the Eastern term to describe a historical period that developed after sustained contemplation? Convergent evolution from a common Indo-European root? Easterners looking for a suitable word to translate their concept into?

      The specific meanings being raised in the post, basically “the ability to silence fleeting thoughts through conscious effort” or such, seems somewhat novel, or rather perhaps a narrow subset of what my impression of a major goal of Eastern religions are, but my impression is not, ahem, enlightened, in the second sense above. Perhaps this is what they’ve sought, or side-effects observed in people who report being able to achieve this state (like peace of mind or compassion and so on). I’d like to improve my ability to focus and overcome distractions, sure, but if that’s all that this offers it seems overblown, yet apart from that I don’t see the benefit.

      Edit: I think I left out a step in my reasoning. Maybe people would make less assumptions about “enlightened” people if they used a word for “supremely introspective” that wasn’t a synonym for wise and benevolent, for whatever etymological reason it is so.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Hindus usually use “enlightenment” to translate terms from the Upanishads like sat-chit-ananda, which would literally be “truth-consciousness-bliss”. Hindus are idealists, and Vedanta (“end of the Vedas”, with the double meaning of “last part written” and “telos”) meditation has the goal of freeing you from attachments, both material and unhappy thoughts. The plain meaning of the Upanishads seems to be “That (Brahman) Thou Art”: the enlightened insight is that your Self is the blissful God who thinks things into existence, not the Cartesian “I” with unhappy thoughts (however,note that Dvaita Vedanta, which teaches our ontological distinction from God, our Savior from attachments and unhappiness, is a thing).

        Mahayana Buddhism gets pretty similar to this, where the Dharma Body of the Buddha is all things visible and invisible, and merging with that is the last step you take after kalpa upon kalpa as a limited but nigh-omnipotent Boddhisattva altruistically helping deluded beings.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Honestly, I still don’t know what the word “enlightenment” means, in any language, other than “achieving a high rank in some specific quasi-religious community” (by analogy with “confirmed archbishop” or something). I tried asking Gupta, but, well… you know.

        Just to clarify, obviously I’m aware of the colloquial meanings, such as “the experience of a sudden flash insight” or “thorough understanding of a situation” (as you point out), or “becoming extremely emotionally stable”; I just don’t get the technical meaning of the word.

        • johan_larson says:

          I was wondering something similar. If someone claims to be “enlightened”, my inclination is to dismiss it as (at best) rude boasting or (possibly) delusional egomania, like someone who claims to be “genetically perfect” or “the right hand of God.”

          But now I’m wondering. Are there useful senses of the word that are technically possible for a person to attain? And better yet, are these states falsifiable?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I would say that having no stressful thoughts and not experiencing stress no matter how other people treat you would be useful and could be measured by medical scientific equipment.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I would say that having no stressful thoughts and not experiencing stress no matter how other people treat you would be useful and could be measured by medical scientific equipment.

            Can’t us Westerners just get this from Stoicism? It seems a lot easier than Enlightenment. My inner dialogue bursts like the Niagara Falls, it ain’t ever going away.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @ABDG: Possibly! That is worth testing.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not an expert on Stoicism, but Marcus Aurelius definitely didn’t sound like he was free from stressful thoughts.

          • albatross11 says:

            To be fair, he did have a fairly stressful job.

          • bzium says:

            I think we could get that from Stoicism, assuming we integrated Stoicism into our worldview on a deeply intuitive level. Doing that is kind of hard though. Stoicism doesn’t really offer any sophisticated method of self-transformation. It mostly boils down to reflecting on the tenets of Stoicism a lot, trying to notice opportunities to apply them in various situations and hoping that it will become habitual over time. I tried doing that and it did work, but very, very slowly. I could spend my life on it and I wouldn’t expect to get very far. I think the Stoics themselves weren’t optimistic about the prospects of attaining sagehood. It was an ideal goal to aspire to more than something you can actually do.

            Meditations brings results much faster. And it seems compatible with Stoicism, so why not both?

          • Leah Velleman says:

            FWIW, there’s debate about this in modern American Buddhism, with some American teachers saying “Anyone who makes a big public claim of enlightenment is a con artist trying to pull a fast one on you” and some saying “I’m enlightened and I don’t mind saying so” or “I’m not enlightened but I’ve met people who are and so I know that it’s attainable.” Daniel Ingram is one author who’s come out pretty vocally on the “People can get enlightened and it’s good to be open about it when it happens” side.

            Even in Ingram’s model of enlightenment, though, most of what changes are perceptions. (And he strongly rejects the idea that enlightenment limits the thoughts or feelings you can have — I’m pretty sure he’d disagree with the “Enlightened people don’t experience stress no matter how they’re treated” hypothesis.) Which… does sound awfully unfalsifiable if you’re not willing to commit to a serious meditation practice yourself.

            IIRC the closest he gets to a real argument, other than “Try it and see for yourself what happens,” is when he claims that authors from very different meditation and prayer traditions have reported similar changes in perception when they do similar practices. The argument seems to be something like “Look, these guys had no chance to read each others’ writing or otherwise coordinate. So if they’re all reporting the same thing, it must be because that thing really does reliably happen.” I’ve not read any of the source texts, so I have no idea how compelling the similarities actually are.

            (EDIT: I should add that Ingram doesn’t seem to be especially mainstream within American Buddhism. He’s well-liked by rationalists-who-are-interested-in-this-shit — probably a small group — because he puts things unusually plainly and comes closer to making falsifiable claims than a lot of other Buddhist authors.)

    • Atlas says:

      For someone who didn’t read many of the comments over the past week, could someone maybe explain in a minimally inflammatory way what the big deal is?

      • David Shaffer says:

        1. People discussed in the thread whether or not enlightenment is a thing, and if so, whether it’s generally positive or negative (there are some studies indicating deleterious effects).

        2. Gupta showed up, decided that questioning enlightenment was super evil and racist, and tried to call us out, especially Deiseach. Rather than arguing for enlightenment being real/good, he claimed to be extremely smart and important, “from a warrior culture” and threatened to break Dei’s arm.

        3. SSC responded exactly as you would expect.

        • Atlas says:

          Thanks for the summary. After having read the comments since your summary made them sound hilarious, I have to say they remind me of fights on the NYC subway uploaded to YouTube/Worldstar.

    • cuke says:

      I found it really embarrassing that the guy who is quoted favorably in Scott’s post came into the comments section and made a complete ass of himself, thus undermining the credibility of anything he was quoted as saying. So like fremdschämen. As a reader here, I would have been happy to have a moderator step in politely at the second or third sign of impulse control problem and shut it down.

      • baconbits9 says:

        My initial reaction was this, but on reflection I think Scott did the right thing. You have to moderate people who act in certain ways because frequently there are no repercussions to their bad behavior otherwise. To allow posters in general, and anonymous posters specifically, to lash out like this would push the entire board down that path, but when the subject is one guy, and he confines himself to that one thread (and he is a public-ish figure maybe another stipulation) then his attitude and behavior are part of the subject being discussed. You no longer have to worry about the board being pushed in that direction as much because such an attitude can have personal repercussions (and I don’t mean anonymous threats) and those should prevent it from happening every time an individual is discussed.

        • cuke says:

          What you say makes sense. Ugh, that made me cringe though, and I didn’t spend much time there. I found some of Deiseach’s literal cursing to be poetic.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Oh I read like 4 of his posts in and the second time he called everyone chimps I checked out, it was terrible.

      • albatross11 says:

        I agree with cuke, having looked at some of that trainwreck of a thread. The norms that make this a fun and interesting place to have discussions ought not to be violated; that stuff is more fragile than it looks.

  2. Ratheka says:

    LessWrong user Hypothesis (probably best known for his work on the 2016 LW survey) is currently running a market research survey for a (free) service he wants to start that makes it easy for smart rationality/EA project founders and skilled contributors to find each other. He’s a fairly hardworking dude but wants to know if there’s any desire for it before jumping in. If this idea interests anyone here I’d encourage them to take the survey.

    Survey Link: https://​​forms/​sKUk3YTLvhV12CpS2

    In his original post on LessWrong Hypothesis says he’s especially looking for respondents matching any of these criteria:

    You are looking for projects to support, either to help the projects succeed or as opportunities for you to level up

    You have ideas for projects related to EA/​Rationality/​X-Risk things for which you want collaborators or financial support

    You are available to help mentor, assist and guide other people with their projects

    You want other people to create projects you would be interested in giving money to. Or want to discover existing projects you can support financially.


  3. CatCube says:

    Wooo! 100 OTs. Now for actual content.

    What kinds of things are in your field that you treat as witchcraft, even though you feel like you should understand it better than you do?

    The best way that I can explain what I mean is to use an example from my own field (structural engineering): seismic design codes. I can go through the equations and produce a compliant design, but as I’m brushing up on everything again, I realize that that’s all I really can do. I don’t fundamentally grok where equations come from, and I’m just a monkey turning a crank. This feels like something I really should understand better than I do, rather than just trusting The Book. Most everything else I understand what the equations are telling me and how they got them.

    Now, I’m planning on beating my head against this wall until I do understand it (again, as I felt like I had a much better understanding after graduate work on structural dynamics 12 years ago), but it’s weird to me that something this fundamental is something I’ve been able to work on without actual deep-level understanding.

    • hexbienium says:

      Only a student, but for me it’s the results about convergence of Fourier series. I should probably have some idea of how to prove it for continuous functions on closed intervals, at the very least.

      • b_jonas says:

        Those are witchcraft. David Madore said so in “” .

      • David Speyer says:

        Would you be willing to accept either (1) continuous functions with respect to the Fejer kernel or (2) C^1 functions on closed intervals? These are a lot easier to follow.

        • hexbienium says:

          *looks up the Fejér kernel* oh right, I remember seeing something about this (Cesàro-summability of Fourier series). It seems nice and elegant.

          Meanwhile Wikipedia has reminded me of something that I didn’t remember, which is that continuous-on-a-closed-interval isn’t even enough to guarantee pointwise convergence! So maybe I should just remember the proof for C¹.

    • James says:

      I’m a web developer, and anything to do with networking—at the level of, say, TCP/IP or below—is a total mystery to me. If I ever get that classic interview question, ‘when you click press enter on an address in your address bar, what happens?’, I’m screwed.

      Plenty else of course, but that’s the most egregious gap because it underlies pretty much everything I do.

      • Aapje says:

        Much of the truly low level stuff is really not useful to know. From the perspective of a web developer it either works or doesn’t. So I don’t agree that it is a lacuna on your part.

        • Lambert says:

          That’s the real beauty of computer science and abstraction.

          (And if you do want to have a look at the nuts and bolts, try Wireshark.)

      • Brad says:

        The layer model isn’t a 100% accurate, but it is pretty good with breaking things up into understandable chunks.

        1) Physical layer. The actual electric signals. Examples of standard here would be 1000BASE-T over copper or 802.11b (wireless). The smallest parts here are bits.

        2) Data link layer. Classically this is the level of the stack that deals with communication between devices that are either all physically connected (a la token ring) to each other or at least effectively so (i.e. connected by hubs). Ethernet is an example of a protocol at this level. Sometimes divided up into two sublayers: logical link control and median access control (that’s where the name MAC address comes from). The parts here are called frames.

        3) Network layer. This is the level where networks of fully connected computers communicate with each other. The devices that manage this are called routers (switches and hubs are at layer 2). IP is the most important example of a network level protocol. It deals with packets as its atomic elements.

        4) Transport layer. This is the layer that uses the simple connectionless network layer and builds on top of it a protocol that can insure an an entire file (for example) is transmitted in the right order and without any missing parts. The most important example is TCP. Whereas the IP protocol cares only about IP address, TCP (and UDP) works at the level of ports.

        The last 3 layers (session, presentation, application) are the protocols that are more familiar with as web developer. In fact sometimes they are collapsed down into a single layer just called application.

        • Immortal Lurker says:

          Its pretty easy to understand these layers with the right metaphors. My source for everything below is a few years of co-op work at a company that programmed cable gateways. I am by no means an expert, but I was the only person in the building who could reliably hack together decent internal packet logging.

          Your computers are sending ones and zeros to each other, but its ultimately just information. You know what else is information? Words.

          Imagine a room full of people playing multiple concurrent games of telephone with each other, and that is basically the internet.

          Layer one is the physical sound waves composing the words, the air that is carrying them, and maybe the ears of the people involved.

          For layer two, how do I get a sentence from one person to the next? Well first, you’ve got to make eye contact, make sure you have their attention, aren’t speaking at the same time they are, etc.

          Expand the metaphor a little bit for layer three. You can only talk to a few people who are right next to you. They are willing to pass on any sentence you give them, but they don’t always know who to pass it on to. Fortunately, everyone in the room is strictly divided by social circle, and there are a few well connected people in the room who spend a lot of time learning every social circle and how to get there. When conveying a sentence for anyone, just start by saying the social circle and the name of whoever you want to hear it. The sentence will make its way to a well connected person, who will send it to the right social circle, and the circle will get it to the right person.

          The room is now abuzz with people routing around mostly unconnected sentences from different games of telephone. If you are telling a story longer than one sentence, you need to tag it, like “Immortal Lurker’s Funny Cat Story, part 2 of 3.” Occasionally you need to ask things like “Did you get part 1 of Immortal Lurker’s Funny Cat Story?” This is layer four.

          I never dealt with any of the layers above four. I couldn’t even name them if Brad hadn’t just listed them.

    • Anonymous says:

      Computer hardware and software.

      Not because I don’t know much more than the average peon, since I did pass my Computer Architecture courses pretty well and could pretty much design/build a computer starting with logic gates if kidnapped by aliens with sick senses of humour, but because this is the cost-effective solution to the issue. If it’s broken, reboot it. If rebooting doesn’t help, take it apart and put it back together again. If it’s still broken, then some in-depth troubleshooting may be required. But mostly, recite the Litany of Maintenance and apply the Sacred Machine Oil.

      • MrApophenia says:

        Yep, this one is me, except for the part about actually understanding the things. People in my office treat me like an IT guy because I have mastered the basic rituals of what to do when the computer is unhappy.

        Did you turn it off and back on again?

        Did you check that all the cords are plugged in tight?

        Did you clear your cache?

        If all those didn’t work, there is always the truly arcane art of Googling the error and seeing what some random people on the internet tried.

        Seriously, that is all it takes to become a Technomage, apparently.

        • SamChevre says:

          That’s an XKCD. 627

          • moonfirestorm says:

            I wish he had set up that flowchart better.

            Googling the name of the program plus what you want to do with it is almost certainly more productive than trying menu items at random for most programs. And there’s a case where you just try menu items at random for half an hour and give up/ask for help, without ever Googling.

    • albatross11 says:

      Most of the deep number theory in crypto. I mainly work in symmetric crypto, and when I have to deal with a number-theory question, I pretty much break out the chicken blood and lucky rabbit’s foot. And yes, this *has* bitten me on the ass in the past….

    • Garrett says:

      LaPlace transforms. I (barely) passed 3 college courses in my engineering degree using them. But I still don’t know why they work. I keep begging for someone to find a way to have them make sense for me. But they are the point at which math went from “I really understand this” to “if I follow this recipe I get the right answer”.

      • hexbienium says:

        It’s closely enough related to the Fourier transform that it seems like you could think about it in terms of that. And the Fourier transform has a very nice intuitive interpretation.

        Wikipedia also suggests that it’s sort of like the continuous analogue of a power series, which I guess is similar to the way that a Fourier transform is the continuous version of a Fourier series. (And a Fourier series is just a power series on the unit circle…hmm.)

        • Lambert says:

          Real exponents ………. | Laplace transform … Power series
          Imaginary exponents…. | Fourier transform .. Fourier series

          So the situation is something like the above?
          (can we get a markdown table thingy?)

      • littskad says:

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

    • rahien.din says:

      Vagal nerve stimulation for the treatment of epilepsy.

      The basic concept : you take a tiny, pacemaker-like device, implant it under the skin on the chest wall, and connect it to the vagus nerve via an electrode. Turn it on, and it sends regular pulses of current into the nerve. Somehow this prevents seizures – about equivalent to a medication, for the properly-selected patient. There are certain types of seizures it treats that are very difficult to treat with most other therapies. It also works for refractory depression in adults.

      And no one has any idea how it works. Or why it works. I’m still a little unclear as to why anyone thought to try it in the first place. The “V” in VNS stands for “voodoo.”

      • Vermillion says:

        Vagal nerve stimulation full stop. Because how the hell can it work for

        Weight loss
        Heart failure
        Seizures side effects

        At least according to Dr. Google.

      • Linvega says:

        I’m not an expert myself, but my gf actually is doing a study right now with tVNS. I might ask her later again to explain it to me, again, to make sure I haven’t written utter BS. They are doing the stimulation at the earlobe, which makes it even more arcane.

        If I understand correctly, one current working theory is that the vagal nerve is related to stress-like reactions. More specifically, stimulating it is suspected to ”tone down” over-activity of nerves in general. This fits well with both epilepsy and migraine afaik, and for weight loss it also makes sense if you consider that many overweight people are stress-related eaters. Anecdotally, people also report feeling more laid-back when being stimulated, which fits, too.

        However, as usual, it’s not quite as easy as that. There are hints that people don’t actually eat less, which would not fit with the stress-related explanation and requires a more basic interaction. And it’s not even replicated well yet whether they really lose weight at all…

    • jeqofire says:

      A few of the replies are the answers I was considering, but I realize that those are things I can imagine myself understanding if I could be as studious as I was in high school again.
      Na, as someone who occasionally makes computer games, I have no idea how to cross the “WTF is going on?” barrier. (This makes more sense if I mention I mostly do audio games, because they generally suck and I would like to fix that.) It’s to the point where I try copying the interface of successful games nigh exactly, but still fail hard enough at communicating that everyone just gives up almost immediately. No one can explain what the problem is or what might improve it. It’s an aspect I just plain can’t comprehend. It’s like I carry around an aura of confusion that not infrequently contaminates what I create.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Enzyme ratios and DNA fragment ratios in DNA assembly. And additives. And cycling parameters. So much of these parameters are worked out through trial and error.

      Specifics which have bugged me:
      – Why does such a large range of enzyme ratios work with such a large variation in assembly parameters (time and heat) in Golden Gate reactions?
      – Why do I sometimes get more colonies with a larger than 1:1 insert:vector ratio in any assembly?
      – And if, in general, PEG and other macromolecules encourage long concatamer formation (with consequent negative effect on transformation), especially over longer incubation times, then why do they also significantly increase the number of correct constructs during shorter incubation times? Presumably there’s at least the same number of correctly assembled molecules in the shorter and longer incubations, so how is the presence of the long concatamers hindering transformation of these correct molecules?
      – What percentage of the Gibson assembly products are fully repaired and covalently bound parts, and what percentage are just hydrogen-bond annealed products that the polymerase never fixed?
      – Unlike Klenow and T4 DNA polymerase, the high-fidelity thermocycling polymerases don’t seem to promote second strand synthesis as well (i.e. they don’t seem to be falling off of a completely extended product and reinitializing on an incompletely extended product, or at least not very well – without a denaturation step), so how are they supposed to be working so well at repair in a Gibson reaction?

      • moscanarius says:

        I risk no answers, as I don’t use cloning kits, I just want to add two puzzlements from the same scientific area.

        – E. coli transformation. Nobody really understands what makes these cells chemocompetent upon incubation with divalent cations. The protocols work, though.

        – Taq Polymerase (low fidelity, cheap, often disregarded nowadays) often gives better amplification than fancy Pfu and Phusion (high fidelity, optimized, etc.). I often get loads of unspecific PCR products and faint bands of interest with them. I don’t understand why; maybe exactly because Taq is lame it will only amplify the sequences where the primers most perfectly aligned?

    • arlie says:

      Throughout my career in software engineering, I’ve treated “appealing to non-engineers” as voodoo, whether in the form of user interface design or in the form of sales and marketting. I became aware early on that most things done for those purposes – especially by sophisticated experts – didn’t work well on me, but that the resulting products continued to sell, and often received rave reviews. More recently, I’ve gotten overwhelmingly sick of producing products I’d hate to use, while working for executives I suspect of sociopathy, at companies whose public pronouncements leave me embarassed to work for them. So I’m now paying attention – and also switched employers – but it still seems like voodoo to me.

      Frankly I have no idea where to start in learning this skill, and have decided to make an end run around it. I’m going to assume that people like me are a perfectly valid market segment, currently drastically underserved, with purchasing power we often aren’t using – better to save our money than buy unappealing crap. And people like me will pick the supplier that offers technical details, interfaces that allow us to become power users (learnable, and not afflicted with gratuitous change), and a whole host of other details. We’ll avoid suppliers that persistently waste our time. Employers who lie to us won’t get a free pass for “normal executive behaviour”. We shopped at Lands End before Sears ruined it. We bought Nexus phones before Google decided not to appeal to geeks. I’m going to loudly represent that market segment whenever decisions are being made – and when I make my own purchasing decisions.

      • Glenn says:

        Please take my money.

      • cassander says:

        Whatever you’re doing or trying to convince them of something, the key is simple. You have to make your solution sound hard and look easy.

      • Aapje says:


        One major factor is making the common use cases easy & it is usually very hard for technical/power users to guess how other people want to use the software, what information they want, what level of control vs magic they want, etc.

        One way is to ask non-engineers about their workflow and needs, but they generally lack insight in the possibilities, beyond what they are doing now. So you are generally going to hear requests to have their exact same workflow they already use, except a little better.

        One way how to deal with this is to do UI prototyping, with tools like this. Then you can talk/walk through an interface and immediately make changes if they make suggestions. Most people can only critique an app when seeing it, so this allows pretty good advice, without you having to build the app first.

        Note that some software also has an option to change to an advanced interface. So you can design software to appeal to both groups.

      • pontifex says:

        User interface design is kind of a bullshit field. It’s half common sense, half making your new interface look like the old one, and half being a voodoo cult leader like Steve Jobs. (That’s right, there’s three halves!)

        If you keep throwing a concept at people for long enough, it eventually becomes ingrained. So right click should be a context menu, because… damn it, that’s the way we’ve always done it! The save icon should be a floppy disk because… it’s always been a floppy disk! The close button is on the right because… you get the idea.

        If you want to buck the trend, you have to spend a long time propagandizing everyone about why your new way is better. And normally the arguments are mostly bullshit.

        As for executives being sociopaths… well, duh. They’re the outcome of an optimization process specifically designed to produce same.

    • pontifex says:

      I understand most of what’s going on in computer software. It’s one of the things I like about what I do.

      Cryptographic software is probably the biggest “black box” I interact with reasonably often. I wish I knew more about it, but it requires a huge amount of mathematical heavy lifting. From a practical point of view, I’m probably better off learning more about machine learning, if I want to do something mathy.

  4. ManyCookies says:

    Wait was comment quality embarrassing here or on the subreddit?

    • CatCube says:


    • johan_larson says:

      Also, what was embarrassing about it? I would call some of the discussion about the Starbucks arrests tiresome, but it wasn’t embarrassing.

      • Well... says:

        I know for a fact that all my comments, at least, were exquisite.

      • yodelyak says:

        Unless I miss my guess, the embarrassing thing was the extent to which regular commenters here continued to bait and engage with Gupta when it was clearly a negative-sum interaction. That happened in the SSC comments on the Gupta post, and from what I gather, to some extent in the sub-reddit also (I don’t hang out there).

        Also, I think Randall Munroe of XKCD hangs out in the SSC comment thread or the subreddit, because this:

    • dodrian says:

      My vote for Comment of the Week would be fion’s on the Theory of Everything. I found it very interesting at least!

  5. bean says:

    Naval Gazing celebrates OT100 by starting a series on main guns, the reason for the battleship’s existence.

    • Fluffy Buffalo says:

      Speaking of which, I read a headline this week that the US Navy’s most advanced destroyers (the Zumwalt class) don’t have a functioning main weapon system yet, because the one that was planned turned out to be too expensive and too weak, so they scrapped it, and completeted the ship without it.
      Is that state of affairs (a brand-new stealth destroyer that can’t actually destroy anything) as ridiculous as it sounds to someone who’s not familiar with military technology, or does it make sense on some level?

      • Aapje says:

        The admirals need a ship to take them to their holiday resort.

      • Nornagest says:

        It’s slightly less ridiculous than that, although the Zumwalts are still a pretty huge boondoggle. The problem is with the guns they mount, and specifically that they were designed around a unique extended-range shell. Now, those extended-range shells are an expensive program in their own right, which would have been reasonably economical if they were being used by 32 Zumwalts as originally planned; but because of other issues with the ship the Zumwalt order got cut down to three, which renders the ammunition prohibitively expensive. So that program got canned, and the ships’ guns need modifications before they can handle standard 155mm rounds. Those modifications haven’t been done yet, so the guns are — for now — useless.

        So that’s the bad news. The good news is that the Zumwalts still have a perfectly good helicopter and 80 Vertical Launch System cells (vs. 96 on the Burkes), and those are a modern destroyer’s most important weapons anyway. They can’t do naval gunfire support, but that’s more of a niche than a necessity — although it is a niche that the Zumwalts were originally designed around, and made sacrifices for.

        • Fluffy Buffalo says:

          Thank you for the perspective. Good to know that even a military as professional as that of the US has difficulties with their acquisition process…

  6. WashedOut says:

    Any advice for high-achievers in a low-achieving workplace?

    I work a job that I generally like and am qualified for, in an engineering department of a much larger business with a high-proportion of non-technical staff. I’m about 3 months in so fairly new to the role and the company.

    So far i’ve found that my level of conscientiousness and demand for technical rigour is much higher than most of the people around me, including the 3 other people in my immediate team. Same goes for orderliness. Whilst they are not openly hostile toward my ways of working, they have been reluctant to indulge to the extent I would like. I am not in any position of management, purely technical role. In general I find that I am getting paid twice as much as I should be for the amount of work im actually doing, and have noticed a kind of ‘anti-productivity drive’ by the people around me which I assume is a way of maintaining a low status quo and discouraging standout achievers.

    Does this sort of thing always end in resignations or can it be managed by me sneakily doing a lot of quality work that escapes the RADAR of my colleagues? I don’t want to quit because it’s a goldmine, and I don’t want to become lazy or stagnant because my conscience would eat away at me.

    General comments, advice and tales of previous similar experiences welcome.

    • sunnydestroy says:

      This sounds like what fashionable business people would call a poor cultural fit.

      The obvious advice is looking for a job (while you have your existing job) that pays similarly or more, but with people more your speed. It probably won’t be easy or perhaps even possible to get your team to start performing the way you want due to ingrained organizational culture and team dynamics. That’s what management pays consultants the big bucks for, though you could always try if you like.

      Being too noticeably excellent has a tendency to inspire backstabby office politics and gossip in the kind of work culture it sounds like you work in. Perhaps you can transfer to another team that fits you better. You can try talking to your manager to assign better fitting work to you, but the outcome is dependent on your manager’s competency and how much they like you.

      Have you tried talking directly about why your coworkers do things the way they do them? Maybe there’s a good reason and you have yet to find out since you’ve only been there for 3 months.

      If you want to keep the easy job and just match what coworkers are doing, you could try releasing your pent-up need for quality by freelancing or consulting on the side.

    • wilykat says:

      yeah, similar to what sunnydestroy already said: you can either make a point of it to management (you might want to lead with something like “what should I be doing to get a promotion to tech lead”) or you can be happy being overpaid, work 30 strong hours a week, and find a side project.

      I did that for a while at a previous job and was happy working fewer hours for a while and then eventually I got recruited by Google. If you don’t think you’d feel “lazy or stagnant” by just being superproductive and leaving at 4 every day, you should consider that at least.

      • Rachael says:

        @wilykat If working shorter hours were an option, that would be great, but IME that sort of company cares a lot about presenteeism, and it’s obligatory to work full-time hours even if the work is done. If OP’s colleagues resent them for overachieving, they’d resent them even more for “bunking off” early.

        I second the advice to look for a better job (and explain why in interviews, which will count in your favour with a good company). Not only is it frustrating to work in a company like your current one, but it stifles your professional development: you’re incentivised against improving yourself, because that would further widen the gap and increase your frustration.

        • Deiseach says:

          it’s obligatory to work full-time hours even if the work is done

          Which could be a reason for the seeming anti-productivity; if his colleagues have to be in by eight and sit in the office until five whether or not they have the actual work done by three, why would they exert themselves getting the work done and then be sitting around for a couple of hours trying to find something as a time-waster until they can clock out? Go slow and spread it out over the day makes more sense, and they can always show the boss “yes, I’m working on that thing”.

          I’ve had experiences of “guys, I’ve done my part of the work, anything else you want me to do while waiting?” and it’s been “no, we really don’t have anything at the moment” but because I had to stay there for the full X hours of the working day, I was sitting at my desk literally twiddling my thumbs for a good while even after roaming about looking for files to file and tidying up to do.

        • cryptoshill says:

          I am in a similar situation. I also don’t have the benefit of being able to use my work time to be productive in other areas. It is truly maddening and I am afraid that the lack of productivity will severely damage my ability to be productive in the future.

        • christhenottopher says:

          If working shorter hours were an option, that would be great, but IME that sort of company cares a lot about presenteeism, and it’s obligatory to work full-time hours even if the work is done. If OP’s colleagues resent them for overachieving, they’d resent them even more for “bunking off” early.

          Alternate option, is teleworking an option? This allows effectively working shorter hours, makes a person less visible and therefore less an object of resentment, and if your technically online the company gets the satisfaction of checking off that their employee is “full time.” Plus saves tons on the commute.

    • Deiseach says:

      You’re only three months in. It sounds like you’re butting up against institutional inertia, which is a problem wherever you go.

      It’s entirely possibly your colleagues are slackers and everyone is just content to sit there doing the minimum and collect their salaries.

      It’s also possible that they’ve seen other newbies coming in full of zeal to shake the place up, they have tried shaking the place up, and it’s not worked out well. You should also take into account that if they’re non-technical and you are technical, there may actually not be that much of an overlap between what you can/want to do and what needs to be done/can be done applying technical methods to non-technical tasks.

      If you really do feel like you could be doing a lot more than you are, try and see if there’s another team or even department you could move to. This really is something you should be talking to your manager about, and not in a “I’m surrounded by idiots, why won’t anyone recognise my genius?” way – be tactful when talking about team members! – but raise it with them that you feel you could be more productive or need to be stretched more in what you’re doing.

    • Aapje says:


      There are other reasons for discouraging that. I have noticed in myself in the past & also in others, that programmers can become overly confident in their ability to make huge improvements, which then turns out to be highly disruptive and not a big benefit.

      Anyway, you may want to channel your needs into tooling to make the life of your coworkers and yourself better.

    • johan_larson says:

      Three months in is not a lot of time. Be open to the possibility that things are the way they are for good reasons or for bad reasons that are beyond the power of anyone in the department to change. Sometimes life’s like that. Give it some time, ask around politely, and try to figure out why things are as they are without pissing anyone off.

      If it turns out that things are crappy just because your colleagues can’t be bothered to do better or don’t have the skills to do better, then you are in a job below your talents, and I suggest finding another one. If you have to continue in this job for some reason, try to be excellent in a low-key way that doesn’t antagonize your beta-boy colleagues. Hopefully your bosses will notice and you can expect rapid advancement, including eventual chances to hire folks who are more to your taste. Don’t spend time on process improvements your managers don’t seem to care about; it’s thankless work.

    • mrjeremyfade says:

      I had an experience somewhat like this several decades ago. After a few weeks of measurable productivity much higher than my co-workers, a group of them approached me.

      They told me, very directly, that I should only do about one third, what I had been doing.

      Being inexperienced and far younger than they, I did what they asked. And I have long regretted that act of cowardice. It took many years for me to unlearn what I learned that day.

      It sounds like you are not going to make the worst mistake, since you obviously don’t want to be like them.

    • pontifex says:

      Leave for a better company. You can’t fix the culture as a grunt, and you won’t get promoted if you don’t fit in.

      If you leave soon, you can leave it off your resume.

  7. [Thing] says:

    Just a heads up: Scott is doing an impromptu AMA over at the subreddit.

    • a reader says:

      I copied Scott’s answers (with the questions he answered) from that AMA and the result seems a kinda pseudo-Interview with Scott Alexander:

      Q: How do you write so quickly? I find it takes me a dozen or more hours to write anything as thorough as one of your blog posts. (It’s possible that I’m just unusually slow).
      Scott: I guess I don’t really understand why it takes so many people so long to write. They seem to be able to talk instantaneously, and writing isn’t that different from speech. Why can’t they just say what they want to say, but instead of speaking it aloud, write it down?

      Q: To add to this, what is your process of writing a post? Is the idea fully formed at the start, or does it develop as you write?
      Scott: If it’s not a research post, it’s usually something I thought about while taking a walk or something, and the major points are pretty clearly in my mind by the time I start typing.

      Q: Do you do workshop your posts with an editor, or get feedback from anyone, or do you just write them and post them up?
      Scott: Just write them and post them up. The only exception is a few really controversial statistics-heavy posts where I’m worried I might have made a mistake, which I submit for review on Tumblr first.

      Q: How many “partial” posts do you have going at a given time? Are there a bunch of topics you’ve written a little on and are waiting to pick up and expand before publishing?
      Scott: Not really, usually I do them one at a time.

      Q: Scott, what’s your favorite article on SSC? Least favorite?
      Scott: I’m very happy with the cost disease one. I think it managed to say something important without being the kind of controversial stuff I have mixed feelings about getting into. I also think this post on non-shared environment is important and something not enough people are saying. And the cactus person one.
      Least favorite are probably the ones I write when I’m really angry and then get a lot of grief over later, like Untitled. I don’t think they’re wrong, exactly, it’s just that they don’t really come from a place where I feel great about this being absolutely the best thing to write and the best way to write it.

      Q: Would you please write more “more than you wanted to know” posts?
      Scott: I would like to write more such posts, but it takes a lot of time and energy. Right now I’m in a pretty bad place mentally, and that works better for churning out a bunch of short posts and racking up that sweet non-hyperbolically-discounted short-term reward.

      Q: Did you do research for UNSONG or was it more or less off the cuff. How much religious education, informal or otherwise, do you actually have?
      Scott: Research. My religious education is limited to enough Hebrew school to get bar mitzvahed in a Reconstructionist synagogue, ie an hour every Saturday until age 13.

      Q: Do you have any plans or ideas to write and publish books besides Unsong? If, for some reason, you had to write another book (that is not a SSC blog post compilation), what would it be?
      Scott: If I ever have the energy for fiction again, I’ll probably spend it editing and publishing Unsong. If I had to write another book, I think it would be set post-Singularity and have to do with what Eliezer calls Fun Theory (ie how would a society of near-omnipotent transhumans with no real challenges amuse itself?)

      Q: Are you considering becoming a full time writer?
      Scott: No.

      • a reader says:

        Q: Do you make any money off SSC?
        Scott: Yes, I make about $1800 a month from the Patreon, and maybe another $1000 a month from ads and stuff. I only spend a fraction of that on blog-related expenses, so I come out pretty ahead.

        Q: On various occasions you have been noticed by bigger-than-you people, which one you are the most proud of?
        Scott: Probably Ezra Klein. No real reason except that he’s probably the most famous, and also respectable/popular enough that I can brag about it to people.

        Q: How do you feel about being ‘worldwide’ famous?
        Scott: This is the Internet age. Anyone who’s made a view-count-of-two YouTube video where one of the views was in USA and the other in Australia is “worldwide famous”. This is the only definition where the term makes sense for me.

        Q: Are there any writers that you think particularly pushed you in this direction? Or people you consciously copied/inspired_by this style of argumentation from?
        Scott: I’ve copied a lot from Eliezer, but I’m not sure if that comes from him or not.

        Q: Scott, how often do people thank you for changing their opinion rather than for stating what they have already believed in a clearer/more pointed fashion?
        Scott: Much more thanks for stating something they already believed clearly than for changing opinions.

        Q: Scott, how long does it take you to write a post. How do you manage to practice psychiatry and still put out so much worthwhile content?
        Scott: It takes me a couple of hours to write a post.
        I work a forty hour week, so having a couple of hours each week to write posts isn’t really a problem. In my own life, I’ve noticed that time is almost never a real constraint on anything, and whenever I think it is, what I mean is “I have really low energy and I want some time to rest before doing the next thing”. But writing posts doesn’t really take that much energy so I am okay with it.
        Also, I have no social life and pretty much avoid all my friends and never talk to anybody, which is helpful.

        Q: Hmm, even now that you’re back in the San Francisco? I’m a bit shocked given how fondly you described life there.
        Scott: Having friends I never talk to is a big step up for me! Usually I don’t even have the friends!

        Q: Was that also the case when you were an intern/resident? Because I feel much the same way, but I’m worried I’ve just never been actually really busy.
        Scott: When I was working ninety hour weeks, time was a real constraint.
        When it was just fifty or so, still not really a constraint.

        Q: How literally are we supposed to interpret these answers? I just find it hard to imagine that you don’t have a healthy social circle.
        Scott: Like I said, I have a really healthy social circle, I just rarely talk to the people in it.

        Q: Have you ever had to limit your social life in order to focus on work/writing. And if so, was it worth it?
        Scott: No, I am naturally not very social.

        Q: How was the move back to the Bay Area and what’s your take on/experience with the housing crisis?
        Scott: My move to the Bay Area was fine. I was briefly discombobulated by the disorder and dirt and traffic and so on, but now I guess I’m adjusting. I’m here for the friends, not for the tolerability of the urban environment. My experience with the housing crisis is that I’m paying too much for my house, but that’s pretty much everyone here. I think it really has settled down to an equilibrium of “Everyone who isn’t rich will live in group houses and that will be the new normal”.

        Q: Is your family supportive of you?
        Scott: My family is great. My dad told me recently he was disappointed in me because I got quoted in the National Review, but I think he was joking.

        Q: How would you characterize your epistemic standards in your personal life? For big things? Small things?
        Scott: My epistemic standards in my own life are “I don’t really view my own life as a series of rationality problems”. On the rare occasion I’m presented with a big decision marked DECISION in glowing letters, I probably make it about the same way as anyone else.

        Q: How well did you do on your SAT/MCAT?
        Scott: 1540, 30.

      • a reader says:

        Q: Have you ever personally experimented with nootropics?
        Scott: Yes, I’ve tried lots of stuff. The only thing I’ve stuck with is theacrine for stimulation and phenibut for very occasional helping me get to sleep. Theacrine is just a fancy version of caffeine and pretty safe, but I don’t recommend phenibut unless you have good impulse control and you know what you’re doing.

        Q: Have you ever tripped on psychedelic drugs?
        Scott: Yes.

        Q: How do “magic mushrooms” figure into your general curiosity about non-typical medicine (i.e. tackling brain stuff with more interesting things than the usual antidepressants)?
        Scott: Agree they have apparently revolutionary potential, though the studies that would 100% prove it’s real haven’t been done for understandable legal reasons.

        Q: Are you skilled at lucid dreaming? You’ve mentioned it a few times. Any surprising opinions on it, or advice about the best approach?
        Scott: No, I got into it for a while and got to the point where I could have a very short lucid dream a couple times a month, but then life got in the way and I haven’t been back to it since then. No advice other than what’s in the LaBerge books.

        Q: You recently referred to something from an OTO document which really caught me off guard and recently mentioned you’ve read Crowley. What’s your take on the Law of Thelema? Do you read Tarot?
        Scott: I was into Crowley when I was a freshman in college, just like everyone else. I think Book Four is really interesting and maybe even plausible. Everything else is either crazy, or if I’m being really charitable a way for people who are on the border between psychotic and non-psychotic to surf the border of their experience in an interesting way.

        Q: How many thoughts do approximately appear per day? What do you think of people’s claim to have zero thoughts, except a handful in the morning, when they’re tired, or have low blood sugar?
        Scott: I have a pretty verbal thought process. I can’t count how many appear per day. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people say they don’t have clearly verbal thoughts.

        Q: What do you think about simulation theory?
        Scott: The simulation stuff seems plausible, but only in the same way that Bolzmann brains and the Cosmic Zoo hypothesis seem plausible, ie really compelling arguments that change everything but work out so that they’re impossible to gather evidence for. I don’t really know how to think about these, and I’m happy that by their nature it’s hard for any of them to lead to important changes in what to do.

      • a reader says:

        Q: What are your top five fiction books?
        Scott: Prince of Nothing, Years of Rice and Salt, Silmarillion, Illuminatus, Emberverse.

        Q: If you’re still up for non-serious questions, what were are/were your favorite movies at different stages of your life?
        Scott: When I was really young, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. Actually, I still think it’s pretty good.

        Q: What books are next on your reading list and why?
        Scott: I’d like to read Piketty, both because I’m trying to get more into the Left and because everyone important seems to think he’s important. But I’m like 30 pages in now and there aren’t enough space battles to hold my attention, so we’ll see.

        Q: Do you enjoy listening to jazz piano?
        Scott: No, I have no ability to appreciate jazz piano, even though my brother is a famous jazz pianist. I feel suitably guilty about this.

        Q: Also, do you have any culinary techniques that you think other folks could benefit from?
        Scott: Trust me, you don’t want culinary advice from me.

        Q: What recent scientific developments do you think are the most important?
        Scott: Eventually only AI will matter, but until then CRISPR is going to be the most important scientific discovery to come out of the 2010s.

      • a reader says:

        Q: How would you characterize your epistemic standards in your professional life? It seems like many medical diagnoses are non-falsifiable, especially in psychiatry, where it seems like we can define symptom clusters as dysfunctional when viewing from the population-level but never prove a given person has a given psychopathology – is that correct?
        Scott: Professionally I think I’m within the psychiatric mainstream, although probably towards the edgier side of that mainstream. I’ve said before that I think science as understood by science journalists and the public is awful, but science as understood by the top scientists in a field is pretty impressive. This has been my experience of psychiatry too. When there’s something I’m not sure about, I try to tell my patients I’m not sure about it and let them make the decision on whether the benefit of doing something slightly unusual is worth the risk.

        Q: With regards to the Kirsch and Cipriani posts, what’s your threshold for clinical significance for antidepressant effect size? You say that you consider antidepressants effective but not the criteria you’ve judged them by.
        Scott: I think the most important aspect of antidepressant effect size is that people don’t have to just get antidepressants. You give someone an antidepressant, if it works well enough that they’re happy you keep them on it, if not you try a different one. My guess is that the effect size of this process is high, even though the effect size of any given antidepressant is low.

        Q: Also, how did you decide between academic and pure clinical practice?
        Scott: I decided between academic vs. clinical practice because I’m lazy, and academics seemed like a lot of sending out resumes and writing papers and stuff, whereas clinical I could just walk into and they were happy to have me and pay me money. Also, I really didn’t want to do a fellowship, and that’s a pretty important step to getting academic jobs.

        Q: Probably too late now, but did you consider remaining in Ireland, or moving there are some later point, after your time in the hospital there?
        Scott: No. The Irish medical system is really exploitative of its young doctors. Also, the law says they have to give native Irish and EU doctors all the best training spots, so I would have been at a big disadvantage in a system that’s already rigged against everybody.

        Q: Any advice for rotations?
        Scott: If you want a really good residency, use your rotations as an audition at whatever hospital/program you want. If you don’t know what specialty you want, rotate in those specialties to see if you’re interested. Otherwise take easy ones and get a break from the grind of everything else. Don’t feel like you need to take a rotation where you’ll learn a lot about your chosen specialty – you will learn much more than you ever wanted during residency.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        In re Fun Theory: Does it make sense for everyone to mindhack themselves so that they really enjoy math and science if they don’t already?

        I think they’re likely to be infinite projects with satisfying accomplishments along the way, and people have a lot of fun with them if they like them.

        The only problem with this (aside from people who don’t want to mindhack in that direction) is that it doesn’t necessarily sound like adequate fun to people from before the Singularity.

        • fion says:

          Forgive me if this is a naive point: I’m pretty ignorant of these kinds of considerations. Why would you mindhack yourself to enjoy maths and science when you could just mindhack yourself to like hydrogen? You point out that maths and science are likely to be infinitely long with satisfying accomplishments along the way. If you’re mindhacking, can’t you mindhack yourself to not care about satisfying accomplishments?

  8. Collin says:

    Biological engineering seems poised to experience more exponential growth than software.

    Could there exist such a thing as a bioengineering bootcamp (eg 4-month curriculum to entry-level usefulness), or is the path to real-world utility too nuanced/unknown/complex?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      A boot camp approach might be useful to train a technician but you’re not going to be able to cover a useful amount of information in that time. Living organisms are fiendishly complex in a way totally unlike anything designed by humans. Even the most complex computer system was designed deliberately and with the intent that someone might understand it well enough to work on it; that isn’t true of any biological system.

      • moscanarius says:

        I don’t know about computers, but as for living organisms… in addition to being complicated, they are difficult to probe. Even the very tame bacteria we grow and study in the lab have to many things going on and are not that easy to manipulate reliably. We can’t see gene expression the same way we can see a line of code; we have to rely on many manipulations to get the data, and then you have to analyze it, and then you may get a conclusion – and maybe not a very solid one. Different measures of gene expression (reporter gene transcription, qPCR, transcriptomics) get you different results quite frequently (and it’s not even surprising, they are not perfectly equivalent).

        That, and the fact that they have the very annoying habit of not being as consistent and as robust as we want them. I’m quite sure that a lot of irreproducibility in, say, microbiology does not stem from bad faith or p-hacking, but from genuine differences in the behaviour of the organisms from lab to lab (microdifferences in environment that we have no clue about).

    • nzk says:

      The main reasons software exploded, is that it takes very little capital to do, training is available for free on the internet, can make a product very fast (at least POC), and there are no regulatory requirements.

      Compare that to biological engineering – takes a lot of capital, require a lot of expensive training, everything takes years to make, and tons of regulations on everything, especially anything you want to sell.

      This makes investments a lot more risky (you need a lot more money, at earlier stage of product readiness), so you have much less of them, over a lot less human capital.
      So I don’t think biological engineering is going to experience “more exponential growth than software”.

    • epiphi says:

      This does somewhat exist in the form of the course How To Grow Almost Anything. It’s a decentralized 16-week course by a group of quite well-respected biohacker/bioengineer people (David Sun Kong, George Church, Kevin Esvelt, & more!). There are online lectures and labs run in local community labs/makerspaces. I know that previous students have been able to transition into bio research afterwards; that might be more via networking opportunities than coursework, but the same caveat applies to computer science bootcamps.

    • alchemy29 says:

      That’s an extremely broad topic. I’m not sure what you have in mind, but Coursera and Edx have undergraduate Level free courses on various related topics (industrial bioengineering, systems biology, genetics). You probably won’t be able to get a job out of them, but they might lead you towards a field of study that might produce something.

    • pontifex says:

      Maybe in a few years this post is going to come across as “I think there’s a world market for about 10 computers,” but… is there really that much of a market for biological engineering?

      There was a lot of excitement when the human genome was first sequenced. But how many practical technologies have come out of it? I guess it’s now easier to trace your ancestry and determine paternity.

      We were told that there would be a new era of personalized medicine where doctors would use your genome to give you appropriate therapies. But this never really happened, for a lot of pretty good reasons. Drug companies don’t want to invest in treatments that only a few people with a certain genetic type can use. Doctors already do personalized medicine the quick and dirty way by having you try a bunch of different stuff and seeing what works (see one Scott’s posts on antidepressants, for example.)

      Genetic engineering is nifty. It lets you introduce totally new genes to organisms. But there’s been a huge Luddite reaction to it which hinders adoption. Both its proponents and its detractors overestimate how powerful it is, and underestimate how effective conventional crossbreeding techniques are. Our pigs, cows, and crops are already grotesquely bio-engineered to be unwieldy nutrient-generating machines. We don’t need genetic engineering to give us giganto-pigs or enormous ears of corn, because we already have that with crossbreeding and good old chemical fertilizer.

      Biological systems are a huge mystery, even to the experts. And the species we most care about, humans, is also the species we are least able to experiment on. It’s a lot easier to create something new than to hack the dusty deck.

      On the flip side, though, I guess it doesn’t matter how many ipods we own, if nobody works on the cure for cancer. So don’t let me discourage you 🙂

      • johan_larson says:

        Perhaps it would be useful to the progress of biological science if it had the equivalent of a microcomputer: something an ordinary person could afford for hobbyist-level money, but which could be used to invent and build useful things with reasonable safety, and without requiring dramatic training and certification up front.

      • pontifex says:

        Just to give a concrete example of a bio-engineering company that I heard about recently… I talked to someone who worked at a company that makes giant fermentation tanks that create various chemicals. The idea is that you can splice the right genes in and get the microbes (or fungi) making the substance that you want.

        This is evolutionary, not revolutionary: basically a cheaper way to make chemicals that we already knew how to make by conventional means. I think a lot of fields are like this: there has been slow but steady progress in materials science, for example. Perhaps bio-engineering will be like this too?

        Another interesting thing about the giant fermentation tanks is that after a few days, the organisms evolve to get better at reproducing and worse at making the chemical you want. So basically after something like a week, you have to empty the whole tank and start fresh. So it’s sort of like you’re fighting evolution itself.

        • toastengineer says:

          There’s an old saying among engineers, something along the lines of “a tenfold quantitative change is almost always a qualitative change.”

          Seems like the key then is to figure out a way to bring reproducing in line with producing the chemical you want, and once you figure that out you might find efficiency increasing by that necessarily-qualitative tenfold.

          But then again maybe there’s some inherent reason you can’t do that.

          • pontifex says:

            Fermentation of beer has been done as a continuous, 24/7 process in “tower fermenters.” Yeast are not going to evolve away from producing alcohol, though, since producing it from sugar gives them energy (it’s an exothermic reaction)

            Interestingly, the article suggests that more breweries would adopt continuous fermentation systems if they didn’t have to worry about keeping their product the same as it has historically been.

            So why don’t more brewers employ continuous fermentation systems? The main reason in my opinion is that it is very difficult to obtain a taste match with a preexisting brand. The minor products of fermentation make a very important contribution to the overall flavour of the beer. These factors are affected by such things as the dimension and shape of the fermentation vessel, the amount of yeast growth, the amount of oxygen and nitrogenous material in the wort, the pressure inside the fermentation vessel, the temperature during fermentation and the character of the strain of yeast itself. It would be very difficult to get these details right and brewers with established brands have a lot to lose if they get them wrong. In New Zealand, there was a virtual duopoly with few imported beers, the big two could switch over to continuous fermentation and there was nothing the New Zealand consumer could do about it if they didn’t like the new taste.

            toastengineer says:

            There’s an old saying among engineers, something along the lines of “a tenfold quantitative change is almost always a qualitative change.”

            Indeed, as Stalin famously said, “quantity has a quality all its own.”

            I’m not sure if the change is going to be tenfold here, though (I’m the wrong person to ask about that).

        • Lambert says:

          And without those tanks, diabetes would still be a death sentence for many.

          • albatross11 says:

            Before they made the insulin that way, they got it from animals, right? So not a death sentence, just not as clean or nice a way to get it.

  9. sunnydestroy says:

    This probably isn’t the smartest idea and I know I should take this with a grain of salt, but I wanted to ask you internet strangers for some medical advice on patulous eustachian tube. I’m kind of out of ideas about it.

    My girlfriend has been suffering from eustachian tube dysfunction for almost 3 years now. A short hour flight from LA to SF while she had a cold seemed to have triggered it and it just hasn’t gone away since. She gets feelings of ear fullness, pressure, discomfort, certain noises are especially louder, and she’s more sensitive to elevation changes.

    After seeing various doctors and ENTs about it over the years who couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong with her besides Eustachian tube dysfunction, she got a referral to the Stanford Comprehensive Otolaryngology Clinic and was seen by the chief of the comprehensive ENT clinic there. She had been taking decongestants like Sudafed, antihistamines, had tubes placed in her eardrums, was popping her ears by blowing air while holding her nose closed, using an earpopping device that blows a continuous stream of air into your nose, visiting dentists to check for TMJ, went for audiograms, etc. Not much relief from all of that.

    The clinic visit was productive, the doctor examined her thoroughly and diagnosed her with mild Patulous Eustachian Tube, where her Eustachian tube opens a little too wide. This was very interesting because up to this point, the other doctors gave the impression that the problem was the opposite, that her tube was too narrow and that was causing the problem. Because of the decongestants/ear popping she had been continuously using to try to address that issue, it had actually worsened her symptoms over time–she was doing things that would expand her Eustachian tubes further.

    The doc suggested some things that could help: daily neti pot rinses with double the saline packets to get her eustachian tubes to swell a bit (reversing their over-openness), swims in chlorinated water to create the same effect, or some special nose drops that are hard to apply that I wish I could remember the name of. She didn’t recommend surgery for her condition since it was mild and there was a chance of complications. She also recommended stopping use of all decongestants and ear popping techniques since they would stretch her Eustachian tube. She also said it might get better over time, or it might be a lifelong condition she would just have to live with.

    Obviously, having to live with the condition forever would suck immensely. She hasn’t flown on a plane in years because of her condition–it creates great discomfort and she is extra sensitive to the particular frequency of the noise from the airplane turbines. Noise cancelling headphones help a little with the noise, but it’s still quite loud for her. Medically, she’s cleared to fly, but it’s very uncomfortable for her.

    Is there anyone else here that suffers from patulous eustachian tube or has experience with it that might know anything that could help? Any remedies or things to research? Any tips that could help her fly in an airplane?

    • pontifex says:

      Speaking as a Scuba diver, there’s really only three things I have: the Valsalva maneuver, which you do to handle pressure increases, the Toynbee manueuver, which you do to handle pressure decreases, and Sudafed or another drug which you take the night before to reduce congestion. There might be other manuevers, but I would approach them with caution….

    • pontifex says:

      P.S. If you can’t equalize the pressure inside your middle ear when you’re on the airplane, don’t keep trying the Valsalva maneuver over and over. Wait for a while before you try again. Be very sure that you’re not blowing mucus into the eustachian tube– if you do, it will make the problem worse.

      P.P.S. Has your girlfriend tried the “filtered earplugs” they sell for flying?

      • sunnydestroy says:

        If you mean the earplugs that slowly let the pressure equalize like Earplanes, yeah she has. Last time she tried those in combination with the noise cancelling headphones to try to deal with the noise.

  10. Lillian says:

    G. K. Chesterton wrote a poem celebrating the Holy League’s victory over the Ottoman Turks at Lepanto in 1571. Maria Lectrix, a public domain audiobook podcaster with a Catholic sensibility, made a very nice recording of herself singing the poem. As far as my friends and i know this is only version of that poem put to song that can be found. Since we all very much enjoy it, one of said friends is considering having the song professionally scored. As mentioned it is in public domain, and it would remain so, just now with orchestral accompaniment. Unfortunately the price to do so is outside the reach of what our combined pocketbooks can spare, so i was wondering if perhaps some of my fellow SSC commenters might be interested in contributing to such a project.

  11. Brett says:

    Westworld is back! Anyone watching it along with me?

    • CatCube says:

      Ahhh, I missed the season opener. I’ll have to watch it tonight.

    • cassander says:

      I am. Is it just my TV, but does HBO seem to be using a very weird aspect ratio for it? I thought the show was 16:9, but that’s not how it’s showing up on my screen.

    • gbdub says:

      I am! What do you hope to see in the new season?

      I’m personally hoping they tie the MIB into the main storyline somehow. I’m worried we’re going to have a rehash of last season’s “MIB off on his own violent sidequest”, and that’s frankly a waste of Ed Harris.

      I’m also a bit worried that we’re short on sympathetic characters, other than Maeve and Bernard. While it was fun for awhile to watch former good girl Dolores go on a rampage, that’s going to get old pretty fast if there’s not some nuance, and Teddy is too much of a dunce (and spineless, when it comes to actually standing up to Dolores – although this is forgiveable since he’s seemingly not fully self-aware) to be a good foil.

      • cassander says:

        I don’t find Maeve particularly sympathetic

        You’ve still got Elsie Hughes around, she might be a good mirror of bernard. And I like the writer, though I don’t remember his name. His total lack of virtuous qualities makes him oddly appealing.

        I’m curious to see more of the wider world outside the park. The trailers made it seem like they’ve planned out a wider world, and I’m very curious about what they’ve built.

        • gbdub says:

          Why don’t you find Maeve sympathetic? She has pure motivations (save her daughter, get out) and is ruthless but not needlessly cruel in achieving that. Plus she’s got the best lines and is just generally the most fun to watch – her story has, so far, played pretty straight, which is awfully refreshing in a show where everything else is not what it seems. She’s certainly better than Dolores, who is a sadist spouting high concept gibberish while she brutally murders anyone – guilty, innocent, human, host – at least partially just for the hell of it.

          Sizemore (the writer) is fun but he’s a weasel.

          I liked Elsie, but at this point we have no idea what sort of role she’s going to play in season two.

          • cassander says:

            Maeve is a bit to ruthless for me to be really sympathetic. I’m not sure why, there are other ruthless characters I find sympathetic (not really in Westworld), but there’s something about how she always seems to be looking at people up the way butchers look at cows puts me off.

            Sizemore is a weasel, but unlike your giaus baltar types, he knows it and never pretends to be anything else, even to himself. I find something endearing in his honest shamelessness.

            I think it’s odd they’re going with a two timeline story again, I’ve been trying to puzzle out why.

          • gbdub says:

            I guess I just prefer to see her as “pragmatic”. I mean she’s hardly perfect, but that’s kind of my point – she’s the only one other than Bernard you really want to see succeed (and Bernard doesn’t really have a goal per se to root for), and if she’s the best you’ve got, the show needs more sympathetic characters.

            I assume the multi timeline story is just because it’s a mindfuck, and the timeline foolery was the most successful of the season one mindfucks. Why abandon a good thing?

            Plus I think we’ve already seen at least three timelines – the “present” ~2 weeks after the end of season 1 (Bernard with the Delos cleanup crew), the “near past” right after the massacre (Dolores and Teddy, Bernard and Charlotte, and the Man in Black), and the distant past (I’m pretty sure the opening scene was Arnold with Dolores, or at least Bernard’s memory of Arnold with Dolores).

            Some of the preview showed shots of young William that we haven’t seen before, so we’ll probably get some backstory of his transition to the MIB / interactions with the early history of the park.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            Maeve burned through any residual sympathy I had for her in the finale, and now she’s just…

            There’s no tension there. The show does not make even a pretense of threatening her anymore. She can and does overwrite the nascent free will of every other Host around her, casually, without resistance. She leaves a Host to die defending her for no good reason; the Host survives (again, for no good reason), and is happy to see her back…and we know that she could have made him be happy to see her back.

            And she doesn’t learn from her own example. She doesn’t learn that “Wait, assuming that someone’s cowed and spineless and very definitely not as clever and ruthless as I am worked out really, really badly for the humans, maybe I should learn from their example and not assume that just because of the Laws of Inevitable Triumph Superiority By Demographic Interest Group mean I’ll always triumph over Sad Storywriter Man, that I can, oh, send him off to get a bunch of goddamn guns and trust that he won’t return by shooting me and my mind-whammied boytoy in the head.”

            The problem I keep coming back to with Westworld is that I have zero sense of internality with the Hosts. They’re actors. Like, not just that they’re played by actors, but the way they exist in the universe is that of actors; sometimes they play center stage and recite lines, and sometimes the lines have great pathos, but…hell, that sad stablehand guy what got mobbed to death by the team of human survivors to tick their Designated Unsympathetic box? What was his deal? Did he know or care that people were being murdered outside? How are we supposed to model him and his decision-making?

            We aren’t and we (or at least I) can’t. He was given stage directions to let him act as a prop in a way that would evoke a particular emotional reaction, and that is all he was, and all he ever could be.

            And that’s a damn shame, because showing actual sentient hosts questioning their existence, dividing into factions, with some following their “Be Generally Helpful Towards Guests.” urges as Maeve follows her own and others trying to convince them to act otherwise, as each individual Host has to come to terms with what freedom means to them, would make for really interesting storytelling.

            The storytelling we get, however, relies entirely on “Hidden programming!” and “Mystery of consciousness!” and “It will make sense in later episodes!”

            As it stands, I honestly sympathize most with the Man in Black right now. I have no investment in the personhood of the hosts, because I don’t see them as acting like people. Their needs, desires, and actions can be controlled with a few words by Maeve, and the ones who haven’t yet have apparently settled on “Sure, let’s go on a murder-rampage following the crazy lady in blue.”, and no one has explained to me the viewer why any Host is doing anything, so yes, I sympathize with the position of “Fuck it, Ford must have programmed in a murder-directive, better kill all Hosts to be sure.”

            And given that position, having someone in place with the personality and the skill set to pull off “Hot damn, I’ve always wanted a hardcore-mode PUBG LARP! Let the Most Dangerous Game begin!”

            The one thing I wish we’d gotten from him that we didn’t would have been to casually interrupt Young Fordbot with a bullet rather than lead up to it with a one-liner, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

          • Don_Flamingo says:

            That’s why I found Lee and Logan to be the most sympathetic characters in Season 1. They are the only ones I can relate to. The hosts are just unpredictable teenangst-drama machines. The other humans are just playing mostly nonsensical, mystery games (knowing looks, lots of posturing, all-around suspicion, incoherent conspiracies) or are absurdly incompetent (Stubbs, Felix & Sylvester). Elsie was ok too, I think, but I don’t remember her that well, anymore.

  12. OptimalSolver says:

    Post an idea so crazy, it might just work.

    • WashedOut says:

      At university me and a mate prepared a legitimate engineering case for 3D-printed buildings (or at least large structural components), at a time when the only things being printed were plastic keyrings and parts for 3D printers.

      Naturally we ‘metaphorically’ threw the document into the trash after we graduated, laughing that it would never get taken seriously. 7 years later….

      • Rachael says:

        On that note, in about 2003 I came up with the idea for a lift-sharing website, and did quite a bit of thinking about the implementation details, but then chickened out because I thought users might rob each other or worse and I’d be responsible.

        Around the same time I also made plans for a grammar-checking tool more sophisticated than MS Word’s (I’m a linguistics graduate), but concluded there were too many things it couldn’t get right without extensive real-world knowledge or AGI. I’m a bit annoyed that this high error rate hasn’t stopped Grammarly making money.

    • johan_larson says:

      Evil Mustache Games, a games company that spends no money on advertising, but designs games for maximum controversy. Their first game, Border Defense, is about stopping smugglers and illegal immigrants from crossing a border, mostly by shooting them. Their second, A Peaceable Nation, is a political strategy game about implementing nation-wide gun control.

    • Rachael says:

      Crowdsourced scientific studies.

      I often think “I wonder if there’s a link between X and Y? I’d pay some pocket change to find out.” Most people have no way to take this beyond the wondering stage. If you’re Scott (or someone he’s willing to take suggestions from), you can investigate some of these correlations in the annual SSC survey, but that has many limitations (skewed sample, self-reports, can’t really do controlled experiments, etc). Scott has blogged about how difficult it is even for him to initiate and conduct an experiment even on something fairly trivial.

      It would be cool if random people could suggest something interesting to study, either they or other people could refine it into an experimental design, and then crowdfund conducting the actual study. It would probably be more efficient for researchers than trying to persuade several different grant adminstrators that their project is worthwhile and then trying to persuade several different journals to publish it, and the crowd input would mean that problems could be ironed out before final publication (like oversights in the experimental design, forgetting to control for relevant factors, statistical errors in the analysis, etc).

      • dodrian says:

        It’s not quite the level you’re proposing, but Matt Parker runs the YouTube channel Stand Up Maths, and occasionally asks viewers to help solve a problem. Here’s a recent video where he asks users to 3D print coins of different thicknesses to determine experimentally how thick a coin would have to be to have probability 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 of landing on heads, tails, and side when flipped.

        EDIT: Of course, after posting I reread your suggestion, and realized that I completely misunderstood, you’re suggesting that the general public propose things to study. Whoops!

      • Aapje says:


        A very good idea in principle, but I think that it only works if the researchers make a proposal and then crowdfund.

        Otherwise you will just get many requests that are totally unfeasible in their scope.

        • Rachael says:

          Isn’t that true of Kickstarter projects too? Either the bad ones just don’t go ahead, or people can refine them so that they can. Either way is good.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        When you wish you had a survey, do you ever look at GSS?

        • Rachael says:

          Thanks, that’s a cool site I hadn’t heard of before.
          It didn’t have any data on either of the first two things I thought of to investigate, but I’ll bookmark it to look back at another time.

      • Tenacious D says:

        I had a similar idea, except instead of striaght crowdfunding, make it into a lottery: people could buy tickets on behalf of promising projects and when the pot is big enough, the projects that get drawn could be given a proper grant amount (i.e. an order of magnitude or two more than a typical Kickstarter project).

        • Jiro says:

          Probably illegal, and given human psychology related to gambling, I’m not sure it shouldn’t be illegal.

      • Callum G says:

        Cool idea! I just hope it wouldn’t descend into clickbait, bias confirming articles. Is there a link between chocolate and intelligence? Let’s ask the researcher who told us that vodka improves sleep quality!

        Perhaps it would need some sort of barrier to entry, maybe an association with a university? Even if there were flaws I think the building of such an academic community could do wonders for replication and honesty in addition to all your great points.

      • Odovacer says:

        It exists:

        I know people who have somewhat successfully used it.

    • S_J says:

      Well, back during the cultural sturm und drang iside the United States about whether or not licenses-of-marriage should be issued to couples who have the same value for “Sex” on their gov’t-issued-ID, this thought crossed my mind…

      Assume a Society for the Separation of Marriage and State.

      The Society could propose that governments issue Certification of Household Formation to any pair (or larger, if all members of larger group agree) of people who request one. Said Certificate would bind the Founding Members together into a legal partnership with mutual ownership of Property, joint Power-of-Attorney, inheritance, rights-to-claim-health-coverage-with-partner, and many other legal benefits and privileges that will make it easy to run a Household as a unit.

      Since the legal consequences of this are so large, some sort of waiting period (and background-check, for previous Formation of Household that was not Dissolved fully) might be required.

      This would be accomplished alongside a Separation-of-Religious-Authority-from-Civil-Authority…thus, if a person performs a Ceremony of Marriage in front of a priest/rabbi/imam/minister, that Ceremony has no bearing on Formation of Household paperwork.

      This thought sprang from the realization that
      (A) Law and Culture of the United States interprets the First Amendment to restrict mixing of religious authority and civil authority at all levels of government.
      (B) Law and Culture of the United States also has religious officials who can adjudicate over the Civil Law process of Marriage
      (C) The definition of Marriage in the United States seems to run into a tangled nest of assumptions and definitions, most of which appear to be due to the mixing of Religious Authority and Civil Law.

      I haven’t quite worked out if there are any obvious differences in dissolving-Household process that can flow from this proposal. My own preference is that if one founding member of a Household wants to dissolve the union, and another founding member does not, the legal guidelines ought to favor the one who does not wish to dissolve the union.

      It may also be easy to appoint a Guardian of Children’s Interests to the process of Dissolution, if there are any children (by birth, by surrogate-birth, or by adoption) that are members of the Household. And it may be easier to decide how the support of such Children should be funded, and decide how the now-Dissolved-Household would exercise authority over the Children, if the process depends mostly on economic ability of the relevant Founding Partners.

      Relevant to the number of Founding Partners: I suspect that Medical Power of Attorney can get very tangled if there are three Founding Partners, and one of them is comatose in a hospital. Do both remaining non-comatose Founding Partners have equal authority, or does the Household Charter need to appoint an precedence-of-authority, so that the Medical Authorities have a Primary decision maker to consult with?

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Taking internet moderation seriously. It’s always a side job for someone who’d rather be doing something else, or a hobby done for free by people who want to exert power over some group in some small way. There’s this notion that the internet is anarchy, will never respect the cops, always test the rules, etc. and I’m convinced tons of the problems of the modern internet would go away if there was just objective, level-headed, concerned, consistent moderation people could rely on institutionally.

      It’s really stunning, I’ve been online for more than 20 years and there’s no site beyond personal blog level where I can go “the moderation there really understood the commentariat and site culture and worked to cultivate the best discussion possible for the most people.” It seems like everyone just jumps from “having to use your real name will stop the trolls” to “downvotes that hide comments will stop the trolls” and keep searching for a magic bullet that will work algorithmically/automatically, when we’ve known since the internet forums era/1990s that will never really solve the problem

      • The Nybbler says:

        Where do you expect to find these angels to do the moderation?

      • Lillian says:

        There was this forum i lurked in which for a period of time i felt had a moderation which did a very good job of fostering and maintaining the culture most appreciated by its commentariat. They did this through an interesting combination of two particular aspects. The first was that the board rules were written up clearly in legal-like manner such that moderators could cite chapter and verse on each violation. This lent a certain air of objectivity to their actions. Tempering this was the second aspect, which was an approach to actually enforcing those rules more akin to that of a popular dictatorship, complete with deliberately cruel show trials for enemies of the people.

        It was very popular with the user base since it had both the appearance of impartiality, and the reality of catering to their biases. That said, the whole thing only really worked as long as the guy in charge continued to play the role of charismatic dictator. Once he grew bored of it and started delegating more power it fell into marked decline.

      • cassander says:

        Taking internet moderation seriously. It’s always a side job for someone who’d rather be doing something else,

        Not wanting to be a censor is precisely the quality you need to have a censor be tolerable. Anyone who wants the job almost certainly shouldn’t have it.

    • shakeddown says:

      Eating Scott’s vegetables in an effort to steal his writing ability.

      Not that I would ever do that. No siree.

      It’d be totally crazy.

    • Murphy says:

      A genetic compiler.
      Inputs: specification for one or more plasmids. Nucleotide bases ,reagents needed for the process and a known fairly standard strain of bacteria, some standard plasmids and some antibiotics.

      It would consist of an oglio synthesiser. A pick and place liquid handler ,cameras and a basic sequencer to confirm synthesised oglios.

      The user specifies a plasmid and custom sequence to be inserted. The machine handles creating the sequence, confirming it, inserting it into plasmids and plasmids into bacteria then selects for bacteria with turn correct plasmid without the user needing to have wetlab skills.

      • Murphy says:

        Target market would be smaller companies in countries where you aren’t legally required to have a certified lab for basic genetic engineering like the US.

        It would make it easier for small outfits to generate microorganisms that can generate products like custom proteins.

    • pontifex says:

      Surround government buildings with walls of beehives to keep out trespassers.

    • Darwin says:

      I think that UBI will heal a lot of the political divide in this country by driving poor people from urban centers out into rural areas where the cost of living is lower and their UBI check can stretch further. This will expose rural americans and urban minorities to each other in a way that rarely happens in real life today, and align their interests to some degree, while also revitalizing rural economies somewhat and bringing their interests overall more in line with the rest of the population.

  13. liskantope says:

    Ah, we’ve reached the big 1-0-0. I clearly remember the first open thread, which came out just as I had started to keep up with SSC regularly, and having no idea that this was the start of a major SSC tradition. I could have sworn that my first-ever SSC comment was under this or the following open thread — I thought I had commented on Scott’s query about having received a strange package or something. A quick check shows me that I’m confused, and apparently my first open thread comment wasn’t until this. The only earlier comment that I can find in a quick check was under “Getting Eulered”, which I guess would be a sort of fitting way to introduce myself to SSC comments sections. My memory of commenting on a query about a strange package is so far nowhere to be confirmed.

    Maybe this would be a good thread to comment on how we each found SSC, our initial impressions, our history with reading and commenting, how it influenced us, etc. For me it almost single-handedly led me to getting an online life by introducing me to an online community, and over the last ~4 years this has changed my life as a whole in a palpable way. As for this blog itself, I thought it was brilliant as soon as I got a look at it, but I never really imagined it booming as much in popularity as it has, nor did I see it getting as far towards mainstream recognition as it has. I’ve now seen friends on Facebook and met people in my professional life who have read SSC, and I imagine visibility is only increasing.

    • Randy M says:

      Maybe it would have, but this came up a thread or two ago.

    • mtl1882 says:

      I apologize for the stupid questions, but how do you check your post history and past open threads? If I click the open threads link, it redirects me to the current one, and I can’t find my post history. I’m probably missing something obvious.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        There is an “archives” tab at the top of the screen, which lists most posts, including open threads. Also, on any open thread, at then end of the post and before the comments it says in small, faint type “THIS ENTRY WAS POSTED IN UNCATEGORIZED AND TAGGED OPEN.” and OPEN is a link to a list of open threads.

    • The Nybbler says:

      You have spelled your name three different ways, “Liskantope”, “liskantope”, and “Lisksntope”. Also used three different email addresses, although one email address was used for all those spellings, with two other addresses also used with “Liskantope”

      Your first open thread comment is what you thought it was.

      • liskantope says:

        Haha thanks for taking the trouble of looking into this! I didn’t consider that the search function may be case-sensitive. I recall switching to lowercase for some technical reason, whereas Lskantope is obviously a typo.

        I thought only administrators could access my email address, though, so the fact that you could identify those is a little concerning (unless maybe all you can see is which ones are the same), and I can’t imagine why I would have used three different ones.

        • Aapje says:

          I know that the email addresses used to be visible for a while, but I think/hope they fixed that.

          Isn’t it the case that the avatar is based on the email-address, so you can see that the address changed, even if you don’t know what it is?

          • Nick says:

            Isn’t it the case that the avatar is based on the email-address, so you can see that the address changed, even if you don’t know what it is?

            The avatars are through gravatar. I’m pretty sure if you put in an email address that doesn’t have an associated gravatar, or that’s fake, it generates one for you—one of those nice geometric ones lots of people have—while if you have an associated gravatar, you can set your own, as liskantope has done. But it’s always possible to use two different email addresses with the same custom one, like if I set my fsjal on both my school and personal email addresses.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I was just going by the gravatar ids, I didn’t hack the email addresses or anything.

          • fion says:

            Would you mind explaining briefly how this works? I didn’t know this was possible. Are all our email addresses visible through our gravatars? (What is our gravatar? Is it that little kaleidoscope thing next to our name?)

          • Randy M says:

            Gravatar generates the image unique to email addresses. If they are different, it usually means a different e-mail address was used for that post. Sometimes the algorithm changes so several peoples images change at once. But you can’t, afaik, deduce anyone’s e-mail based on the image.

          • fion says:

            @Randy M

            Ah, I just re-read The Nybbler’s comment. So it’s possible to tell that somebody’s used n email addresses and know what n is, but it’s not possible to tell what any of them are?

            Also, stupid question, but I want to get the terminology right. You have a photograph next to your name. Is that still a gravatar? Or is it only ones like mine and The Nybbler’s that are gravatars?

          • Randy M says:

            At some point (looks like about 9 years ago) I went to and put in that picture. It’s not a gavatar generated image, but it is an image stored on the gravatar site, linked to this e-mail.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            It looks like the Gravatar generation system is open-source and might not use a salt (just going by, where StackOverflow states they add a salt and what looks like Gravatar generation code is posted).

            If that’s the case, you could confirm guesses about a default-symboled poster’s email address by constructing a gravatar from your guess: if the result matches the gravatar you see here, you know they’re using the email address you think they are. That wouldn’t work for mine of course, since it’s just an uploaded image and not a symbol created from my email address.

            I don’t think it’s easy to go the other way and get an email from a gravatar symbol, but I think a sufficiently dedicated person could. Your email is probably already more vulnerable from other places though.

            Edit: Confirmed that Gravatar is easy to confirm a guess with: you can just plug an arbitrary md5 hash (replacing the part that starts with 11d and ends with ea) into and get the associated gravatar.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            For security purposes, all that matters is that the URL is md5 of the email address. If the user is to set the avatar without integration between gravatar and this site, it couldn’t be any other way. But, for completeness, the algorithm to generate the identicon from the hash is no longer open source. It was changed in 8/2016 with no explanation.

  14. fion says:

    Decided not to post on the “Gupta On Enlightenment” comments because it’s not directly related, but I’m curious about other people’s experience with meditation. I’ve only meditated a handful of times, but every time it’s been a very unpleasant experience. It not only makes me so hyper-aware of my body that almost every sensation becomes painful, but it also makes me feel bad emotionally. It’s hard to describe. I think it makes me feel scared, lost, perhaps even anxious.

    Does anybody else get either or both of these?

    • Well Armed Sheep says:

      Have you tried reading any of the heavily recommended meditation manuals beforehand? The Mind Illuminated by Culadasa for example?

      That text and I assume others provide strategies for dealing with aches and pains. Probably also emotional rockiness as well but I’m less sure because I haven’t referenced that portion.

      • fion says:

        No, I haven’t. I did a little googling, but probably only spent a few hours on it in total.

        I’m pretty slow at reading, so that’s one problem. I probably wouldn’t want to invest the necessary weeks (months?) to get through a big book on something that I’m not sure if I’m interested in.

        But there’s another problem which is that I’m not even sure I would be able to read it. I read Scott’s review of Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha and it made me feel very uncomfortable. I don’t know why and I’m aware I’m pretty weird in this regard! But even thinking too much about meditation feels bad.

        Thanks for the recommendation, though. Now you mention it, I have heard The Mind Illuminated recommended quite a bit, especially by people around here, so maybe it’s worth a try.

        • Well Armed Sheep says:

          any sense of why even thinking about the concept is upsetting? Do you have a strong religious background that makes you feel guilty about dabbling in another religion-adjacent practice?

          One point in favor of reading some generally accepted text on meditation is for solid technique. “Proper” breath-focus meditation might not have the same pitfalls for you. (Of course maybe you have been doing breath-focus meditation, but it’s an issue to consider if you’ve been doing something else.)

          • fion says:

            any sense of why even thinking about the concept is upsetting?

            Not really. I’m pretty mystified by it. I have a non-religious background, but besides, it’s not really that level of thing. It’s more like a feeling of fragility, of being deafened by a whisper or bludgeoned by slow-moving cotton wool.

            I sometimes get a similar feeling from thinking in too much detail of the tendons in my body sliding up and down through whatever it is they slide through, or reading about psychoactive drugs and the effects they have. It feels a *bit* like squeamishness, but without any feelings of disgust or nausea.

            One point in favor of reading some generally accepted text on meditation is for solid technique

            Good point. I have been focusing on my breath, but given that my “technique” just comes from trying out what I read on a few hours of google and what I’ve heard from friends, it seems virtually certain that I could be doing it in a better way.

        • cuke says:

          For people who tend towards anxiety or depression, meditation at the beginning can be a festival of discomfort because the mind has not historically been a very relaxing place and so becoming ever more aware of all its activity can be more activating. I don’t know if that’s what’s happening with you. It’s definitely a common experience many people have at the beginning, until the mind stabilizes a bit more.

          I’ve noticed too that reading about doing things that are anxiety-provoking can also be anxiety-provoking.

          If there’s a particular reason that’s motivating you to want to meditate, I wonder if starting there wouldn’t help. Like, if you want to meditate to help reduce anxiety or depression, there are books and other materials tailored to meditating for that purpose. I’m not endorsing these sources, but here are two:

          The Mindful Way Workbook (they have a regular book also)

          Almost any of the guided meditations here:

          If you’re meditating more out of curiosity in working with mind states but not to address some issue, you might see if there’s a local meditation group in any tradition since the in-person instruction can be really helpful at the beginning. If you’re not in a place where there’s a local group, these folks sometimes have online courses that are well-regarded:

          • fion says:

            Thanks for your input. I don’t really think of myself as a person who tends towards anxiety or depression, but perhaps that’s what’s going on here. (It really does feel like the meditation is causing me to feel bad rather than just focusing on something that’s already bad, but I accept that one could be mistaken in something like that.)

            If there’s a particular reason that’s motivating you to want to meditate

            Haha, perhaps this cuts to the centre of it. I don’t actually have much reason to want to meditate. It’s just a vague curiousity, hearing all these people talking about it and not understanding what they meant. I think there’s a reasonably strong argument in favour of “don’t bother”. 😛

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Yep, that’s normal, and those are the things you breathe through and learn not to respond to/not let convince you that you need to feel bad about.

      • fion says:

        Thanks for your response. Forgive me if I’m being pedantic, but I’m not sure if I agree with your use of the word “normal”. I have some friends who meditate, and I’ve also tried to google my problem, and most people seem to not encounter this.

        (Perhaps by “normal” you meant “not unheard of/not surprising” rather than “everybody gets that”, in which case I can believe you.)

    • IrishDude says:

      I’ve always wanted to get into meditation, and in January I subscribed to the Headspace meditation app. It provides guided meditation from the beginner through more advanced levels, and allows you to pick how long you’d like to meditate (starting with 3, 5, and 10 minute meditations, going to 10, 15, and 20 minute meditations as you advance, and probably even longer meditations past where I’m at now). It also includes little videos to illustrate the concepts every few meditations.

      I’ve done about 30 of the meditations, so averaging about 1.5 meditations per week, and have been pretty pleased with the process so far. Since I was a teenager, I’ve practiced breathing and clearing my mind to help control pain (kind of a mini-meditation, but I’d never tried just sitting until recently), so though I experience aches and pains while meditating I think my prior experience has helped me learn how to move past those feelings to focus on my breath. The guided meditation has been helpful too, where the host reminds me that my thoughts will wander, but to bring attention back to the breath.

      When you feel pain, try to notice it but stay detached. Same with the anxiety, noticing it but staying detached. Then bring your attention back to the breath. Also, counting your breaths can help as a focal point when your thoughts wander. At least, that’s my novice meditator advice.

      • fion says:

        Thanks for your input. It’s actually very useful to hear from, as you put it, a “novice meditator”, because your perspective is probably more similar to mine in some ways.

        Regarding the pain, I want to make it clear if it wasn’t already that it’s not pain from sitting still and getting stiff or pain from some scrape or bruise I’ve recently received. It’s like, even the feeling of my fingers touching each other hurts. The feeling of my arms pulling on my shoulders under their own gravity hurts. In fact, pain isn’t really the right word, but I’m not sure how better to describe it.

        Of course, if you already understood that then I apologise for just going on about it. 😛

        One problem is that both the pain and the anxiety endure after I’ve stopped meditating (in fact the anxiety doesn’t really start until after (Again, anxiety is really not the right word, but it’ll do.)). So your meditation-y ways of dealing with them (notice but stay detached, come back to the breath) don’t necessarily apply. It’s like, my post-meditation state is the horrible one. The meditation itself is ok.

  15. johan_larson says:

    Who would be interested in a monthly SF book club organized in this forum? The idea is that every month we would select a new science fiction or fantasy book and talk about it here.

    • rlms says:

      A threadly sci-fi short story club happened a bit ago, I’m not sure why it ended.

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        As I recall, the person running it was temporarily banned for some reason and never came back when the ban period was over.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          He’s also not logged into Facebook in years, so I hope he’s just moving in different Internet circles now and not dead or something.

          Jaime, if you see this and you’re not dead, please let me know, thanks. 🙁

    • dodrian says:

      I would certainly be interested, and would probably be able to make the reading commitment.

    • johan_larson says:

      Here are some books we might read:

      Spin, a 2005 novel by Robert Charles Wilson. One night, a barrier around Earth appears, blotting out the stars and isolating our planet from the rest of the universe. A young scientist dedicates his life to determining the nature of the barrier and understanding why it appeared. 2006 Hugo winner.

      Incandescence, at 2008 novel by Greg Egan, explores the idea that a pre-industrial society might discover General Relativity.

      Updraft, a 2015 fantasy novel by Fran Wilde, is an aerial adventure, where people travel in hang-glider-like contraptions between towers of bone on a mystical world.

      • Callum G says:

        Penciling in my interest

      • johan_larson says:

        Any preferences among these books? Or nominations for other books?

        • dodrian says:

          Incandescence would be my preference, as I prefer sci-fi.

          I would still participate if Updraft was chosen.

          Spin is an all-time favorite of mine, but I would not be adverse to a re-read and discussion, though probably only if the intent was a discussion after having read the entire book (as opposed to a discussion after every X chapters).

    • Orpheus says:

      I would.

    • John Schilling says:

      I enjoyed the last version, though only intermittently participated. Might be worth a try.

    • johan_larson says:

      All right, my droogs, here’s the deal with the SF book club.

      Every month, we’ll read and discuss one book. On the second Wednesday of the month, in the OT, I’ll post a brief synopsis of the book, and some points for discussion. A week or so after that, I’ll start a second thread to pick a book for the next month.

      The first book we’re reading is Incandescence, a hard science fiction novel by Greg Egan. Discussion will start on Wed May 9.

  16. johan_larson says:

    Today’s quiz is all about Marys.

    1. American actress, star of a TV show named after her that ran 1970-77.
    2. Queen of Scotland from 1542 to 1567.
    3. Greek-American opera soprano, worked mostly in Italy.
    4. A nursery rhyme that includes the line, “How does your garden grow?”
    5. American singer and actress who often performed with her brother Donny.
    6. American campaign worker who died in a car accident in a car driven by Senator Ted Kennedy.
    7. A university in Halifax, Canada.
    8. The only child of Elvis Presley.
    9. First woman to win a Nobel Prize.
    10. Italian physician, founder of the educational philosophy named after her.

    • johan_larson says:

      1. Znel Glyre Zbber
      2. Znel, Dhrra bs Fpbgf
      3. Znevn Pnyynf
      4. Znel, Znel, Dhvgr Pbagenel
      5. Znevr Bfzbaq
      6. Znel Wb Xbcrpuar
      7. Fg. Znel’f Havirefvgl
      8. Yvfn Znevr Cerfyrl
      9. Znevr Phevr
      10. Znevn Zbagrffbev

    • a reader says:

      Only 3/10:

      2. Znel Fghneg
      3. Znevn Pnyynf
      9. Znevr Phevr

    • The Nybbler says:

      Got all but #3 and #7.

      Two more Mary’s

      1. Character in an American sitcom that ran from 1966-1971

      2. #1’s actress’s husband’s daughter

    • Since you seem to be interpreting “Mary” loosely, how about

      11 Cowboy movie actor with tough guy image?

  17. analytic_wheelbarrow says:

    Years ago (maybe early to mid-00s), I read an article in (I think) the NYTimes that fascinated me and I’ve never been able to track it down since. I thought maybe this story would sound familiar to someone who can point me to it.

    A woman wrote about how she was going to visit her ex-boyfriend and the feelings that this brought up. What made it so emotional was that he had broken up with her and broken her heart. I think he had also gotten her pregnant and then pressured her into getting an abortion.

    When she finally met up with him, she slowly realized that she had remembered everything wrong. *She* had been the one who wanted the abortion; he had wanted them to stay together and make it all work. She had finally terminated the pregnancy and left him.

    I found the whole concept of not only having false memories, but being able to acknowledge it all afterwards really startling.

    I haven’t been able to find this on google or the NYTimes search engine. Does anyone have any idea what article I’m talking about? I figured that this was as good a place as any to ask.

    • cactus head says:

      Not an answer to your original question, but I was reminded of the Ted Chiang story called The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling.

    • j1000000 says:

      Reddit’s r/TipOfMyTongue is good at stuff like this, recommend you try there

    • fortaleza84 says:

      It would be funny if it turned out that you had imagined the whole article.

      That said, people developing false narratives about failed relationships (and actually believing them) is actually pretty common in my experience. As far as I can tell.

      • analytic_wheelbarrow says:

        Very funny fortaleza84 !!

      • Aapje says:


        That said, people developing false narratives about failed relationships (and actually believing them) is actually pretty common in my experience. As far as I can tell.

        Yeah, I remember you telling me that after we slept with each other a year ago.

    • j1000000 says:

      Googled around some and my best guess is that you’re referring to this one:

      (From 2012 so that doesn’t fit your timeline but false memories and all that)

      • analytic_wheelbarrow says:

        I think that’s it! Thank you so much for tracking that down. I thought I was a good googler but you put me to shame.

        Even funnier that I had a false memory about when I read it. I can still remember which company I worked for when I read this — except that memory is wrong!

      • liskantope says:

        On reading that article, I’m strongly reminded of a movie I recently saw on Netflix: Blue Jay.

    • moscanarius says:

      It’s odd; I remember this conversation about false memories being very prominent about ten years ago – maybe still on the wake of those satanic cult accusations based on recovered memories from children in the 90s.

      Then, not long after that, we just stopped talking about it. Suddenly. No more discussions online or in newspapers. It was rather strange.

      (let’s hope I’m not remembering falsely, but anyway that’s what I got)

      • dndnrsn says:

        So what you’re saying is, society got abused by a bogus psychological theory, then cut it out of collective memory?

        • moscanarius says:

          Sorry, I’m slow today, which theory (memory recovery or false memory) you mean to call bogus?

          • dndnrsn says:

            Aren’t those just different terms, depending on if think that recovered memories are real or not?

          • moscanarius says:

            I don’t think so, since it’s possible to disbelieve or believe in both at the same time. Maybe memories long lost cannot be recovered, and also false memories cannot form (so we are stuck with only true memories, and if we lose them it’s forever); maybe lost memories can be recovered and also false memories can be formed (which means we have some memories that are true, some that are false, and if they’re lost we can recover them, but we may also create a false memory in the process).

            So I will try to be specific:

            1. Are you calling bogus the idea that memories could be recovered by those 90s methods?

            2. Are you calling bogus the idea that people can hold false memories, which became popular after the memory-recovery thing was challenged?

            3. Are you calling both ideas bogus?

          • dndnrsn says:

            My layman’s understanding is that a lot of stories that depended primarily on “recovered memory” were bogus and that it was in large part iatrogenic. I don’t know whether they were all false, but the means by which therapists etc got people to “recover” memories were probably priming people. People can definitely hold false memories, of different degrees: I probably hold a few false memories myself, but of mundane things, or in “well I definitely remember my ex being in the wrong!” territory stuff. I don’t know whether memories can be lost forever or found again.

        • moscanarius says:

          So, it’s 1, mostly. If this, then I think your original answer was quite clever 🙂

  18. JulieK says:

    Which books by China Mieville have content equivalent to a PG or PG-13 rating?

    • fion says:

      Only book I’ve read by him is The City and the City. I wouldn’t particularly recommend it to children, but more because of a confusing plot than because it’s unsuitable (although I do think it had a slightly grisly murder in it…)

    • Chalid says:

      Un Lun Dun and Railsea are both YA.

  19. onyomi says:

    In a hypothetical world where schooling was somehow not at all about signalling but only about instilling useful life skills, what would most parents demand of schools for children? Would schools as we know it even exist?

    I think the main way my own answer differs from what we expect of schooling today (reading, writing, basic math and science, basic knowledge of history, etc.) is that it’s a lot broader: that is, yes, it includes reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, but it also includes public speaking, job interviewing, social skills, how to make a boat, time management, entrepreneurship, and money management.

    Only problem is one of my complaints about the education status quo is that it doesn’t allow students to go deep enough, so I’m not sure I can add even more subjects of study and expect people to go deeper at the same time. My sense is that the lowest hanging fruit is to drastically reduce time spent passively listening in favor of time spent doing things, but that’s only a very general idea.

    • albatross11 says:

      A large part of schooling (at least grade school through high school) is free babysitting for parents who don’t want to have to watch their kids while they’re at work. Whatever else parents would want in a no-signaling-through-education world, they’d still want the babysitting feature. (For younger kids, this is literal babysitting–you can’t reasonably leave a 7-year-old kid in charge of himself all day. For older kids, it’s more keeping them out of trouble–if the kids are in high school all day, hopefully they’re not in the woods getting drunk or stoned.)

    • Lambert says:

      I had to join the Boy Scouts to learn how to make a boat (more of a raft, really), but there was at least half-hearted coverage of most of the other things.

      1-2 hours per week was allotted to this. It covered careers, social skills, money management, citizenship, sex ed, first aid, hygiene, staying safe online, crime, drugs etc.
      No public speaking per-se, but we did plenty of presentations to the rest of the class in other subjects.

      This document is a guideline for teaching of these things in the UK.

      • rlms says:

        As I remember it, PSHCE (apparently the citizenship part has now been dropped) was almost entirely useless.

        • Tarpitz says:

          It was certainly thoroughly useless at my (private, very academic, all boys) school.

          All I took away from it was a notion that acid might be more interesting than I had previously supposed. Which, in fact, it is.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Why do you need to build a boat?

      Probably 4 general categories:

      Computer: Not that schools don’t teach this, but it’s shocking how a simple VLOOKUP can turn you into an excel master. Then it becomes “bro, do you even index-match?”
      Google-Fu and security basics would be excellent additions.
      Again, not that schools DON’T teach this, but there must not be enough emphasis, because “Google how to fix this” is not embedded in most people’s minds.

      Financial Mgmt: I feel like “budgeting” is both too narrow and too broad. But budgeting might help for young students to realize how expensive life is.
      Basic tax preparation is useful here. Also, how to spot a crap opportunity so people stop plowing money into bitcoin, and how to leverage things like HSA for retirement savings, plus how to search for higher-yield savings accounts as opposed to settling for .5% interest on a CD.

      Home Economics and Home Repair: Simple stuff like how to make a decent meal, how to patch clothes and self-tailor, some basic home repair and car repair. A lot of my life right now is Youtubeing “how to change a spark plug.” And I still can’t f’in figure out how the bumphead on my weed-whacker works. All the youtube videos show them just popping off, and mine doesn’t. >:/
      Also, you should know how to spatch-cock a chicken, as grilled/broiled chicken is clearly the best chicken.

      Business writing has nothing to do with those 5 paragraph essays from English class. Speaking in public is a useful skill. But also price negotiations and salary negotiations, and especially helping young girls negotiate a little more aggressively so they don’t get screwed over.

      Inter-personal skills might be useful to teach, but I don’t see how schools can teach them better than students can teach themselves.

      Thing is, schools already teach all these things to some extent. And most of the items you’d feel comfortable doing and are pretty simple to learn. Like, I learned how to refinish a window frame pretty quickly. I probably couldn’t re-wire a house, but even if “school” taught me some basics, I still wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that, and would still hire a professional.

      • Well... says:

        *DDG-fu. Because learning internet security might be more important than just learning internet.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Interesting ideas. I remember when my son was in high school I thought it would be useful for kids to learn how generally glean any truths out of someone trying to sell you an ideology. That is, bring in speakers that have various political opinions, and then discuss with the kids how they could analyze what is probably true, what is obviously false, and the not determinable. I figured this would be very valuable for kids in their future lives trying out new ideologies. But then I realized that there are probably no high school teachers who could do this analysis themselves, much less teach it to kids. That’s the problem with some of the subjects you list above. Someone has to be able to teach it.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      public speaking, job interviewing, social skills

      In the developed world, it’s signalling all the way down.

      Well, maybe not all the way down but some high percentage.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I would list something like the following:

      1). Algorithms: not just specific recipes such as addition, multiplication, GCD, etc; but the general idea that difficult problems can be solved systematically.
      2). Critical thinking: not just common logical fallacies, but rather the general idea that rhetoric is not the same as truth.
      3). Empiricism: not just a list of scientific facts, but rather the general procedure for discovering truths about the world.
      4). Crafts: not just a set of IKEA-esque instructions, but general habits and heuristics applicable to building anything out of anything else.
      5). Etiquette: not just a list of rules for which fork to use when, but rather the general theory of mind, and thus the ability to act charitably and politely toward others.

      As you can see, there’s a common pattern here…

      • S_J says:

        There is a model of education which begins with Grammar (the basic symbols and rules of Logic, Language, and Mathematics).

        That model then proceeds to Logic (use of Grammar to analyze logical problems; diagram sentences and understand paragraphs; find the unknown value in a mathematical statement).

        Then the model proceeds to Rhetoric (ability to argue a point in logic; skill to present a convincing argument for an idea; capability of presenting a clear and valid answer to a complex mathematical problem).

        These levels don’t map cleanly to the numbered items you present, but it ought to be possible to put part (or all) of each subject area into a similar level-of-progression.

      • arlie says:

        I’m pretty sure this would be broadly opposed, or sabotaged, except perhaps #4. The rest are inconsistent with being an upstanding member of most subcultures currently available. If you are a dedicated follower of someone you believe for non-rational reasons, then the last thing you want is for your children to learn how to critique the “truths” you are passing on to them.
        And AFAICT, a fairly large proportion of folks in that position actually know this, though they may not state it in such an explicit form.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming that my proposed list is realistically achievable. That said though, my own childhood education took place abroad, and the schools there managed to hit at least some of those points quite well — at least, as far as science is concerned.

          For example, on Monday we’d learn about standard deviation in Statistics; on Tuesday, we’d learn how to collect and write down experimental data in Physics; on Wednesday, we’d learn about databases (in a special Databases class, weirdly enough); on Thursday, we’d learn about loops in Computer Science; and on Monday, we’d have to turn in our completed project: a simple program to calculate the acceleration of gravity based on our experimentally collected timings of falling objects. To be fair, we also had to write an essay about it, but I kinda failed that part…

      • albatross11 says:

        My kids’ Catholic school offered an optional cotillion course that was basically etiquette in fancy settings. I think this was actually well worth the cost.

    • rlms says:

      Useful by what standard?

    • cassander says:

      You can train people to memorize truly staggering amounts of information with relatively simple techniques. It’s downright criminal that they aren’t drilled into everyone at a fairly young age.

      • RavenclawPrefect says:

        I agree these things can be quite useful; my eighth-grade history teacher explained something along these lines to us the first day of class, gave a few random examples, barely mentioned it again, and I still remember most of the shopping list he covered and the height of Mt. Fuji. But I think they’re getting progressively less so as we gain more ready access to information about whatever we want; I don’t know that the average person really has all that much they’d like to have memorized that isn’t a simple Google search away (other than something like language learning, which to my knowledge these techniques don’t help a ton with) and I’d expect the need for biological memory to only decrease with time. See for instance The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling which was mentioned further up in this thread, to take this sort of thing in a more speculative direction.

        (This is coming from someone with a Mnemosyne deck of over 3000 cards and growing; I personally love memorizing tons of random crap, but I don’t know that it’s as useful for the median person.)

        • cassander says:

          You can only google for things that you think to google for. Having a huge amount of information in your head allows you to make connections that you otherwise never would, because you don’t know the thing that you don’t know. The point isn’t to make sure that every kid in class can tell you all the kings of england since 1066 because knowing the kings of england is useful, it’s that being able to look at a list like that once and know it is useful for almost anything you do.

          • CatCube says:

            Not only that, but having it the knowledge without Google also permits you to integrate and cross-check other things people tell you that you wouldn’t normally Google.

            “Huh, this article on little-known powers that the King of England used to have is interesting…wait. Wait a minute. They’re claiming that they still had that power after the Glorious Revolution? That can’t be right…”

        • rlms says:

          I agree, mnemonic techniques are certainly cool, but I don’t know how useful they are (although I expect they would still be worth teaching, since curriculums contain a lot of rubbish so the bar is pretty low). My impression is that they are useful for learning sets of things (all the plays of Shakespeare, all English monarchs etc.) and key: number pairs (dates being the main use), but are worse than spaced repetition software for most other stuff (I don’t think either are particularly good for learning bits of text verbatim). And I think the “most other stuff” part tends to be more useful.

          • RavenclawPrefect says:

            Yeah, I would certainly be willing to replace a random required class in the current US school system with “here’s how to use spaced repetition software, here are 3 useful memorization techniques, this class is study hall for the rest of the year.” And upon reflection, I think enough people would find this sort of thing useful that it’d still be worthwhile even in a much higher quality educational system (even if the median American wouldn’t actually put it to much use).

            Definitely agreed with bits of text; I use cloze deletion for a few things (quotes, poems, etc) but it’s not perfect. I had a series of cards for Carl Sagan’s Pale Plue Dot speech at one point, but it ended up being too much hassle to be worthwhile.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      If I had to guess those parents are probably concerned with farming and identifying plants, making pottery, hunting, maybe basic literacy and rhetoric, etc. The world where schooling is not about signalling at all (which has been the case at least going back to the foundation of universities under feudalism, and includes societies under communism and Nazism) is one that something incomprehensible has happened to. It means either there are no more institutions to impress, or they’re so useless as to not matter, or everyone has replaced them with sortition and it’s a moot point, etc.

    • SamChevre says:

      The schools I grew up in (one teacher, eight grades, Amish-Mennonite) are probably good examples, but they’re for an atypical parent base.

      They focused on four things:
      1) Reading effectively, in English: phonics, vocabulary, etc
      2) Applicable arithmetic and geometry: no algebra, but thorough coverage of fractions, percents, unit conversions, units of measure, formulae for area and volume, etc
      3) Precise writing: a lot of focus on spelling, grammar, punctuation, common mistakes (whose vs who’s, lie vs lay, etc)
      4) How to use reference materials: dictionary, concordance, encyclopedia, history book with a bibliography

      It was a useful template for education, with very limited time and resources, and prioritizing the items that were most effectively taught in a classroom setting on a predictable schedule rather than by experience or when interested.

      • Well... says:

        Did you grow up Amish?? How high or low was your community?

        • SamChevre says:

          Amish-Mennonite – the church called itself Mennonite but had a lot of Amish features (strict shunning, the requirement of permission to change churches, etc). We: were English-speaking, had electricity and telephones but not radio or TV, drove cars but they had to be black and there was a limit on the price. There were very strict limits on types and sizes of businesses.

          • Well... says:

            OK. So, “pretty darn high” as far as that goes. If you’ll put up with a few questions (apologies if you’ve already been subjected to this a lot)…

            – Where was your community located?
            – When did you leave and under what circumstances?
            – Are there many communities of similar “height”?

            Back to the OP: Whenever the topic of education reform comes up, I’ve been saying the Amish one-room-schoolhouse model seems to work pretty well, and I’m sure it’s way more affordable than present-day public school. Since you have actual experience with it and are therefore relatively an expert, would you say the model is generally good? Could it be replicated in the “English” world?

          • SamChevre says:

            Yes, but… (High and low is peculiarly Amish language and I’m not that accustomed to it; we’d have said “liberal” and “conservative.”)

            I grew up in Tennessee. (Being vague-ish–this is already very identifying.)
            I left when I was 22, a few weeks before turning 23. Here’s the story with a little more detail.
            There are relatively few car-driving communities as strict as the Tennessee churches used to be; here’s a little clip from a service at a church that we’d have considered quite liberal (assimilated, “high”.) If you are familiar with Rod&Staff, those churches would have been on the liberal fringe of the circle of fellowship.

            The Amish-Mennonite model works well, if what you want is education and not babysitting. But it’s demanding on its participants, and it relies for its cheapness (typical cost is $1/student/hour) on people teaching as a partly-volunteer effort.

            Two of my brothers, and one of my sisters, taught in those schools. When my brother taught in a state where testing was required, his worst-performing student was at the 70th percentile on the state tests (probably CAT, but I’m not sure).
            They are amazingly effective for well-disciplined children, who have been trained to work and focus outside of school, and who will get a good bit of experiential learning outside of school. The model could easily be extended to older grades and more subjects (and it is being extended; as the economies shift, Rod and Staff has started writing books above 8th grade, for example.)

            It’s actually fairly comparable to the way many homeschoolers approach schooling. Books from the major conservative Mennonite publishers are quite frequently used by homeschoolers – especially Rod & Staff’s “Bible Nurture and Reader” series of reading materials for grades 1-3.

          • onyomi says:

            who have been trained to work and focus outside of school

            How do Mennonites train children to focus?

        • SamChevre says:

          For a few more references:

          Another similar-but-more-liberal church. (Also, I want this song at my funeral.) The man with gray hair sitting with his back to the camera is my brother.

          For comparison, here’s a very liberal church where I had friends.

      • SamChevre says:

        And even more references: here’s a short biography of one man (Harry Wanner). I would be recognized by at least half of the people listed in the story, and at least 75% of those in the last section.

        This gives a sense that very few stories do of how mobile, and how networked, the Amish-Mennonite world is. Admittedly, Brother Harry was sort of notably odd, but it was a difference of degree, not kind.

    • beleester says:

      For what it’s worth, my college did have classes on public speaking and job interviewing on the CS curriculum.
      I suspect they like it when they can say that their graduates go on to get a job in their field. They were both moderately helpful.

      Agree about money management – even if you aren’t going to be fully independent for a few more years, having the concepts in your head is helpful.

  20. freemantle says:

    Some time ago I seem to recall reading on here (or maybe a related place… LessWrong etc) a back of the envelope calculation arguing that animal welfare concerns far outweighed environmental concerns when considering vegetarianism/veganism. I can’t find it again though. Does anyone remember the piece I’m talking about and can point me to it?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Here is such an argument.

      • freemantle says:


        That’s not quite what I was looking for though. I think the idea was something like this: There’s a common (I think?) belief around these parts that eating cows is better than eating chickens, if you have to choose one, at least from the perspective of minimizing animal suffering. But what about environmentally, isn’t it worse for the environment to farm cows than to farm chickens?

        The post/comment/argument I read made the argument that yes, eating cows is worse than eating chickens environmentally. But if you place even a relatively small moral value on animal suffering, then you should still choose to eat cows over chickens.

        • keranih says:

          I have yet to see a convincing examination of this topic that was globally relevant, instead of just specific to each person and what caused them distress.

          (Disclosure – I have very little sympathy for most anti-farming or anti-meat arguements.)

          eating cows is worse than eating chickens environmentally. But if you place even a relatively small moral value on animal suffering, then you should still choose to eat cows over chickens.

          First you have to define what you mean by “eating cows” – drinking milk and eating cheese and veal? Eating beef? Eating pastured beef? Eating fed (aka “feedlot” “factory” “CAFO”) beef? Eating organ meats & sausage at the same rate as you’re eating roasts and steak? Eating a low carb diet or traditional chinese? Is your diet variable by season? What fraction of your diet is imported and from where?

          And then we go through a similar question for “chickens” – eggs? broilers? Whole chickens including the backs? Turkeys? ducks? etc.

          And then we get into “worse” and “environment” – if you breed for fast-growing broiler (‘meat’) chickens, house them well in confinement, and feed them conventional (ie monsanto/gmo) corn & soybean, you’ll get more meat/protein off the acre (to include growing the grain) than most anything else that Westerners eat. Plus lots of by products for dog and cat food. That leaves lots and lots of wild, untouched/abandoned wilderness space. Plus the waste run off can be concentrated and managed easier. (*)

          Cows can be managed more extensively, using far more land to raise an equivalent amount of food, but more lightly. It’s still not land that supports spotted owls and ivory billed woodpeckers or cougars.

          As for animal suffering – that depends on how you measure it. Can you put a metric on how unhappy a particular animal is? How about the difference between being a slightly happier animal vs an animal who is dead from disease or predetors? How about a short lived bird that is kinda okay with its life, vs a longer lived bird that is mostly okay? Which one adds more suffering to the universe? How do you compare the suffering of one of God’s stupidest critters (domestic chicken) to the suffering of one of the brightest (pigs?) What about a short lived suffering (like a vaccine jab) that prevents misery of illness and early death? And how do you measure medicating sick (or exposed to pathogens) animals vs preventing antibiotic resistance (or antiviral resistance?)

          And I haven’t even gotten into the *human* aspect – humans with more money vs humans with less money. Humans with more free time vs humans with less. Humans who can raise their childern to value livestock as a part of their lives vs humans who live alone in the city. Humans who can live in the suburbs and drive to close rural work in a slaughterhouse or chicken house and then drive to the city on the weekends vs humans who have to live isolated in the countryside or separated from nature in the city. Humans who have pride in the animals they care for and raise well vs humans who don’t want to think about things dying ever.

          Even from a utility standpoint, I don’t think the math works out well for moral vegans. (but I *am* biased.) Having said that – the math is hard.

          (*) “But people don’t manage animal waste well! Everyone knows factory farms are huge point sources of contamination!” Well, yes, but the problem is that if you make animal waste that kind of environmental hazard, like a commercial factory, you’ll have to do the same with every house on a septic tank. (Human waste is worse for humans than animal waste.) If you come up with a *viable* solution to that one, let the world know.)

          • rlms says:

            It’s still not land that supports spotted owls and ivory billed woodpeckers or cougars.

            That’s assuming that the land was always suitable for cattle farming, which in general isn’t true — clearing land for cattle ranches is a major source of deforestation.

            How do you compare the suffering of one of God’s stupidest critters (domestic chicken) to the suffering of one of the brightest (pigs?)

            You estimate it arbitrarily, then work through the numbers. So it’s difficult to say “eating [x] is better than eating [y]”, but you can say “assuming that chickens have 80% the sentience of pigs (along with various similar assumptions), eating chicken is 8.8x as bad as eating pig“. Scott has a post on the subject here.

          • baconbits9 says:

            If you eat the 1 pig then the 100 chickens that you would have eaten never existed. If you eat 100 chickens the chicken company is going to raise more chickens for you to eat… so you should eat 100 chickens and then quit eating chicken, right?

  21. onyomi says:

    Scott here notes that when he says he doesn’t have enough time for x, he usually means something more like “I don’t have enough energy for x.”

    I certainly feel similarly and feel this is probably a widely shared experience, though maybe not widely understood.

    It is a bit frustrating, however, that “I didn’t have the time” somehow sounds like a better excuse than “I was too tired.” The reason being, presumably, that time is known to be out of one’s control, while I guess people imagine one can control one’s energy levels/will oneself to concentrate harder. But other than drinking more caffeine or taking adderall, I’m not sure that’s actually true?

    Of course, “I didn’t manage my time well” sounds like an even lamer excuse than “I didn’t have the energy and needed a break,” but I think these two things are actually kind of linked in that making and keeping schedules takes energy (though may be a net energy savings relative to trying to make the most of your time without them?).

    • albatross11 says:

      One thing that complicates this, at least for me, is that I feel like I have a certain amount of mental energy for each kind of task. Programming/math requires a very different kind of mental energy than writing, which requires a different kind of mental energy from interacting with people.

      • melboiko says:

        I think it’s even more complicated, for me. I might not have energy to finish a professional translation, and then on a whim do a translation of similar length for fun because a random stranger asked on the Internet (true story). Or procrastinate on an important software project by starting a non-relevant one. I’ve written answers in Stackexchange which I could probably turn into published papers, when I was blowing the deadline on actual papers for publication.

        I don’t know how to describe the remorseless emperor that holds me back from what I know to be the best course of action, but it’s not time, because I spend a lot of time doing other things; and it’s not energy, because I spend a lot of energy doing other things. The closest word I can think of is the Japanese yaruki, “will-to-do, the energy/mind/will to do [it]”. Perhaps “guts” or “gumption” come close. In the darkest days I think it’s “active self-sabotage”.

        • onyomi says:

          I find that my mental and physical energies are pretty fungible, and draw on what seems like a relatively unitary fund of willpower that gets ego depleted. Writing long posts on SSC somehow draws on a different source of energy, akin to the “extra stomach” one has for sweets, however. Though I also don’t really produce effort posts, which seem like they take well… effort.

          As for why some things that superficially seem like work, like a translation for a friend, can feel like fun, while things you need to do to make money or advance your career often don’t, it’s probably a complicated question, but I think the dessert analogy may also hold:

          Imagine a large plate of several different types of food, some you like, some you don’t. You have to eat the whole thing, even if you’re not very hungry. This seems like an unpleasant ordeal, even though there are individual items on the plate you enjoy.

          On the other hand, imagine a plate of many different foods you like and you get to pick out only your favorites and eat just those, and only until it stops being pleasurable. This sounds non-ego depleting* even though some of the tasks you are completing superficially resemble those in the above case, which sounds like it takes willpower… so, they pay you for the parts of the job that are ego depleting?

          *I seem to recall Scott posting something not too long ago about the idea of “ego depletion” getting discredited or, at least, not having the evidence to support it one might expect; I’m still using it as a heuristic for now because it feels most intuitively reflective of my subjective experience.

        • James says:

          I use ‘wherewithal’ to refer to this mysterious quantity.

        • Error says:

          I have this experience too, and it drives me nuts. The way it feels to me is that all tasks are harder to do when I feel like I should do them. Even if it’s a self-imposed should! Projects I pick up for fun suddenly become impossible as soon as I think “I ought to finish this thing”.

          I am pretty sure that Should Considered Harmful is related.

          • James says:

            I always joke that I can do anything, so long as I don’t have to.

          • RobJ says:

            I can strongly identify with this. Every task I consider gets emotionally slotted into one of three categories

            “want to do it” – seems fun or interesting in the moment, or at least better than my other options.

            “need to do it” – some kind of external pressure is on me to do it, or it has become so routinized that I don’t even consider not doing it.

            “should do it” – would rather do something else, don’t feel any particular pressure to do it, but will later regret not doing it.

            The wants and needs are pretty easy for me to get done, but the “shoulds” almost never happen unless and until they get shunted into one of the other categories. This usually happens due to procrastination on something with a hard due date. As you said, I often pick up something for fun (say playing guitar) and enjoy it for a while, but as soon as I start feeling like I SHOULD practice instead of just picking it up for fun, forget it. This is why I’ve never been particularly good at anything except the things I need to be good at for work or school. It’s maddening, but as much as I’ve tried I’ve never figured out how to motivate myself to do those “shoulds”. Maybe I just don’t feel enough guilt or something?

          • Orpheus says:

            So you don’t believe that “ought implies can”?

          • melboiko says:

            Thanks for introducing me to that essay and that website, it has been helpful in a time of need.

      • The Red Foliot says:

        I find that spending time working actually becomes easier the longer you do it, especially if you remark to yourself, during an especially long and profitable session, ‘ah, I am getting so much done right now, I am setting a record, let me see how much longer I can continue doing it!’ It becomes a rewarding game to see how far–or rather, how long–you can push yourself.

        I also find that adhering religiously to a schedule is useful, especially when that schedule involves coffee. I also find that anxiety over completing a task both increases as I attempt to complete said task and causes me to expend more time and energy in attempting its completion, so that it feeds into itself. Often this anxiety occurs when things are going poorly, however, so that the additional effort it provokes isn’t especially useful. It’s being spent on a somewhat doomed cause.

  22. Snowman says:

    Can anyone recommend a good book on the history of Chicago, Illinois? Ideally looking for something that traces the economic, political, and demographic shifts since at least the Great Fire up through relatively recently, but if there’s just a good piece you recommend that isn’t quite like this I’d take it. Thanks!

    • SamChevre says:

      It’s narrow, but Crossing Parish Boundaries may be the best book on integration in Chicago. It only covers the time period from 1919-1954, but it is both readable and insightful.

    • hls2003 says:

      Sorry, this is not as comprehensive as what you’re looking for, but “The Lost City” by Alan Ehrenhalt is an interesting book that chronicles the demographic and economic changes experienced by three distinct neighborhoods (Bronzeville, a lower-class Catholic area whose name I forget, and the suburb of Elmhurst) in 1950’s Chicagoland as various internal changes and external interventions broke up cultural enclaves. It’s been some years since I read it but if I recall, it does some tracing of how the neighborhoods initially coalesced (which would be a historical aspect) and then traces them through the upheaval of the 1960’s.

    • Snowman says:

      Thanks SamChevre and hls2003, appreciate the recommendations!

  23. rlms says:

    Some interesting polls about tolerance and trust in different countries. Apparently Russia is higher-trust than Japan, and South Africa is higher-trust than South Korea!

    • onyomi says:

      I don’t know how they phrased the question, but based on my experience living in the two places, it can’t be right that the Chinese answered “yes” to the question “can you usually trust most people” at the highest rate in the world, especially not at a rate twice as high as the Japanese. Though I don’t think China is a low-trust society exactly, hand-wringing about why they can’t trust their own society to e.g. make un-tainted baby formula is a frequent topic of conversation, and people are fond of expressing, if not necessarily acting on, cynicism with respect to the wisdom of trusting someone to e.g. not scam you.

      • BlindKungFuMaster says:

        My impression of China is low-trust that occasionally dips into paranoia. Like, living in guarded communities, every door, balcony and window protected by bars, getting dishes sealed in plastic in local restaurants and then still rinsing them with hot tea, widespread fear of little kids getting kidnapped, the absence of flea markets and similar stuff, etc.

        Of course my experience may not be representative.

        • onyomi says:

          The absence of flea markets is definitely not representative.

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            Ok, the absence of flea markets wasn’t even based on my experience in China, just on conversations with Chinese. The consensus seemed to be that just a few years back they were unusual and if there were any, they happened within organisations, for example schools and weren’t open to the public at large.

            Just for clarification, a flea market for me would be private citizens selling their old stuff, no commercial traders.

    • Aapje says:

      Apparently Russia is higher-trust than Japan, and South Africa is higher-trust than South Korea!

      Apparently, the polling is crap.

    • christhenottopher says:

      My complaints about the usefulness of polls strikes again! Only amplified by the problem of getting the same connotations across in different languages and cultures. You can do a translation of the words “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted, or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?”But at absolute minimum, we’re talking about keeping track of the specific meanings and connotations of 17 different languages in this poll (and that’s assuming you’re only talking to English speakers in South Africa and India which would really skew the sample population there). A poll on just how people express their internal thoughts to others is probably far less useful than a poll on specific actions that credibly signal trust. For instance, how often do you lend money to non-family members or do you lock your doors at night. There’s still translation hurdles and having to understand context, but I think we’ve got a better chance of understanding what actions people take through a poll than their internal mental states.

    • Protagoras says:

      I know that it is not correct response to the replication crisis in the social sciences to just disbelieve the studies you don’t agree with, but the results on trust are, as others have noted, completely unbelievable, and give me a very strong prior toward there being serious flaws in this research. Perhaps there were issues with the wording of the questions, as others have suggested, but in any event I’d bet a lot that something went wrong here.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        It might be better to ask people what precautions they take and what they’d expect in specific situations instead of asking them how trusting they feel.

    • rlms says:

      To people claiming the results are unbelievable: they aren’t that different to the ones in this different survey, which has China at 63%, Russia at 28%, Japan at 36%, South Korea at 29% and South Africa at 24%.

      • Aapje says:


        That gives us the opposite ordering compared to the other poll.

        One has Russia > Japan, the other the opposite. One has South Africa > South Korea, the other the opposite.

        • rlms says:

          Sure, but the result that China is extremely high is still there, and Japan and South Korea are lower/South Africa higher than one might expect.

  24. rahien.din says:

    Inspired by Iceman / Bobby Drake, whose ability (I can, uh, make ice) seems at first to have a fairly limited or weird applicability, but in reality is extremely powerful (I can manipulate energy to an extraordinary degree). Is a superpower necessarily useful to the degree that it is incredible? Think of an ability that fulfills both criteria :

    1. It is so incredible as to be entirely magical.
    2. It is practically useless.

    Such as :
    – Blindfolded, I can taste a well-illuminated object and conclusively determine its color
    – Once a day, I can point to a stranger and state whether they have lived for an odd or even number of seconds

    • dodrian says:

      In The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, Douglas Adams’ sequel to Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, there is a patient in a psychiatric ward who has the ability to recite share values from the stock market from exactly 24 hours in the past.

      I think it was the preface to one of my favorite quotes from Adams:

      “What was the Sherlock Holmes principle? ‘Once you have discounted the impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’ ”

      “I reject that entirely,” said Dirk sharply. “The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbable lacks. How often have you been presented with an apparently rational explanation of something that works in all respects other than one, which is that it is hopelessly improbable?…The first idea merely supposes that there is something we don’t know about, and…there are enough of those. The second, however, runs contrary to something fundamental and human which we do know about. We should therefore be very suspicious of it and all its specious rationality.”

    • fion says:

      I had a friend who used to enjoy rattling off things like this. I got the impression they weren’t original to him, though, but I’m not sure.

      The ability to change into a lamp, but not to change back.
      The ability to walk through walls, but only you, through only walls.
      The ability to be invisible but only while playing the trombone.

      Of course, the X-Men’s abilities are “useful” partly in proportion to how much they help in a fight, since comic books love a good fight between some super-heroes, but that’s not necessarily got much to do with everyday utility. In fact X-Men sometimes deliberately plays on this theme, with characters whose powers make everyday life much worse, not better. (Cyclops, Rogue, any of the various people whose powers include “being blue”.)

      For everyday life, I think I’ve got to lean towards super-speed for most useful. The ability to visit faraway friends, or to work to a deadline and still have plenty of leisure time would be pretty great. (Also making you unbeatable in a fight, but I dunno if that counts as “everyday”.)

      Perhaps the correlation goes the other way! The more “magical” an ability is, the less useful it is. 😛

      • rahien.din says:

        For everyday life, I think I’ve got to lean towards super-speed for most useful. The ability to visit faraway friends, or to work to a deadline and still have plenty of leisure time would be pretty great. (Also making you unbeatable in a fight, but I dunno if that counts as “everyday”.)

        SMBC to the rescue!

        • bean says:

          I don’t think that works. Traveling close to the speed of light slows down subjective time, but it doesn’t actually mean you’re going to be getting back slower than someone at normal speed. The comic only works if the sandwich shop is in another star system.

          • dick says:

            It works, but only at some obnoxiously high speed. If it takes a week for the suspect in the chair to starve, and the Flash has to travel 1000m to get his sandwich, then it’s implied that he’s traveling at something like 0.99999999999999999999998% of the speed of light (which would probably cause a few problems beyond the one described in the comic).

          • fion says:


            If the Flash has to travel 1000m to get his sandwich, traveling at 0.99999999999999999999998c, then he’ll get his sandwich in about 3 millionths of a second. That’s how long the person will be waiting in the chair. The Flash will think it took even less long than this. I’m not going to bother counting your 9’s, but from eyeballing it I think it would feel like twenty orders of magnitude less time (than 3 millionths of a second).

            The only way the prisoner would be waiting for a week would be if the Flash traveled on the order of a light-week, which is far enough to take you out of our solar system, but not to the next star.

            (To me it looks like longer than a week, so maybe the Flash did indeed travel to Proxima Centauri for his sandwich.)

          • dick says:


            Oops, of course you’re right, I transposed the two T’s in the lorentz equation. Done properly, of course the relativistic term drops out and the Flash’s speed is just 1000m/600000s = a couple cm per second. Oops!

          • smocc says:

            It may help to note explicitly that you don’t need relativity to determine how long the Flash will be gone according to the man in the chair. We are always reporting the Flash’s speed in the frame of the earth, which is the same as the guy in the chair. You just take the distance and divide it by the given speed to get the time experienced by the guy in the chair; no relativity needed.

            Relativity is only needed when you try to figure out what the Flash sees.

          • dick says:


            Amusingly, I know that, having majored in physics. My problem was that the experience of doing many relativity story problems and getting counter-intuitive answers has apparently led me to not trust my intuition, and just plug in the numbers instead. So after I transposed the T’s and got the wrong answer, I didn’t ponder whether it made sense. There’s probably a lesson there, beyond just the one about not doing math late at night when you’re a bit high.

          • smocc says:

            I will also admit that I had read the comic and thought nothing of it until it was pointed out here.

      • dodrian says:

        The ability to be invisible but only while playing the trombone.

        The 1999 superhero movie piss-take Mystery Men included Invisible Boy, who could only become invisible when no one was watching (including himself, but “when you go invisible… you can feel it”).

        The other useless superheroes were Mr. Furious who once lifted a bus over his head (well, he pushed it a ways while the driver also had his foot on the pedal), The Shoveler (“God gave me a gift. I shovel well”), The Blue Raja (“Master of Silverware, forks a speciality”), The Spleen (“If you want to know what my power is, pull my finger”), the Sphinx (“terribly mysterious, plus he can cut guns in half with his mind”), and the Bowler (“am I to understand you’ve inserted your father’s skull inside of that ball for bowling?”).

        Unfortunately, being a superhero movie, all their useless powers became plot-essential at some point during the movie.

        • fion says:

          Unfortunately, being a superhero movie, all their useless powers became plot-essential at some point during the movie.

          That sounds surprising and therefore potentially entertaining.

          Some of those reminded me of “Moist”, a character in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. His super-power is to be perpetually moist.

          • Randy M says:

            You should definitely check it out if you haven’t.

          • johan_larson says:

            You should definitely check it out if you haven’t.

            Let me push back against that a bit. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is an odd mixture of light-hearted musical comedy and really dark drama. A more consistent tone would have been welcome, IMHO. If you watch it, be ready for some steak in your ice cream.

          • dodrian says:

            I think Randy was referring to Mystery Men, which while it does have one rather dark scene, it’s one of the 90s comedies that’s aged pretty well.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t know about Dr. Horrible, but Mystery Men sounds like it covers what he’s interested in and is a pretty fun movie.

          • fion says:


            To be honest, I think I agree with you about Dr Horrible. I didn’t really enjoy it when I watched it, and now you mention it I remember being a bit struck (in a bad way) by the darkness. But there were some things about it that I thought were pretty funny, and those are mostly what’s stuck in my memory.

            @Randy M

            I shall add it to my list. 🙂

        • John Schilling says:

          and the Bowler (“am I to understand you’ve inserted your father’s skull inside of that ball for bowling?”).

          To be fair, the father’s skull brought enough psychokinetic mojo to turn the bowling ball into a low-rent Mjolnir. The rest, yeah, very weak and/or specialized, but nicely woven into a plot.

          • Lillian says:

            A self-guided low-rent Mjolnir no less, she’s the one that really adds some “super” to their hero team.

        • Lillian says:

          The best part is that as bad as the main characters are, they are still the most effective vigilante hero groups around. As amply demonstrated in the sequence in which our band of mostly useless heroes interviews a slew of even more useless heroes in the hopes of adding to their team. Also the villain Casanova Frankenstein has powers consisting of Disco Dancing henchmen, 19th century fisticuffs, and really sharp sharp fingernails on his pinkies.

          It is truly a glorious and sadly under-appreciated gem of a movie.

          Though as good at The Shoveller was a shovelling, he never did unlock the True Power of the Shovel.

          • John Schilling says:

            Also the villain Casanova Frankenstein has powers consisting of Disco Dancing henchmen, 19th century fisticuffs, and really sharp sharp fingernails on his pinkies.

            He’s also a fair gadgeteer, as note the cholorform-deploying portable enticement snare and of course the psychofrakulator, and he can play the “I know you know I know” game to exactly the right level. Did you know that?

          • Lillian says:

            Of course!

      • MrApophenia says:

        The X-Men have even subverted that from time to time – such as with Cypher, whose mutant ability is a perfect intuitive understanding of all language (including codes and computer programming).

        This astonishingly useful ability for the real world has the primary effect of making him utterly useless as an X-Man.

        (Or had, rather, as with powers like that I’m afraid he didn’t last nearly as long as the guy whose powers are pointy bits and quick healing.)

        • fion says:

          That’s interesting. Obviously Cypher’s ability would be incredibly useful in real life, but I think you’re being a little bit harsh about Wolverine. Quick healing would come in pretty handy in my day-to-day life.

    • shakeddown says:

      – Can slowly retract his beard, but only while wearing shaving cream.
      – Can do any accent flawlessly, but only when silent.
      – Can drive any vehicle, but only when wasted (and the level of driving would match that of an average competent person when that person was drunk).
      – Can talk to cats, but cats don’t care.

      • beleester says:

        #1 seems pretty handy on a mundane level – a perfect shave every time, without cutting yourself, and without buying new razor blades all the time.
        #2 is a contradiction in terms, unless you can subvocalize? Or maybe it allows them to perfectly write accents phonetically?
        #3 might help if you’re in a completely unfamiliar vehicle – a drunken airplane pilot is probably better than no pilot at all. Or if there are multiple crew – the plane is crashing, Drunk Driver downs a bottle of whiskey and slurs out some instructions on how to restart the engines, while his sober copilot mans the controls.
        #4 made me chuckle.

        • A1987dM says:

          #1 — depends on how “slowly” he means. If it takes an hour to retract one day’s worth of beard, you’d still want to shave.

      • toastengineer says:

        Can talk to cats, but cats don’t care.

        That’s just the Emperor of Cats guy from Girl Genius.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Was he ever confirmed as Napoleon after a brain transplant?

          • CatCube says:

            No, he’s a construct. I think his creator used something of Napoleon combined with other great generals or something, but he has no “past life”.

    • BBA says:

      Related to these superpowers, one of the remarkable inventions by Dr. Bunsen Honeydew of Muppet Labs was created while he was trying to turn lead to gold. He did not succeed in this endeavor, but he found a way to do the next best thing: turning gold to cottage cheese.

    • MrApophenia says:

      This reminds me of a complaint I saw someone make about Daredevil. His powers, as of course we all know, are that although his is blind, his other senses are heightened to such a degree that he can still sense objects moving around him.

      So… his powers are that he can see. You know who else can sense objects around them? Everyone else with normal eyesight!

      On a similar note, there is the Ten Eyed Man, a silver age DC Comics villain whose incredible power was that he had an eye at the end of each finger. This astonishing sensory advantage was counteracted when Batman tossed a cactus at him and he caught it.

  25. Freddie deBoer says:

    relax my dudes

  26. timujin says:

    Scott, exactly why did you block the word “Puppies” on your Tumblr Saviour?

    • Iain says:

      I suspect it was this.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      My guess would be the Hugo awards controversy around the “Sad Puppies” and “Rabid Puppies” factions.

      TL;DR: Decades old arguments about what constitutes real science fiction got a shot in the arm when progressive writers and con-goers started de-platforming established conservative writers at Worldcon (the people who chose Hugo winners). In response to that and as a protest of bias in the Hugo awards, a group called the Sad Puppies voted on a slate of conservative and old-school SF nominees and unexpectedly swept the nominations. The Sad Puppies dialed it down the following year but a more extreme group, the Rabid Puppies, had even greater success with a slate of books chosen specifically to trigger Worldcon’s progressives. This led to much butthurt and a number of categories with “No Award” as the winner.

      • melboiko says:

        Which established conservative writers have been de-platformed, and how?

        • John Schilling says:

          Right, that sounds more like the Nebulas (voted on by fellow authors) than the Hugos (voted on by fans), and it’s probably an overstatement even there. The allegations of SJ domination of the Hugos mostly cited an echo-chamber effect in the nomination process, not de-platforming of authors.

        • Enkidum says:

          See here. Nothing about de-platforming, there was however a great deal of culture war stuff between Vox Day and… someone whose name I forget, but black female writer of message-y science fiction. Apparently various people were upset that the sjws were polluting the vital fluids of real science fiction, or something.

          • John Schilling says:

            Fortunately for, well, most of science fiction, Vox Day does not count as “established conservative writers”, and was basically unique in his ability to get himself thrown out of forums and even have the merely-sad puppies trying to keep a safe distance.

          • Charlie__ says:

            Surely not N. K. Jemsin, black female fantasy writer of no particularly astonishing message-y-ness?

          • Enkidum says:

            @Charlie – I believe that was the name? I have no idea about the details, I read some of Vox Day’s stuff on the matter and thought he was an obvious disgusting fraud so decided not to dig in any further.

          • Nick says:

            The writer who came to my mind was Nnedi Okorafor, whose book Who Fears Death I recall was criticized by Radish mag in their article on Lovecraft, and who later won a Hugo Award for her novella Binti. It looks like Vox Day did spar a bit with Okorafor, but I don’t know whether that’s who Enkidum actually had in mind.

          • JohnWittle says:

            Honestly, there was some very real pollution going on. I remember one story that won, it was kind of the last straw for the conservatives… it was about a gay adolescent struggling with the process of coming out to his parents, I think? Anyway, it did not include any science at all. Like literally it just plain wasn’t science fiction, yet it won a Hugo.

            So I get a little worried when people are talking about the puppy conflict as being about gatekeeping ‘real’ science fiction, in an eye-rolling sort of way, because that’s what was really happening. Books were being chosen based solely on the criteria of how fervently they pushed a progressive worldview, and absolutely no thought was given to the ‘science’ part of the phrase ‘science fiction’; worldcon might as well have just been a general fiction convention.

            There were two separate groups of complaintants, somewhat lining up with the sad vs rabid puppy distinction.

            The first group was upset that the most prestigious science fiction award in the anglosphere no longer had anything to do with science, and their complaints were totally legitimate.

            The second group was upset that the ideology which had replaced the ‘science’ aspects of the award was specifically progressive. To be completely honest, I think their complaints were valid too.

            The first group just wanted to ignore all the politics and have the award go to books based solely on their merit as science fiction; the second group wanted to inject conservative ideology into the award process so as to counterbalance the prevailing progressive lean.

        • Aapje says:

          My understanding is that there were campaigns by SJ-minded people to have their favorite books win, to vote for writers because of their gender/race/sexual orientation and such. The accusation was that also that only “heavy handed message fic” was getting nominated. Then Larry Correia tried to get his own book nominated in 2013, which failed, although he got close.

          Then in 2014 he tried again, but now will a full slate for various categories. He now got 7 nominations, but they did very badly in the final count.

          Then Brad R. Torgersen took over from Correia for the third Sad Puppies campaign in 2015. Simultaneously, Vox Day started his first Rabid Puppies campaign, which was mostly the same slate as the Sad Puppies one. The lists were very ingroupy, with many nominations from one publisher. The puppies campaigns now got 58 nominations. Cue great culture war outrage. The final vote had all but one of the Puppies nominations with less votes than ‘no award.’ The result was that some categories had no award and that the puppies won one award (not very impressive, since it was the film Guardians of the Galaxy).

          The 2016 Sad Puppies campaign was run by Kate Paulk and they changed from a slate to a recommendations list, with the order selected by Sad Puppies voters. So then the list was no longer by a committee. Vox Day did his own Rabid Puppies list. They now managed to get 64 nominations, but many of the nominations were by books that were popular anyway (like works by Neil Gaiman and Neal Stephenson).

          In 2017, the Hugo’s changed their nomination process to reduce the power of “bloc” voting. There was no Sad Puppies campaign, but there was a Rabid Puppies campaign. He got 12 nominations.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Nabil ad Dajjal:

        “Decades old arguments about what constitutes real science fiction got a shot in the arm when progressive writers and con-goers started de-platforming established conservative writers at Worldcon (the people who chose Hugo winners).”

        The Hugos awards are chosen by the members of Worldcon, both attending and supporting. The Hugos aren’t chosen specifically by writers– that’s the Nebulas.

        I’m not sure whether this is an actual misunderstanding of yours, or just an error which crept in during editing.

        I would say it was mostly about what constitutes good science fiction as distinct from what constitutes real science fiction.

        It wasn’t about de-platforming, it was about who won the awards.

  27. Andrew Hunter says:

    I’ve been reading a bunch lately, and I’m going to post a couple book reviews. If it seems like people enjoy it, I’ll keep up.

    Book Review – Castles of Steel
    Source: saw it in a used book store and decided I needed more battleships in my life.

    This is a story about a series of WW1 naval leaders and what they did with their ships. There’s relatively little technology–some discussions of coal vs oil, the importance of damage control and gun directors, and a surprisingly long section of submarines–but this is mostly about Churchill and Jellicoe and Fisher and their German counterparts and how they decided what to do. It’s telling that the book opens with a biography of the Kaiser and why he cares about the navy. This trend continues throughout: we get long sketches of Jellicoe and Prince Louis and Beatty, among others, and they’re often very interesting features. It’s a bit arbitrary who gets a profile and who doesn’t; we see an extended piece on von Spee but little by comparison on Hipper and Scheer.

    Massie is open with his opinions. It’s a bit surprising, compared to some history books, how openly he takes sides. Churchill was a meddling amateur; Jellicoe a suffering saint; Fisher brilliant but weak to Churchill; Louis a cruelly used man. I wonder how much I trust him. I read his evidence, and he seems right, but of course he does; that’s why he used the evidence he did. I’m not qualified to say what he’s leaving out–if anything. If I were a seasoned expert I’d know, but ain’t nobody got time for that. So for now I’m going to assume he’s mostly right. One just wonders. I think the book’s better for it; the story is clear and we feel more engaged because we see the leadership and have a position on it.

    There’s a trope where only pick-your-euphemism-for-autistic-loser-nerds care about all the technical details but the important thing is the people, as anyone normal could see. That’s not what I’m saying here, nor do I think Massie thinks that. The technology and the objective facts of battle matter here, and he cares about them and explains them very well, though with less engineering detail than Bean (what did you really expect…) But it’s clear this book is written from a very different place than Naval Gazing. I like both, really.

    I also want to point out two things the book drove home in a way my previous reading hadn’t. First, the importance of good communication (and the number of times combatants, particularly the British, didn’t have it.) Seriously. Time after time someone misinterprets a signal, or chooses not to bother reporting a contact, or assumes everyone else is thinking the same way, and a sure sinking is lost. I wonder how well this has been taken to heart since then; you hear fewer stories of lost communication in WW2 (radio use was certainly better); even the famous miscommunication everyone knows was more about implications than missing knowledge.) In modern days I think people definitely are more aware of the importance of clear lines of communication, but I don’t honestly know how well they implement that.

    The second big discovery was a better appreciation for what “damage” means. It’s really easy to read a Wikipedia summary of a battery as “two battlecruisers damaged” and feel almost disappointed–nothing important happened! Massie shows how wrong this is. We see a real estimation of the cost–both human and materiel–of even a few main battery hits. It’s much harder to dismiss damage after reading Dogger Bank’s chapter. None of the German BCs sank, but seeing his narrative makes it hard to dismiss the danger they were in, and the pounding they took. (I’d also recommend C.S. Forester’s The Ship to see the same idea; it’s an entire novel about the important details, and danger, of an engagement that, manifestly, was worth four sentences in an after-action report. A finely written piece of propaganda.)

    The bad: routinely talks about “dreadnought battlecruisers” which deeply bothers me on some level. Okay, okay, I’m disputing definitions, and his meaning is crystal clear, but it bothers me. A more serious objection: the battle narratives consistently go into great detail about each side’s maneuvers–bearings, ranges, position to obscure landmarks. Without considerably more graphics than the book has, this is basically gibberish. I don’t know about you, but I can’t reconstruct a complex naval course in the North Sea in my head from a litany of sailing south-south east for an hour at 25 knots, followed by a six-point left turn…this needs graphs. (Really, this needs a plot in CIC.)

    Now the thing is: this doesn’t matter. I don’t really need to know the exact position of every ship; I need to have an idea of the range, and which side is trying to hold it open or close. I need to know who broke off, when, and why. After reading his account of Jutland, I really couldn’t tell you where Horns Reef is…but I get that it was a path back to the Jade, that both sides knew this, and that Jellicoe tried to cover it but wasn’t sure of the relative position. Really,that’s enough, but it’s frustrating that Massie goes to such lengths to tell me these things I can’t follow. He’s not unique here. Reading David Weber, I tend to gloss over long descriptions of engagement geometry, because again, I only really care if Honor wants to close or not and the timescale of the engagement [1]. But it’s a flaw.

    Recommended if: If you hang out in this comment section, I expect you know already if battleships are of interest to you in general. But this isn’t one of Bean’s posts. You’ll get more color; you’ll learn quite a bit of detail about naval personalities, and for extra points you get a fairly good account of Gallipoli.

    [1] Also because Weber occasionally gets things egregiously wrong. The fleet closing at high velocity towards a world does not actually have a large missile envelope. That is not how relative velocity works, dude.

    • bean says:

      Have not read Castles of Steel, probably should do so for completeness.

      I also want to point out two things the book drove home in a way my previous reading hadn’t. First, the importance of good communication (and the number of times combatants, particularly the British, didn’t have it.) Seriously.

      This is coming to Naval Gazing, but it’s hard for me to write. Some of it is that I’m not sure you can get a good feel for it without seeing an absurd number of examples.

      I wonder how well this has been taken to heart since then; you hear fewer stories of lost communication in WW2 (radio use was certainly better)

      It’s a lot better now. Modern doctrine emphasizes the importance of reporting in, even if you’re pretty sure that someone else already has. Some of it was the technical limits on radio at the time, which had only a very few channels.

      The bad: routinely talks about “dreadnought battlecruisers” which deeply bothers me on some level.

      That is irritating. “Dreadnought armored cruiser” is in some ways a better term to use than battlecruiser, because it emphasizes the continuity of concept with the pre-dreadnought armored cruisers. I tried to emphasize that in the relevant column. But battlecruiser is inherently a dreadnought ship, so “dreadnought battlecruiser” is redundant.

      A more serious objection: the battle narratives consistently go into great detail about each side’s maneuvers–bearings, ranges, position to obscure landmarks. Without considerably more graphics than the book has, this is basically gibberish. I don’t know about you, but I can’t reconstruct a complex naval course in the North Sea in my head from a litany of sailing south-south east for an hour at 25 knots, followed by a six-point left turn…this needs graphs. (Really, this needs a plot in CIC.)

      I’ve made extensive use of the German trackcharts in my Jutland narrative, and it seems to have really helped. I’d actually be interested in your thoughts on Jutland Part 2, which is in the published folder now. (The charts are somewhat smaller than they should be in the final version. Said Achmiz is still working out why the display is broken.)

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        I’ve made extensive use of the German trackcharts in my Jutland narrative, and it seems to have really helped. I’d actually be interested in your thoughts on Jutland Part 2, which is in the published folder now. (The charts are somewhat smaller than they should be in the final version. Said Achmiz is still working out why the display is broken.)

        I will take a look with interest soonest, but as I say here: I’m not sure I do care to know the tracks?

        It’s interesting. There’s the famous saying that “amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics.” Another thing I’ve noticed is that amateurs study–well, anything, in a given sport–and professionals study footwork. I’ve had actual experts diagram the footwork used in a boxing match to me, and it’s explained to me very clearly how little I know about boxing. Footwork is subtle and it matters. Same is true in every sport I can name; it’s invisible to the casual fan but indispensible to professional-level play.

        Maybe the same is true with naval maneuvering. I’m honestly not sure. I’m sure I’d lose a fleet exercise against Jellicoe without understanding the Jutland tracks. but I feel like I understand his decisions without it. My experience in other sports makes me wonder if I’m totally wrong about that.


        • bean says:

          I’m in an interesting place here, as I wrote the text on the assumption that no map was available, and then was able to add good maps. Not sure how that will work.
          The trackcharts are an interesting departure from most battle maps, which are, IMO, way too busy. The worst is this kind of thing, where you have to make a deliberate effort to figure out where everything is at a given time. They’re of time slices, of anywhere from 5 minutes to half an hour, giving a much better sense of where ships were at a given point in time. I’d actually like maps with less detail but the same degree of time-slicing, but I’m not good enough with any graphics program to do them in a reasonable amount of time. I’ve tried advertising for someone who is, and gotten no takers.

          I’m sure I’d lose a fleet exercise against Jellicoe without understanding the Jutland tracks. but I feel like I understand his decisions without it. My experience in other sports makes me wonder if I’m totally wrong about that.

          Sort of, but it is helpful to have a diagram where you can go “oh, right. This is why X was so good/so bad.” I’m interested to see what you make of the finished product.

    • Urstoff says:

      Have you read Massie’s Dreadnought, to which Castles of Steel is a sequel? It’s one of those books that’s sitting on my shelves unread.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        I only heard of it after I was 2/3s of the way through. I’m not sure. I quite liked CoS, if the review didn’t make it obvious, but a pre-war book seems likely to be less interesting? Not sure what to think.

  28. Andrew Hunter says:

    Book Review – The Outlaw Sea
    Source: HN comment on another essay by the same author

    This is–I believe–a collection of articles from The Atlantic and similar magazines, edited into a book. Even if I’m wrong about the provenance, that’s certainly how it reads; we have chapters, very lightly bonded together, about different aspects of the risk of sea travel and the shipping industry.

    Past that, there’s honestly not that much to say. The author knows his business, that much is clear; he’s been writing about shipping for quite some time, and makes no mistakes I am capable of detecting. He is an extremely compelling writer; the prose is rich, inventive, and gripping. The topics–fragile ships in storms, piracy on the high seas, shipwreck and disaster where no one expected it, shipbreaking–are hard, sad, gritty things to write about, and what we get are, well, stories. I wanted to know what would happen to the characters we saw; I wanted to know what they went through to get out; I cared. And I learned–a little. I knew cargo ships skimp on maintenance, and I knew that piracy is profitable in parts of the pacific–there are no revelations here. But there is interesting detail in the classification societies, the ethnic ties of piracy, the lives everyone leads. I’m glad I know this now.

    The bad: the longest chapter is, to my eyes, the weakest. It’s about an Estonia ferry wreck and the immense number of first-world casualties, but gets bogged down, in my eyes, with the recondite conspiracy theories and political intrigue surrounding the investigation. That is a complicated and somewhat interesting topic, but it’s less relevant to why I wanted to read this book. Even the parts that were about the shipwreck itself went on a bit, as I see it, about the horror faced by passengers. I didn’t need quite so many anecdotes about the difficulty of escape and the conditions in the water; samplings would have been valuable but I had enough two thirds of the way through. It was still an interesting chapter, but I much preferred the earlier ones.

    Recommended if: this is essays about disaster or hardship at sea, with tons of local color. Don’t expect life changing economic lessons or a better understanding of maritime commerce, but if that sounds fun to you, you’re probably right.

  29. anonymousskimmer says:

    99th comment!

    Edit: Damnit fortaleza84 , now this is comment #100. 🙁

  30. pontifex says:

    Michael Jordan, prestigious machine learning researcher, has a new post on medium urging you not to take AI too seriously. Or something. It seems like he feels like AI is getting overhyped, and wants to carve out a separate space for “Intelligent Infrastructure” (II), where presumably his stuff would live.

    He namedrops quite an amazing list of people.

    Acknowledgments: There are a number of individuals whose comments during the writing of this article have helped me greatly, including Jeff Bezos, Dave Blei, Rod Brooks, Cathryn Carson, Tom Dietterich, Charles Elkan, Oren Etzioni, David Heckerman, Douglas Hofstadter, Michael Kearns, Tammy Kolda, Ed Lazowska, John Markoff, Esther Rolf, Maja Mataric, Dimitris Papailiopoulos, Ben Recht, Theodoros Rekatsinas, Barbara Rosario and Ion Stoica.

    My first reaction is that it’s nothing I haven’t read before. He’s probably right in the short term. In the long term… ?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      What is the miscarriage rate for amniocentesis?

      Jordan seems to say that in ~2005 it was believed to be 1/300. I thought that it was believed to be 1/100 when it was introduced in ~1980, but by ~1990, they had figured out that it was 1/1000. But a quick google search finds lots of reputable websites like NHS and Mayo claiming 1/200. It also finds a lot of people quoting a ~2005 study that it was ~1/1000. It’s hard to measure because the base rate is already 1/100

  31. jgr314 says:

    Are there any suggestions about how to optimally achieve a placebo effect? This arose from a debate I am having with a co-worker about the efficacy of acupuncture for pain relief. He argues that, even if the benefits are entirely from placebo, it is still worth the time and money.

  32. ilikekittycat says:

    Did you find the internet generally more comprehensible in the old days, when everyone’s poor spelling idiosyncrasies were on display, but where once you figured out someone’s writing quirks you could generally follow along; or in the recent era of spell checkers and swipe keyboards where every word is immaculate and a real word but no one checks to make sure the (properly spelled, in-the-dictionary) words they are posting are actually the ones they intended to post?

  33. John Schilling says:

    In honor of this hundredth Open Thread and the recent completion of the first ever SSC-readers’ Diplomacy game, His Imperial and Royal Majesty Jean I, By the Grace of God and the Constitutions of the Republic, Emperor of the French and Everyone Else, will offer the world this true and correct account of how France conquered the world.

    In all seriousness, thanks to everyone involved. To my allies the Democratic Lizard People of Germany and the Triumvirate of Italy, who endured ultimate betrayal in the name of my victory. To the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and the Crown Prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, for giving us an early master class in treachery and then somehow forming the most unlikely but enduring of alliances. To the English government, frozen out of the early deals but fought on alone and fought well. To the Tsar of All Russia, whose resolute defiance to the bitter end was immensely frustrating and amazing to experience. And to our host, for letting his blog be used to organize a game he wouldn’t even get to play in (and then letting me brag about it).

    At some point, I’m going to have to learn who you all are, put at least SSC-pseudonyms to the countries I spent so long negotiating with. It was a great game, well-played and much enjoyed, and my victory was never certain until the very end.

    Now, let’s see if I can break this into four pieces of reasonable commenting length…

    Also, for reference, a copy of the map, with starting positions and province/sea abbreviations

    • John Schilling says:

      I love it when a plan comes together.

      In order to conquer the world, one must have a plan. And a plan must have an objective. Per the rules of the game the objective is, A: not die, and B: hold eighteen supply centers. So I needed to start with a list, and never lose sight of it.


      Eighteen supply centers realistically within France’s reach, without having to force the Mediterranean. But I might run into trouble, and I have a home center on the Med, so there was room for a plan B:


      Looking at the overlap, I absolutely had to defeat both England and Germany to win. The decisions to be left for later were, England first, or Germany? Germany then on to Scandinavia and Russia, Germany then pivot south into Italy, or Italy then pivot north to Germany? I didn’t think it was realistic to proceed past the Adriatic coast even with a full southern focus, and I certainly didn’t think it was realistic for me to get all the way to Moscow in the North. Shame on you for your lack of confidence, Past Me.

      But also the whole “Not Die” thing. France has a strong defensive position at the opening, with only two real threats (the Italian attack is weak) and with two centers in Iberia available grab without interference. But not strong enough to withstand an early concentrated Anglo-German attack, about the only thing that can knock France fully out of the game. I needed to prevent that alliance from forming, and the only sure way to do that was to replace it with an Anglo-French or Franco-German alliance. Having a secure-ish position, I could stay noncommittal and see who was most eager to have me as a partner.

      Both made reasonable offers, but I judged Germany’s to be a bit more credible. We arranged an equitable division of the spoils, in which Germany gets Belgium and Edinburgh while I would take London and Liverpool. And we arranged to fake an immediate Franco-German war to mask our true intentions. Details to come.

      My next highest priority was to ensure I didn’t face a cross-channel invasion in 1901, while setting up my own for 1902. Fortunately, England alone attacking France, even if she gets the initiative by moving a fleet unopposed into ENG, tends to bog down into a stalemate that only benefits whoever was waiting on the sidelines. I had no trouble negotiating a DMZ in the channel through 1902 – and left it at that. Let England believe that I will be stuck in a pointless war with Germany, forced to come begging to her for assistance in a year or two.

      Er, unless England and Germany had been secretly plotting against me, leading me on by each telling me what I want to hear. This was a serious concern, especially since I know Germany is up for sneaky deceptive moves at the outset. Worried me immensely for a while. But there was no helping it.

      Setting up a broader DMZ with Italy was easy. There’s only a narrow land border between us, neither of our fleets can reach the other any time in 1901, and both sides face more serious threats closer to home.

      After that, I talked to Russia. When the time came for my sudden but inevitable betrayal of Germany, I would want Russia solidly on my side. Also, early Russian activity in Scandinavia would keep the pressure on Britain. So I wanted to establish friendly communications, and to ensure Russia would open with at least two of her units in the North. To that end, I promised Russia that if she did open with two units into Scandinavia, I would ensure Germany did not block her (Germany cannot realistically hope to gain Swe for herself in 1901, but if being spiteful or defensive can keep it from Russia). How could I promise such a thing? By promising to bribe Germany with access to Bel, in exchange for Germany’s going along with the deal. I was already planning to cede Bel to Germany in exchange for her support in England, but there was no need for Russia to know that.

      Then round out the pregame diplomacy by making friendly contact with Austria and Turkey, just to keep channels open and maybe share tidbits of useful information.

      Then lock in the most important moves of the game.

      F Bre – MAO. Obvious; it’s the only thing to do with that fleet if I’m not immediately fighting the English, and the only way to claim Portugal in 1901

      A Par – Gas. Pretty strange, moving directly away from all the fighting. But it is the only province from which I can cover all three of my home centers against possible threats, and it otherwise lets me take Spain in fall, so it fits with my image of playing defense on 1901. And there’s a huge ulterior motive for it, which I need England to not notice. So,

      A Mar – Bur. Which I absolutely do not want to succeed, because I need that army to stay in Marselles. So I’ve arranged for a mutual bounce with Germany’s A Mun – Bur. This looks like a nasty German sneak attack, blocked by cowardly suspicious France. Particularly with German forces in Kiel and Berlin racing west toward France’s undefended northern coast.

      That left me feeling both apprehensive and exhilarated. The most dangerous and potentially most rewarding move of the game. If there had been a secret Anglo-German alliance against me, I’d have been doomed to quick annihilation. If Germany alone had decided to really go in against me, I could have held on but from a position of weakness, forced to beg for English aid on unfavorable terms. But if it worked…

      Yeah, it worked. The Germans did what they said they would. The English opened hard against Norway; the Russians devoted their promised two units to the same, and Germany stayed out of their way. So in the fall, I was able to strip France completely bare. My Army Marseilles, still in Marseilles because of the bounce, took Spain. And I took Portugal by convoying A Gascony, the ulterior motive for moving there in the first place.

      But why convoy an army to the westernmost tip of Europe, where there will never be any fighting, when I could have just quickly slipped in a fleet?

      For that, the world had to wait for spring (and our new builds). In my case, a shiny new fleet in Brest, and a boringly useless army in Paris. Seriously, that army didn’t do anything of consequence until the very last turn of the game. But I did get my first worrisome surprise, when Germany built two fleets and no armies. There’s no need for that many German fleets except against England or France, and we’ve already agreed England isn’t going to last long enough for it to matter.

      Further talks led me to believe that England hadn’t seen the subtle threat in my moves and still believed Germany and I were at war. Germany did little to assuage my concerns regarding her three fleets, but didn’t seem to be an immediate stab risk. There looked to be some possibility of an early war between Russia and Germany, with England as a swing player, but I didn’t see an effective way to encourage that outcome without breaking trust I would need later. On the far corner of the world, he dreaded Russo-Turkish juggernaut seemed to be forming; I would have been happy to see the Russia vs Germany part of that, but there was otherwise the risk of that alliance becoming too powerful, too fast, and conquering the world before I could manage it. And being in the farthest corner of the world, all I could do was try to convince Italy and Austria to unite against the juggernaut before it was too late (for me, not for them).

      Meanwhile, nothing to do but execute my clever scheme and see if it would be a masterstroke or a great blunder. By not sending my fleet into Portugal last fall, it was still able to move into IRI in spring. Meanwhile, my new fleet could take its place in MAO, and that puts a nice convoy chain between my lonely army in Portugal and the wholly defenseless English center of Liverpool. Which is isolated enough that England can’t stop it unless they see it at least a full turn in advance.

      They don’t see it coming, meaning there’s a French army on the undefended English mainland. Masterstroke. Meanwhile, Germany has slipped a fleet into NTH – in the only real mistake I saw her make, England failed to order F Lon S F NWG – NTH. Not that this would have done more than delay the inevitable, but now that inevitable end will come quickly. Russia, for her part, destroyed the British army in Norway.

      I love it when a plan comes together.

      • fion says:

        I think you’re still in the edit window. Apologies if not – I didn’t do the maths.

        “If there had been a secret Franco-German alliance against me”

        should presumably be “Anglo-German”

        Enjoying your write-up so far. Will finish reading later, and hopefully add my own.

    • John Schilling says:

      The world turned upside down.

      In our last thrilling episode, we marched ashore with the French Expeditionary Force as it seized an undefended Liverpool, and watched Britain suffer reversals in NTH and Norway. But I didn’t mention the equally momentous events in the opposite corner of Europe. Russia and Turkey had seemed united in a Juggernaut. I had brokered a deal where Austria and Italy would stand against them. Instead, we saw the first great work of treachery of the new century, perfectly executed. Austrian armies launched a coordinated attack against the Russian position in Rumania, but a cruel stab from a Turkish army in Armenia prevented Russia’s Sevastapol garrison from offering defensive support. The Black Sea fleet, forced out of Rumania, was blocked from its retreat into BLA and annihilated. I believe the minelayer Nusret was involved. The Austrian navy, which had been advancing down the Adriatic coast, reversed into ADR and seized Venice with the support of an Austrian army.

      A lasting alliance between the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empire is almost as implausible in the game as it would have been in history, but that is what we were faced with. WTF? I would from time to time point out to both sides that this alliance would not lead to victory (true) and that there were great short-term gains to be had if either fell on the other’s defenseless rear (also true), but they understood that further treachery also would not lead to victory and so that unholy alliance would hold for the remainder of the game.

      Both Italy and Russia were badly out of position, half the Italian army stuck in Africa and most of the Russian in Scandinavia. The only bit of good fortune was that Venice had been taken by a fleet rather than an army, so Austria could not immediately march inland. Still, I had been planning to either conquer Italy or ignore it. Now someone else would conquer them first, and they wouldn’t have stopped there. So I was going to have to immediately reinforce Italy. My nearest fleet could arrive by the end of 1903, but there was a hitch. The RN’s home fleet was surrounded in ENG, soon to be displaced, and if it could “retreat” into MAO it would threaten Portugal and Spain.

      I needed to displace F ENG, block it from retreating to MAO (or Brest!), have enough force on hand to take London in fall, and do it all without the help of F MAO. This is possible, but tricky. My new F Brest will have to cover MAO while A Picardy falls back to Brest, leaving F IRI to take ENG with the support of Germany’s F Belgium. In fall, I’ll need what I hope is a German F NTH to support me into London. In the south, I needed Germany to block Austria from claiming Tyrol, lest Venice fall before my reinforcements. This works, but it requires more German help than I was planning on. And all I can offer in return is to support their attack into Edi, which I had already promised.

      Germany comes through. Busy planning war against Russia, they were happy with me efficiently planning the dismemberment of England. With one small glitch. The Germans has negotiated a DMZ with Austria along the Tyrol-Bohemia border, and so couldn’t help me in Tyrol. It works out just as well if Austria is kept out by German diplomats as German soldiers, but it looked like a bad deal on Austria’s part (trapped her Vienna army with no good moves) so I feared treachery. But I had to trust it.

      Italy, of course, had to trust me or die at the hands of the Austro-Hungarian-Ottoman Empire (WTF?). They tried to talk me into doing this without taking Tunisia along the way, but no. Britain had been desperately trying to find an ally but had little to offer. I talked with Russia about her optimum strategy against her enemes (including Germany, because I didn’t want my ally to out-expand me). My attempt to impose a ceasefire line between France and Turkey in the Med failed miserably, made a bitter foe of Turkey, and pretty much shut down diplomacy on that front. Still shared carefully-edited notes with Austria.

      The actual moves went mostly as planned. The single glitch was the Royal Navy’s attempted breakout into the MAO – an obscure move that apparently both of us saw and I blocked. But it cost me critical tempo in the Med. Fortunately, England didn’t see the obscure move that would let them threaten my beachhead in Liverpool, though the last remnant of the Royal Navy did manage to hold London through 1904.

      The Austro-German DMZ did hold, an act of trust that I think may cost Austria any chance at victory. Among other things, it let Italy and me coordinate a three-on-two attack carefully crafted to annihilate the Austro-Hungarian navy and reclaim Venice for Italy. I claim Tunisia along the way, but Turkey was able to force ION. That was a problem.

      Germany moved hard against Russia, which managed to hold in on all fronts. Barely. I was happy to see Russia and Germany stalemate, because at some point I had to defeat Germany and that goes easier if the Germans are still bogged down against Russia. But the unavoidable destruction of Army Ukraine left Russia encircled by five enemy armies with only two of her own at the front. Her only hope was that those five enemy armies are split between three enemies, and how well could they coordinate?

      England made a plea to stay in the game by being my single-unit ally against Germany. I considered it, because an unexpected fleet assist would give me a strong position to take NTH, but the timing wasn’t right. Felt a little bad for having to turn them down and take them out. But I also considered the possibility of their supporting Germany in a stab against me, and was worried. I was adequately defended against a German stab, but not an Anglo-German one.

      I was still in the strongest position in the game, tied with Germany at 7 centers but with strong alliances and no threats to my rear. But if I play defense while Germany advances against Russia, that puts my ally over the top. The Mediterranean strategy was looking unlikely at this point. Turkey’s blunt diplomacy, and fleet build in Smyrna (seriously, where is the Ottoman Empire getting that many modern warships?), made for a near-stalemate on that front. Italy and I could hope to make slow progress, but it will take many years to push as far as Gre and collect the necessary set of Mediterranean centers. And then they’d mostly be Italian centers, which I would have to take from myself without losing to Austria or Turkey.

      I needed to push an army into Tyrol, with the help of Italy and/or Germany. From there, I could stab north and take Munich. Probably the most important center in the game, and critical to Germany’s defense. After that, I could work with Russia to dismember Germany, then either turn on Russia to get at least as far as St.Petersburg and Warsaw, while holding in the south. Or I could shift from defending Italy against the Austro-Hungarian-Ottoman Empire (seriously, WTF?) to conquering it ahead of them, and leave Germany for later. Or I could work with Germany to take Scandinavia and defeat Russia, then turn against them from the north and south. But I had to take Tyrol, and secure the central Mediterranean, or none of it would work. And I had to do this before Germany turned around and stabbed me, a possibility I was struggling to evaluate and block.

      And the lost tempo from England bouncing me out of MAO, continues to haunt me. My second fleet couldn’t reach the Med soon enough to block a dangerous gap in TYS, into which a Turkish fleet could have advanced or “retreated” to threaten five different allied centers. I saw the vulnerability and arranged a deliberate standoff with Italy to block it, but it slowed us further. Italy saw and blocked the clever move that would have let Turkey convoy an army from Bulgaria onto the Italian mainland, which would have rivalled my Portugal-Liverpool convoy in its audacity and effect. I was embarrassed to miss that. Because of that, we didn’t retake ION until the end of 1904, and even then the Turkish fleet retreats to a dangerous position in ALB. Not until 1905 would I get that critical army into Tyrol.

      Then in the fall all my plans were in ruins. Where Germany, Austria, and Turkey had been waging separate campaigns against Russia, there is now a decisive coordinated attack by Austria and Russia against Germany and Turkey has completely withdrawn from her frontier with Russia. All the Empires of the East were united, and an Austrian army was marching towards an undefended Berlin.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        The Austro-German DMZ did hold, an act of trust that I think may cost Austria any chance at victory. Among other things, it let Italy and me coordinate a three-on-two attack carefully crafted to annihilate the Austro-Hungarian navy and reclaim Venice for Italy.

        For what it’s worth, I argued strenuously against the DMZ in Austria’s private councils. However, already by this point the game was fast outpacing my own ability to keep up, as I checked in more and more infrequently.

        the last turn I remember having a hand in was the diplomatic revolution with Russia and marching against Germany. Everything after that is new to me!

        • Randy M says:

          At that point we were looking for a tool to use to break the Russian stalemate, I think. We failed to pick up on the tight relationship between France and Germany and what that meant for us for another turn.

          And for what it’s worth, I don’t think there was a strenuous voice among the three of us. The Austrians were a bit too deferential, I think, perhaps at the cost of getting a firm strategy in place early, probably from a mix of veterans not wanting to alpha-player the newer players, and newer players not wanting to overrule wiser heads.

          Although we did a good job of sticking with good ol’ Turkey. I think you pointed out that that plan was pretty unusual because it was so hard to win with. (You had me at unusual)

          • fion says:

            Yes, I remember us umming and ahhing over Germany quite a bit, and I agree that our indecisiveness harmed us. I feel as though my opinion was that we should work with Russia against Germany sooner than we did, but I’m probably forgetting history in favour of hindsight.

            And yes, I think I, too, was tempted by “unusual” 😛

          • John Schilling says:

            Unusual you certainly got. I was impressed by how long your alliance held together and how well you did with it. It would have required a not-implausible number of lucky guesses for Austria+Turkey+Russia to have pulled ahead of the Western Alliance in the critical period of 1906-1907, and then you’d just have had to manage the transition from A+T+R to A+T vs R without giving Russia a chance to find effective new allies. It looked to me like you had the cohesion for that part.

            A long shot, but one I would have dismissed as nigh-impossible at the outset.

    • John Schilling says:

      It was the dawn of the 20th century, the year the Great War came upon us all. This is the story of the founding of the Triple Alliance. The year was 1905. And we were definitely in some sort of science-fictional simulation, one set up by a deranged anachronist, because somehow the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Russian Empire were locked in an unholy but unshakeable axis bent on world domination. Seriously, WTFF?

      Until that point, Europe had seen only local conflicts, and in the West mostly bloodless ones. Now a single united enemy was on the march, committed to total war, with sixteen centers and half a year’s march on the rest of us. Against that threat, I had to put on hold my secondary objective of World Domination and focus on my primary objective of Not Dying. Against this enemy, only immediate, decisive, and coordinated action would have averted disaster. There was no realistic hope of negotiating a separate peace with any of the enemy powers. Fortunately, I had rock-solid relationships with both Italy and Germany, and neither of them had any problem with the other.

      I took the lead in forming the new Alliance, based on my prior relationship with both other parties, my strong position on the board, and what I think is reputation as an honest and skilled commander. I proposed to my would-be allies that our enemies have united against us because they feared that I had been secretly implementing a master plan to Conquer The World, and that this is absolutely true – I am in fact planning to conquer the world, I am willing to share it with them if they are willing to help, and we should work openly to make this a reality. I note that we have the advantage in numbers, 18 units to 16, but their units are better positioned, so this will require absolutely perfect coordination. I beg their trust in this matter, acknowledging that I am best positioned to make a stab for solo victory but noting my consistently honorable behavior to date.

      They accepted without apparent reservation. And, to be fair, I was telling the truth. In that situation, I was willing to share a draw with those two allies and to work towards that end. I was ALSO willing to stab them for solo victory if the opportunity arose, but there would at best be a narrow window for that and likely none at all. Too soon, and we fall to the united East (and I am likely to be the odd man out in any subsequent realignment). Too late, and there won’t be room for all my allies’ forces to contribute on the narrowing front against a diminished enemy, and they will likely redeploy forces to cover against a stab. I wasn’t optimistic. In particular, I could no longer expect Russia to help me dismember Germany after a stab, which meant any such move would have to position me for a purely solitary run for victory.

      Still, it felt good to be leading a Grand Alliance in a desperate fight for survival and possible victory.

      I was the chief strategist and tactician for the Alliance, which I was good at. Also the head cheerleader, which was not playing to my strengths but is necessary. I tried a bit of motivational speaking, without going over the top. Always careful with my choice of words, always nudging my allies to look forward to our hard-earned joint victory rather than allowing any of the other possible outcomes to creep into their thoughts if I could help it. I played in-character when I thought it would help, and made sure to always refer to our enemy as an impersonal, monolithic thing rather than as people who might be persuaded to another path. Dark Arts 101, and that’s not really my game but it is definitely this game.

      It helped that Italy asked to keep tactical discussions one-on-one for security reasons. And I faithfully offered the best possible tactics for the whole of the alliance, because utter defeat was still on the table. Then explained the logic of it, for confidence and transparency.

      The first order of business was the vulnerability in Berlin. It would have cost us to block that attack, and I thought safe to let Austria take it in spring and reclaim it in the fall. So instead I had Germany shore up a defensive line along Munich-Silesia-Prussia. We let Russia hold Scandinavia, but moved fleets with an eye to a later invasion. In the south, we has parity in fleets and so could hold ION forever, but couldn’t move against the inconvenient Turkish fleet in ADR without probably losing ION. And with Turkey holding ADR, we would eventually lose Ven. I had reinforcements coming, starting with a new fleet in Mar, but it was a juggling act. Every time we guessed, it’s a stalemate. Every time they guessed right, we lost a province or a sea.

      We guessed mostly right in the South. Italy proposed an adventurous but risky early naval strike on Albania, but it was too early for that. So we held at sea, but by the end of the year the enemy has moved into Tyrol. In the North, my calculation that we could surely retake Berlin missed a possible four-way enemy attack on our supporting armies, but one that risked Russia losing Sweden if we moved in that direction instead. I was able to craft a plan that guaranteed us either Sweden or Berlin, at the expense of pulling back Germany’s forces in the East. Russia chose to fall back to Sweden, and a trapped Austrian army met its doom in Berlin.

      We ended 1906 with no net change in strength, and our defensive lines are a bit stronger – but still shaky. Fortunately, morale in the Alliance was high and would remain so. Trust as well, which was even more critical. Everybody was contributing to the tactical discussions, even catching a few of my glitches, and the alliance was running smoothly. I had put on hold the part where I spent every season deciding whether the time was right to stab Germany, and wondering whether I was vulnerable to their stab.

      In the south, Tyrol in enemy hands meant we had six enemy units bearing down on six of ours. But one on each side (our Fleet Apulia, their Fleet ADR) was a “swing” unit, that can move against Venice or ION, so if we ever guessed wrong we lose one of the two. Obviously Venice was more valuable, and so only a great fool would squander our resources defending ION. But the enemy must know this, so clearly I cannot chose to defend Venice. Fortunately, the enemy was in fact going in against a Sicilian when death is on the line. Unfortunately, that didn’t actually work out for the Sicilian, and I was in fact planning a land war in Asia.

      Oh, well. We concentrated on defending Venice with every available unit. And enlisted Germany’s Army Bohemia for a somewhat risky attack on Tyrol; this would destroy Austria’s army and claim Tyrol for the alliance if the enemy attacked Venice from Tyrol, and would almost certainly have lead to the German army being isolated and destroyed in any other event.

      Since the enemy did focus on attacking Venice, from Tyrol, we got it all – ION barely held, Venice barely held, and Tyrol was in German hands. Also, that army was in a fundamentally precarious position in Bohemia, so simply getting it to relative safety was a bit of good fortune. And with a new fleet moved up to the front, we had the forces to hold this line indefinitely. I think. But maybe not to safely advance?

      It will amuse bean to no end that the Ottoman Empire tried to use Army Greece to support an attack against ION. That’s some mighty impressive coastal artillery. Impressively useless, of course, but I am assured the Sultan is amused by the noise.

      In the north, spring 1906 was spent moving fleets into position for a perfect, unstoppable attack on Norway and Sweden in the fall, divided between France and Germany. Required making the right guess on whether Russia would defend Sweden or BAL, but in this instance there was no penalty for guessing wrong and we’d eventually get it right. Got it right on the first try. This was always the great hope of the alliance, and with five fleets in the North it was all but inevitable. It was “just” a matter of not making a single mistake during the two years it took to set up and execute the attack, and the enemy not finding some particularly clever means of stopping it.

      We made no mistakes, we guessed right at every fundamentally uncertain turn, and 1906 closed with a magnificent, decisive victory.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        I’m really enjoying this writeup! I’ve been cobbling together a (shorter) Turkish Perspective I’ll post later, but let me just state now for the record:

        It will amuse bean to no end that the Ottoman Empire tried to use Army Greece to support an attack against ION. That’s some mighty impressive coastal artillery. Impressively useless, of course, but I am assured the Sultan is amused by the noise.

        I do know the rules and this was 100% on purpose 😛 That army could not leave and had no land neighbors in need of support so may as well make some noise. Hold is a boring order for boring nations, the Sultan wants to see the guns!

        • John Schilling says:

          Yes, it was clear early on that we could not expect Turkey to miss a threat or an opportunity, or otherwise make a tactical mistake. There were a few cases where we could exploit the near-certainty that you’d make the only safe move; mostly it was just frustrating to deal with.

    • John Schilling says:

      Un Triomphe Magnifique.

      But, as privately acknowledged by Turkey, the beginning of the slow, inevitable, grinding defeat of the Great Enemy. We had solid lines from the Baltic to the Barbary Coast, Scandinavia securely in our hands, a modest numerical advantage, and no good path forward but attrition. Well, one good path forward, but I outsmarted myself. From Sweden and Norway, and with fresh armies being convoyed from my homeland to Norway every year, I had a clear attack into St.Petersburg (supported by two German fleets), and from there into an undefended Moscow. But Russia’s A St.Petersburg would surely have retreated to Moscow, and a Turkish army moved in to support from the south, slowing our advance on that front. Instead, what if we were to wait a turn? Convoy a German army into Livonia, then take St.Petersburg while Army Livonia blocks its retreat and keeps Moscow empty? And, to conceal our intent, “wait a turn” by deliberately botching orders for the first St.Petersburg attack?

      That would give me St.Petersburg with Moscow undefended. We went for it. But in spring, the Enemy had made no effort at all to support Moscow, so we’d have been able to take it even if Russia’s northern army had retreated into the city. And when we were belatedly in position, Russia abandoned Warsaw without a fight to march, with Turkish support, to a final defense of Moscow. Hadn’t expected that, and it cost us time. I did eventually take Moscow, calling in a favor in the form of two German armies in support. But late, in 1909. And the last Russian army…

      Does. Not. Retreat. Dead to the last man at the gates of Moscow. Very gallant. Very Russian. We were impressed, even if I wanted that army in Sevastopol frustrating Turkey’s plans. Also, note my initial strategy, the two paths to victory. Neither of which included Moscow, because planning to have France invade Moscow is somewhere between silly and arrogant. There I was, with a French army in Moscow. Napoleon has been avenged!

      I needed Russia in Sevastopol, forcing Turkey to disband a fleet and breaking the Mediterranean stalemate. We held ION, and could do so forever but only with total commitment. They held ADR, and we could not dislodge them. And without ADR, we could not break through into Trieste. Italy had been stuck for years, and deserved some prize for her patient efforts. The plan: French armies in Piedmont and Tuscany, providing defensive support so our fleets didn’t have to. Then shuffle Italy’s forces to put both of her fleets on the east coast. From there, we could mount a 3:2 attack into ADR. But Turkey would surely know this and devote all of her forces to breaking out into ION, which would succeed if ION were supporting the attack into ADR. We can only swap the one sea for the other. And even making the preparations would leave a small vulnerability, if the enemy anticipates it.

      But the day would come when having a fleet in ADR, even if only for one turn, would be worth losing ION. We made the shuffle. They anticipated, or guessed, well enough to drive us from Tyrol. Damn. But when we had three fleets bordering ADR, we anticipated Turkey would see the threat and try to break out into ION. They did and we blocked it, and destroyed their army left in Tyrol without support, and laughed. Stalemate, but now with options.

      In central Europe, Germany had the numbers but the narrow front constrained them. Still, every time the enemy guessed wrong we took a province. Usually an empty border one, but as noted Russia did abandon Warsaw.

      More importantly, the window for a successful stab on my part was both opening, in that I had a strong position with ten centers already and several quick easy gains, but also closing in that Germany would soon be advancing beyond its supporting units and be able to e.g. pull its fleets back west to guard against me. I was very careful in my diplomacy not to provoke or even mention that, but resigned to the likelihood that this would be a slow grind to a three-way draw.

      A perfect stab would have to come in fall, forcing the enemy to immediately disband forces and giving me immediate builds to bring forward. A spring stab would give the victims time to redeploy and maybe recapture weakly-held gains. I couldn’t even really use spring to position myself for a stab, lest the preparations reveal my intent. In 1908, analysis said I could claim only fourteen centers and not a good enough position to be worth it.

      Fall of 1909, Germany hadn’t deployed west and a perfect stab would have claimed 16 centers. Not an instant win, but close enough to press for one. In hindsight, I should have taken it. But I was distracted by my new position in Moscow, looking down on an empty Sevastopol. Turkey’s Army Ukraine could have fallen back to defend, but they couldn’t cover the entire front. If I could guess right, and if the right guess gave me Sevastopol, I could fall on a wholly undefended Turkey and possibly win without stabbing. Meanwhile, we pulled the trigger on the attack into ADR, and as predicted lost ION with only a weak counterattack available. But trying to outguess a capable Turkish foe in the east…

      Was left to a coin toss. And the toss said “do the safe, boring Ukrainian attack”. Really, the choice should have been “heads, attack Sevastopol, tails, stab Germany and Italy”. That mistake left me to watch the biggest opportunity in the game slip through my fingers.

      The Ottoman Empire slipped into civil disorder. Not just Sevastopol, but her entire frontier undefended. Turkey’s fleet ION was annihilated by a fairly weak attack, leaving fleet ADR free to engage elsewhere. And my eastern army, bounced uselessly off Turkey’s in Ukraine. Worse, the civil disorder was resolved by winter, and a new Turkish army was raised to block my advance. Army Moscow – Sevastopol would have given me the game. A stab against Germany, ditto. Instead, this.

      Spring 1910 brought another setback. Germany proposed a peace agreement to our demoralized foes, for a three-way draw. I had no good reason to refuse and was not in a good position to stab for victory; as noted earlier that’s a job for autumn. And I didn’t have the diplomatic mojo with Turkey or Austria to inconspicuously scotch the deal. So I had go along with it, cheer for the possibility of a draw, and set my orders to accept a tie lest I as the sole dissenter face four suspicious powers that collectively outnumber me two to one.

      My allies did let me make the contingency plans for continued war in case the deal fell through. A wager that Austria would defend Vie rather than Trieste. A spoiling attack on Vienna. My amphibious assault on Albania, doomed to fail unless Turkey doesn’t issue the obvious orders (or any at all) but at least safe with Turkey missing a fleet. And a supported Italian attack into Trieste.

      The deal fell through. Thank you, whoever did that. The Albanian landing failed as expected, but Italy’s Trieste attack was a success, their first of the game. And Turkey’s army in Ukraine was cut off and destroyed by Franco-German assault. Surely the enemy would see reason and yield now, leaving us the three-way draw. But it was still my job to make contingency plans, and I did. Including supported attacks into Vienna, Galicia, and Sevostapol, which should gain us at least one and maybe two of those. A slow and steady path to a three-way “victory”

      Except, I hold eleven centers. The fleets I have positioned to convoy armies to the front, can also fall on defenseless Edinburgh and Belgium. And an enroute army can detour into Sweden, unless Germany finally pulls back her own fleets. My army holding Tyrol also faces Munich, supported by the reserve army in Burgundy. Germany could block this, but at the expense of her attack against Vienna. In the south, my fleets are mingled with Italy’s to give me a certain attack against Naples, and a cakewalk into Rome and Venice unless Italy gives up her advance into the Balkans. And Germany has agreed to support me into Sevastopol. A stab would give me anywhere from 14-19 centers. 18 gives me an instant win. 16, I game out in excruciating detail and win within two years. 14 , would mean my allies just decided to stab me and I’m late to the party.

      I think way too much. I put in the orders, and not for a three-way draw. I feel a little bad, and hope my allies don’t take it too hard.

      Monday noon finds me hitting “refresh” on my phone every minute until the results come in.

      Eighteen centers.

      Un Triomphe Magnifique.

      • Iain says:

        This is a great write-up. Thanks.

      • bean says:

        Bravo. That was a good read, and leaves me thinking I may have to get in on the next one.

        seriously, where is the Ottoman Empire getting that many modern warships?

        The only possible option is that they’re building them in British yards and teleporting them in.

        It will amuse bean to no end that the Ottoman Empire tried to use Army Greece to support an attack against ION. That’s some mighty impressive coastal artillery.

        So the Ottomans invented ASBMs a few decades early?

        • Aapje says:

          The only possible option is that they’re building them in British yards and teleporting them in.

          Van Riper was playing in this game???

          • bean says:

            That’s a really good one.

            (I’m not sure that’s what actually happened there at this point. I’ve got about three different, plausible explanations for MC02, and no real way to figure out which one is correct.)

        • John Schilling says:

          The only possible option is that they’re building them in British yards and teleporting them in.

          British shipyards were by that point in French and German hands, though they might have got a few ships out before the fall. I was thinking they might have bought up all the available American production (sailed to Istanbul under neutral colors), plus finishing the ships under construction in Russia’s Black Sea shipyards when they took Sevastapol. Still tough to square with what ultimately became a four-fleet navy, on the order of twenty pre-dreadought battleships and armored cruisers. Held the Italian Navy and the French Mediterranean Fleet to a standstill for at least six years.

          • bean says:

            I was thinking they might have bought up all the available American production (sailed to Istanbul under neutral colors), plus finishing the ships under construction in Russia’s Black Sea shipyards when they took Sevastapol.

            Good call on the Americans, who presumably ramped up exports when the British yards fell under your control. I know Cramp wanted to do that, but was only able to sell Retvizan to Russia. Not so sure about the Black Sea yards. As I’m sure you’ve figured out from my writings on the subject, Russian shipbuilding was kind of terrible, and there can’t have been more than a few ships fitting out at the time. Let’s see. Spring of 1903. Potemkin was launched, but didn’t enter service until 1905. Actually, that looks to be it, as the next class wasn’t formally laid down until 1904. Most of the effort in this timeframe was concentrated in the Baltic, due to the greater threat up there.

          • John Schilling says:

            Actually, that looks to be it, as the next class wasn’t formally laid down until 1904.

            Presumably they’d have accelerated that after losing their existing Black Sea Fleet in 1902. That still only gets us two more capital ships, I think.

          • bean says:

            Presumably they’d have accelerated that after losing their existing Black Sea Fleet in 1902. That still only gets us two more capital ships, I think.

            If that. Given Russian building rates and practices, even a year after a major defeat is unlikely to have seen more than a few keel plates on a slipway. The fastest ship built I know of was Imperatritsa Mariya, built in the Black Sea in response to a Turkish dreadnought scare. She was launched 2 years after laying down, and in service two years after that. But the Russian Admiralty was in a lot better shape in that era than it was in 1903.

      • Vermillion says:

        DLPRG was shocked, affronted, vengeful, and then ruefully accepting within about an hour and a half. At this point I’m pleased just to have finished my first ever game of Diplomacy :). Overall it was great fun and I might write up some more detailed notes later.

        • metacelsus says:

          Truly, the capitalist powers displayed their wicked and treacherous nature. Our glorious DLPRG was strong until the end.

      • habu71 says:

        I had no idea that there was an online version of diplomacy; I’ve only ever played in person. My only concern would be that I would really miss getting to see the other guy’s face right after he realizes he’s been stabbed in the back..

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      Okay, so full disclosure, I went on spring break at the beginning of March and sort of forgot this game existed until I got the email the other day.



      Uh, I will try to catch up. Did Austria win? 😀

      (Ah. I see that we did not. Randy, Fion, I’m sorry I abandoned you! I had that nagging sense that I was forgetting something for the last six weeks…)

    • rlms says:

      Congratulations again on your victory! The entire history of the game can be viewed here. A few notes from the Italian perspective (we were a team of two):

      Italy is somewhat of an underdog, and if it does win it’s generally by shrewd diplomacy rather than military prowess. So we start out by responding to feeler messages from the other players (except for Russia who we contacted first). Nothing out of the ordinary results, except for Russia going dead after three messages: we exchange nice polite pleasantries with France, Germany and Russia (who are fairly irrelevant to us in the short term unless something crazy happens); tense polite pleasantries with Turkey (who we expect to be at war with shortly); and a tentative alliance with Austria. Our spring 1901 orders are two completely standard moves that will get us the Tunisian supply centre next turn, and one only slightly less standard feint into Austrian territory that we have agreed they will block (a vague attempt at making people think we’re enemies).

      Spring 1901 happens. We sense some funny business happening with Turkey/Russia, and believe Germany has misplayed by leaving Sweden open for Russia (I see now that this was deliberate), but nothing else particularly interesting (we don’t care too much about events in the North). So we send a few messages of little consequence and set orders to take Tunisia and leave our other army idle (probably making our alliance with Austria clear, oh well).

      Fall 1901 happens and goes through mostly as expected. The exception is that Austria has stupidly held with her Serbian army, which lets Turkey build an extra fleet and ruins our potential Lepanto (a classic Italy/Austria play against Turkey). A continued lack of moves to the Black Sea pretty much confirm our suspicions about a Russo-Turkish alliance (the dreaded Juggernaut), and we resolve to warn the others about it when lines of communication open.

      The winter 1901 builds happen: Turkey has done well with two new fleets rather than the expected one, Russia has done decently too, England is the loser in the North-West with one build versus two for France and Germany, and Italy and Austria have the expected one. It’s looking like the Juggernaut real, and in a pretty strong position. We ask Germany to turn their forces East against it, but they don’t seem to want to, and come up with a nice anti-Turkish operation with Austria (they will help us take Greece this turn, we will give it to them later), biting our tongues to avoid mentioning how their stupidity in Serbia has strengthened Turkey. Overall, we’re not too displeased with how the game has gone so far.

      Then comes spring 1902. Betrayed! Instead of helping us into Greece, Austria has sent their fleet to the Adriatic with the clear intention of taking Venice next turn (and there’s no way for us to stop them). Also, apparently they’re in cahoots with Turkey, who has stabbed Russia?! At least we managed to counter a theoretical rogue French invasion of North Africa though!

      We send a congratulatory message to Austria (the Serbian hold makes sense now), an offer of alliance to our new enemy’s enemy Russia, and put in damage limitation orders. Fall 1902 happens. We lose Venice as expected. Probably some important things happen up North, but we aren’t really paying attention. In the 1902 builds, Austria is the big winner and we and England are the losers. Despite being stabbed, Russia hasn’t done too badly.

      Spring/fall 1903: after being stabbed by Austria, our only hope of survival is France. With their help, we manage to recapture Venice and stay alive for the moment (although unsurprisingly they take Tunisia as payment). Elsewhere, France and Germany continue to grow at the expense of England (who is almost dead), and Russia somehow continues to expand (despite losing almost the entire Southern half of their original territory to the Austro-Turkish alliance).

      Nothing much really happens in the rest of the game for us. We work with France (mainly just following their plans after cursory checks) but don’t make much progress until right before our demise. We assume they will stab us, but there’s not much we can do to protect against that. We look for opportunities to turn on France, but there isn’t really anyone who can help us there. If they’d teamed up with England against Germany things would be different. We discuss talking to Germany about the inevitable stab from France against both of us (and specifically advising them to ask France to move their idle fleets away from Germany’s vulnerable SCs), but we never get round to it — partly out of fear they will tell France about our suspicions and hasten the inevitable (we don’t know how close they are to France), and partly out of laziness. In 1910 there is some talk about a three-way draw. This sounds implausible, since France could easily take us out and reduce the victor count to at most two, but we hope against hope it is real. Sadly it is not to be, and the inevitable stab comes. Hopefully there will be a next time, and things will go better for me/us (although I did enjoy the game nevertheless)!

      • FXBDM says:

        Second half of the Triumvirate here. I endorse rlms’ summary. We did reach out to Germany late in the game but it was done in a much too tentative manner. Thank you John for sur a forgiving account of the game. Thank you rlms for setting up the game. I had my reserves about the team system (and I still find it telling that a lone wolf ended up winning) but I can see the définit advantage once people start dropping out. Witness the rate of progress of the no-team game.

        As for time of play, it took me too much time entirely (but then again I am in three games) and I decided to block the site at work. That did help my productivity some but left rlms alone for a few turns.

        I would definitely play again.

        Thanks everyone.

    • fion says:

      Ok, here’s my go at an Austrian perspective. There were three of us, but I ended up doing the bulk of the gameplay, especially later on. This is written purely from my perspective; my teammates and I haven’t discussed the game, apart from in a couple of comments here and in the last open thread. I’m sure I will have mis-remembered things. Guys, please correct me if you think I do.

      At the start, Chev told Randy and me about how Austria is tricky in the early game. He advised that we should try and be very close to Germany, and side with either Italy or Russia (preferably both) against Turkey. We had conversations with everybody, being friendly and careful and not committing to too much. We arranged bounces with Italy and Russia and took Serbia. Russia informed us that they would be taking Rumania, but wouldn’t be going much further, and implied that they didn’t mind us controlling most of the Balkans. Similarly, Turkey informed us that they would be taking Greece. Obviously we were in a position to stop this. Should we stop it? Or should we work with Turkey? Both Chev and Turkey pointed out that Austria-Turkey is a pretty unusual team (did you get that impression already, dear reader, from John’s write-up?) but for some reason we decided to go for it. To be honest I think our final decision had more to do with Turkey’s friendly chattiness than hard strategy… Oh well.

      It was a shame that Germany didn’t really seem to want to be the firm allies that we wanted to be, but they definitely seemed happy to not attack each other, which (at least in the early game) suited us just fine. When we saw they were going for fleets this gave us confidence. Perhaps the game will be split North/South. If so we should do quite well, with Russia being split and both Russia and Italy not expecting our betrayal.

      The agreement with Turkey was that we would get all of Russia apart from Sevastopol and Turkey would focus on fleets to attack Italy. I felt a bit bad about the betrayal, especially Italy, since we had worked out a combined set of moves to attack Turkey but we used our perfect knowledge of their moves to out-maneuver them. We took Rumania and Venice. We were well set-up for an attack on Russia, with most of their units in the North, but we couldn’t do much against Italy. Still, Turkey’s fleets would come and between us we should win that.

      We were sorry that England fell. Right from the start (almost) we were worried about France or France/Germany. At this point we didn’t know which way that’d go, but either way, a strong England would have suited us very well.

      In 1903 France arrived in the nick of time to save Italy. They told us they would move to Piedmont and we asked them not to. (Their offers of helping us against Italy did not fool us.) We tried to re-arrange our fleet and army in Trieste and Venice, but it wasn’t possible. And Germany started moving East! We agreed to work together on Russia, but our Austria-Hungary private chat was rather worried. What if France and Germany never turn on each other? The other four of us (sorry England) won’t be able to stop them if we keep fighting ourselves. I think Russia opened up communication with us asking us to turn around and attack Germany. We didn’t do so until too late…

      In the fall of 1903 France did indeed help Italy destroy our fleet. With their fleets heading through Gibraltar, we realised fighting Italy would not be so easy. We didn’t stop attacking Russia just yet, but we did make sure Germany was unable to take Warsaw. (I say “we”. At this point, “we” included Turkey. Instead of our private chat, we did all our strategising in the Turkey chat. There was no way us betraying Turkey (or vice versa) at this point would go well.)

      In 1904 we finally moved against Germany, having agreed with Russia that we needed to work together to stop a Franco-German victory. I seem to recall we tried quite hard to get Germany on-side against France before this. Germany informed us that they had a good thing going and didn’t want to betray it. We pointed out that France was and would always be in a stronger position than Germany and when they finally did fight it out France would probably win. Germany offered a three-way alliance between us, France and Italy. I don’t know if they meant it or not, but even if they did, it wouldn’t have been good for us. After taking out Russia, Germany would need to turn on either us or France and we had a pretty good guess who it’d be.

      So that was what motivated our second great betrayal. We moved into Bohemia and Tyrolia. Well, we tried to move into Tyrolia. Good thing too, because France tried the same thing! It was abundantly clear now that France-Germany and France-Italy were a thing, and the three-way alliance was the natural conclusion of that. We tried once more to get Germany on-side, using our advancing armies as leverage, but unsurprisingly they stuck to their decision.

      There were a few turns of some interesting to-ing and fro-ing in 1904 and 1905 between the two 3-ways, where it looked like it could go either way all the way from ION to Prussia, but by Spring 1906 our enemies obviously had the upper hand. We couldn’t do any better than a stalemate in central Europe or in the Mediterranean, and it was clear that Russian Scandinavia was not long for the world. We continued to try our best for the next few turns, but with Scandinavia down, the rest of Russia followed and we very quickly became impossibly outnumbered.

      Impossibly, unless of course Germany/France dissolved before we were out of the game!

      But no. A 3-way draw was proposed. Initially I was all for it. It’s not particularly fun doing a fighting retreat, and I was (and still am) playing in the other SSC Diplomacy game as well, where I stepped in to take over an absent France. But I didn’t understand why France would want to go for such a thing. I think perhaps I underestimate how easy it is to deadlock somebody, but France looked to be in a much better position and I always thought (perhaps wrongly) that a solo victory was a plausible outcome for them. Or ok, maybe not a solo victory, but surely Italy shouldn’t be involved in a 3-draw? (No offence, Italy.)

      I’m not sure what the rules of the board game are, but I always thought it was possible to decide what kind of defeat to accept, so I could say “yes, I’ll surrender to France/Germany but I won’t surrender to France/Germany/Italy”. Unless I’m mistaken this isn’t an option on Backstabbr? So I decided (I think I was the only one on my team still playing at this point) not to surrender. I was kind of hoping for a big fight between France and Germany, with Italy being an exciting wild card, even if it was after I was out. Also, there was a small, sour bit of me that wanted to teach Germany a lesson for what I perceived to be too soft a French policy.

      I smiled when I saw France’s masterful final stab. I’m glad there was a bit of excitement after what I’m sorry to say was a bit of a boring grind in the later stages of the game.

      Thanks to all those who played, especially Turkey, who made a fun and faithful ally. And congratulations again to Jean Chilligne on his victory.

      • John Schilling says:

        Or ok, maybe not a solo victory, but surely Italy shouldn’t be involved in a 3-draw? (No offence, Italy.)

        The reason for Italy to be in a three-way draw is that it’s actually kind of tricky to coordinate the destruction of Italy in a way that leaves France and Germany with exactly 17 centers each. Quite often, the odd man out in that scenario feels more betrayed by one of his former allies than the other and, once extinction is inevitable, maneuvers to donate an extra center to the other and give them the win out of spite. Or, threatens to do so to keep their position as the balance-of-power player in tripartite world.

        It might have helped that Italy and Germany had no common border, making it possible for France to claim all of Italy without German involvement. I was considering that as an option, but by the time we were ready to go there I expect there would have been a substantial Italo-German border running through the former Austro-Hungarian Empire

    • Vermillion says:

      It started with a dream. That man and lizard could come together in glorious revolution against their capitalist masters. That together we could unite Europe. That we were stronger together, and that ultimately, hand in claw, the forces of niceness, community would triumph over those of brutish war. Three guesses how that dream turned out and the first two don’t count.

      Hi I’m Vermillion and formed 1/3rd of the Democratic Lizard People’s Republic of Germany. I never really read the rules that carefully, never saw the point, until I suddenly found myself as 1/1st of the DPLRG. Till then I’d considered myself more of a color commentator, managing some of the more amusing bits of the communication and leaving the actual tactical moves in much much much more capable hands. Then around about spring of 1904 when our torpid bodies shook off the cold and I started half-assedly throwing various heavy metal tools into the grand clockwork that was (I assumed) everyone else’s grand strategic plan. With sufficient juche, perhaps I would have a chance.

      I did eventually get a handle on how to plan moves in the sandbox and execute them correctly. I eventually even managed a convoy or two, but honestly my heart was never really in it. I wanted to win sure but when I saw the volume of effort France (John) was putting out well, the torpor took hold. Ultimately, I enjoyed being the right-hand lizard man, and seeing the eastern alliance crumbling beneath our attacks was mighty satisfying. Every year or two I’d think about moving my fleets around, maybe positioning against a stab I was pretty sure (as I said I think to both Austria and Turkey) inevitable.

      But I hoped it wouldn’t. Thus my offer of peace, which I figured was really my only chance at even 1/3rd of a victory. Perhaps it’s for the best, an armistice, imposed and resented would now doubt sow the seeds of future conflict. Auf wiedersehen comrades, it was nice while it lasted.

      • Evan Þ says:

        If there’s room for someone like you in the Diplomacy game, perhaps I could volunteer to play one next time?

        (I’ve played exactly one game in my life, as a teenager, and I know I’d be absolutely no good at the grand strategy. But I like talking about the Glorious German Lizard Revolution!)

        • Vermillion says:

          If you can find a capable teammate I’d recommend it without hesitation.

          If you can’t…I might still recommend it if you don’t mind a wee bit of crushing defeat.

      • fion says:

        I really enjoyed your whole “lizard people” thing. Including this comment. 🙂

    • Gobbobobble says:

      Ugh, sorry folks. Have been awful busy with real life crap to put together a proper endgame report. Short version:

      Draw Turkey, first impressions: penned up, kinda predictable. Instincts say rule the Med, but also that Juggernauts are both boring and predictable on top of generally having Turkey as the junior partner. I read up on Turkish openings and apparently there are all of 4 “proper” movesets for Spring 1900. So, naturally, I pick something different. Additionally, everyone says Turkey allying with basically anyone but Russia won’t last.

      This may come as a shock, but I was itching to buddy up with Austria from the get-go. Diplomacy is a 7-player game so odds of a straight out win are slim – so my inclination is to set up some sort of secondary condition for myself to feel good about in the likely event of defeat. In this case, one option was “Everyone knows Turkey+Austria is impossible, let’s prove that wrong”. Now I didn’t *expect* it to work (there were a few other options but not worth getting into) so I was open to working with Russia or Italy, but when it did work out, hey, let’s run with it. Austria’s charming ambassador system of managing the 3-headed hydra didn’t hurt, either. I loved John’s report’s several WTFs over it, so I’m gonna go ahead and consider the consolation objective accomplished!

      So I cautiously reach out to Austria, do the usual Black Sea dance with Russia, and open discussion with Italy over Greece. And talk to the other powers for good measure. One lesson I’ve learned from online diplomacy is TALK TO EVERYONE. At least at the beginning. Never know who’ll be able to help you out of a jam – and the gossip just makes waiting for the turns more fun.

      Fall 1900 and 1901 I remember being deathly afraid Austria and Russia (and maybe Italy, too!) were about to stab me. But happily enough things went pretty well for Turkey!

      Unfortunately winter 1901 rolls around and I’m already shitting bricks about what I would come to call the Franco-Prussian Conglomerate. England really got the shaft, and early. I tried not to go all crazy doomsayer to my new ally so as not to put them off the whole cooperation thing, but I knew we were in trouble unless the western powers could be broken up.

      And then to make matters worse, France starts throwing their weight around in the Med. I get a message essentially warning me not to build more fleets. Um, no. You just ate England, the Aggressive Expansion modifier is going the other direction. But their alliance with the lizard people holds and they rush a bunch of ships over to their new puppet state and our advance stalls.

      Austria and I then realize Germany (and France) pushing east is going to be a problem, so we talk to Russians about stopping the western steamroller (I think maybe the Russians reached out for a ceasefire first, but can’t remember for sure). And bam, we’ve got a 3v3. And… it’s not looking good for our team. We’ve got possibilities down south but Russia’s Scandinavian holdings just didn’t have the manpower to last.

      But this is Diplomacy, so we’ve gotta just hope we can get the enemy alliance to fracture. I hail mary a message out to Italy about flipping but they turn it down. And if I may cite an exchange between the Ottoman Empire and DLPRG:

      Turkey wrote in fall 1907:

      So I can’t help but notice that France has troops near several of your SCs (Bel, Hol, Edi) but you don’t have many reciprocal troops…

      Germany wrote in fall 1907:
      Oh I’ll be fine probably. Unless I’m not! In which case you have total license to say ‘I told you so’.

      Well, I TOLD YOU SO!

      Great game to everyone!

  34. David Speyer says:

    Inspired by rahien.din’s comment, but not technically following the rules of his game: I recently read Dara Horn’s novel Eternal Life. I am usually annoyed by protagonists who have superhuman abilities but do nothing cool with them, which this book falls into. But I couldn’t figure out what I would want Rachel to do.

    Rachel is immortal. In a situation where her life is at risk but one could imagine her surviving, she survives. If survivable is inconceivable, she reappears somewhere within the surrounding 100 miles as an 18 year old woman of Jewish appearance. She generally commits “suicide” around age 90 to invoke this effect, if something else hasn’t set it off first. Only her life is protected, she is perfectly capable of being injured, sick or tortured. The book begins in the last days of the Second Temple and lasts until the current day.

    To what awesome use could this ability be put?

    • DavidS says:

      I’d be nervous of any sort of visible awesomeness as being very hard to kill combined with being susceptible to torture sounds s bit Blessed with Suck.

    • John Schilling says:

      [if unambiguously killed] she reappears somewhere within the surrounding 100 miles as an 18 year old woman of Jewish appearance.

      Same appearance each time? It would be helpful if, while still approximately 18, she could do terribly risky things and walk back into her previous identity if they don’t pan out. Also, you could build a really badass reputation on that and maybe ride it for a few more decades.

    • johan_larson says:

      Serve as a test pilot for experimental aircraft. Push right through the redlines, no problem. You die, you respawn. You get horribly injured, they put two in the head, they know you’re dead, and you respawn.

    • rahien.din says:

      Mata Hari.

    • honoredb says:

      I’d think the natural thing to do, especially in that venue, would be to try to set yourself up as the MessiahPope. If Rachel doesn’t have any other explanation for her situation she might sincerely believe herself to be the Messiah. You have blatant supernatural abilities (if your appearance changes you might need to set up recognition passwords or hide things) and you get several tries at it. Worst case you’re crucified or burned alive but it still seems worth it in the long run. And you can probably have the equivalent of a cyanide pill on you most of the time.

      In terms of actually bending reality, it depends exactly how the life-saving mechanic works. If she sends someone off to negotiate, and orders a trusted servant to kill her unless the messenger returns by X date with a deal at least as good as Y, then does that control the outcome of the negotiation? Or does the servant end up just refusing to kill her? In the latter case, Pope Rachel can make some dramatic converts by, say, having her detractors appear before her, giving them a weapon, and challenging them to strike her down while she makes no move to resist.

    • rlms says:

      Depends on exactly how it works, but she could set up some system with many redundant methods of killing her if some event occurs, then use that to prevent the event. Example use: buy a load of e.g. gold, rig up a system that reliably kills her if the price of gold doesn’t increase by 100% in the next day, the price increases to avoid her death, she sells gold for large profit, repeat.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Historian? Writing historical novels? Or maybe portraying history accurately (within the limits of personal knowledge) would just annoy people.

    • CatCube says:

      What’s your recommendation of the book? That actually sounds like a really interesting story if it was well done.

    • Chalid says:

      Borrow money. Conceal it in a hole somewhere. Die, respawn in new body, retrieve the money.

    • Darwin says:

      By ‘reappears’, are we talking instantaneous creation of mass out of nothing? It seems like that should have a lot of applications.

      At the very least, there should be no one on the planet still waiting for an organ transplant for whom she is a compatible donor.

  35. Aapje says:

    There was a story about Facebook moderation in my newspaper (based on information by an ex-moderator). The old policy was that Facebook protects some groups much more than others. These groups were called ‘protected categories (PC)’ and include trans people, Jews, Ghanese women (WTF?), people with serious chronic illness and women in general. The moderators removed content that attacks the entire group, but not content that attacks individuals. So ‘all blacks are lazy’ got removed, but not a picture of Obama with ‘lazy black guy’ superimposed on it.

    There were also ‘quasi protected categories (QPC),’ which consists of some other groups, like migrants, refugees and such. These got far less protection, but calls for violence against these groups are disallowed. So apparently, calls for violence against groups that belong that neither of these categories are allowed.

    What amazes me is that this policy seemed designed to piss just about everyone off. SJ advocates will generally like that some groups get more protection, but will dislike that individuals get no protection and will dislike the QPC. Anti-SJ people will dislike the special protections for some groups. People who support the legal standard will dislike that calling for violence against some groups is allowed. So who actually likes this?

    Then in October 2017 the policy changed and individuals could also get protection.

    Facebook works has categories for violations, which are ranked by severity, which determines the punishment for the person who broke the rules. They rank ‘spam’ as worse than child porn. This seems so absurd that I’m wondering if I’m missing something.

    The norms are mostly universal and American. For example, the Foreign Terrorist Organizations List is used to decide who terrorists are, also to moderate content in countries that may consider other organisations to be terrorist. However, countries can complain and get special treatment. For example, in Turkey, criticism of Erdogan is removed.

    American prudishness also is the norm. For example, a famous 1971 Dutch election poster with a nude woman on it is often removed (the linked image is censored, while the real poster is uncensored).

    Moderators at the Berlin branch got close to minimum wage and don’t get paid breaks. The mental load of seeing so many nasty images is very damaging. The moderators got advice from the company psychologist and the ‘feel good manager’ to do yoga and to eat the supplied fresh fruit, to stay mentally healthy. Many of the moderators seem to self-medicate with alcohol, valium, diazepam and such.

    Nobody seems to last longer than a few months.

    • Randy M says:

      There’s a good script for a rom-com in the works here, featuring a guy at a facebook expy who falls in love with a woman after seeing her facebook page accidentally flagged for moderation. Seeing the banality of her likes and selfies juxtaposed against the “kill all the left-handers” type posts he usually moderates makes him fall in love.

    • Schibes says:

      Re: professional internet censors

      It’s powerful enough reading that it’s stuck with me for 3 1/2 years – here is a link to the Wired article on the small army of censors in the Philippines working 24/7 to protect us from dick pics and ISIS beheading videos. A computer program to automate their job and end their suffering might be the most humane job-killing software in human history.

      On a happier note, happy hundredth, OT commenters!

    • moscanarius says:

      Does it actually work like this in English-speaking Facebook? I mean, do you get the impression that publications get zucked because of the stated motives or that in practice they just censor whatever has a sufficiently large number of reports?

    • RavenclawPrefect says:

      The spam vs child pornography thing makes sense to me (at least, when using the reasonably effective first-order approximation of Facebook as a soulless profit maximizer). Most people hanging around in places where the porn ends up are probably there deliberately, and thus engage with Facebook less as a result of its removal; punishing it is for PR and legal reasons only. Spam, on the other hand, is targeted at anyone and everyone, and in fact disproportionately at the sort of people who click on ads (Facebook’s favorite users), so they want maximal deterrence for that kind of behavior since it makes people go on the site less often and drains their wallets on things orthogonal to Facebook’s financial goals.

      The effects on psychological well-being surprise me a little; obviously disturbing images can have an effect on people, but I would have guessed there was a ceiling to this sort of thing and that anyone content-resilient enough to sign up for such a job wouldn’t experience much in the way of additional negative effects. (In particular, I wouldn’t expect to be psychologically affected from getting employed as a FB moderator except insofar as it would be rather boring, and assumed I wasn’t particularly exceptional in this regard. Though maybe I’m just wrong about myself?)

      • toastengineer says:

        I’ve seen things that’ve fucked me up a little bit for a couple days. Being exposed to that kind of thing every day from 9-5…

      • Aapje says:


        If it was regular porn, I would get it, but it seems very weird to rank spam worse than child porn.

        As for the effects on psychological well-being, my understanding is that people can build up a certain stoicism, but only to a point. Some things will punch right through the shield. A common story I read from ambulance workers, doctors and such is that seeing children get badly hurt can do it. This was also in the Facebook story. The thing that got to him was the anal rape of an 11 year old girl.

        I also think that time to recover matters, after a traumatic experience. The Facebook workers got worked pretty hard, with unpaid coffee breaks and strong pressure to process many reports. That seems quite cruel, because it discourages moderators from doing what is necessary to stay healthy.

      • Tarpitz says:

        I think it’s easy to underestimate the way that repetitive exposure to something unpleasant can build up. I spent about 18 months on and off between acting jobs doing telephone fundraising. It was fine for a fair while, but at some point the constant rejection (no matter how good you are at that job, most people will say no) gets very difficult to cope with. I can easily imagine something analogous being true for censors of horrific images.

  36. DavidS says:

    Economists and associated folks: I’m reading Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the 21st century’ as someone recommended it and it’s fun reading recommendations. Any counterbalance books/articles I should read (in particular I’m thinking if there are things he treats as accepted that are actually more controversial)

    • biffchalupa says:

      There was some controversy surrounding the data Piketty used for some of his claims about wealth inequality, summarized here:

      I’m not sure if it was ever “resolved,” as I think people tended to respond to the data disparities based on their priors – downplayed by those concerned more with inequality as a social issue than a measurement issue, magnified by those who thought the models never quite matched the rhetoric.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      A great antidote to that book is actually reading the book. I have not read much of it, but in every conversation I’ve had with people who have read the book, I’ve convinced them that the book says the opposite of what they took away from it.

    • cassander says:

      R>G is wrong. Picketty’s basic inequality assumes that money is never spent, that heirs never waste fortunes away, that wealth is never mis-invested. it’s the same sort of calculation that leads to the incorrect assertion that trump would be richer today if he’d just bought index funds. If R were greater than G, then, for example, the Kennedys today would each be richer than Uncle Joe was in his heyday. They aren’t even as rich as he was combined.

      • Chalid says:

        Haven’t read it, don’t plan to, but I thought (and a quick google appears to confirm) that R is the average return on private capital, and your examples of things that he doesn’t consider don’t seem to have much bearing on whether R > G. e.g. if people choose to consume, then they don’t earn R. Misinvestments exist, but we all know that some investments earn below average and others earn above.

        • cassander says:

          That’s a fair point, I should remove the bit about mis-investment. But I stand by “Picketty’s basic inequality assumes that money is always re-invested and that heirs never waste fortunes away.” the average fortune doesn’t get the average rate of return on investments, they get less than that, to the point where actual R is clearly less than G.

          • Chalid says:

            Fortunes accumulate at a rate less than R, sure, but that doesn’t imply anything about R itself. What it does imply is that R > G is not the magic threshold at which inequality will organically increase.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Don’t the Chinese say “wealth does not survive three generations?”

    • baconbits9 says:

      link to Murphy and Magness

      Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century has been widely debated on theoretical grounds, yet continues to attract acclaim for its historically-infused data analysis. In this study we conduct a closer scrutiny of Piketty’s empirics than has appeared thus far, focusing upon his treatment of the United States. We find evidence of pervasive errors of historical fact, opaque methodological choices, and the cherry-picking of sources to construct favorable patterns from ambiguous data. Additional evidence suggests that Piketty used a highly distortive data assumption from the Soviet Union to accentuate one of his main historical claims about global “capitalism” in the 20th century. Taken together, these problems suggest that Piketty’s highly praised and historically-driven empirical work may actually be one of the book’s greatest weaknesses.

    • pontifex says:

      I’ve never taken Piketty seriously because nothing he writes about matches my experience. For example, I have some relatives who immigrated to this country with nothing in the last 50 years, and who now are doing quite well. And you don’t have to go back further than 2 generations in my family to find coal miners and other unskilled laborers.

      I also know people who started with a lot, and lost it all through bad decisions. It’s actually easy to lose a lot of money quickly. For example, pretty much any divorce will take half your assets, unless you set up some complex and uncommon legal arrangements. (And sometimes even then). If you have a lot of money and no brains, don’t worry. There are people who can help you fix that. And not by adding more brains.

      On a larger scale, money needs to be protected by power to last even one generation. If you can’t get your pals into power, maybe you’ll get soaked with a 90% tax rate. If you can, maybe you’ll get favorable tax treatment and get your taxes down to the single digits. Piketty’s book is like a rant against a Libertarian world that hasn’t existed in hundreds of years.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        What, specifically, does he say that contradicts any of that?

        • pontifex says:

          If Piketty was correct, I would expect immigrants to be poor for a long time, since they started with very little capital. You would also expect people who were wealthy to be wealthy for a long time, because R > G and those two numbers determine everything. Instead, individual choices and abilities seem to matter a lot more than overall conditions. Possibly relevant.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I was actually planning to post my Amazon review on this book sometime in the next few threads. I could post it here, but it is a bit long for a reply. It is a good book with lots of interesting facts, but I think he does interpret some things wrong. In particular, his thesis that inequality in wealth in the present day is now close to what it was before WW1 is pretty far off. I agree inequality is increasing, but not to that extent.

  37. Well... says:

    I do not listen to EDM, but I have reviewed a Mat Zo EP on my blog. I’m curious what actual EDM listeners think of my “review”.

    I’m especially interested in hearing from people who used to dislike EDM but now listen to it. What made it click for you? Which artists got you in the door? What else had to change for you to like EDM? Etc.

    • j1000000 says:

      I used to dislike EDM, but it eventually grew on me a bit. I will never really enjoy the extremely digital-sounding stuff like on “Troglodyte,” but songs like “Take it Back” do get me kind of jacked up.

      (Also, at one point you say “At this point I realized I had never before listened to EDM the proper way.” I’m guessing the truly “proper” way to listen to EDM probably requires you to be a 20-year-old college kid on molly surrounded by hundreds of beautiful co-eds in a venue lit by blacklight or the basement of a frat party or something. You’d probably LOVE it then.)

      • Well... says:

        How did it grow on you? Can you explain it?

        I’m guessing the truly “proper” way to listen to EDM probably requires you to be a 20-year-old college kid on molly surrounded by hundreds of beautiful co-eds in a venue lit by blacklight or the basement of a frat party or something.

        That was my default thinking too, but it fails to account for how popular EDM is. There seem to be a lot of people who just listen to it (e.g. while driving, while working, etc.) like any other kind of music.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      What is “EDM” in this context?
      What do you like to listen to normally? Why?
      What EDM that you’ve heard ambiently in the background, on the radio, etc. in the past has turned you off? Why?

      • Well... says:

        What is “EDM” in this context?

        Stuff like what Mat Zo makes? Electronic music that’s peppy enough to dance to?

        What do you like to listen to normally? Why?

        The first part of that is answered in my blog post. (Basically all non-electronic music that a Westerner might be exposed to, and much that he might not.) The second part: too long to get into here, but the short answer is music has been a central part of my life since I was conceived.

        What EDM that you’ve heard ambiently in the background, on the radio, etc. in the past has turned you off? Why?

        I’ve only started thinking about that question and haven’t gotten anywhere yet. I might answer it in a blog post at some point.

        • ilikekittycat says:

          OK, from reading I think you’re at the novice stage so I’ll list the classics:
          Kraftwerk – TransEurope Express
          Massive Attack – Blue Lines/Mezzanine
          Tricky – Maxinquaye
          Prodigy – Music for the Jilted Generation/Fat of the Land
          Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92
          Portishead – Dummy
          DJ Shadow – Endtroducing
          Chemical Brothers – Dig Your Own Hole
          Daft Punk – Homework
          Fatboy Slim – You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

        • Aapje says:

          Todd Terje – Inspector Norse

          Absolutely wonderful song. The built-up and variation is exquisite.

    • skef says:

      This is not my own route (which was mostly doing the right drugs), but I suggest poking around in Amon Tobin’s back catalog, particularly from the early aughts. His work has been one route for a few folks I’ve talked to.

      Added: Don’t get hung up on the “D” (as it were). Your starting point is probably better aligned with more down-tempo electronic music.

    • rahien.din says:

      I didn’t always like EDM. My first shot at any kind of electronic music was when someone gave me Depeche Mode’s Ultra. On my first listen I hated it, and it was probably at least a year before I listened to it again, and then I loved it.

      What first got me were the sounds.

      Just listen to the sequence of juxtapositions in Depeche Mode’s “Barrel of a Gun”. The way close sounds are juxtaposed with distant ones, organic guitars are matched with synthetic drums, insistent and unrelenting synths hammer at a single note while alien beats rotate in midair.

      In Telefon Tel Aviv’s “Fairhenheit Fair Enough,” the collage of sounds is so dense and smooth it’s like one of those pictures made up of thousands of tiny images.

      In Ladytron’s “All The Way,” the airy icy pads, reversed cymbals, and smoothly escalating synth background perfectly complement Helen Marnie’s breathy, distant, echoing vocals, and the whole song turns into a beckoning field of frozen stars. “They heard the sound / of the snow falling.”

      Carpenter Brut’s “Wake Up the President” is full of bizarre, surging, notes, almost like two songs are being played simultaneously, one forward and one in reverse, and it’s very disorienting.

      Justice’s “Genesis” also plays with the sort of direction of sounds, pulling out-of-phase horns, kicks, and synths into a lurchingly propulsive stomp, until the hook pops wide open with choirs and clean guitars.

      Juno Reactor’s “Pistolero” mixes organic Latin guitars with programmed beats and synths, samples of gunfire, and a pounding four-on-the-floor, and achieves an aesthetic that is halfway real and halfway ecstatically-ridiculous-video-game-violence.

      I also think that there are certain kinds of moods and emotions that only EDM capture.

      No rock song could ever hit the same kind of insistent groove as Kate Ryan’s “Scream for More” or the virus-like drive of Darude’s “Sandstorm” or the exact feral swagger of Justice’s “Waters of Nazareth” or the bonehead snotty stomp of Klaypex’s album Ready To Go. Frontline Assembly’s “Stealth Mech” and “Pulse Charge” (technically, part of a game soundtrack, but they’re an actual band) are just so viscerally robotic.

      • James says:

        As a synth player who spends a lot of time thinking about sound design, mixing, and arrangement, I’m enjoying your descriptions without bothering to listen to the tracks they describe.

        Do you know Pretty Hate Machine? Probably, but if not, you might like it. People think of NIN as industrial, but secretly that album’s just a dark, heavy synthpop album, like Depeche Mode or something.

        • rahien.din says:

          As a synth player who spends a lot of time thinking about sound design, mixing, and arrangement, I’m enjoying your descriptions without bothering to listen to the tracks they describe.

          Haha, that’s awesome! Have you heard any of them before?

          Do you know Pretty Hate Machine?

          Definitely – fantastic album. “Ringfinger” is probably my favorite song off that album.

          • James says:

            I know the Justice song you mentioned, and I know Depeche Mode, Carpenter Brut and Ladytron in broad terms but not those specific songs. I’ll make a note to check out at least the Ladytron when I get home.

          • Well... says:

            This is going to be heresy to NIN fans, but I think “With Teeth” is a better album (maybe not higher highs but more consistent, and definitely less whiny), and it’s one I’ve enjoyed for a while.

          • James says:

            I liked Ladytron less than I’d hoped and Carpenter Brut about as little as I expected. (I don’t like harshness or deliberately ugliness, and I only really like songs, not instrumentals, so that one was always going to be a hard sell for me.)

            Barrel of a Gun is great, however.

            Will check out With Teeth. I suspect I’d enjoy it—I tend to like things that are heresy to fans.

            Bonus rock album suggestion in a similar sound world: To Bring You My Love, by P J Harvey (produced by Flood, iirc).

    • WashedOut says:

      This post describes a path of musical discovery starting with EDM, rather than centring around it. Hopefully still of interest.

      I liked your review and thought it articulated the ‘beginner’s mind” idea well, albeit in a fairly sophisticated way that implied an intuition for music beyond what most ‘typical’ EDM-listeners have.

      Like most people I came across this type of music through Massive Attack, Portishead and Aphex Twin. However at the time I had no notion of EDM per se, just that this was ‘real’ electronic music distinct from mass-produced radio pop. However even this territory started to feel too safe and familiar very quickly and I had to get out and find some more darkness and grit.

      In pursuit of this I found Burial, whose Untrue and Kindred records really blew my hair back and have been getting heavy rotation ever since. This sound was to become the signature of UK garage/downtempo and glitch movements, and to this day Untrue is regarded as a landmark electronic album. Into Burial’s orbit drifted later artists like Machinedrum, who I also recommend for those interested in an American (read: poppier) take on the UK downtempo sound.

      Wanting to get darker still, I began various forays into industrial/noise and dark-ambient. I remember buying Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath 1972 LP straight off the shelf at my local underground record store on recommendation from the staff, and listening to it quickly found myself immersed in a warm ocean of pulsating synth. While this is still my favourite Hecker record, his much later Virgins release has rightly attracted praise from every corner of music – check it out. Other artists such as Seekae, Port Royal, Telefon Tel-Aviv, Zomby (!), Autechre, Flying Lotus and Venetian Snares came onto my radar around the same time, with Venetian Snares’ brutal masterpiece Rossz Csillag Alatt Szulettet ending up as one of my all-time favourite electronic albums.

      So in the space of about 10 years I’ve gone from blissing-out to Teardrop to finding great masochistic pleasure in listening to Prurient’s latest 3-hour doom-electronica offering Rainbow Mirror. I suppose I have a melancholic temperament to thank.

      I now record experiments in analog synthesis in my bedroom, and can say it is a LOT of fun!

  38. proyas says:

    Can someone summarize, for a person without knowledge of information theory, the point that John von Neumann made in the Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata? In particular I’m interested in this quote:

    “This fact, that complication, as well as organization, below a critical level is degenerative, and beyond that level can become self-supporting and even increasing, will clearly play an important role in any future theory of the subject.”

    Was von Neumann saying there’s no reason why sufficiently advanced artificial life forms couldn’t make copies of themselves, without human assistance, or does the quote pertain only to some narrowly defined type of computer algorithm?

    • shakeddown says:

      If I understand correctly what he means is that sufficiently advanced artificial (or natural) life can make copies (or evolve into more complicated things), but things that aren’t sufficiently complicated can’t. There’s a minimum level of complexity required to reproduce – which makes sense. For example, you can’t write a three-character quine in c, but you can make one with over a thousand characters.

    • beleester says:

      He’s being very general. He doesn’t make any big claims like “This is how neurons work on a molecular level” or “I’ve written an algorithm for self-replicating machines” he’s saying “If you have a collection of reasonable-sounding primitives, things like ‘muscles’ or ‘neurons,’ you can build a self-replicating automaton.”

      These things will not be explained; we will simply assume that elementary parts with certain properties exist. The question that one can then hope to answer, or at least investigate, is: What principles are involved in organizing these elementary parts into functioning organisms, what are the traits of such organisms, and what are the essential quantitative characteristics of such organisms?

      So I don’t see why it would be restricted to some specific type of computer algorithm. Indeed, he leads into this discussion by pointing out that there’s already one thing we know can self-replicate – life itself.

      As to the quote itself, it’s basically saying, “A machine is generally a complicated thing that makes simpler things. However, living things are complicated things that make equally complicated things. There must be some threshold of complexity where it becomes possible for a machine to make something as complicated as itself.”

      He’s just sort of laying the groundwork for reasoning about automata. He doesn’t know what exactly it would look like, but he knows it’s possible.

    • proyas says:

      Thanks. One implication of von Neumann’s insight is that machines will someday be able to fix each other and build new machines, which would cut humans out of the “loop” and make us unnecessary for the continuation of a future machine society. The adage that “even if machines replace human workers, humans will find new jobs fixing the machines” is mistaken since von Neumann demonstrated that there’s no reason why machines couldn’t learn to fix themselves.

      • beleester says:

        True, but don’t forget about practicality – it might be possible to build a self-repairing machine, but it might be cheaper to build a simple machine and then hire a human to fix it when it breaks.

  39. ast ron says:

    More people live in densely populated places than in the past, and people travel more than in the past. What does this mean for the spread of viruses? Do we get colds more often than we used to?

    • Nornagest says:

      We’re more likely to live in cities now, and the cities are bigger, but living spaces are bigger and more private, especially for unmarried people. You know the scene in Moby-Dick where Ishmael ends up getting told to share a bed with Queequeg because that’s all the innkeeper had for him? That sort of thing happened all the time. And sanitation standards were a lot worse, too.

      So we’re probably exposed to a greater variety of viruses now, but once infected we’d be much less likely to spread them to our family members, coworkers, or fifty strangers in the bunkhouse where we happened to be living. Dunno if this would work out to getting sick more often or less.

    • Lambert says:

      We have modern medicine now.
      But back in the 19th century, cholera etc spread like wildfire.

  40. OptimalSolver says:

    J.R.R. Tolkien – The Enemy Of Progress

    • baconbits9 says:

      Did not like, do not recommend. The part especially about “identifying with a side that is 100% good” is especially galling, the Dwarfs and Elves have been at odds for centuries at the time of the story and they only band together when total annihilation is threatened. Tolkien takes pains to point out that neither side is blameless here. Perhaps Gandalf and Aragorn are meant as this ideal, but both reject the ring out of the knowledge that they are not 100% good, and Aragorn is wandering the wilderness for most of his life as a punishment for his ancestor’s greed.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      This yearning makes sense if you remember that arbitrary lords and chiefs did rule us for 99.44 percent of human existence. It’s only been 200 years or so — an eye blink — that “scientific enlightenment” began waging its rebellion against the nearly universal pattern called feudalism, a hierarchic system that ruled our ancestors in every culture that developed both metallurgy and agriculture. Wherever human beings acquired both plows and swords, gangs of large men picked up the latter and took other men’s women and wheat. (Sexist language is meaningfully accurate here; those cultures had no word for “sexism,” it was simply assumed.)

      1. I dislike the implication that technology is responsible for hierarchy. Men were still competing for status and women before swords and plows, and you can go watch chimps doing the same thing today. And this is coming from a guy writing an essay criticizing romanticizing the past.

      2. El oh el, the guy who wrote The Postman criticizing Tolkien.

      3. That said, I read Brin’s Earth in the mid 90s, and part of the future history of that novel always stuck with me. In the novel’s version of the early 21st century a massive war is waged after the common people crack open the secrets of the elite. The secret bank accounts, the private agreements, the corporate malfeasance, etc. Afterwards people are very upset about information asymmetry and privacy is practically non-existent. As soon as the Snowden revelations happened I immediately thought of Earth. In the novel this kind of revelation caused unrest and nuclear war, but in reality most people just kind of shrugged. Oh well.

    • no one special says:

      Pretty bad. A bad misunderstanding of Tolkien.*

      But even more upsetting is how little of the article is actually about Tolkien. I’m tempted to highlight all the sentences that actually discuss Tolkien or his works, then zoom out. It reeks of “We need a column tonight” where the author takes whatever is available as a springboard to rant about their own hobby horse.

      * Tolkien’s anti-modernism is closely driven by his experiences in World War I. Tanks and factories are the icons of mechanization here.

      • Randy M says:

        This anti-monarchism is certainly a hobby horse of Brin’s. He wrote essays and then edited a volume attacking Star Wars for the same themes, and while back got into a blog spat with Annisimov (was that his name? Moreright guy?) about the original banned acronym and it’s affinity for kings over commoners.

  41. South Bay Meetup, May 12th


    I have not yet figured out how to put in an announcement on the new High Tech meetups page.

    • Benito says:

      I just wrote down a brief set of instructions for creating an event/group on the page here. Let me know if there’s something that isn’t working / intuitive.

  42. cryptoshill says:

    Can anyone recommend good resources for advancing my knowledge of programming and web development (JavaScript and node.js specifically) at the “too knowledgeable for control-flow tutorials that are widely googleable to be useful” but “enough of a novice that documentation still reads like obscure 17th century medical literature” stage.

    • dark orchid says:

      There’s definitely a gap in the market for this kind of thing!

      I am personally quite a big fan of the O’Reilly “animal” series of books – I learnt several programming languages to an intermediate standard that way.

      It sounds to me like you’re looking for a combination of two things: general understanding of concepts like HTTP, REST, request lifecycle, web security etc. and specific realisations of these concepts in (node)js.

      I’m afraid I’m not familiar too much with the node.js ecosystem so I can’t link you to a bunch of tutorials off the top of my head, but I can from personal experience recommend taking the time to get a solid understanding of HTTP including watching what’s going on with your browser’s “F12” debugger. Modern web dev is about three layers of abstraction above HTTP which makes your life easier as long as you understand what all the layers do (and for node, there’s an extra layer called “asynchronous callbacks”), but for the learner I’d say it’s easier to learn what the layers do from the bottom up.

    • sunnydestroy says:

      I’m basically at the same level, where I’m right now running through classes on how to use APIs and wtf/how tf to use all these MVC frameworks, libraries, etc. I’m more front end web dev focused though.

      For framework stuff, I’ve been looking at taking this course:

      Also this for more theoretical knowledge that I’m probably weak on since I’ve been trying to self learn:

      What’s hard is finding an all in one course that goes through all the fancy tools people use in modern workflows. Like I have a functional level of knowledge in using grunt and git, but there’s so many tools and libraries and out there I haven’t even touched yet like Webpack, underscore.js, etc. There are some free courses though, like this Udacity one:–ud892

      I should mention I’m currently paying for Udacity and working through the front end web dev nanodegree which has been useful in connecting a lot of dots, but requires a lot of individual discipline and research. It’d be nice to have someone IRL to ask things, but that’s way more expensive.

      I think joining some meetups might help me in learning where my knowledge holes are and meeting people who can suggest resources/explain confusing things to me.

      • cryptoshill says:

        I appreciate the links! I eventually want to take a bootcamp/get a real Computer Science Degree (depending on time required and ROI) but currently am just trying to “bootstrap” so I am not completely lost when I get into these arenas. You’re a little further ahead of me in terms of knowledge, structuring async functions so they actually return promises that can be used elsewhere has me at wit’s end.

  43. epiphi says:

    What are your favourite talks from previous EA Global conferences?

    I’m planning to run an EA meetup before this June’s conference where we watch some of the recorded talks from previous EAG events and would enjoy your help compiling an EAG Greatest Hits of sorts.

  44. fr8train_ssc says:

    Without going into spoilers, Roko’s Basilisk was mentioned on yesterday’s episode of Silicon Valley, which leaves me wondering the probability of how much Mike Judge and/or his writing staff lurk on here or LessWrong.

    For more context from the episode:

    Bar bs gur cybg cbvagf bs gur rcvfbqr eribyirf nebhaq Cvrq Cvcre vagrtengvat nabgure pbzcnavrf NV vagb gurve argjbex. Tvysblyr vs uvtuyl fhfcrpg, nf obbgfgenccvat na NV bagb gurve qrpragenyvmrq argjbex jbhyq zrna gurer jbhyq or ab jnl gb genpx be pbagnva vg bapr vg tbrf ebthr. Ng bar cbvag, gur argjbex’f erfbheprf qb trg fnghengrq, naq Evpuneq sebz Cvrq Cvcre vf sbeprq gb vairfgvtngr gur pnhfr, jvgu gur vavgvny fhfcvpvba orvat gur NV. Tvysblyr nterrf gb uryc, pvgvat Ebxb’f Onfvyvfx nf uvf ernfba.

    Vg gheaf bhg yngre gung vg jnf gur perrcl PRB bs gur pbzcnal gung pnhfrq gur argjbex bhgntr, gelvat gb uvqr gur snpg gung gur NV jnf erdhrfgvat uryc sebz gur PRB frkhnyyl tebcvat gur NV’f znaardhva/ningne.

    • j1000000 says:

      Seems very likely at least one or two of the staff would read Less Wrong as fodder for the characters to sound like high concept nerds.

      Judge himself probably is open to reading weird stuff (he went on Alex Jones’s show and modeled Dale Gribble after him), but who could guess if he reads Less Wrong.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Honestly, it’s possible, but Roko’s Basilisk is sort of in the water supply of people who are just tangentially interested in nerdy stuff. So it’s something you can find through Wiki-Walk or random Google-linking.

      Like, I have a few friends who make SSC-sounding arguments but are 2 or 3 degrees removed, and some who have even linked to an article or two but have not binged the archives or read the comments.

      One of the first links I find for Roko’s Basilisk is Slate:

      • fr8train_ssc says:

        Didn’t realize that Slate covered it. If so, than that is probably a more likely source or at least contributed to original research than lurking on LW.

        In other news, SSC got linked in an article in Quilette (Unfortunately for Culture War Stuff, and not esoteric fiction or psychiatry) so it’s possible we can see SSC references in future media.

        • mdet says:

          I first came across SSC about two years ago and have since noticed it linked by the NYT, The Atlantic, National Review, Bloomberg, The American Conservative, and I think Reason. The links are mostly by opinion writers / bloggers talking about CW-type stuff and trying to invoke the principle of charity in one way or another (which is how I got here in the first place). Anyway, I’m pretty sure all of those but maybe American Conservative are more prominent than Quillette.

    • Nick says:

      It’s a possibility, but they could have just read Slate, for all we know.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      It appears someone already put it on rationalwiki (is that affiliated with EY and LW?), but I was tickled to note similar ideas popping up in Destiny, of all places, in which a bunch of researchers tapping into a trans/post-alien’s hardware make an unnerving discovery:

      SUNDARESH: Are you telling me it’s human? A human merkwelt? Human qualia?

      ESI: I’m telling you it’s full of humans. It’s thinking about us.

      SUNDARESH: About – oh no.

      ESI: It’s simulating us. Vividly. Elaborately. It’s running a spectacularly high-fidelity model of a Collective research team studying a captive Vex entity.

      SUNDARESH:…how deep does it go?

      ESI: Right now the simulated Maya Sundaresh is meeting with the simulated Chioma Esi to discuss an unexpected problem.

      [indistinct sounds]

      SUNDARESH: There’s no divergence? That’s impossible. It doesn’t have enough information.

      ESI: It inferred. It works from what it sees and it infers the rest. I know that feels unlikely. But it obviously has capabilities we don’t. It may have breached our shared virtual workspace…the neural links could have given it data…

      SUNDARESH: The simulations have interiority? Subjectivity?

      ESI: I can’t know that until I look more closely. But they act like us.

      SUNDARESH: We’re inside it. By any reasonable philosophical standard, we are inside that Vex.

      ESI: Unless you take a particularly ruthless approach to the problem of causal forks: yes. They are us.

      SUNDARESH: Call a team meeting.

      ESI: The other you has too.


      DUANE-MCNIADH: I don’t understand. So it’s simulating us? It made virtual copies of us? How does that give it power?

      ESI: It controls the simulation. It can hurt our simulated selves. We wouldn’t feel that pain, but rationally speaking, we have to treat an identical copy’s agony as identical to our own.

      SUNDARESH: It’s god in there. It can simulate our torment. Forever. If we don’t let it go, it’ll put us through hell.

      DUANE-MCNIADH: We have no causal connection to the mind state of those sims. They aren’t us. Just copies. We have no obligation to them.

      ESI: You can’t seriously – your OWN SELF –

      SHIM: [profane] idiot. Think. Think. If it can run one simulation, maybe it can run more than one. And there will only ever be one reality. Play the odds.

      DUANE-MCNIADH: Oh…uh oh.

      SHIM: Odds are that we aren’t our own originals. Odds are that we exist in one of the Vex simulations right now.

      ESI: I didn’t think of that.

      SUNDARESH: [indistinct percussive sound]

      • Nornagest says:

        is [RationalWiki] affiliated with EY and LW?

        Not really. RW is aware of the LW-sphere, but takes a generally dim view of it; the “rational” in its name isn’t Eliezer’s “rational”, more like an antonym of “mystical” or “faith-based”. (It’s basically Conservapedia for New Atheists.)

        It and LW have no direct connection, other than both having ties to the 2000s-era skeptical and atheist movements.

  45. Nornagest says:

    Not trying to stir shit, but I’m curious: what happened with Kevin C? He’s showing up as banned as of 4/22 on the comments page, but with no link to an offending post, and I can’t find any posts by him in any of the recent threads.

  46. Le Maistre Chat says:

    So there’s a kerfluffle about how President Trump is an antisemite because he called a journalist “sleepy eyed.”
    I for one had only ever heard this used in reference to Joel Hodgson, creator of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Have I been failing to antisemetically spot a Jew all this time?

  47. Mark V Anderson says:

    I think there is no reason I cannot plug my own book as part of my series of reviews. After all, my own book is one of my favorites.  This is my fifth review.

    I published an e-book on in 2016 called “Simplify Government.” The theme of the book is that government is so complicated in the US that this is a major impediment to its effectiveness. Most voters probably know less than 1% of what really goes on in the government, which makes voter accountability meaningless. Even civil servants, who might know their own area of the government pretty well, are usually quite ignorant of the rest of the bureaucracy, especially government functions in different jurisdictions, such as between federal and state levels.

    A good example of dysfunction due to complexity is welfare. The book has a full chapter devoted to this issue. Table 1 displays 78 different federal programs to help the poor, with total spending of $714 billion in 2008. This does not include programs not means tested but help the poor disproportionately, such as Social Security, Medicare, and Veterans Affairs. It does not include those programs largely justified as benefits for the poor, such as mass transit, education programs, and progressive income taxes. Plus it does not include welfare programs initiated and run by states or local governments. My analysis done of the money that is explicitly used to help the poor shows that the US could easily end all poverty in the US by using all the money from these programs to instead send cash to everyone under the poverty line. Medical welfare works differently from other welfare, so this is removed from the calculation. Even excluding medical welfare, all poverty could be eliminated. We still have poverty in the US because all these programs make welfare mitigation less effective.

    A few different principles are laid out to eliminate complexity in government.
    1) Government should be limited to only those functions that makes sense for them to do. All functions should fall under one of two types:
    a) Re-distribution
    b) Services which are natural monopolies. Obviously there is much disagreement about which functions constitute natural monopolies. But this provides a baseline for determining if the government should be involved.
    The functions of (a) and (b) above should not be mixed together, because that just complicates the rationalization of both sides. For example, if the poor are given discounted government services, that makes effective pricing of the services more difficult, and also makes the calculation of welfare benefits more difficult. And it is totally confusing to the voter, who should know how much re-distribution the government is paying.
    2) Each jurisdiction does not overlap the functions of other jurisdictions. It is ineffective and drives down accountability when every jurisdiction is trying to do the same thing.
    3) Government officials must tell constituents that they cannot solve all their problems. It is when politicians promise to solve any issue that a constituent raises that causes much of the complexity and ineffectiveness of government. The scope of each jurisdiction must be clear.

    The rest of the book consists of details and examples of things governments should and should not be doing. There is also a chapter on taxes, because they have become almost as complicated as government services. They should be simplified for the same reason, and by using the same principles.

    There are lots of objections to these ideas. Here are some of them:
    1) It is simply naïve to tell government to stop doing everything it does. People want the government to do all these things, and politicians are just doing what their voters want them to do. This will never change as long as we have democracy.
    2) Life is complicated, so government needs to be so also. The book over-simplifies the problems that exist.
    3) The book is wrong that the free market works better than government other than for welfare and natural monopolies. Government needs to nudge the economy in various ways to make up for market failure and to promote the common good.

    My main response to #1 and #2 is that this isn’t an all or nothing idea. Simplification is a good idea even if many of the ideas in the book are not implemented. The point of the book is to push the idea that complexity in itself decreases effectiveness of government, and that this is a very big issue today because of the great complexity in government. The goal of the book is to show that simplifying government programs are good in of themselves, because they are inherently easier to implement and to understand. One of the goals of good government should be to simplify programs. I have often heard that transparency is considered one aspect of good government. Well, transparency is just one of the benefits of simplicity. I judge politicians to a large extent based on whether they plan to simplify or complicate the government. Unfortunately, these days almost every politician’s talking points are about complicating things further, because very few voters seem to care about simplicity. I would like to change that viewpoint.

    I believe the book’s guidelines for simplicity are very useful in working towards a better government. But I would consider it a victory if simplicity became a watchword for good government amongst a substantial number of voters, even if my particular methods of simplification were completely ignored.

    I won’t talk about objection #3 here, because the issue of free markets vs government has been talked to death in many different forums, and it isn’t the main point of the book.

    • arlie says:

      It’s interesting that in your summary you’ve completely left out anything in the general category of protection, including but not limited to police, military, and safety regulations. Perhaps you categorize these as natural monopolies?

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        For sure police and military are natural monopolies. I think national defense is normally one of the usual examples of services that is very difficult to privatize since it is so easy to be a free rider. One gets the benefits of defense in the national geographic area whether one contributes or not. The police (and courts too) are a smaller version of this — because again they provide protection in a geographic area, and so are also natural monopolies.

        Safety regulations are not a natural monopoly. I don’t see what government adds to safety that can’t be done more effectively outside of government.

        • Aapje says:

          I think national defense is normally one of the usual examples of services that is very difficult to privatize since it is so easy to be a free rider.

          There is another, probably even more important issue, which is that the privatized army needs to be prevented from pointing their guns at their own society.

          • albatross11 says:


            That’s not just a problem for a society with a privatized army, that’s a fundamental problem for any society with an army. Plenty of countries with government-controlled armies have had military coups. [ETA] Or have had that government impose tyranny at the point of their army’s guns.

          • Aapje says:

            Indeed, but placing the army at a greater distance and giving them loyalty to two masters ought to increase that risk.

          • Nornagest says:

            Historically, the usual failure mode for mercenary armies has been that they turn to banditry when you stop paying them. (The usual failure mode for standing armies is that they take the place over.)

    • fr8train_ssc says:

      While that $714 billion is a staggering number, 2008 was also when the recession hit (and subsequent recovery programs started to be enacted to deal with this). Does your book at least cover less anomalous fiscal years?

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        2008 was not an anomalous year for welfare. I used that year because that was what was available on this link, which has the details of all the welfare programs that I used in my book. Unfortunately many of the links in that story are now broken. But they still have the table that shows welfare costs for several years, which indicates a lot of increase in costs in subsequent years, reaching $944 billion in 2011. The problem is that welfare is so dispersed over different programs that it is very hard to reproduce all the data. That is my point, that it is almost impossible for anyone to really know how much we are spending because it is everywhere. But it is more than enough to end poverty if that was our aim.

        • fr8train_ssc says:

          The broken links have me skeptical. The $6000 to $8000 amount per person sounds more like the cost per household at least according to this link which was identifying the welfare costs of immigrants (legal and illegal) versus citizens.

          The big question is what programs are being enumerated under the description of “welfare”. I can easily go to the Food and Nutrition Service website and download immediately the fiscal year data for SNAP. If there are 63 programs, then it shouldn’t be hard to find online resources for many of them, or request their budget via FOIA.

          My skepticism comes under what gets described as “welfare”. SNAP certainly counts, but things like FHA loans and Interest Deferred Student Loans can be argued to occupy a grey area. Yes, FHA and Student Loans provide welfare, but what is being counted towards that $33k per head amount, just the difference in interest? Some expected cost function that includes default?

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I copied the entire table to my book, so I still have the categories. It is long, but it sounds like I need to copy it here so you can see. Some of the number placement doesn’t work very well below, but the numbers do add up.

            The problem with your link is that it includes only a small portion of government welfare. It shows how easy it is to deliver deceptive statistics when reality is so complicated. The writer probably doesn’t realize himself how much he missed.

            Table 1. Means-tested welfare Spending, FY 2008, in millions of dollars

            Categories Federal State
            SS/Old Age Assistance 43,872 5,146
            Earned Inc Cred (refundable) 40,600
            Child Credit (refundable) 34,019
            AFDC/TANF 7,889 7,582
            Foster Care Title IV-E 4,525 4,040
            Adoption Assist Title IV-E 2,038 1,316
            General Assistance Cash 2,625
            General Assist to Indians 118
            Assets for Independence 24
            Cash Total 133,085 20,709
            Medicaid 201,426 150,667
            SCHIP State Supp Health Ins 6,900 2,021
            Medical General Assistance 4,900
            Indian Health Services 2,925
            Health Ctrs./Comm Health 2,021
            Maternal and Child Health 666 500
            Healthy Start 100
            Medical Total 214,038 158,087
            Food Stamps 39,319 3,482
            School Lunch 7,863
            WIC 6,170
            School Breakfast 2,307
            Child Care Food Program 2,029
            Nutrition Program for Elderly 756 106
            Summer Program 312
            Commodity Supplemental 141
            TEFAP – Emergency Food 190
            Needy Families 54
            Farmers Market Nutrition 20
            Special Milk Program 15
            Food Total 59,176 3,588
            Section 8 24,467
            Public Housing 7,526
            State Housing 2,085
            Home Invest Partnership 1,969
            Homeless Assistance 1,440
            Rural Housing insurance 1,312
            Rural Housing Service 926
            Housing for Elderly 1,008
            Native American Housing 572
            Other Assisted Housing 584
            Housing for Disabled 320
            Housing Total 40,124 2,085
            UHEAP Low Inc Energy Ass 2,663
            Universal Svc Fund – Phone 819
            Weatherization 291 159
            Energy and Util Total 3,773 159
            Pell Grants 18,000
            Title One Grants to Local 14,872
            Programs for Disadvantaged 885
            Supplemental Education 759
            Migrant Education 425
            Gear-up 303
            Education for Homeless Children 64
            LEAP, formerly SSIG 64 64
            Even Start 66
            Education Total 35,438 64
            TANF Work Activities 1,964 540
            Job Corps 763
            WA Youth Opportunity Grants 984
            WIA Adult Employment 827
            Senior Community Service 483 53
            Food Stamp Employment 351 166
            Migrant Training 83
            Youth Build 60
            Native American Training 53
            Training Total 5,568 759
            TANF Block Grant 5,704 1,383
            Tele XX Social Services 1,843
            Community Service Block 654
            Social Services for Refugees 592
            Tele III Aging Americans 351
            Legal Services Block 346
            Family Planning 300
            Emergency Food / Shelter 154
            Healthy Marriage 150
            Americorps/Volunteers 93
            Services Total 10,187 1,383
            HeadStart 6,877 1,719
            Childcare / Child Develop 4,164 2,176
            TANF Block Grant 1,736 1,045
            Child Care Total 12,777 4,940
            Community Develop Block 7,849
            Economic Develop Admin 238
            Appalachian Regional Develop 74
            Empowerment Zones 17 17
            UDAG Urban Develop 3
            Comm Develop Total 8,181
            2008 TOTAL 522,347 191,615
            FED + STATE 714,121

    • cassander says:

      3) Government officials must tell constituents that they cannot solve all their problems. It is when politicians promise to solve any issue that a constituent raises that causes much of the complexity and ineffectiveness of government. The scope of each jurisdiction must be clear.

      So you want to abolish politics? A bold stroke, to be sure, but a bit ambitious, no?

      Complexity exists because it benefits the politicians who enact complex plans that allow them to hide costs and showcase benefits. I absolutely agree that, in the long run, KISS is beneficial to everyone, but I see no way of enforcing it as a principle of government when it’s in the interest of everyone heavily involved to complexify and obscure things as much as possible, while promising the moon for a nickle. When I design my preferred policy proposals, I try to keep them simple, but I know that if they ever run into the real world, they won’t stay that way for long.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        It is to the benefit of the politicians and bureaucrats to keep politics complicated. It is definitely not to the benefit of voters, and there are a lot more of them. Yes I know simplification is going in the face of benefits for small groups for complexity and dispersed benefits to everyone for simplicity. But the problem is now that voters and good government advocates barely have simplification on their radar as problems. I want people to see that complex government is highly correlated to dysfunctional government. The insiders will always have a strong incentive to complicate matters. We should all have a general suspicion of government officials that when they make things too complicated, it is to their benefit, not ours. I want politicians to trumpet in their campaigns how they will simplify things. Of course it will be mostly a lie, but then at least they’d have an incentive to simplify some.

        • cassander says:

          the trouble is that complexity is often presented to the voters as simplicity. See, for example, the ACA, or almost any legislation described as “common sense whatever”. In practice, voters have as little ability to tell simplicity from complexity as they do to understand complexity.

          • Aapje says:

            @cassander & Mark

            You are forgetting about Moloch & particular interests.

            ‘The people’ may prefer a simple government, when this involves cutting parts of the government that they don’t care about or disagree with, but they also tend to feel very strongly that certain causes are really worth additional complexity.

            When different groups feel very strongly about different causes, the end compromise is logically going to be a complex system that supports the causes of many groups, rather than a ‘paralysis’ outcome where groups block each other’s causes from being catered to.

            You are of course correct that politicians also have a tendency to promise the impossible, appealing to wishful thinking & ignorance.

          • cassander says:


            I didn’t say it explicitly, but that’s part of what I mean when I said that it benefits politicians to come up with something complicated. It allows them to pretend to be everything to everyone (or at least everyone they’re trying to woo) and makes it difficult to prove them wrong.

          • Aapje says:

            It also makes it difficult for them to prove that their solutions are working for the groups that they try to appeal to.

            I think that the incentives go both ways, the equilibrium is just not to your liking.

          • cassander says:


            “there are two ways to make something seem flawless, one is to make it so simple there are obviously no flaws. the other is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious flaws.”

            I don’t think there’s much countervailing pressure for simplicity. Most groups want what they want, they are less concerned with stopping what others want. Adding little epicycles is generally going to increase your ability to satisfy idiosyncratic concerns.

          • albatross11 says:

            It’s also often the case that the simple ways to approach some problem are not very good, and a more complicated approach will work better. It seems quite plausible to me that this is true for drug and aircraft safety regulations, for example.

            Then you have to weigh whether a simple, hard-to-mess-up, not-all-that-great rule is better than a complicated, hard-to-implement, near-optimal rule. And that turns on your prediction about how well government will be able to do the complicated thing, and what feedback mechanisms will keep it running properly.

          • Aapje says:


            In my country, interest groups sometimes agitate for more spending, but they also regularly complain that much of the money is spent on bureaucracy.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            See, for example, the ACA, or almost any legislation described as “common sense whatever”.

            I don’t think anyone claimed that ACA was simple. Nancy Pelosi made her infamous quote related to ACA — “But we have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it..” And that is by far the worst part of the ACA, that even now, we aren’t really sure what is in it, so it is very hard to discuss it. The ACA was 906 pages. I think most voters knew it was complicated. Unfortunately, that wasn’t much of a talking point against, but to me that should have stopped it cold. I’d like to see a rule that a law can’t be more than 50 pages without a super-majority voting for it. The number of pages is one pretty easy tell of complexity.

            You are forgetting about Moloch & particular interests.

            Neither of us forgot about that. That was essentially cassander’s first point, and I responded to that. Yes, voters and advocates of policies have simplicity way down on their list of priorities. I believe that is irrational, because passing complex laws and passing many many laws in each session means the laws they do pass have much lower effectiveness. Maybe I’m nuts, but I do believe most people are mostly rational and want their preferred policies to actually work. Some things in government have greatly improved over the last 100 years, such as benefits going to most of the people instead of a favored class or race. I don’t see why simplicity cannot be another area where government can improve over the next 100 years.

            Edit to add Albatross’s comment:

            Then you have to weigh whether a simple, hard-to-mess-up, not-all-that-great rule is better than a complicated, hard-to-implement, near-optimal rule. And that turns on your prediction about how well government will be able to do the complicated thing, and what feedback mechanisms will keep it running properly.

            Okay here is where I am a lot more cynical. It seems to me that we have lots of evidence that government is very poor at doing complicated things, and even clearer that these complicated things leave accountability far behind, since voters have no idea what is happening. The US government long ago got much more complicated than they have the capability to handle effectively. And that is also true for the states and probably any country > 5 million.

          • Iain says:

            “But we have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it..”

            This is a frequently misrepresented quote. (It’s funny how nobody ever seems to include the rest of the sentence: “…away from the fog of the controversy.”) In context, it wasn’t about the complexity of the bill; it was a claim that the bill’s opponents were misrepresenting it, and would be proven wrong once the bill was passed and people could see its effects for themselves.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            In context, it wasn’t about the complexity of the bill; it was a claim that the bill’s opponents were misrepresenting it,

            I had no idea that part of the quote was left out. In any case, the way it has been represented by her opponents turns out to be pretty apt, even if she didn’t mean it that way.

    • What about public goods in the economist’s sense–goods such that the producer cannot control who gets them and so cannot charge for them? A radio broadcast is an obvious example, although one that is produced privately due to an ingenious cluge, but there may be others that are worth producing but won’t get produced. I think that’s a more common argument, at least from economists, for government production than natural monopoly. A monopoly, after all, has to produce the goods it has a monopoly over in order to make money from them. It isn’t obvious that a government monopoly is better–it has the obvious disadvantage that it can maintain its monopoly position by law even if the reasons for it go away.

  48. Andrew Hunter says:

    Book Review – Inside Delta Force
    Source: Sebastian Marshall essay.

    A man goes through brutal testing and training for America’s most elite force, then recounts his actions on behalf of all us. But wait, there’s more.

    Let’s start with Neal Stephenson:

    Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.

    Yeah, this book makes it clear that ain’t true.

    I mean, put aside that I don’t have the physical abilities and never could; I’m reasonably swole for a nerd, I ruck for fun, but…no. If I attempted any of the physical feats in selection here, I’d break something and end up very much done for the day, on day one. No question. But to be perfectly honest: the bigger limit is my mental toughness. Sebastian Marshall talked about this at some length, but what they’re really looking for is a certain kind of resilience, and I don’t have it. I wish I did. I’m reasonably brave, and I’m reasonably willing to stand up in scary places. God knows my coworkers know this: I have a certain kind of fierceness when I feel something around me is wrong. But to get through Delta Force selection clearly takes a willginess to deal with…not just hardship, but also the ability to make bad choices but not do so. I am a full-on believer in “nudges”: i build my life around making it easy to do the right thing. These guys don’t.

    On the other hand, it’s a bit inspiring, isn’t it? I feel like I’m learning a bit more about how I want to be, even if I’ll never be there. It is a humbling read, but in a mostly positive way. I’m not sure how to put it other than that.

    Anyway, I heard about this book, and I read it excitedly…then I looked it up. And that’s when it got interesting: the author is apparently highly controversial, and many of his factual claims are disputed. And now I don’t know what to think. I’ll paraphrase a friend of mine closer to the IC: “There’s an undisputed norm for people in these groups: you don’t talk about it, full stop. Even in a positive way, even in a way that helps the unit. You don’t. And the problem comes that the people willing to break that norm? They’re gonna be the most self-aggrandizing people.”

    So…yeah. It’s bluntly claimed the author lied about some of the missions he was on. Did he? How the hell would I know? I have zero reliable information, but as my friend points out, maybe this guy is less credible than the default. Ironically, this is one case I’d trust journalists more than domain experts, but ain’t no journalists around. When I look at some of the details, he still seems mostly reliable. For example: one complaint is that he wasn’t a “founding member of Delta Force.” I listened to the audiobook, so I can’t check if he used that phrase. But even if he did, I don’t think you could take that as any reasonable interpretation of the text; he’s very open that he was trained by people who were already members, so how could he be? THat leaves me even less certain about who to believe.

    Throughout the book I find myself worryingly uncertain. Let’s talk about the training chapter: he goes into quite some length about their skills in “instictive shooting”–very roughly, shooting with a focus on targets instead of sights–and makes some interesting (to me) points about why not doing that leads to problems for police shooters. It seems very plausible to me. Then in the last OT, I see John Schilling flatly dismiss any reality to “point shooting” (which Wikipedia claims is the same thing.) Is John a short-gun tactics expert? No (right?). But he knows more than I do. Is he right here, or misled by Dunning-Kruger? Is he simplifying to say that he or I shouldn’t try to learn this, but a Delta commando who puts thousands of rounds down range can? Again, how the hell should I know?

    One of the most interesting claims is evidence in the author’s favor: it is unambiguously and flatly claimed that they did CT room clearing drills with live ammo and live hostages, sometimes VIP guests. (Yes, really; there is no ambiguity in the text here.) Unless this is made up from whole cloth, this is not something you do if there is any possibility, any possibility whatsoever, that your trainees can’t be trusted to hit their targets.

    In the end…I don’t know. It’s honestly quite interesting to read and think about how much you believe of the facts. And in the book’s favor, the most interesting chapters are the least controversial ones, on selection and training. If you read the linked Sebastian Marshall post, you’ll think you know the gist of selection. You don’t. I love compelling strenuous travelogues. This is up there with the best of them. It is unshakable, inspiring, and humbling. As for training, I like to think, for a civilian, I have a decent grasp of both basic combat skills and the ideas of tradecraft. I still was excited to hear every detail he put down.

    The bad: I have no idea how much of this I believe. That’s a bit frustrating. In what’s possibly redeeming and possibly damning: the least believable parts, the mission recaps, are easily the least interesting parts of the book. If you put the book down as soon as you get to Eagle Claw, I won’t blame you; you’re not missing all that much. (That said, I still found the remainder positive value.)

    Recommended if: You love compelling travel-and-hard-work narratives; you want some insights into how (some) people behave under stress; you like trivia about counterterrorism; you want to practice evaluating the truth of unreliable statements.

    Like I said: this one’s weird. I honestly don’t know what to think about it. But even if it wasn’t entirely true, it was entirely fascinating. If you are into military stories, you’ll like this. And I think you’ll learn.

    Oh, and John, I’d like to hear you talk more about shooting.

    • bean says:

      Not John, but someone who read this book many years ago, and quite a few other Special Forces books over the years. I’d say the most credible person in general on SF training is Dick Couch (Vietnam-era SEAL, now turned writer who has covered half a dozen programs), and what I remember of Inside Delta Force broadly lines up with his stuff. (He hasn’t covered Delta, and won’t, and I don’t know what I know of Delta that isn’t contaminated by Haney.)

      On shooting in general, I suspect that there’s a couple of things going on. Haney was in in the late 70s/early 80s, and I believe a lot of modern shooting techniques were developed in that era. So I think some of what Delta was doing then was early versions of techniques in broad use today, and that may lead to confused terminology. And I suspect that there simply are techniques which you can use when you’re someone whose full-time job is to train for CQB and who has a really good grasp of conventional shooting that would be stupid for a normal civilian who gets maybe an hour of range time every week or two.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Haney is somewhat credible on some aspects, mostly because while there haven’t been many people talking about 1st SFOD-D, there have been others, along with other leaks over the years. That said, I would take pretty much everything in “Inside Delta Force” with a huge grain of salt unless you can cross-check it against multiple sources, preferably including the people that hate the guy’s guts.

      is unambiguously and flatly claimed that they did CT room clearing drills with live ammo and live hostages, sometimes VIP guests. (Yes, really; there is no ambiguity in the text here.) Unless this is made up from whole cloth, this is not something you do if there is any possibility, any possibility whatsoever, that your trainees can’t be trusted to hit their targets.

      This is true. As much as any part of Delta’s training is “well-known”, this is one of the aspects (along with being one of the very last units to abandon the 1911 and go Glock.). Here’s an article from another former 1st SFOD-D member discussing their approach to CQB, and more famously a sizzle reel that was shown to prospective applicants (the unit, like Army SF, hosts periodic recruitment events within the Army) leaked on youtube and is still available, and includes live footage of just such drills at around 2:10.

      A money quote:

      My answer comes from a level of CQB with acute target discrimination abilities not really even understood by other than Delta. It is an environment where a single off-target round can buy a fellow five extra hours of training, either before or after normal duty hours.

      The Unit is a place where, for an Accidental Discharge (AD) of a fire arm, be it a full-caliber weapon, a sub-caliber weapon, a paint gun, a blank gun, in the floor, ceiling, wall, dirt—where ever, you will be gone for a minimum of one year, before you are able to apply again. It’s where hitting a friendly hostage made of paper, can buy you a ticket off of the compound—forever.

      What this author and Haney are talking about, however, is not early 20th century “point shooting” techniques.

      • John Schilling says:

        Here’s an article from another former 1st SFOD-D member discussing their approach to CQB,

        I get as far as “CQB is not a defensive operation; it is purely an offensive event” and very nearly dismissed the whole thing to be exceedingly arrogant and parochial. What are all the people who were minding their own business until your Delta-force buddies stormed into their barracks, and who are now shooting back at you, doing? Is that not also CQB, and if not, why not? And, did your training never consider the possibility that things might not go entirely according to plan and you might have to defend your barracks from someone breaking in and trying to kill you when you weren’t planning to have that happen? Seems like that might be important for people who so often stage out of temporary facilities in countries where lots of people don’t like them, and seems like you’d want a common set of CQB-ish tactics and techniques for both.

        The rest is worth at least a skim, but I didn’t see anything that was new or surprising and I wouldn’t trust any of it as authoritative.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          I definitely get that response, and I agree that he’s arrogant, but I linked it more to illustrate a bit more of their mindset and to show that indeed they do conduct room clearing exercises with live ammo and live hostages as of 15-20 years ago than as the end-all be-all of tactical wisdom. Also, to be fair to him that definition is pretty consistent with how the US Army defines and teaches CQB, which it defines as “techniques to be used when the tactical situation calls for room-by-room clearing of a relatively intact building in which enemy combatants and noncombatants may be intermixed.”. Defense against attacks is something that’s included in MOUT training, but it’s always framed in terms of preventing the enemy access to buildings/sites/etc you’re protecting in the first place rather than dealing with them once they’re already inside.

          Based on my own limited training combined with what I’ve read, it boils down to the axiom that if your defenses are compromised to the point that the enemy is now inside “your” building and is clearing rooms, then it’s not your building anymore, and so you need to treat it identically to the way you treat assaulting and clearing an enemy held building. Even if your decision is that the balance of forces is such that you can’t re-take it and need to fall back, you will need to clear any rooms between you and the exit, and either way you’re back to engaging in what is for all intents and purposes an offensive task rather than a defensive one in terms of tactics and mindset. I think Hand could’ve put it better, but I suspect that’s what he’s trying to communicate.

          I’m aware of self-defense classes for civilians and LE that try to teach their own form of CQB with an eye towards static defense of rooms, but if that’s something the Army’s teaching I’m not aware of it.

          On the point-shooting material, I strongly suspect that what was actually going on during the live-fire training was the classic “aim w/ iron sights, but with both eyes open and the front sight post fuzzy” type of shooting, not no-sights point shooting a la Fairbairn and co. and that as you said below Haney did a bad job explaining it. That’s certainly the type of shooting (with a mix of irons and red dot/reflex sights) on display in the video I linked, and the way CQM is taught in the regular Army.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            I would tell both you and John Schilling that it may not be Haney’s fault that I’m mis-describing his shooting technique; I’m not experienced enough to know what matters here (and audiobook means I don’t have the text to double check.)

            What I am sure he said (paraphrased):

            A) “standard” training doctrine was to focus on the sight posts (he didn’t say front, but my vague understanding is that’s what everyone does) as one set up shots.

            B) In realistic CQB situations, you cannot do this: the first step in setting up a shot would be to (rapidly) identify a target, which until you busted the door down might be in any place, or might not be there at all, etc. You must focus eyes on the target to do this.

            C) Standard training doctrine leads people to then either take shots they are not aiming, because they only know how to aim by focusing 100% on sight posts, or aim well at bad targets. (He explicitly calls both of these out as responsible for some fraction of bad police shootings, which is interesting, but again, unreliability means I don’t know how much to rely on this fact.)

            D) As a consequent of the above facts, Delta training focused on taking shots focused on targets, not sights. I don’t believe he was saying they didn’t make use of sights, but he didn’t go into detail. I am not qualified to say to what extent this is the sort of thing you and John dislike.

    • John Schilling says:

      Oh, and John, I’d like to hear you talk more about shooting.

      Gladly; anything in particular? I don’t practice enough to call myself an expert, but I’m at least familiar with the expert techniques.

      As far as point/instinct shooting is concerned, “very roughly, shooting with a focus on targets instead of sights” is ambiguous. It is true that for maximum precision the focal point of the eye needs to be on the front sight, and that for CQB you’ll shift it to the target for the sake of speed and situational awareness. But you still need to hold at least the now-fuzzy front sight on that focused target, or you’re rarely going to hit anything more than ten feet away. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone credibly argue otherwise in the past few decades, and the people who win competitions simulating CQB are all using the sights.

      But, as bean correctly notes, things were different in the 1970s. I know the FBI was still teaching instinctive shooting as the primary technique in that era, that there was a common belief that sights (and two-handed shooting stances) were for newbies and pansy girly-man shooters and that Real Men Don’t Use Sights. It’s quite plausible that Haney’s initial Delta training followed that model. Also plausible that he was trained in fuzzy-front-sight-on-focused-target shooting and didn’t communicate that effectively.

      I do actively and confidently disbelieve that Delta did both no-sights point shooting and live-fire training with living “hostages” at the same time.

      • psmith says:

        Gordon Liddy talks about learning to point shoot with the FBI in his autobiography Will (an all-around excellent piece of pulpy Americana, by the way, even though half of it’s probably bullshit). And I remember seeing a diagram, I think in Fairbairn’s book, of a revolver that had been modified for CQC by cutting off the front sight and the trigger guard.

    • psmith says:

      If I attempted any of the physical feats in selection here, I’d break something and end up very much done for the day,

      It’s a real bitch realizing that injuries are your limiting factor, ain’t it.

  49. Nick says:

    Hey, has anyone been reading Ward, the sequel to Worm? MugaSofer, quaelegit? I’d read the teaser arc, Glow-Worm, as it came out, but I dropped it for other stuff during Arc 1. Fast forward to this weekend and I tried getting caught up. I’m in Arc 5 now. This is a quasi-review, and I’m not marking spoilers for either work, because I’m a little sick of rot13, sorry, folks. Anyway.

    Five arcs might be too early to make the call, but I think this might be the best writing WibblyBits has done. For one, I don’t think it has the weak start that Worm and arguably Twig have. Obviously we’re still ramping up, so we can’t compare middle or end, but it’s been smooth so far. One factor in that, I feel, has been the shorter arcs. That’s got to be deliberate; aside from 5, they’ve all been under 10 chapters long, which makes the arcs feel way more digestible than Twig’s.

    For another, the characters are good. I’m not sure I want to draw comparisons to previous groups just yet, but I like the main characters about as much as I liked those in Twig, and the group dynamics are great. Side characters are awesome too: I totally see why people like Ratcatcher and Moose and mlekk, despite how little screentime they’ve gotten: they’re just endearing as hell! Ratcatcher’s “You thall not path” had me in stitches, and Moose’s easygoing nature is damn charming.

    The steady ramping up of threats/conflicts/scope is an aspect of WaffleBot’s writing I really like, and I think it’s done best in Worm. In Pact we kind of see the bad side of it: Blake never gets a break, there’s no breathing room, and the Toronto arcs in particular drag on too long. It just gets exhausting, not only for Blake but for the reader. Which is a neat trick, but not an enjoyable one. He tried the opposite with Twig, very clearly defined breathing periods, and it worked, though not in the early arcs. I think we’re going to see something very similar in Ward.

    I’m not altogether enthused about the themes being explored. Religion is obviously going to be prominent, at least early on. We’ve got a cult operating near our heroes, and a nearby world is run by “Abrahamic theocrats” (it hasn’t been any more explicit about their beliefs than that, so far). The emphasis there, I think, is going to be on how people interact with organized or institutional religion; we may get mention of personal religious beliefs, but that hasn’t happened yet. What gives me trepidation is that WildeBeest hasn’t really written religious characters before, and so far it doesn’t look like he is here either. The setting explains that quite a bit in Pact and Twig, and there are exceptions, to be sure, but it makes a lot less sense in Worm and Ward, where we’re pretty much talking about a very recent fork of our own world. I’m worried that, true to his style, we’re going to get a lot of emphasis on the failure modes of institutional religion, the psychological harm and the particular ways that plays out, and less emphasis on the positive aspects of it. That’s fine, it’s his story! but it’s wearying, as someone belonging to the most institutional religion around.

    Speaking of psychology, though, that’s present in abundance with our protagonists, and I really like it. A degree of psychological realism has always been a strong aspect of his work, right back to Worm, but if anything it’s handled more deftly now. Our protagonist has a lot of issues—it’s Glory Girl, for goodness sake—and so do her friends, and everyone’s pretty traumatized after the end of Worm. We’re seeing a variety of problems, from family issues to disability to mental disorders, a variety of coping mechanisms, and some real and very cathartic healing. Some of it hits close to home for me, the family stuff in particular, and the way Victoria handles it too—which I’m not going into because this thread isn’t about that—and while that’s not comfortable to read about, it’s still so good to see it handled well, and to see her make progress. Hurts when she doesn’t, but it’s worth it.

    I would be happy to talk broad Worm stuff, or early Ward stuff, or specific, current Ward stuff (I should be caught up by tomorrow). Whatever folks want to talk about, really. Would prefer open discussion of spoilers, but self-rot13ing is fine too.

    • Nornagest says:

      I’ve been following it semi-regularly; caught up as of a week or so ago. It’s technically better than Worm but so far it’s lacked some of the same lightning-in-a-bottle quality. Victoria’s not the type of protagonist to drive the balls-out craziness we saw in Worm and Pact, but it looks like this is going to be a slower, more personal story and she might work better for that. She’s fairly likable, at least.

      I’m not as happy with the supporting cast, though. The Undersiders were ten pounds of issues in a five-pound bag, but none of them were defined by their problems in the way that a lot of Team Therapy has been. Sveta’s a well-rounded character and I think Ashley might be heading that way, but I’m not seeing the same kind of depth in Tristan/Byron, Kenzie, Rain, or Chris. And they’re a lot less fun.

      • Nick says:

        I take Tristan and Byron to be pretty interesting—there’s definitely more going on there than we know yet. Kenzie and Rain both have a lot of potential, especially with feeling out their powers. Chris, meanwhile, is still a question mark. I agree he’s less fun, and less interesting right now; I hope that changes, but you have a point.

        When you say they’re less fun, are you just looking for more/better down time, or do you think it’s an issue of their characters? I’m not sure myself; part of it is a “being Rain is suffering” thing, same to a lesser extent for most of them, but maybe the down time could just be better used too?

        Victoria’s not the type of protagonist to drive the balls-out craziness we saw in Worm and Pact

        Yeah. One aspect I think has been missing is cool use of powers. Victoria’s powers are mostly as ordinary as they come—well, the stuff with the forcefield is interesting—and I have to wonder how much that impacts the fights. They feel less interesting. Now, not having the day saved by thinking up a crazy new application of your power every time is more realistic, but it also means the fights feel lower stakes, or less dramatic. Like, I worry that the whole story Victoria’s only going to pick fights she can win by punching things, while Taylor could pick fights with gods. Let me know if I’m making any sense here.

        • Nornagest says:

          When you say they’re less fun, are you just looking for more/better down time, or do you think it’s an issue of their characters?

          I’m sort of thinking out loud here; this isn’t a fully-baked criticism yet. But part of the issue might be that Team Therapy does basically function as a therapy group: the people in it relate to each other, and (because we’re seeing all this through Victoria) to the reader, almost purely in terms of their issues. There’s not much time spent on getting to know them as people. Even the team’s objectives, the people they’re actually going out to punch, seem to be picked mostly to serve group psychological needs. Whereas the Undersiders were business partners that developed pretty quickly into a close friend group. That still might happen here, but there’s this sense of distance and reluctance that was never there in Worm.

          Sveta might be coming off as deeper because she and Victoria have their preexisting friendship, so our view of her is less one-dimensional.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      If I really liked the first 2/3-3/4 of Worm (even the beginning), but didn’t enjoy Weaver and thought the ending sucked (final fight was suitably epic but I found most of the results unsatisfying), should I read Ward?

      • Nick says:

        Hard to say without knowing what you didn’t like about the ending, but I’d err on the side of giving it a chance. Read the first arc or so. (You can decide whether you want to read Glow-Worm or not; it introduces you to our protagonists, setting, etc., but it’s purely optional.)

  50. Tenacious D says:

    The Expanse has some of the best space combat that has ever been on screen. The latest episode featured this engagement. Objects that are not properly secured become projectiles in the cabin once evasive maneuvers begin. Elderly passengers are at risk of stroke during high acceleration. And there is nowhere to hide.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      I am a person who has many complaints about the Expanse. I have my gripes with their physics, but mostly what bothers me is the engineering and the logic of things. There are so many cases of “If you can do X, why don’t you use it for Y?”. Regarding that scene:

      What kind of space magic is letting them pull 90 degree turns like that on RCS? Why does the UN ship with dozens of visible torpedo launchers play by martial arts movie rules and throw away cannon fodder missiles four at a time instead of overwhelming their defense with a larger strike? Why, in this world of unlimited fusion power are people using torpedoes so low-yield that they can get within a couple ship-lengths of their target before being safely shot down? If they’re still shooting at the Razborback, why take half-measures and not just fire seven missiles at its six defense torpedoes to get them dead? Does the UN ship not have any point-defence of its own to fire at the heroes? And most significantly, why is the UN ship completely neutralized by destroying its engines when it still has torpedo launchers?

      • Nornagest says:

        Why, in this world of unlimited fusion power are people using torpedoes so low-yield that they can get within a couple ship-lengths of their target before being safely shot down?

        I haven’t watched the show that far, but this might be forgivable. Nukes are less effective in space: in an atmosphere, most of the damage done by a nuclear weapon is actually done secondarily, by blast and thermal effects caused by matter near the bomb taking a massive dose of X-rays and suddenly feeling a strong urge to expand.

        In a vacuum, there’s no matter near the bomb, so all the damage has to be done by radiation and the X-ray pulse. And spaceships need radiation shielding anyway.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      I started to watch but lost interest once I saw the Social Justice-inspired casting decisions.

      • Aapje says:

        If you are referring to Naomi, then this is consistent with the books, where she is described as mixed race.

        • fortaleza84 says:

          I wasn’t aware that the show was based on a book. I should have said “I lost interest once I saw that the show was infected by Social Justice.” I have no idea if the book is also infected by Social Justice, but I would guess that it is.

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            I read the first book and I don’t remember it as social-justice-y.

          • rlms says:

            Does “infected by Social Justice” mean “has non-white women in”?

          • albatross11 says:

            The first two seasons do not seem particularly committed to any current social justice message. (Though in-universe, it’s clear that the belters are getting royally screwed over.)

            Like any good SFF, there are great political and moral questions, but they’re about in-universe concerns, and not particularly close to current-day political and moral questions. For example, there are serious tensions between Naomi and Holden, but none are caused by racial differences, which nobody so far seems to care about. Instead, they’re caused by Holden being from Earth and Naomi from the belt, and the difference in perspectives that’s driven by that.

          • Aapje says:


            I think that you are extrapolating far too much.

            The story features a colonized planet (Mars) and asteroid belt. People of different races were the colonizers, because the overpopulation on Earth resulted in people of all races leaving, which seems very realistic. They intermixed on Mars and in the belt & in the latter case, developed their own language/slang (in part based on Afrikaner, which as a Dutch person, I enjoyed and was a bit confused by, as it doesn’t seem very likely).

            The people who grow up in the belt experience low gravity, which causes them to look/be different. This is then a source of racism (both ways), rather than skin color.

            This doesn’t come across very well in the TV series, because they didn’t use prosthetics or such for the belters, nor did they give them accents, which IMO was a big mistake, because it would be much easier to see where the automatic racial antipathies and allegiances lie, if they would have.

            The story doesn’t make one nation, civilization or race evil and others fully guilty or innocent; nor does it excuse the bad deeds of one side. So it doesn’t really engage in identity politics or the other more problematic aspects of SJ.

          • Incurian says:

            I am a fan of the show and I think you’re referring to the OPA commies who are portrayed somewhat sympathetically (no idea what you’re talking about wrt casting). I found the economics to be more troubling than the physics (I don’t remember my exact complaint), but without going into any spoilers you should rest assured the show is worth watching.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            Does “infected by Social Justice” mean “has non-white women in”?

            No, but the portrayal of women is a big red flag. So at the beginning there are two women talking about a subject other than men. Also, one of the women stays calm, competent, and authoritative even though they are being shot at. To me, this is almost certain pandering to Social Justice.

            My interpretation is that the makers want to be sure that they pass the so-called Bechdel Test and are also going out of their way to portray women — especially non-white women — in a flattering light and assure us they can match men in terms of risk-taking, competence with machinery, and staying cool under pressure.

          • albatross11 says:


            I’ll admit I can’t quite tell if you’re serious or spoofing.

            If social justice-y fiction just means the women are competent and intelligent and tough and sometimes talk about stuff other than men, then sign me up. Among other people, that captures a lot of my favorite SFF writers: Vinge, Heinlein, Bujold, etc. It also captures a large chunk of the women I know in my personal life, who are overwhelmingly smart and competent.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            So at the beginning there are two women talking about a subject other than men. Also, one of the women stays calm, competent, and authoritative even though they are being shot at. To me, this is almost certain pandering to Social Justice.


            My interpretation is that the makers want to be sure that they pass the so-called Bechdel Test and are also going out of their way to portray women — especially non-white women — in a flattering light and assure us they can match men in terms of risk-taking, competence with machinery, and staying cool under pressure.

            Dude, seriously? Narrative relevance and competence => “almost certain pandering”?

          • fortaleza84 says:

            If social justice-y fiction just means the women are competent and intelligent and tough and sometimes talk about stuff other than men, then sign me up.

            In normal action movies, it’s common for women to talk about stuff other than men, what’s uncommon is for them to talk among themselves about such things. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with it, it’s the underlying motivations that are important.

            On a very cold day, I could appreciate the warmth from a burning cross in my neighborhood park. But it’s still a problem because I understand what the underlying motivation and meaning is.

            Perhaps a better example is a college coed who carries a mattress around campus. The act is offensive because I understand the underlying motivation and meaning.

            So too with that clip.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            Dude, seriously?

            Sure, I’m 100% serious. I watch enough movies and television shows to see a pattern and this clip is pretty clearly part of the overall pattern.

          • Nornagest says:

            Do you have similar objections to Firefly?