THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Open Thread 102.25

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

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615 Responses to Open Thread 102.25

  1. Chevalier Mal Fet says:

    Let’s set up a long-term discussion, stolen from Shamus Young:

    What if you could send a package (let’s say suitcase-sized) to [any year in the past]? It will arrive at today’s date, minus however many years. You can have it sent to whomever you like, but you can’t personally hang around and make sure it gets used properly. There’s nothing about this delivery that will convince the recipient that this package is from the future. There won’t be any flashing lights or vortexes or portals for them to see. All they see is the package on their doorstep, and they have no special knowledge of this experiment or your efforts. It’s up to your packaging to motivate the people of 1977 or whatever to open it and pay attention to the contents.

    You also can’t enlist any large-scale help to fill this suitcase. You can’t call on NASA, or launch a “Help Save the Romans” Kickstarter. You don’t magically have access to classified data or government funding. Filling this suitcase comes down to you, your wits, and however much you’re willing to put on your credit card. (If you’re well-off then maybe limit yourself to 10k in spending, just so you’re working on the same problem as the rest of us.) For the purpose of the exercise, imagine you have a way to send the package, but there’s no way to prove this to anyone here in 2017.

    What do you put in the package? What items or information will benefit them most? How will you get that information, how will you package it, and how will you entice the recipient to take it seriously?

    I don’t want people to respond with what’s in their package just yet, I just want folk to think about. To sum up, the questions we’re trying to answer:

    1)Who gets the package?
    2)How will you entice this person to examine the package, take it seriously, and act according ot your wishes?
    3)How do you store information in the suitcase? What format do you use?
    4)What information do you send?

    Don’t answer just yet! Whatever half-baked ideas you came up with in the course of reading this, they’ll be better if you take a few days until OT102.5 or whatever (plus it’ll give y’all something to discuss besides culture war). Think about hte problem. Talk it over. The more time you give it, the more complete your plan will be.

    • beleester says:

      A couple of ideas that could slot into pretty much any plan.

      1. The first information the recipient sees should be immediately verifiable, so you can convince them that it’s real. Bonus points for being profitable to the recipient. A sports almanac is a good choice, but if that’s not an option, send it to the day before a major historical event (“Tomorrow, Gaius Julius Caesar will be stabbed 23 times outside the Senate…”).

      2. For information storage, a laptop will fit in a suitcase pretty easily. I’d go with the OLPC XO – it’s cheap, it’s durable, and if you include a solar charger, you can send it back to before electricity existed. Buy a USB stick to go with it, and now there’s basically no limit to the amount of information you can deliver.

      • moonfirestorm says:

        but if that’s not an option, send it to the day before a major historical event (“Tomorrow, Gaius Julius Caesar will be stabbed 23 times outside the Senate…”).

        You may want to pick a major historical event that isn’t seen as human-influenced. Predicting Caesar’s assassination could be “this is from the future” or “whoever sent this helped kill Caesar!”. Maybe being detailed enough will help, but how easy is it for them to tell that “exactly 23 stabs” wasn’t just the intended plan? You’ll likely need to include a bunch of things they can verify (this is why the almanac works well), and things they can’t affect while trying to verify.

        Even worse if you’ve got someone who might be able to get word to Caesar in time, unless that was actually part of your goal.

        • Jiro says:

          Pick an astronomical event. It’s going to be pretty hard for you to have influenced the explosion of a supernova two days before it actually happens, or a comet that won’t get into telescope range for another week. Depending on the timing you could do something like include a photograph of a feature on an astronomical object a few days before a space probe happens to be photographing it.

          Actually, you don’t need a prediction at all if you’re going to a reasonably modern time. Send a piece of consumer electronics that would have been beyond the state of the art at the time you’re sending it to. “This Nintendo Switch is beyond modern technology” is about as immediately verifiable as you can get.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            Astronomical events are good, yeah, although it might weight the mind towards “aliens” a bit in the modern era.

            Consumer electronics are also good: sending a Nintendo Switch even in the 90s would be astounding, and if it goes back to the 60s or so it’s just magic. Magic that’ll probably turn into a few leaps forward in tech along the way, if that’s your goal.

            It’s probably going to go public fairly quickly though as your guy tries to verify what he’s seeing, so if your goal was to secretly advance a particular individual, you might not get that.

      • BeefSnakStikR says:

        I’d go with the OLPC XO – it’s cheap, it’s durable, and if you include a solar charger, you can send it back to before electricity existed

        Plus, if you send it to an alternate timeline when Jonathan Swift actually implemented A Modest Proposal, you could have way more than one laptop per child.

        • quaelegit says:

          Er, more than one laptop per Irish child… but we already have that anyways (I don’t know if we still have that if you only count the laptops in Ireland, but I would expect so.)

    • Well... says:

      Seriously, I don’t need to think it over. I already know how I would answer:

      1) The package is sent to myself, about 16 years in the past. (I know the exact address! How convenient.)

      2) Knowing myself, I would examine the package without need for enticement. Just having a package from someone is enough. I already know I would take it seriously and act on it, because it would simply be a package, and I’m used to seeing packages and have even received a few in my day.

      3) The suitcase would contain a letter.

      4) Let’s just say the letter would contain some information and advice for 16 year-old me.

    • Lambert says:

      After the obvious sports almanac or whatever to get them to pay cursory attention, I’d give them information a few decades ahead that is either verifiable or obvious in retrospect, as well as preferably having practical use. Especially things where you wonder why they did things suboptimally for so long.
      Things like mathematical proofs and descriptions/diagrams of inventions that were about to be made.
      I’m not sure how far I’d send things back, but contenders for this information include:
      Calculus and Keplerian motion, the cubic formula, prussian blue, vulcanised rubber, stainless steel, wet compass, slide rule, advanced escapement, astrolabe, tele/microscope, barometer, Watt (as opposed to Newcomen) engine, hot air balloon, sewing machine, screw propeller, steam hammer etc.

      • phi says:

        I get the idea of just generally sending back a lot of science/math/technology, but I’m curious: Why the cubic formula?

        Here’s an interesting question: How do you get people in the past to do things like end slavery earlier? One answer is that you just let your technology dump do the work for you, and hope that increasing prosperity leads to more progressive attitudes. But it would be better if there was a way to be more certain.

        Assuming there was extra space on the hard drive, I’d also send back some of our art/music/culture in general. Since the cultural progression of the past after the package has been introduced will probably diverge from our own, it would be nice for the people in the past if they had a sample of the best cultural works from our own time to look at. Things like books and music would probably transfer over the best. (The reason I say this is that even with instructions, it would probably be many years between which the original computer sent into the past breaks down, and when the people in the past would be capable of making a computer of their own. During this time, all information would have to be copied over in the form of books.)

        • AG says:

          Ooh, I do like that thought: what if you sent a Tchaikovsky or just a Beethoven music score to Haydn or Mozart? Give them some jazz sheet music? Famous later concertos?

    • Randy M says:

      Not to fight the hypothetical, but sending anything back in time is surely going to affect my present, likely in ways that prevent my existence, and, paradoxes aside, I kinda like being. So real me wouldn’t do it.
      Ignoring that, let’s say–oh, okay, we can hold off on my actual initial idea.
      So, presumably we are trying to make a better present, right? Or at least help a lot of people along the way.
      I think that rather than trying to kickstart the information age with a tech info dump or something, we can tell a story convincingly enough that it would cause people to change take action even if they thought it was an unconvincing fiction and prevent certain tragedies, especially if the potential recipients probably suspect something along the lines was possible but did have an idea about the magnitude.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        Really, you can do whatever you want. I’m envisioning a sort of Back to the Future-type time travel, where you can alter the timeline, but still participate in it. If you accidentally erase your own existence, you get a suitably dramatic period of time to correct your mistake instead of disappearing in a puff of logic.

    • phi says:

      For number 1, I’m fairly confident that I would send the package as far back as possible. Here, “possible” means that the people in the past can still understand whatever I write on the package. If I’m not allowed to use any outside help with translation, this might be around as far back as Shakespeare’s time. I can occasionally understand Shakespearian English, but any farther back, and I’m concerned anything I write will be hopelessly difficult to understand. I would probably send the package to Isaac Newton or some similar figure: a fairly influential, educated, English speaking person.

      Making the package interesting would be as easy as putting some red and blue LEDs on it. I would market the package as some kind of magical object, which contains instructions for becoming proficient in Alchemy. (one of Newton’s interests) (Saying this wouldn’t even be too far from the truth, since I’m planning to include lots of information about science and technology.)

      For information storage, I would go with beleester’s laptop idea. I’d also include a physical book with instructions for how to use the laptop. Probably the book would also contain a few relevant historical predictions to establish legitimacy.

      I’m still thinking about the rest of the questions, but here’s one final, kind of cheatery idea: I would put a variety of sensors on the package that are set to record data as it is sent into the past. Once society has advanced to the point where they can understand that the package was sent from the future, they might find that data very useful in reverse engineering time travel. 🙂

      • Eric Rall says:

        I was thinking of dropping edited modern instructional texts on things like chemistry, classical physics, calculus, and geography into the Andalusian libraries captured by the Aragonese and Castilians during the Reconquista of Spain. The subjects would be of clear practical use (encouraging uptake), would be within reach of the ability of scholars at the time to understand and validate, would be less likely than other subjects (such as astronomy or biology) to run afoul of theological dogma, and would move the state-of-the-art forward by centuries. The edits would be to remove obvious anachronisms, such as discussions of how various things were discovered, and to emphasize applications that would catch the interest of the target audience (e.g. gunnery ballistics for physics). The Andalusian libraries are chosen because they were already being mined as a trove of knowledge from a more technologically advanced culture, so they’d be very likely to be found, studied, and taken seriously.

        The big problem here is language. For credibility, the works should really be written in Arabic, although you could probably get away with Latin, Greek, or Hebrew. And I don’t know more than a handful of words of any of those. The best I could do would be my very rusty modern Spanish or an attempt to approximate late Middle English.

    • kokotajlod@gmail.com says:

      It depends somewhat on what model of time you use. Are we talking single-timeline or branching-timeline? “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”/”Harry Potter episode 3” or “Back to the Future?”

    • Chlopodo says:

      I’d try to find some way to save some lost texts: I’m thinking Mayan codices, or works of Punic literature. Something like that. I’d have a message translated into the relevant languages and sent to the house of some priestly-scholarly-type, and say that it comes with the full authority of Kukulkan or Ba’al or whoever would make them listen, and tell them to bury as many texts as they can in some location that would remain undisturbed over the years but where modern people would find it.

      Of course, the butterfly effect being what it is, saving Punic literature might result in other things like the Táin or the Eddas being lost. Or the Nazis winning World War 2.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        How will you identify who to send it to, and how do you ensure that they get the package? Then you’ve also got to think about finding an expert in ancient Maya or Punic (although a package written in Latin could probably be understood by a Carthaginian).

        • Chlopodo says:

          Finding experts on these languages isn’t that hard in the age of email. For Mayan, there’s Mark van Stone (who has a Youtube channel), and a bit of googling tells me that Robert Holmsted at the University of Toronto has published on the Punic language. It might take a little persuading, but if the premise of the thought experiment is “you have a time machine” then that doesn’t seem like much of a hurdle in comparison.

          (Greek would probably work better than Latin, anyway. Hannibal could speak Greek, so I’m guessing it was mostly the language used for diplomacy between the Romans and Carthaginians.)

          As for your other question: I dunno, man, I’d need some time to figure it out.

    • What assumptions, if any, are you making about time travel paradoxes? If I manage to prevent WWI, which seems like one possible objective, the world will change and the timeline I sent it from will no longer exist.

      Do we assume multiple branching lines, so my timeline is still there to sent the package from and my life continues in that timeline, so that the only benefit I get is the knowledge that I tried, perhaps successfully, to prevent WWI in another time line?

      Or do we assume that I somehow become the person I would have been in the new timeline?

      For a potentially large effect send the package to Alexander, or possibly his physician, a week or so before his final illness, with contents sufficient to persuade him to believe in it and including a collection of antibiotics and diagnostic instructions. Getting enough antibiotics to do the job without a prescription would be tricky, and I would have to hire someone to translate everything into ancient Greek, but Fiverr probably has someone who would do that within my budget. Do the Indian mail order places carry a significant range of antibiotics?

      Easier if I happened to be a physician.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        How might WW1 be prevented?

        • Anonymous says:

          Shooting that flippin’ Serb?

          • David Speyer says:

            I’ve been thinking along the same lines, but I don’t think it works. Most history I’ve read suggests that pre-WWI Europe was dry grass waiting for a spark. I can protect Archduke Ferdinand easily, but then I don’t know what the next spark will be.

            Destroying Al Qaeda pre-2001 struck me as more promising. It should be easy to do: the Clinton CIA was already trying, and I could make them much more effective with information from the future. And I don’t think there was another terror network ready to replace them as a casus belli. But it does strike me as thinking small — the GWOT isn’t nearly the catastrophe that WWI is.

          • cassander says:

            @David Speyer says:

            WW1 became world war one because it happened at a particular moment of history where forces conspired to make it a uniquely devastating war. Prevent war in 1914 and you might get another war several years later, but it’s almost certainly a less bad war.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Because WW2 was obviously a less bad war?

          • cassander says:

            @baconbits9

            You mean the war fought as a direct consequence of the outcome of ww1? That’s part of why ww1 was so terrible, because it laid the the groundwork for 2.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Part of why WW1 and then WW2 were so horrible was the level of technology available to the opposing sides. WW1 starting a couple of years later might lead to WW2 starting a couple of years later which might end the war with Germany developing the bomb, or Japan getting to fight the US after it has wound up major operations in China.

        • Maybe, if enough people at the top of the various governments realized how bad it was going to be … . So you send one of them c. 1912 a package which includes enough testable information about the next couple of years, information about things that won’t be affected by the response to your package, so they can prove to others that your information is reliable.

          Plus perhaps some gadgets or antibiotics to help make the point that this really is from the future.

          • dodrian says:

            Would that sort of thing encourage them to avoid war, or to prepare harder for war, especially now that they have a glimpse at some advanced technologies?

            On the other hand, if you gave someone in 1912 a laptop and solar panel, would they have the tools and knowledge to take it apart in a meaningful and instructive way? I imagine even the large soldered components on a motherboard would be pretty inscrutable.

          • quaelegit says:

            Wasn’t there a discussion on SSC recently that if WWI had been either moved up or delayed a few years the number of casualities would probably be much less? I don’t remember the specifics so not sure how to search for it, but this sort of influence might be easier than preventing war altogether.

            (Also to look into: even if you can’t prevent WWI, influencing it or events around it to prevent USSR or the rise of Nazi Germany.)

            @ dodrian — the laptop question actually seems really interesting to me in how it depends to the history of electrical engineering. I don’t know enough about the history (or probably about modern laptops) to be confident in my answer, but I think they could probably learn a lot from the batter, speakers, and peripheral systems even if the actual chips were inscrutable. You’d also definitely want to send more than one so they can learn things from breaking it! And you could probably help bridge understanding by sending older technology too (although idk if you can get vintage transistor stuff on this budget — maybe old 1950s/60s radios?)

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        You experience the new timeline, and presumably the timeline must be self-consistent – so it’s impossible to make any change that would prevent time travel being invented, for example.

        • But since the version of you in the new timeline never knew about the old timeline he had no reason to send back the particular package that changed things from the old to the new.

          Does the package include instructions to duplicate it and send it back, even though its contents make no sense in terms of the historical facts the new you knows?

    • Randy M says:

      Oh by the way, this is pretty much the premise of Pastwatch; people in the future are able to view the past, and then send items back. They want to alleviate as much historical suffering as possible. The subtitle gives away the pivotal historical point chosen: the Redemption of Christopher Columbus. They do cheat, and send people, but only after discovering their timeline is the result of a prior interference along the lines of what you propose.

    • John Schilling says:

      This is going to depend very strongly on the rules of time travel involved, e.g. whether I am creating a new branch universe for other people to live in or whether I have to worry about editing myself out of existence in this one. Any hints you’d care to give on that point?

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        Whatever you think is more interesting, honestly. What I had in mind was something akin to Back to the Future – there is a single, editable timeline, but if you accidentally paradox yourself out of existence, you start to fade dramatically away over a period of time juuust long enough for you to attempt to correct your error, rather than disappearing in a puff of logic.

        However, if the multiverse model gives you more freedom of action to make a more interesting suitcase, by all means go with that.

    • David Speyer says:

      Seeds for genetically engineered wheat, sent back a few centuries, might be a good choice. The existing population will know how to farm, so the skills to use them are there; the increased yields and hardiness will make everyone want them; and they will reproduce themselves so the suitcase limit isn’t terrible. There is no obvious historical event this will alter, but it should save millions of deaths from hunger.

    • proyas says:

      2)How will you entice this person to examine the package, take it seriously, and act according ot your wishes?

      Simply writing on the outside “This suitcase is from the future” would be enough enticement for someone to open it.

      To prove its origins, I’d include a written list of all major earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, earthquake-caused tsunamis, and meteor strikes that are going to happen. I doubt they could be “butterflied away” like meteorological disasters or human-caused disaster could be.

      Depending on how far back the suitcase is being sent and how advanced their telescopes are, you could also prove its authenticity by providing detailed information about the orbits of planets and other celestial bodies that they hadn’t discovered yet.

      3)How do you store information in the suitcase? What format do you use?
      If sending it to the pre-computer age, I’d print everything on microfilm and would include basic viewing equipment like a magnifier. If the suitcase is sent to a smart person, he should be able to figure it all out.

      The Encyclopedia Britannica on microfilm might take up half the volume of the suitcase.

    • noddingin says:

      I chose a plan that would require minimal effort — but would maximize clearness of outcome, likelihood of success, and good ROI for the effort required.

      1 ) Who gets the package?

      Someone who is making a decision that will have consequences beyond zis imagining. Zie was not famous (yet); zie opened zis own packages (sfaik), and had no reason to expect anyone to be trying to influence zim about anything important.

      For my purpose, zie does not need to be convinced of anything by/in the package; zie may dismiss it as a senseless hoax. All I need is for zim to at some odd moment wonder: “Is there any way my current plan might go seriously wrong?”

      Zie does not need anyone’s cooperation to enact a different plan. It’s all been zis own, minor, project all along.

      2) How will you entice this person to examine the package,

      See above.

      [to] take it seriously,

      Unnecessary; it’s a basilisk.

      and [to] act according to your wishes?

      I chose someone whose wishes coincide with mine.

      3) How do you store information in the suitcase? What format do you use?

      Simple and obvious. For example, newspaper/magazine accounts (giant headlines, front page photos) of the result zis planned action did help cause in our timeline.

      4) What information do you send?

      The obvious two words. Plus one of the news stories relating how zis action may have helped cause that result.

    • MrApophenia says:

      Killing Hitler seems like a very achievable goal here. Send the previously discussed evidence that verifies the package is from the future, a bunch of info about how awful World War 2 is, and then make sure it gets to a relevant highly placed intelligence officer in, say, France or England in the early 20s.

      I imagine killing some Austrian WW1 ver wouldn’t be too tough to pull off given that kind of motivation.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Tell military intelligence that the Nazis are going to be very bad, so they should send someone to infiltrate them in 1919.

        Or send the package to the man himself, make him overconfident so that he overplays his hand and is arrested in a weak coup attempt.

        • dndnrsn says:

          This is going even worse than our plan to keep the hated tyrant Ferdinand from beginning his harsh rule!

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        I’d try forging a newspaper article from the 1930s or thereabouts about the surprise boom in paintings by the previously unheralded Hitler, with a few anecdotes about people who made their fortunes by commissioning original Hitlers in the prewar years.

      • cassander says:

        wouldn’t it be easier just to send hitler a package that says it’s from his mother with a bomb inside?

      • albatross11 says:

        If you’re trying to kill Hitler, couldn’t you just use your time machine thingy to send him a bomb?

    • katharsite says:

      Date:  November 20, 1944
      To:  Richard Feynman
      From:  a friend
      RE:  the treatment of tuberculosis with streptomycin

      Dear Dr. Feynman

      On this day, November 20 1944, tuberculosis patient “Patricia T”, at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota, under the care of physicians H. Corwin Hinshaw and William Feldmin, under the aegis of a US Army research program, will begin a course of streptomycin therapy for the treatment of her progressive tuberculosis infection.

      “Patricia T” is a 21-year old woman whose medical history is essentially identical to that of your wife Arline Feynman (nee Greenbaum), namely, a tuberculosis infection that progresses despite the very best sanitarium care.

      In guinea pigs, streptomycin has proven uniformly effective in curing tuberculosis, and there is ample physiological reason to anticipate — or at least, reasonably hope — that similar efficacy can be demonstrated in humans.

      Dr. Feynman, if you will take the trouble to familiarize yourself with the scientific literature on streptomycin and tuberculosis, and then, solely on the basis of this literature, appeal to your colleagues Gen. Leslie Groves and Dr. Robert Oppenheimer for administrative assistance in enrolling Arline in the US Army’s tuberculosis research program, there is reasonable likelihood that Arline can be restored to health.

      The information in this letter is entirely a matter of public record, and indeed, might plausibly have been brought to light by your own independent investigations. Hence the sole intended service of this letter to you is to draw your attention to this research.

      In consequence, you need not ever mention this letter to Gen. Groves or Dr. Oppenheimer, or to any of your colleagues … or to Arline herself. In closing, please allow me to wish, for you and Arline, a long and happy marriage.

      Sincerely, a Friend

      PS: if it should happen that Arline is cured by the above program, please allow me to suggest that, following the conclusion of the war, you collaborate with Dr. Linus Pauling in regard to his planned proposal to Dr. Warren Weaver at the Rockefeller Foundation, “The possibilities for progress in the fields of biology and biological chemistry.” Your scientific talents, Dr. Feynman, are exceptionally well-suited to accelerate the post-war pace of biomedical research,along the lines that Dr. Pauling envisions … research lines that (as we hope) will benefit Arline and a many people like her.

      • katharsite says:

        Date:  July 26, 1955
        To:  Richard L. Garwin (Director, IBM Research) and
          Edwin L. Hahn (Director, Watson Computing Laboratory)
        From:  a Friend
        RE:  Spin echoes in medical imaging

        Dear Drs. Garwin and Hahn

        With reference to your article “Spin Echo Serial Storage Memory” (J. Applied Physics, 1955), IBM’s prototype spin memory has, as its active element, a tube of water approximating the dimensions of a (human) little finger. Physiologically speaking, finger-tissues are spin-rich and grossly inhomogeneous. Moreover, the pulse sequences that your apparatus evokes are highly sensitive to sample inhomogeneity.

        In combination, the preceding observations evoke a natural inquiry as to whether the pulsed-observation of physiological tissue samples in your apparatus might constitute a novel imaging modality.

        You will appreciate, Drs. Garwin and Hahn, the immense advantages of a biomedical imaging modality that is intrinsically three-dimension, energetically harmless, and chemically sensitive.

        In a nutshell, why not replace your water sample, with your own little fingers? And regard your device, not as a computer memory, but as an entirely novel, computation-centric, biomedical imaging modality?

        Sincerely, a Friend

        PS: The IBM-sponsored spin-memory has excited broad-ranging interest within the Pauling/Feynman Biomedical Research Laboratory at CalTech. Lab-director Feynman has calculated signal-to-noise ratios (SNRs) for broad classes of “magnetic resonance imaging” devices (as they might be called); these SNRs are highly favorable. Concomitantly, Co-director Pauling’s chemical expertise leads him to predict that spin-relaxation rates depend strongly upon the physiological environment. Feynman and Pauling are united in perceiving herein a fertile opportunity for IBM to create and grow novel markets, as a company focussing on the computational aspects both of business and medicine?

        ———-

        Date:  May 25, 1970
        To:  Alexander Grothendieck
        From:  Arline Feynman, Richard Feynman,
          Richard Garwin, Richard Erwin, and Linus Pauling
        RE:  What is a metre?

        Dear Dr. Grothendieck

        We invite you to come to the CalTech Institute for Computational Biomedical Research, as a visiting scholar, for a period of three years (with the possibility of a permanent appointment).

        Arline and Richard Feynman, in particular, have become jointly enamored of the idea that model-theoretic connections between objects (e.g. relating two objects by comparing the sentences that they satisfy) are at least as important in research as the more traditional category-theoretic connections (where morphisms are the fundamental connective tissue between objects) or topological connections (where the objects are gathered into some common topological space or metric space in order to compare them).

        Arline and Richard suggest, in particular, that you and they might collaborate on a series of lectures, tentatively beginning with a three-part lecture on the topic “What is a metre?” — this question to be answered with equal weighting for considerations of physicality, universality, and naturality.

        These lectures would accessibly reflect and survey an ongoing evolution in Feynman’s own thinking, from “a philosophy of ruthless simplification: throw away all details not necessary for understanding fundamental limits” to a broader principle that “researchers are really obliged to give every explanation they can think of.” Similar themes are of course reflected in your own recent lectures, e.g, “The Responsibility of the Scientist Today“.

        We hope that you will consider coming to our institute, and sharing your mathematical perspectives with our researchers.

        Sincerely, Arline Feynman, Director,
          CalTech Institute for Computational Biomedical Research

    • The Nybbler says:

      Since Hitler-killing has already been discussed, we could take one from L. Sprague de Camp:

      To his Radiant Clemency Flavius Anicius Justinian, Emperor of the Romans, Greetings:

      Our slight ability to foresee the future informs us that in about thirty years there will be born in Arabia a man named Mohammed, who, preaching a heretical religion, will, unless stopped, instigate a great wave of barbarian conquest, subverting the rule both of the Persian Kingdom and the East Roman Empire. We respectfully urge the desirability of securing control of the Arabian Peninsula forthwith, that this calamity shall be stopped at the source.

      This would be printed in Greek on a tablet of tough plastic, in a package with suitable markings indicating it is a sending from Delphi.

  2. J Mann says:

    Is anybody watching AMC’s wuxia series, Into the Badlands? If you like the idea of a beautifully shot wire-fu martial arts series with some solid acting, I strongly recommend it. The show has gotten better every season, both with the addition of Nick Frost and with the de-emphasis or death of various of the less successful characters. It’s still not much on realism, but if you like wuxia, definitely give it a try.

    • rahien.din says:

      Yes! I just finished season 2 (all I can get on Netflix as yet). It’s pretty fantastic.

      • J Mann says:

        I’m glad to hear there are other fans! After the Expanse’s (hopefully) close call, I’m inclined to be more of an evangelist for thinly watched shows. I’m trying to talk it up wherever I can – it’s really good, and I’d love to see a Season 4.

        The amazing thing is how well Nick Frost works in the show, and how well he fits into the Journey to the West character structure.

        • rahien.din says:

          Through season 2, Frost’s story seems to be the hidden central narrative. Everyone else seems to be playing the same Badlands game from a slightly different angle, and I’m not sure where any of the other timelines are going to go – each is either too neatly tied up or too open-ended or too fluid to predict.

          Don’t spoil season 3! Unless you know a way I can watch it without cable.

          I really need to read Journey to the West. It’s such a touchstone for Asian cinema/TV/literature. I feel like a lot of the symbolism is flying past me.

          • J Mann says:

            All I will say is that IMHO, Season 3 is even better than 2, by a lot. People who noped out of this show early (but like or can stand wuxia) should check it out again.

  3. HeirOfDivineThings says:

    Anyone getting inundated with telemarketers/fraud calls? What have you done about it that was successful?

    Putting my phone number on the FCC “Do Not Call” registry was a joke. Completely ineffective.

    • Nornagest says:

      Short of paying for NoMoRoBo or another service that blocks fraudulent calls, there’s really no good solution. I happen to live in an area code that doesn’t match my phone’s, so if I don’t know the number I make a habit of picking up only calls that’re local to my area code of residence, but that’s an 80% solution at best.

    • Well... says:

      I had a wave of them that lasted a year or two and now they’ve sort of died off.

      I did keep asking to get put on Do Not Call lists but I have no idea if that was what did it.

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      My landline has a web interface where I can block numbers. See if yours does.

      As for mobile phones, no idea.

      • Nornagest says:

        Any smartphone is going to be capable of blocking numbers, but blocking numbers doesn’t do anything because modern telemarketers will almost never call you twice from the same number. Caller ID is very easy to spoof, and spoofing is almost mandatory if you’re using VoIP, as a lot of telemarketer outfits are. They don’t need to repeat themselves, so they don’t.

        • BeefSnakStikR says:

          I seem to get quite a few calls from the same number before it changes. Maybe they don’t change the number until I pick up? I don’t know.

          Also, I get very few telemarketers and many robocalls/scams (here in Canada warrants for arrested due to not filing your tax return is a new one). That may make a difference.

    • cactus head says:

      Turned on blocking mode on my mobile phone so only people on my contacts list can reach me.

      My dad had to change his phone number because of telemarketers calling his home phone.

      • Nornagest says:

        Changing your phone number probably won’t help. I have a burner number that has only existed for a month, and I get scam calls on it.

    • Anonymous says:

      You could get a prepaid phone from another country. Particularly one which has lots of immigrants and networks that cater to international callers, like Norway’s MyCall. If anyone speaking gibberish calls, it’s a scammer, and you can hang up.

    • J Mann says:

      I’ve had relatively good luck with the app Should I Answer? for Android – you can set it either to block specific calls, to block any calls that have been blacklisted by other users, or to sent all calls that aren’t in your contacts straight to voicemail. The last one was too extreme for me, but would probably work.

    • James Miller says:

      Worse, an old woman called me saying “I know what you’ve done. I’m calling the police.” After this person hung up, I called the police and gave them this women’s phone number from my caller ID. Later that day someone else called me and said he had gotten a spam call with my name and number on the caller ID. All three of us have the same area code. My telephone provider (Comcast) said there was nothing they could do about this.

      • yodelyak says:

        I too have this problem. I have a Denver area code, but live in PDX. I get 2 – 3 calls daily from a number one digit off from mine, as though that is going to get me to trust the number, I guess? It’s always one of the last 4 digits that is different, and just one of them… which has made it easy to ignore the spam. I’ve reported the calls to the CO SoS, since they’re coming from Colorado numbers… I strongly doubt that they are doing anything.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I’ve reported the calls to the CO SoS, since they’re coming from Colorado numbers… I strongly doubt that they are doing anything.

          They’re probably not coming from Colorado numbers; they’re coming from outside the US with false Caller ID.

    • ManyCookies says:

      On my IPhone, I set it to where it only rings if they’re on my contacts. They can still leave a message and I still get a visual notification that they called, but I’m not checking my phone twice an hour anymore.

  4. Jan Kulveit says:

    Bay-area-specific, personals

    Hi,

    I’m in Berkeley for about 3 weeks (normally living in Prague). I’d definitely like to meet some of you, however, I’m not part of the local social network, so it may be difficult to get in touch with people. Hence posting here… (I’m also somewhat introverted and not native English speaker, which creates a bit of barrier)

    I’m currently working on these….
    1. strategy and developement of Effective Altruism in the Czech Republic

    2. somewhat technical AI alignment topic – an attempt to include an information-theoretic bounded rationality model in inverse reinforcement learning.
    I guess e.g. speaking with people at CHAI could be useful

    3. thinking about structure of EA movement and community in Europe

    4. I’m co-organizing two events intended to help bring talent into AI safety: the second run of AI safety camp, and an Summer School on Human-aligned AI, both in Prague

    5. I’m helping with effectivethesis.com project, attempting to create a two-side market for EA aligned thesis topics

    If anything of the above seems an interesting topic to you, please contact me (I’m at jk at ks dot cz)

    Also if you happen to like good tea 😀

    Some of the more specific questions I have in mind.

    Community
    – in building EA/rationality/xrisk/… community and organizations in Prague, what to copy and what to avoid?

    AI
    – what people are working on, and what are their general models? We hope to be able to create a new xrisk research institution in Prague in approximately a year, and obviously, it would be good to be well synchronized. I generally follow the public discussion and published papers, but there still seems to be a bunch of implicit knowledge and thoughts not shared publicly

  5. dndnrsn says:

    As promised – the first installment of me talking about the thing I am technically most qualified to talk about, the Bible and Biblical scholarship. Caveat: this is about secular scholarship, not meaning, interpretation, etc. If I touch on those things, it will be in the interests of discussing the secular scholarship. Other caveat: I’m qualified in the sense that I did a master’s degree, so I’m not some distinguished professor, but I spent lots of time around distinguished professors. In writing this I’m aiming at something in the ballpark of “200-level survey course” for complexity and depth. I will answer questions to the best of my ability, and at the end of every post I’ll list any topics I noted while writing this but didn’t go into. I’m not going to do much summarizing of the Bible; it’s not hard to find a copy. If you want to read along, I recommend an NRSV; it’s the scholar’s choice by and large – but most any modern translation that isn’t a paraphrase and doesn’t try to update it to today’s slang will be good enough.

    A word about terminology: when I say “the Bible”, I mean the Hebrew Bible plus the New Testament. The Hebrew Bible is sometimes called the Tanakh; this is an acronym for the Torah (Law), Neviim (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings) (you can transliterate Hebrew in other ways; it doesn’t really matter). The Old Testament such as you’d find in a Christian Bible is different; the books are organized differently by different denominations and some add books you won’t find in the Hebrew Bible. Christians sometimes call the Torah the Pentateuch – because there’s five books in it (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). I’m going to use the standard Christian names, because that’s the norm in scholarship and it will get confusing otherwise. I can get into issues of translation and language if people want, but that gets a bit into specialist territory (plus, to be frank, my Greek has decayed and my Hebrew was never any good anyway).

    With that out of the way, our first installment will look at the creation stories in Genesis 1-4. That’s right, stories plural. I’ll use that to springboard into a brief discussion of the four sources most scholars think make up the Torah/Pentateuch, two of which you see in the creation stories. This gets us quickly into something we’re going to see again and again: the Bible is a collection of different works by different people in different times and places. It’s not one consistent whole.

    So, let’s start at the beginning. Get your Bible out and read the first three chapters of Genesis. Pretend you have never read this before – in fact, pretend you don’t know what Judaism is, or what Christianity is; just pretend you don’t know any of that stuff. The immediately noticeable element, what jumps out at me at least, is that there are two creation stories.

    The first creation story runs from Genesis 1:1 to the first half of 2:4. God methodically creates everything over a period of seven days. The story is fairly regular and formulaic – God repeatedly observes things and sees that they are good; the going of each day and the coming of the next day is repeated each time. God creates humanity on the sixth day, both male and female, and gives them dominion over living creatures, then indicates that vegetation (created back on the third day) is meant for them and the animals (on the sixth day, these things are observed to be very good). On the seventh day, God rests, having finished creating everything. It’s all very organized.

    The second creation story is different: it’s much less formulaic, for one thing. For another, its emphasis is very different: it’s far more human-focused. 2:4b begins by briefly mentioning that God had made the earth and the heavens, but then the second story begins almost immediately to talk about the creation of humanity. God makes a man from the dust of the ground (there’s a bit of a pun here, adam meaning “man” or “human being” and adamah meaning “ground”). God plants a garden in Eden, puts the man there to till and keep it, and tells him he can eat whatever he wants, except for one particular tree – that of the knowledge of good and evil – if he eats it he’ll die. God goes on to make animals to be “a helper as his partner” – the man names them, but a helper/partner is not found. God puts the man to sleep, takes one of his ribs, and makes a woman. Presumably, you know the rest of this story – a crafty talking serpent, more clever than the other animals God made, convinces the woman, and through her the man, to eat the fruit of the tree they were told not to eat. The two humans realize they are naked and become ashamed; they hide from God, who figures out what they’ve done. He curses first the serpent and then the humans (it is only at this point, at 3:20, that the man names his wife Eve – “Eve” being similar to the Hebrew word for “living”; at 3:16 the woman was cursed to suffer pain in childbirth and to desire her husband, who will rule over her). Following this, God clothes the humans and – fearing that man, who knows good and evil, might eat from the tree of life, thus living forever – and kicks them out of the Garden, to till the soil (the man was cursed to have to work for food until the day he dies back in 3:17-19).

    The stories are arranged in such a way that the second follows the first, but they are clearly not the same story – there are inconsistencies in the timing of creation. Beyond that, the stories are very different in their style – as noted above; the formulaic, organized creation of the world, versus a far more colourful (and frankly, more fun) story featuring far more anthropomorphic God who almost seems to be experimenting (for example, creating animals to be partner to the man, and creating a woman after realizing the animals aren’t sufficient). God even can, it seems, be fooled: the man and woman hide from God; God does not know where they are and has to call out. This story also thinks a lot more about good and evil – where in the first story, God sees that things are good repeatedly, in the second story, the first humans are snookered into breaking the rules by a talking serpent (who was also made by God, at least going by the book without extra scholarship).

    So, what’s going on? Traditionally, the authorship of the Torah was ascribed to Moses; at a minimum, the Torah was associated heavily with Moses. At least early as the twelfth century CE, scholars started to question this. Over time, really solidifying by the eighteenth century, scholars (with time, primarily Germans) developed what is called the Documentary Hypothesis. While the Documentary Hypothesis has been challenged, and has been recognized to be heavily speculative, it is more or less accepted by scholars today. Of course, they still argue about it, because there’s nothing scholars love more than a problem that can’t be solved. Keeps them in business.

    The source that scholars mostly hold to be responsible for 1-2:4a is known as the “Priestly” source, or P. Outside of this, the P source is very heavy in Leviticus, as are the bits in Exodus that go into detail about the tabernacle. The P source is big on formulaic constructions and genealogy and thinks ritual observances and covenants are very important; compared to the other strands, P is not into fantastical elements. The source responsible for most of chapter 2 of Genesis and all of the story in chapter 3 is known as the J source – the “Yahwist” (“Jahwist” in German), because this source refers to God as YHWH (although not the only source to use this name). J has a lot of stories that are really good as stories – J is more fun than P. J is quite universalistic (eg Genesis 12:3), and is very big on promises that are fulfilled later (Abraham’s call in chapter 12 and the covenant in chapter 15 are often ascribed to J) – for these reasons, Christians have frequently paid a lot of attention to elements scholars tend to ascribe to the J source.

    There are two other sources who appear in the Torah, although generally scholars don’t think they appear in the chapters considered here. The D source is the Deuteronomist, who scholars tend to think is primarily or entirely found in (unsurprisingly) Deuteronomy. The Deuteronomist really cares about the covenant, and about the idea that God loves Israel – so Israel must love God. Finally, the E source. The E source is so called because it uses the word “Elohim” for God. E is very big on revelation through dreams, thinks a lot about guilt and innocence, and emphasizes the “fear of God.” There is scholarly controversy some passages – should they be assigned to E or J?

    For the purposes of this series, we will trust the 19th century Germans and assume that this breakdown of four sources is more or less correct. The Torah specifically and the Bible as a whole consists of multiple strands woven together over time. Importantly, we must not consider this to be some kind of dumb mistake. The people who did this knew what they were doing; it’s not a situation of “ah, a sloppy editing job”. They kept multiple stories because having multiple stories was important to them; you might as well criticize a historian who has on her bookshelf several books on the same topic that don’t agree with each other. If we are seized by a need that things be consistent and easy to understand, that’s our problem.

    So, to recap the creation stories and a bit of the scholarship: there’s two of them, and this is because they come from two different sources, out of four different sources in the Torah. The Bible has a lot of this; it will get really heavy when we hit the Gospels in the New Testament. Next up: the histories in the Torah and how they line up with what we actually know about history (one post or more; I don’t know yet). The next post should be next week or the week after that.

    EDIT: This has been through a couple of proofreaders, but if I screwed anything up, let me know in the next fifty minutes or so. A little more to follow.

    • dndnrsn says:

      There’s also some stuff I left out for space/laziness reasons. If people want I can do a little research, or just regurgitate some more information. Stuff I glossed over or skipped entirely:

      -comparative Ancient Near East creation stories.
      -the nature of God: there is some speculation that the earliest sources differed on the degree to which God created everything, to whether there was one God plus other gods who weren’t as cool, etc.
      -more about the documentary hypothesis: textual fragments, Germans. More about he specific methods of biblical criticism. Dating of sources. This gets a little heavy.
      -the names of God (or, if one prefers, G-d) as used in the different sources. This gets confusing, and will require more research: I’ll have to bust out some old books and try to remember the Hebrew alphabet.

      -more on the documentary hypothesis: textual fragments, lots of Germans, blah blah blah. More about the specific methods of biblical criticism. The dates of the sources. This stuff gets a little heavy.
      -the names of God as used in the different sources. This can be confusing, and will probably require me to bust out some books I haven’t read in a while and try to remember the Hebrew alphabet.

      Also, thanks to bean for proofreading. Also also, sources upon request.

      • Nornagest says:

        comparative Ancient Near East creation stories.

        Where can I read more about this? It sounds interesting.

        • dndnrsn says:

          For the short version, there’s more about this in my old Hebrew Bible textbook – if you’re requesting it I can whip something together probably for later today. For the long version, I can supply bibliography from same.

          • Nornagest says:

            Book, webpage, or summary would all be fine. I’m not sure I’m up to reading a full bibliography’s worth of books, though.

        • dndnrsn says:

          OK, so, very simple (and spotty) summary of ANE creation myths, etc.

          Let’s look at the Mesopotamians, the Canaanites, and the Egyptians. They provide important context for the Bible. Note that this is a very, very basic summary of the “Intro to the Hebrew Bible” version of ANE mythology. Hopefully somebody here knows a bit more and can correct anywhere I’ve said anything grotesquely wrong.

          The first Mesopotamian creation story is the Atrahasis story. The story begins with an entire society of gods, with a hierarchy. Some gods were worker gods, upon whom the labour of agriculture was imposed. These gods rebelled, leading the senior gods to create humanity in order to do that work. Later, after 600 years, humanity has multiplied, and their noise annoys the gods – so they send a plague to reduce humanity. One man, a wise man called Atrahasis (the name means “very wise”) is advised by the god Enki (a high god who has as his domain waters beneath the earth) to have humanity only sacrifice to the god controlling the plague – who relents. This repeats at 600 year intervals (with Enki advising Atrahasis in dreams after the gods tell him to stop advising him), until finally the gods send a flood to wipe humanity off the face of the earth. Enki tells Atrahasis to build a boat big enough to ride out the flood. He does this, and after this, makes an offering in thanksgiving. The gods snipe at each other over the flood, Atrahasis’ survival, etc, but in the end, decide to control the human population by making some women barren, by causing some children to die in childhood, and having some priestesses not have children.

          The comparison to the Biblical flood story is pretty obvious. Looking specifically at Biblical creation stories, compared even to the J creation story, the gods are very anthropomorphic. There’s also a whole society of gods – obviously, not in the Bible. There’s much less care for morality: the gods try to reduce humanity’s numbers simply because of overpopulation. Scholars think that this story was put together from various traditional materials – so, another parallel there.

          The second one is the Enuma Elish. This one was composed later than the Atrahasis story. It concerns the primordial time before the gods were created by the primordial pair, Apsu and Tiamat. The gods, however, create a tumult (compare to humans in the story previous). Apsu decides to try and get rid of the gods, but one, Ea, puts him to sleep and kills him. He then creates two new gods, Bel and Marduk. Marduk ends up battling with Tiamat (who also seeks to destroy the young gods) winning in the end, and is made king of the gods. Marduk and the other gods then create humanity to do the work the gods were doing. The story corresponds to the rise of Babylon as a power and the rise of a powerful monarchy, but it’s not just a political allegory – it’s also about subduing nature. Like the Atrahasis story, it’s pretty amoral: Tiamat isn’t evil, but she is dangerous. It also draws on older stories in a similar way.

          Then there’s Canaanite mythology. Our understanding of it isn’t as good as what we know of the Mesopotamian mythology. There are some Ugaritic tablets which, at least, feature the gods ascribed to the Canaanites in the Bible. We don’t have a creation story from them as such, but we do have a story that sort of explains how things came to be the way they were. The most important god in the sources we have is Baal, who achieves victory in a conflict between gods and the forces of water and death, and is established as the king. Like the above stories, it’s amoral: Baal doesn’t overcome evil forces, he overcomes dangerous forces of nature.

          The Egyptian creation stories feature multiple versions, with creation ascribed to various different gods depending on which story you look at. There’s much less conflict than in the Mesopotamian and Canaanite stories – the major conflict is between Horus and Seth. Seth murders his brother, Osiris; Osiris’ widow (also his sister) takes his body and conceives Horus. Horus eventually defeats Seth. The pharaoh came to be regarded as Horus incarnate, and Osiris became the god associated with the dead and with eternal life. The Egyptians were really into the idea of life after death (it’s the major thing popularly known about them: pyramids, mummies, etc).

          So this overview of creation stories (well, not entirely creation stories) hopefully gives a little context for the world that the material that would become the Hebrew Bible developed in.

          • Nornagest says:

            Thanks!

          • kingofthenerdz3 says:

            Since you mention non Jewish myths Genesis draws on, I’ve got a question. How would these stories been incorporated into Jewish beliefs and become monotheist, given that Judaism is pretty anti-pagan?

          • dndnrsn says:

            It’s not so much that Genesis drew upon them, except maybe for the flood story. It’s that, this is the context within which the stories we have now in Genesis emerged. There are, however, some scholars who speculate that there are signs that kinda-pagan-ish, less-strictly-monotheist stuff got scrubbed out of the Bible as we have it now at some point in the editing process, so to speak. I can do a little bit on that if people want; it sorta comes up briefly in the patriarchal history a bit later on too.

          • Randy M says:

            It’s that, this is the context within which the stories we have now in Genesis emerged.

            As I remember it (from class, not direct observation) the Genesis accounts have some apparently intended references to the stories of the surrounded cultures for juxtaposition. For example, in Genesis 1, God is seen hovering over choatic waters, which is what Tiamat is associated with.

            Later, after 600 years, humanity has multiplied, and their noise annoys the gods – so they send a plague to reduce humanity.

            How to tell when your mythmakers had children who wouldn’t leave the nest…

          • dark orchid says:

            In reference to the post about Genesis drawing on pagan stories, here’s a question: I think I remember reading online somewhere that Elohim has the usual Hebrew masculine-plural ending (-im, yod-mem) which is evidence for an earlier polytheistic belief system. Is this proper scholarship, or just a quirk of grammar?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @dark orchid

            That’s one of the things I could write about that would take a bit more research – I’ve got a book the thesis of which, as I understand it, is that the Genesis creation stories and some other elements have holdovers from earlier stories where God wasn’t the only god, just the best one, where there was a “heavenly court”, where God was not 100% responsible for creation, etc.

          • DavidS says:

            @Randy: my very vague memory of studying this briefly and long ago is that there are also references to God (I can’t remember if the term used is the one we translate as ‘God’, ‘the LORD’ or ‘the Almighty’ and as dnd says it may matter) somehow fighting and defeating the chaotic sea. Or possibly a chaotic sea monster, or possibly the two are blurred. In fact I think there are hints this is an early account of creation (‘created order out of chaos by defeating the massive Kraken’).

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      I am looking forward to this, particularly the Old Testament bits. I’ve studied the New Testament while receiving my bachelor’s, but the TNK stuff is all new to me.

      one question I do have – why is so much Biblical scholarship dependent upon 19th century Germans? You run into this in New Testament studies, too.

      • dndnrsn says:

        19th century Germans seem to have had their fingers in a lot of scholarship pies. I’m not really sure why; I’m sure there’s an answer, but I don’t know it.

        • dark orchid says:

          I think in this case, they were simply the first who dared to apply the new Enlightenment thinking to sacred texts – and a community formed around that.

          • dndnrsn says:

            There were earlier scholars, though. There’s also other, unconnected fields that are chock full of Germans. Maybe Germans just have a knack for scholarship?

          • MB says:

            This also seems to me to be an outgrowth of Protestantism — which is by and large based on the claim that the Catholic Church has lost touch with its founding, hence the need for a restoration of the original Church (i.e. the Protestants themselves).
            While the Catholic Church could point to some sort of more or less organically evolving tradition that made it be what it was, Protestants, by contrast, needed to ground their rival claims to authority on a close reading of the original sources, which presumably, in their view, contradicted current Catholic doctrine.
            Whatever the theological merits of this position are, it resulted in a lot of new Bible translations and other impressive scholarship (and increasingly skeptical examinations of certain historical traditions).

    • Björn says:

      I loved this stuff back when we covered it in school in religious education. Looking forward to more.

    • Aftagley says:

      So, to recap the creation stories and a bit of the scholarship: there’s two of them, and this is because they come from two different sources, out of four different sources in the Torah. The Bible has a lot of this; it will get really heavy when we hit the Gospels in the New Testament.

      When scholars say four sources, do they mean that we can say with some confidence that somewhere in the past there were four people who are the individual authors of these sections, or is it more likely that these different sections came out of communities/time periods/scholarly traditions and were later accepted by the community? I don’t know why, but the idea that only four people wrote The Old Testament is pretty shocking to me, I’d always assumed it was built off the writings/stories of hundreds of people.

      • dndnrsn says:

        The latter, more or less. And this isn’t the entirety of the Hebrew Bible – just the Torah section. The parts of the Bible we can be most confident had one original author not taking earlier stuff and putting it together are probably the authentic Pauline letters.

        EDIT: I’m simplifying a bit; this is the sort of thing scholars argue over.

    • holmesisback says:

      I know you said you taking this as a premise but I would love this to be the departure point:
      What evidence is there that the Bible was not codified by a single author e.g. Moses and instead by the four hands?

      I find Documentary Hypothesis to be massively speculative and on close analysis there are a plethora of issues with it. ( I am happy delineate these as you go along the series and in general)

      If you approach it from a theistic perspective their are at least two approaches in dealing with textual difficulties which I employ a combination of.
      There are the specific textual resolutions of a tradtional type e.g. the Talmud.
      There is also the broader approach that God (via Moses) did not write the text with a uniform style, rather he wrote in different hands so that multiple and varying messages would be communicated.
      Full disclaimer if it wasn’t super obvious I am religous.

      • dndnrsn says:

        The evidence that the Torah was compiled by multiple authors/editors from multiple sources is the same as the evidence that this was the case in the Bible as a whole: it simply makes more sense than the alternative. The hypotheses are all just that – hypotheses – and I think that in general the scholarly consensus backs the least-bad hypothesis. The Documentary Hypothesis does indeed have issues, but other proposed solutions tend to have bigger issues. If you’d like I can give a little bit more of a summary – it’s just very complex; there’s a reason it took so long for scholars to hash out a “this is probably closest” consensus.

        If you want to bring stuff up, sure. That would be great; this stuff is meant to be discussed. I love the scholarly-argument side of it. One of my favourite professors thinks Jesus wasn’t an apocalypticist – I think that’s a strange view. Ultimately, the documents that could solve these problems have almost certainly rotted away (or got burned, with a bunch of the rest dispersed on the antiquities market).

        Attempts to resolve inconsistent texts by insisting that they are in fact consistent tend to end up more ornate than just concluding there are two different versions of the same story. My favourite example of this is medieval explanations for the different versions of Judas’ death: he hanged himself and then he burst open. Meanwhile, taking the approach that God intentionally wrote the Torah, say, with different voices is impossible to differentiate from there being different authors.

        Personally, I don’t think the existence of multiple versions of stories in the same document, different strands, etc, should be a stumbling block to faith. One can easily take the view that the Bible is the human attempt to understand God, etc. Similarly, I think the Gospels have a strong historical core (there was a religious leader called Jesus of Nazareth, he had teachings some of which we have versions of, he was a man with a reputation as a healer and a worker of wonders, he caused some kind of disturbance at the Temple, he was summarily executed by a cruel colonial government, people came to believe he had risen from the dead) and it is no more a strike against them that they vary in their accounts of what happened than it shows historical events more recently varied because there are different accounts of what happened, eyewitness or second-hand.

        • marshwiggle says:

          Have you read the original books and monographs and so on the documentary hypothesis was fleshed out in? I’ve read some of the major ones at least (in translation, as I don’t know German). Having done that, I’ve seriously wondered how the hypothesis came to be accepted. Having seen the ways the originals get filtered through authority and friendly quotation, I’ve got a fairly good idea how they are accepted today, but that’s true for many ideas both true and false.

          As it is, the documentary hypothesis, both in its 19th century and modern forms, seems to ignore quite a good bit of Torah scholarship. Here I’m not talking about the meaning of the text, just scholarship about the contents of the text, connections between different parts of the text, and the flow of narrative in the text. I understand you’re not 100% on board with the documentary hypothesis, but consider me interested in your summary of the reasons for believing that something like it is true.

          I understand that’s asking for a fair amount of effort, and thanks for the effort you’ve put in so far.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’m afraid my answer for a lot of things is going to be: I’m far better versed in the scholarship surrounding the New Testament than the Hebrew Bible (I would estimate that over undergrad and grad school, the ratio was something like 4 or 5 units of time on NT to 1 on HB) and I’m far better equipped to deal with the New Testament than the Hebrew Bible (back when I was in school, my Greek was good enough to deal with anything in the New Testament given time, a lexicon, and a grammar to refer to; my Hebrew was at the point where mashing vocabulary into my brain let me ignore the ways that Hebrew grammar – at least in the Bible; I don’t know about modern Hebrew – is weird). I’m far more confident the scholars are right on the New Testament than the Hebrew Bible, but the scholars who I think are right on the New Testament tend to have position X on the Hebrew Bible, or agree with scholars who have position X, so…

            Ultimately, “something like it” is doing a lot of work here. The argument for “multiple sources went into the Torah” is that there’s clear differences in the text that suggest different authors, there’s repetition that suggests multiple accounts were put together, there’s inconsistencies that suggest multiple agendas, etc. It simply makes more sense than the alternatives. I think that this would win a conviction in criminal court, so to speak: it’s significantly better than the alternatives. The Documentary Hypothesis would have a good chance to win in a situation with a lower burden of proof (and scholarship is, after all, a university tribunal of sorts).

            When you say “Torah scholarship” do you mean, specifically religious scholarship? There’s a lot in Torah scholarship that’s really valuable, and it’s a big problem that it did not get addressed enough, but it’s coming from a fundamentally different place than secular scholarship in a lot of cases.

          • Nick says:

            Incidentally, dndnrsn—do you know any good resources on learning biblical Hebrew? Textbook recommendations/unrecommendations would be great.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Nick

            Oof, I can’t even remember what textbook the course I took used. Remember that I wasn’t a huge fan though. I learned first year Greek with the Zondervan guide plus workbook, which I liked. Their Hebrew text plus workbook is by different authors, but assuming that the quality is similar, that might be a decent place to start. Zondervan are pretty conservative theologically, but I have never encountered anything in their scholarship that really turned me off.

          • littskad says:

            @Nick:
            I can recommend Biblical Hebrew: Text and Workbook, by Kittel, Hoffer et al. Its basic method is for each chapter to take a verse from the Tanakh, and explain what’s going on in it grammatically, gradually building up to more and more complicated verses. It builds your vocabulary as you go, as well. There’s an answer key to the exercises that I was able to find somewhere on the web. There’s a mediocre-scanned pdf of it on libgen if you want to see what it’s like, but if you actually want to use it, you’ll probably want a real copy so you can actually see all the vowel points.

          • marshwiggle says:

            Yes, I do mean specifically religious scholarship, mostly Jewish. It looks like we both disagree with them about the meaning of the text. However, religious Jews over the centuries discovered quite a bit about the connections between different parts of the text. A little of the work was done by believing Christians, but for obvious reasons believing Jews put in a lot of the work on the Torah before Christians got to it.

            In the criminal court analogy, I’m pretty much saying that the judge and the prosecutor were basically the same group of people. To my knowledge they weren’t suppressing evidence, merely ignorant of it. They lacked evidence about how the differences in the text fit into a larger whole, and they lacked evidence about the patterns that the repetitions fell into. My impression is that lacking that evidence, they went about in search of a hypothesis to explain the differences and repetition. However, they seemed unconcerned that there might be such evidence outside their circle. That might just be the confident tone of German academic writing at the time, but ‘unconcerned’ is about as charitable as I can be.

            @Nick My Hebrew is all right, though not so good that I can outright read a chapter without repeated reference to a lexicon. The first textbook I had was Introducing Biblical Hebrew, by Allen Ross. I remember the book fondly enough, and it’s certainly better than some of the alternatives I’ve seen. It certainly won’t get you everything in the language, but it is a decent introduction.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Yes, I do mean specifically religious scholarship, mostly Jewish. It looks like we both disagree with them about the meaning of the text. However, religious Jews over the centuries discovered quite a bit about the connections between different parts of the text. A little of the work was done by believing Christians, but for obvious reasons believing Jews put in a lot of the work on the Torah before Christians got to it.

            In the criminal court analogy, I’m pretty much saying that the judge and the prosecutor were basically the same group of people. To my knowledge they weren’t suppressing evidence, merely ignorant of it. They lacked evidence about how the differences in the text fit into a larger whole, and they lacked evidence about the patterns that the repetitions fell into. My impression is that lacking that evidence, they went about in search of a hypothesis to explain the differences and repetition. However, they seemed unconcerned that there might be such evidence outside their circle. That might just be the confident tone of German academic writing at the time, but ‘unconcerned’ is about as charitable as I can be.

            Yeah, certainly. There was, at a minimum, a decent amount of duplicated work, and they almost certainly missed some stuff they might have gotten to otherwise.

          • Nick says:

            Thanks, guys! I should mention I’m much more interested in the grammatical angle than the vocabulary, although any textbook needs to cover both. It drives me crazy when a book or teacher explains a point of grammar poorly or not at all—so the more inflection charts the better.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Nick

            If you have the book out, and a lexicon, life is a lot easier – I learned it in a university course, so the incentive was to learn in a way that would let me do well on quizzes, tests, and exams. They weren’t open-book. In a first-year course, learning the vocabulary is incentivized, because you can sort of muddle through if at least you know the words and are familiar with the Bible in English. This bit me in the ass hard in second-year Greek (when the amount of vocabulary increased dramatically and the amount of non-canonical and non-Biblical stuff meant that knowing the Bible was little to no help), but while Greek grammar is strange, it’s less aggressively strange than Hebrew grammar. (Hebrew is always weird; Greek of that period is weird either because it’s being written by Greek as a second language people, because you showed off how cool your Greek was by keeping the sentence going as long as you could, or both). I wisely decided not to do a second year of Hebrew.

            One thing to consider getting is a Hebrew lexicon that sorts by beginning of word rather than by root – this is kind of cheating, and it probably hurt my learning of Hebrew. But if you just want to be able to read along, not having to be able to figure out the root of a given word before you can find out what the word means is nice.

        • Jaskologist says:

          My question was related to the above: Have scholars ever come up with a way to verify their results, beyond convincing a bunch of other scholars? I’m thinking of something along the lines of finding a manuscript that’s just J (or Q), or even applying those same techniques to a more modern work that we can validate the results against.

          I recall C.S. Lewis remarking that the “textual criticism” of his and Tolkien’s works was generally at odds with the facts. How do we know that this field isn’t full of it?

          • dndnrsn says:

            This is a very good point. It’s truer for the Hebrew Bible than the New Testament, because the Hebrew Bible was (of course) composed and edited and so forth earlier than the New Testament. There still might be some old papyri surviving in a dry cave somewhere for the NT; that is profoundly unlikely for anything even close to the original text in the HB.

            Academia in general suffers from the “full of it” problem; in New Testament scholarship as in scholarship in general, the way to make your name is often to make a big splashy claim. You’ve got stuff like the Jesus Seminar voting on which parables, which sections of parables, etc should be original – attention-getting, but maybe a bit irresponsible. It’s sort of a “toxoplasma of page” situation (someone please provide a better pun): all the low-hanging fruit has been taken already, and we don’t have a ladder, so stand there shouting that you can see some fruit at the top, and it’s really cool fruit. It’s the same as reconstructing the historical figure of Jesus: “he was an apocalyptic preacher with maybe a side order of wisdom teachings” is boring (and thus probably true), some wild new theory about him might make you famous (among Biblical scholars, but still, fame!)

            Take Q. It’s generally pretty uncontroversial that Matthew and Luke used Mark, and that Matthew and Luke share some stuff that’s not in Mark. It’s more likely that they had a shared source than separate sources that happened to coincide. Some scholars, though, get really into “reconstructing” Q, trying to extrapolate some kind of “original version” in a way that’s more than a little shaky.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I suppose getting too into Q is getting ahead of ourselves, but I think it’s a good illustration of the problem overall. I’m pretty neutral on the hypothesis, there’s no theological implication, and it does address the clear fact that Matt and Luke share some non-Markan material.

            But I think it’s really big problem for the theory that we have no manuscripts of Q itself, nor any mention of it by the church fathers. This seems like the kind of thing they would have preserved.

          • dodrian says:

            @Jackologist

            I am personally pretty convinced by the Q hypothesis as it’s easy to see and compare the similarities and differences between the synoptics. It can specifically be useful to directly compare passages to understand directly what points the evangelists were trying to make.

            I am less convinced by the specific four-authorship of the Torah, though I’d much more readily accept that it’s a compilation of Hebrew stories/traditions, and probably finalized in the exilic period. I haven’t seen this branch of scholarship used in a way that helps biblical exposition/hermeneutics, as the commentaries I’ve read that go into more detail about it tend to focus more on arguing over which bits were written by which author/school.

            To answer the question of why haven’t we found a Q manuscript: if you have a widely copied and disseminated paper, why would you bother keeping the rough drafts? They might be useful at first, but as the final edit spreads around, unless you are thinking about future historians (the early church, expecting an imminent second coming, wasn’t), the rough drafts aren’t as good. Consider specifically Luke’s introduction to his gospel:

            Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

            “Since lots of people have written many things about this, I decided to compile the best and most accurate bits for easy teaching.”

            Presumably the early church knew about the other sources but didn’t care about them, until the point where they didn’t remember them anymore, or even have any lying around.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @jaskologist, dodrian

            This is all pretty complicated, sorta above my pay grade; I will address Q later when I get to the Synoptic gospels (I’m probably going to end up spending more time on the Gospels than anything else, only because it’s the topic-within-a-topic where I’m most qualified to talk). Q is hypothetical – it’s “well, they share these sayings” and then running with that. Some scholars have run pretty far. Was it one document, a collection of documents, or what? We don’t know. But the most basic “Q is the likely source, entirely hypothetical, for stuff in Matthew and Luke but not Mark” answer won’t get anyone tenure.

            There’s a lot we don’t know about how early things got written down, etc. The ancient Mediterranean societies didn’t have mass literacy, but neither were they preliterate – I think the ballpark estimate is that about 10% of the population (or maybe 10% of the male population) could read and write. Scholars who are really, really into texts can sometimes make the mistake of typical-minding that all over the place.

            As for the Church Fathers – was their primary interest necessarily the teachings of Jesus? To go a bit earlier, consider Paul – he does not care much about what Jesus did prior to the crucifixion, resurrection, etc. Was it because he didn’t know, or because he assumed everyone knew? His interest, though, is primarily in the role of Christ in salvation. There’s also early Christian documents that aren’t wacky (gnostic or whatever) but didn’t get into the canon, like the Didache.

          • marshwiggle says:

            I’ll leave the stuff about Q for later, except to say that I don’t think the lack of a physical copy isn’t much evidence either way given the current pile of physical copies of stuff we’ve got.

            I’m very much not sure why people seem to think Paul had no interest in pre-crucifixion Jesus stuff. Often enough theres enough of a connection in a Pauline pericope to a pre-crucifixion Gospels pericope to make me suspect that the Pauline pericopes where I don’t see such a connection for are a fact about my ignorance, not what Paul knew and cared about.

            Agreed about toxoplasma of page. A form of it sometimes makes its way even into physics papers.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @marshwiggle

            I’m very much not sure why people seem to think Paul had no interest in pre-crucifixion Jesus stuff. Often enough theres enough of a connection in a Pauline pericope to a pre-crucifixion Gospels pericope to make me suspect that the Pauline pericopes where I don’t see such a connection for are a fact about my ignorance, not what Paul knew and cared about.

            I picked my words poorly in “did not care” – personally, I lean towards “he knew, and figured his audience did too” as it seems more plausible – his letters were generally about specific issues more than all-encompassing treatises. It seems unbelievable that none of the stories circulating about Jesus would have made their way to Paul.

            Honestly, it seemed like back when I was in school, that this subject got examined less than I would have expected it to. I think a lot of people aren’t a huge fan of Paul. There’s the sort of popular vaguely-left-wing view, where Jesus was this nice fuzzy bunny and then mean ol’ Paul came in and messed everything up. The more scholarly version of this casts Paul as being sort of like the popularizer who turned the cool historical figure you need to be a scholar to really understand, maaaan, into something that’s too popular.

          • marshwiggle says:

            Ok, if that is what you meant, I’m close enough to agreement. I’m sorry for reading something into your word choice that you’d not meant.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Eh, it was my fault for picking my words badly.

          • Aron Wall says:

            For some reason my comment seems to have been eaten, trying again without the links:

            @Jaskologist

            The Lewis essay is Fern-Seed and Elephants, and can easily be found online.

            @dndnrsn

            It seems to me just wrong to say that Paul showed no interest in Jesus’ earthly life apart from the Crucifixion and Resurrection. I mean, he wasn’t writing a biography, but he still mentions Jesus’ ancestry/birth and his obedience to the Jewish law. He explicitly cites “the Lord” for specific teachings on divorce, eschatology, the Eucharist, and the obligation to financially support ministers. He says we should imitate Christ’s life, which makes no sense if he didn’t care what Christ did. Even though he is writing in Greek, he still mentions “Abba”, the Aramaic word for Father that Jesus used to pray to God. And a lot of Paul’s ethical teaching (like deliberately choosing to refrain from exercising your own rights out of love for others) is obviously indebted to Jesus’, even though Paul tends to not quote him directly that often.

            There’s the sort of popular vaguely-left-wing view, where Jesus was this nice fuzzy bunny and then mean ol’ Paul came in and messed everything up.

            I know you’re not agreeing with this, but I don’t see how anyone could possibly think this who has actually read both the Gospels and Paul! For example, Jesus threatens people with Hell quite a bit, while Paul seldom mentions the topic.

          • Aron Wall says:

            For more information, see this essay about what Paul knew about Jesus.

          • dndnrsn says:

            It seems to me just wrong to say that Paul showed no interest in Jesus’ earthly life apart from the Crucifixion and Resurrection. I mean, he wasn’t writing a biography, but he still mentions Jesus’ ancestry/birth and his obedience to the Jewish law. He explicitly cites “the Lord” for specific teachings on divorce, eschatology, the Eucharist, and the obligation to financially support ministers. He says we should imitate Christ’s life, which makes no sense if he didn’t care what Christ did. Even though he is writing in Greek, he still mentions “Abba”, the Aramaic word for Father that Jesus used to pray to God. And a lot of Paul’s ethical teaching (like deliberately choosing to refrain from exercising your own rights out of love for others) is obviously indebted to Jesus’, even though Paul tends to not quote him directly that often.

            So, again, I have to cop up to picking my words badly. There’s all sorts of stuff that indicates that Paul has some idea what was going on with Jesus beyond just “died on the cross! Salvation!” but there’s a lot of stuff that figures heavily in the Gospels, or at least the Synoptics, that Paul does not address. A lot of secular scholars nowadays exaggerate this, because they care really primarily about the historical figure of Jesus. You get the sense that a lot of them would be happier if the “Jesus Movement” or whatever had lived and died in the eastern Mediterranean – because then the scholars would have this obscure little sect all to themselves.

            I know you’re not agreeing with this, but I don’t see how anyone could possibly think this who has actually read both the Gospels and Paul! For example, Jesus threatens people with Hell quite a bit, while Paul seldom mentions the topic.

            Most people don’t read the Gospels and Paul. If they do read them, maybe they read them in church, or did when they were a kid. The way that most churches treat the Bible – reading it in chunks here and there – is not conducive to understanding the text.

            If people even sort of understood the text, then the usual 200/300 level Intro To The New Testament course trick of just sitting down and having people read Mark as a unit, and go from there, wouldn’t blow undergraduate minds on the regular.

            The popular version usually tends towards something like “Jesus didn’t say anything about gender or homosexuality, and Paul hated gay people and thought women should wear hats and shut up! Boo!

          • Aron Wall says:

            @dndnrsn

            To be clear, it wasn’t my intention to attribute the idea I was criticizing to you—I was trying to respond to the idea itself, which I know you weren’t fully endorsing.

            I do feel though like there’s quite a number of statements that get passed around even by divinity scholars as estabished facts, because (I presume) somebody famous argued it once. For example, I’ve read in multiple books by reputable people that the Synoptics (unlike John) portray Jesus’ ministry as being one year long—but there is simply nothing whatsoever in the text to indicate this!

    • SamChevre says:

      A comment on this note: the books are organized differently by different denominations and some add books you won’t find in the Hebrew Bible

      The books that are in a Catholic Bible, and not in the Tanakh (edited to add) [or the New Testament], have a common source. They are all part of the Septuagint, a Jewish translation of Jewish scripture done in the second century BC. They include some distinctly odd books (Bel and the Dragon), some straightforward history (Maccabees, from where the Hannukkah celebration comes), and a hodge-podge of other writings.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Please ROT13 spoilers for the New Testament posts.

        More seriously: my favourite is the Ethiopian canon, which has 1 Enoch and Jubilees. I think I read both of them at least in part; can’t remember much of Jubilees but do remember that 1 Enoch is pretty strange.

      • quaelegit says:

        2nd century BC is really early (or seems to me)… did these books get officially removed from the Hebrew Bible at some point?

        • Steven J says:

          The books included Hebrew Bible wasn’t standardized as of the second century BC. Traditionally, scholars believed that the set of books included in the Hebrew Bible was decided at the Council of Jamnia circa 90 AD. I’ve read that recent scholarship has called that into question, but I don’t think anyone is advocating for earlier standardization. The Catholic Church didn’t standardize the books included in its version of the Old Testament until much later – the Council of Trent (1545-1563), in reaction to the reformation. The standardization of the books included in the New Testament is similarly complicated.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_of_the_Old_Testament_canon
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_of_the_New_Testament_canon

          • quaelegit says:

            Oh, that makes sense! Thanks for explaining.

          • SamChevre says:

            For the utterly hilarious version of the compilation of the New Testament canon, see Jim MacDonald’s old post on Making Light, Victory to the People.

            And the comments are well worth reading. For example “If the Ante-Nicene Fathers has been speaking modern English they might have called Marcion ‘The Pontic Fruitbat.'” (vs his nickname, the Pontic Rat)

    • Fluffy Buffalo says:

      The people who did this knew what they were doing; it’s not a situation of “ah, a sloppy editing job”. They kept multiple stories because having multiple stories was important to them; you might as well criticize a historian who has on her bookshelf several books on the same topic that don’t agree with each other.

      That’s fine, even if the lack of editorial comments is a bit irritating, but shouldn’t that have put an end to the whole “the Bible is the literal, inerrant word of God” nonsense before it even began?

      • J Mann says:

        shouldn’t that have put an end to the whole “the Bible is the literal, inerrant word of God”

        I guess that depends on what you mean by inerrant, and if there are any literalist apologists (in the good sense!) here, I would love to hear from them.

        Most of the people I talk to on the issue (mostly Catholic) take the position that the Bible is the literal word of God written down by one or more divinely inspired authors, and that God’s plan is mysterious enough that he meant you and me to be reading it and to take inspiration for it, but not that a story that happens in two different ways necessarily needs to be literally reconciled, only that we’re intended to consider and pray about both versions.

    • S_J says:

      There’s a series of “book end statements” in Genesis, and we run into one of them in the transition between the two Creation stories.

      Most English translations use a phrase that begins “These are the generations of …” at such a break-point. Thus, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created”, in Genesis 2:4.

      I assume that this was the work of the editor(s) who stitched together the first part of the Pentateuch.

    • hls2003 says:

      Just chiming in to say that this was an enjoyable read and I appreciate your effort, looking forward to more in the series. If you have any textbooks or reference materials on the topic that you find yourself re-checking during the series, I would be interested to hear your recommendations. (I have more prior exposure to books on the less-secular hermeneutical side though I did do some basics of secular criticism as an undergrad).

      • dndnrsn says:

        For the Hebrew Bible, I’ve mostly been going by the textbook I have kicking around (Collins’ Introduction to the Hebrew Bible) and the introductions and footnotes in my Oxford annotated study NRSV and my Jewish Study Bible (it’s the JPS Tanakh translation) also by Oxford. I’ve got other sources for expanding things as asked, plus a few more sources probably for when we get to the Prophets.

        For the New Testament, I plan to use as the backbone a combination of the Ehrman New Testament intro and the Brown New Testament intro – Ehrman has gone from being a born-again to a liberal to an agnostic (due to theodicy, not due to textual issues, though) who is pretty big on the whole “historical Jesus” thing while Raymond Brown was a Catholic priest and while certainly a very respectable scholar was also a defender of the Jesus Christ of the gospels against sometimes-overzealous historical reconstructions. I prefer Ehrman, myself, but that’s in large part because I think he’s a livelier writer – although Brown isn’t boring by any stretch. I’ve also got a lot of other books on the New Testament, which I’ll toss in as needed. I’m very, very tempted to heavily use stuff on noncanonical works, the historical Jesus, etc, but I don’t know if it’s worth it for the purposes of what I’m doing – maybe if there’s demand for heavy talk about the Gospel of Thomas or whatever. For the Gospels I’m probably going to take out one of my Gospel parallels – I really like Crook’s, and of the three I’ve used, it’s the cheapest, which is nice.

        The great thing about books on the Bible is that because there’s popular demand for them, you get this overlap where you have people who are both legit scholars and popular writers. So you have popular works that get the facts straight, and scholars who can write entertainingly.

    • Aron Wall says:

      So I’m not an expert (other than having read the primary texts in translation a dozen or more times) but I think the Documentary Hypothesis is probably bunk. I’m assuming the DH is interpreted not just as the statement that there were different sources (which seems plausible), but the statements that we can specifically identify what those sources were across different books of the Torah (in a way that, except for “D”, pretty much ignores the existing 5-fold division of the text.)

      – I’ve heard that in the 19th century source criticism was quite a fad; e.g. scholars would try to dissect Shakespeare plays, Homer, etc. into multiple sources by different authors. This approach is now completely discredited in every other area of literary criticism, but remains as a holdout for the Bible only. This sort of thing would be more convincing if scholars could dissect sources in cases where we already know the answer (but the scholar doesn’t). For example, would any of these scholars like to go to the arxiv and tell me which bits of my coauthored papers were written by me, and which by my coauthors?

      – when I tried to read up on this, it seemed like the best evidence for multiple sources was in Genesis (e.g. it is only in Genesis that “J” and “E” use different names for God, and most of the doubled stories are also in Genesis). But even on the hyperconservative view (which is not my own view) that Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch word-for-word, that is consistent with Genesis being based on (Moses) combining different written sources!

      – I remember once reading a Jewish blog where they compared the evidence for the DH and the Orthodox theory of the Torah’s composition. (Found it: here’s one post in the series.) The trouble is that their foil, the “Orthodox” view, was that literally everything was dictated to Moses by God, including all the bits talking about Moses death and the things that sound like an editor from a later period making remarks like “And it is still here to this day” or “This was before there were any kings in Judah”. This “Orthodox” view is therefore CRAZY (excuse me, so inflexible that it is extremely easy to falsify).

      – But conversely, the JEPD hypothesis is extremely flexible, perhaps to the point of unfalsifiability. That is, it has an enormous number of degrees of freedom. If you look at a book like this, you can see that the scholars feel free to divide things up down to individual verses, and sometimes even smaller units, to fit their hypothesis. But as von Neumann said: “With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.” That is, evidence like “look: P is interested in both the temple and numbers” aren’t really that convincing when “P” is whatever subset of the document you decided it should be to make this point.

      – A better foil for JEPD would be a saner conservative religious view. Like maybe the one I conjectured here: there were multiple written records of the Exodus which were later compiled in the following generations (e.g. in the time of Joshua). The documents were curated by priests and up through the United Kingdom period (e.g. Saul, David & Solomon) they felt free to add minor editorial remarks and update the language (this was before footnotes were invented). However, I’d argue that there could have been no major changes to the Torah after Solomon, because after him Israel split into two rival kingdoms. One became the Jews and the other Samaritans (which have their own, similar but not identical version of the Torah), and they hated each other too much to accept edits from each other. How about that?

      • dndnrsn says:

        So I’m not an expert (other than having read the primary texts in translation a dozen or more times) but I think the Documentary Hypothesis is probably bunk. I’m assuming the DH is interpreted not just as the statement that there were different sources (which seems plausible), but the statements that we can specifically identify what those sources were across different books of the Torah (in a way that, except for “D”, pretty much ignores the existing 5-fold division of the text.)

        I think that broadly, I kind of agree with this. “There are clearly multiple sources/authors/editors” is not just plausible, but extremely likely: it makes a lot more sense than the alternatives. The DH in the sense of “here are 4 sources and we can tell what’s what!” is a lot shakier. Certainly a lot shakier than the currently-dominant theories about the New Testament.

        – I’ve heard that in the 19th century source criticism was quite a fad; e.g. scholars would try to dissect Shakespeare plays, Homer, etc. into multiple sources by different authors. This approach is now completely discredited in every other area of literary criticism, but remains as a holdout for the Bible only. This sort of thing would be more convincing if scholars could dissect sources in cases where we already know the answer (but the scholar doesn’t). For example, would any of these scholars like to go to the arxiv and tell me which bits of my coauthored papers were written by me, and which by my coauthors?

        This is a good point. As I understand it, there are computer methods now that can differentiate stuff written; they didn’t have those back in the 19th century. I think if you gave a scholar, say, this comment section, with the names out, they’d be able to identify that it wasn’t all the same person, maybe start splitting it up into groupings, but I doubt they’d be able to identify each poster. I don’t know enough about Homer to really comment on that, but regarding Shakespeare – “who wrote Shakespeare?” theories usually have a bit of tinfoil to them, and often misunderstand Shakespeare – he was a professional playwright writing plays in multiple genres and styles very intentionally.

        – when I tried to read up on this, it seemed like the best evidence for multiple sources was in Genesis (e.g. it is only in Genesis that “J” and “E” use different names for God, and most of the doubled stories are also in Genesis). But even on the hyperconservative view (which is not my own view) that Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch word-for-word, that is consistent with Genesis being based on (Moses) combining different written sources!

        Personally, I think the best evidence is the split between J and P. J has all these folksy stories with fantastical elements; P is far more formulaic, cares a lot more about things like measurements, etc.

        – I remember once reading a Jewish blog where they compared the evidence for the DH and the Orthodox theory of the Torah’s composition. (Found it: here’s one post in the series.) The trouble is that their foil, the “Orthodox” view, was that literally everything was dictated to Moses by God, including all the bits talking about Moses death and the things that sound like an editor from a later period making remarks like “And it is still here to this day” or “This was before there were any kings in Judah”. This “Orthodox” view is therefore CRAZY (excuse me, so inflexible that it is extremely easy to falsify).

        – But conversely, the JEPD hypothesis is extremely flexible, perhaps to the point of unfalsifiability. That is, it has an enormous number of degrees of freedom. If you look at a book like this, you can see that the scholars feel free to divide things up down to individual verses, and sometimes even smaller units, to fit their hypothesis. But as von Neumann said: “With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.” That is, evidence like “look: P is interested in both the temple and numbers” aren’t really that convincing when “P” is whatever subset of the document you decided it should be to make this point.

        It’s certainly not a scientific-level hypothesis. I’d note that the people in the know start talking about the Hebrew used – but that’s above my pay grade; I had marginal ability to do that sort of thing in Greek, but my Hebrew was very much “gotta learn Hebrew so I said I learned Hebrew, gotta get an A in this course” and then my second year of Greek convinced me that the methods I used to get an A in first year were not the best in second year – I was able to clinch second year Greek by changing gears, but second year Hebrew would have been brutal.

        – A better foil for JEPD would be a saner conservative religious view. Like maybe the one I conjectured here: there were multiple written records of the Exodus which were later compiled in the following generations (e.g. in the time of Joshua). The documents were curated by priests and up through the United Kingdom period (e.g. Saul, David & Solomon) they felt free to add minor editorial remarks and update the language (this was before footnotes were invented). However, I’d argue that there could have been no major changes to the Torah after Solomon, because after him Israel split into two rival kingdoms. One became the Jews and the other Samaritans (which have their own, similar but not identical version of the Torah), and they hated each other too much to accept edits from each other. How about that?

        I could do a little bit of research on Hebrew Bible dating if you’d like; it’s another thing where I know what I’m talking about off the top of my head (usually) with the New Testament but for the Hebrew Bible I gotta go and look at a book.

        • Aron Wall says:

          Thanks for your response! I would be interested in hearing your take on the research in Hebrew Bible dating, if you feel like you can boil the arguments down to something accessible in a subsequent open thread.

          When I say I’m not an expert, the most important disability I have in mind is that I don’t know Hebrew at all (except for a very few words of theological importance like ruach or qodesh). So there could easily be some compelling textual evidence that is invisible to me. At the same time (as you’ve probably gathered) I have very little faith in the judgement of biblical critics, so I’m hoping you’ll be able to summarize the actual arguments rather than just the conclusions!

          The most obvious way to try to date the Old Testament books is to compare them to other Hebrew texts written at the same times—but this won’t work, will it? Because other than a few small fragments and inscriptions, the Old Testament canon is pretty much the entire set of comparably ancient Hebrew documents we possess, right? So I’m worried that the alternatives to this all involve a certain amount of circular reasoning, where the scholar starts with some presuppositions about which themes should be “early” and “late” and then works from there.

          Personally, I think the best evidence is the split between J and P. J has all these folksy stories with fantastical elements; P is far more formulaic, cares a lot more about things like measurements, etc.

          Sure, but this is all post hoc, after you’ve already chosen to divide the text along those lines. Since the Jewish priests felt they had to perform the liturgy exactly according to specifications, it’s not too surprising that the passages which describe Temple worship would also show more attention to quantitative details. To say that some other part of the text, which has nothing to do with the Temple, is therefore also “priestly” because it e.g. includes a lot of numbers, seems like it’s testing the hypothesis against itself, rather than against any independent piece of evidence.

          To put it another way, if you pick any theme “X” at all and select out the parts of the text that share “X” themes, I would expect that after making this division it wouldn’t be too hard to identify some other theme “Y” which is strongly correlated with “X”. But this doesn’t prove that there was one X-ist source who was also interested in Y. It just proves that certain themes are correlated with each other, for whatever reason.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Thanks for your response! I would be interested in hearing your take on the research in Hebrew Bible dating, if you feel like you can boil the arguments down to something accessible in a subsequent open thread.

            Could you remind me next time I post in this series? I need to get to work on the next installment (I doubt I’m going to be able to cover the rest of the Torah, but I can probably swing the Patriarchal history and Exodus) but once I’ve posted that, I can do a bit of work on the dating. Nothing fancy, just dipping back into my textbook and maybe grabbing some other books off the shelf. It’s another situation though where I’d be more confident in the scholarly consensus about the New Testament, simply because we’re a lot closer to the earliest documents.

            When I say I’m not an expert, the most important disability I have in mind is that I don’t know Hebrew at all (except for a very few words of theological importance like ruach or qodesh). So there could easily be some compelling textual evidence that is invisible to me. At the same time (as you’ve probably gathered) I have very little faith in the judgement of biblical critics, so I’m hoping you’ll be able to summarize the actual arguments rather than just the conclusions!

            Learning a bit of the language, or even just a bit about the language, is definitely worth it. The textual evidence isn’t open-and-shut, but the original language provides clues not available in English.

            The most obvious way to try to date the Old Testament books is to compare them to other Hebrew texts written at the same times—but this won’t work, will it? Because other than a few small fragments and inscriptions, the Old Testament canon is pretty much the entire set of comparably ancient Hebrew documents we possess, right? So I’m worried that the alternatives to this all involve a certain amount of circular reasoning, where the scholar starts with some presuppositions about which themes should be “early” and “late” and then works from there.

            This is another place where the New Testament work is likely more reliable – we have huge amounts of Greek material from before, during, and after the period the New Testament came about.

            Sure, but this is all post hoc, after you’ve already chosen to divide the text along those lines. Since the Jewish priests felt they had to perform the liturgy exactly according to specifications, it’s not too surprising that the passages which describe Temple worship would also show more attention to quantitative details. To say that some other part of the text, which has nothing to do with the Temple, is therefore also “priestly” because it e.g. includes a lot of numbers, seems like it’s testing the hypothesis against itself, rather than against any independent piece of evidence.

            This is a good point. The obvious parry is that there’s bits into numbers and formulaic constructions and a clear structure and, to be frank, stuff that today would get characterized as a bit “spectrum-y” outside of specifying the correct number of cubits for this dimension of the temple or that. (Bogus evo psych just-so story: those traits survive in humanity because they are necessary to properly worship G-d; I look forward to the sect that maintains that computer programming is an integral part of worship)

            To put it another way, if you pick any theme “X” at all and select out the parts of the text that share “X” themes, I would expect that after making this division it wouldn’t be too hard to identify some other theme “Y” which is strongly correlated with “X”. But this doesn’t prove that there was one X-ist source who was also interested in Y. It just proves that certain themes are correlated with each other, for whatever reason.

            This is somewhere that the Hebrew becomes more of an issue. If you took this entire comment thread and scrubbed the names out, it would be possible to look at word use and so forth; if it was translated into another language, even by a good translator, it would be a lot harder to tell. Even a good translation often has a flattening effect.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Sorry, but foreign languages just aren’t my forte (even though both my parents studied as linguists). I had enough trouble with a couple years of ancient Greek, which seems more important from an apologetics point of view anyway… But I’m happy to learn whatever facts about Hebrew you’re willing to paste into the comments section! (-;

            This is another place where the New Testament work is likely more reliable – we have huge amounts of Greek material from before, during, and after the period the New Testament came about.

            Yes, but the extra-biblical Greek material probably isn’t all that useful for dating the New Testament either, because there the material is uncontroversially written within a single century after Jesus anyway, so we need a precision of decades, not centuries.

            Where the knowledge of Greek really helps, I think, is in comparing the language of New Testament books to each other.

            (Of course all the extra-biblical material is extremely useful for figuring out the meaning and context of NT passages, but that’s a separate issue.)

          • dndnrsn says:

            Sorry, but foreign languages just aren’t my forte (even though both my parents studied as linguists). I had enough trouble with a couple years of ancient Greek, which seems more important from an apologetics point of view anyway… But I’m happy to learn whatever facts about Hebrew you’re willing to paste into the comments section! (-;

            I’ll do my best. My Hebrew topped out at getting really good at memorizing flashcards, though.

            Yes, but the extra-biblical Greek material probably isn’t all that useful for dating the New Testament either, because there the material is uncontroversially written within a single century after Jesus anyway, so we need a precision of decades, not centuries.

            Where the knowledge of Greek really helps, I think, is in comparing the language of New Testament books to each other.

            (Of course all the extra-biblical material is extremely useful for figuring out the meaning and context of NT passages, but that’s a separate issue.)

            Maybe not as useful for dating, but that’s just one of a few related questions: others include “where was this written” and “what was the community that wrote this like” and having some source for comparison helps there.

  6. caudectomie says:

    As free-thinkers, we like to think that our ideologies are nuanced enough that they cannot be more than merely approximated by such generic terms as “liberal,” “Christian,” “atheist,” “rationalist,” “Slate Star Codexian,” or what have you.

    As such, I pose the question: What are some beliefs you hold that are unpopular among your ideological in-group? What sorts of behaviors or preferences are you loath to share with your peers, for fear that you’ll immediately wind up on the defensive? In other words, how are you a “defective” liberal/Christian/atheist/rationalist/etc?

    • drunkfish says:

      Recently it’s been concern about GMOs. Most criticism of GMOs tends to revolve around human health, which as far as I can tell is basically debunked and the communities I hang around in definitely agree. Lately though I’ve been worrying a lot that developing these tools is making us way too good at generating new invasive species (i.e. species which outcompete their peers within ecosystems and drive extinctions). Species that I could easily see making natural invasive species look like child’s play. As long as monsanto et. al. want to force people to buy seeds every year, we might be in the clear, but it doesn’t seem like that always has to be the case.

      That said, because normal criticism of GMOs tends to be really unscientific, the whole thing seems to end up tabooed alongside “vaccines are bad”. I wouldn’t say I’m anti GMO, especially because this isn’t something I’ve thought through very deeply, but even being skeptical about them isn’t something I’m generally comfortable doing in my circles.

      Edit: Also this has lead to me being very annoyed by the argument that “GMOs are no different than selective breeding which we’ve done for millennia”, which is a super common argument that I used to make too, but is total crap. I do tend to call people on it when I hear that argument though, because at least contesting specific arguments isn’t really taboo.

      • helloo says:

        Escape of GMOs are already somewhat of an issue but often it’s more for concerns regarding contamination, especially where GMOs are more regulated and “free riders” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_organism_containment_and_escape

        There is existing concerns regarding escaped GMOs that would become weeds or out compete and reduce wild genetic varieties (for example GMO corn was (is?) banned in Mexico due to such a concern – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC212689/#s3title) and various issues with possible blight/famines causing extinction level events due to homogeneity. However, I’m not sure if that’s exclusively GMOs as I can see selective breeding (or radiation induced breeding methods) also would face this issue.

        • drunkfish says:

          various issues with possible blight/famines causing extinction level events due to homogeneity. However, I’m not sure if that’s exclusively GMOs as I can see selective breeding (or radiation induced breeding methods) also would face this issue.

          Yeah monocultures are their own problem, but not GMO specific. They’re obviously of concern, but decreased food supply somehow concerns me less. The nightmare scenario I picture as not being all that unreasonable looks something like a species getting out and taking over wild areas/other farms, and conceivably (to a non-expert) outcompeting even forests. A group of farms as a monoculture is bad enough, but a ~global monoculture that isn’t contained to farms is legitimately terrifying, and seems like a significantly bigger threat than a few hundred ppm CO2.

          • Lambert says:

            I don’t think there are good ways to outcompete forests without becoming a tree. (releasing some natural herbicides like IIRC yews do, perhaps, but that has a free-rider problem)

            The whole point of a tree is to be taller than all the other trees.

          • drunkfish says:

            @Lambert

            Yeah maybe that was a bad example. I was picturing hoarding nutrients or something, but maybe that doesn’t matter. Ecology is way outside my expertise and I’m definitely not trying to make predictions for the future. Still, invasive species are definitely a major problem in a lot of areas and I have faith in humans being able to make even more invasive species, so in a broad sense it seems like a concern..

          • James C says:

            While I’ll admit that this is a long term concern, it’s a bit beyond the scope of modern GMOs. Currently, we make plants that are fractionally better than plants of the same species under the same tightly controlled conditions. Creating a super-plant that thrives across every biome on Earth is a bit beyond us. I’d put this worry in the same box as Ford accidentally releasing a nanite plague.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Also this has lead to me being very annoyed by the argument that “GMOs are no different than selective breeding which we’ve done for millennia”, which is a super common argument that I used to make too, but is total crap.

        Why is this total crap? Sounds right to me. Please call me on it.

        • drunkfish says:

          Inserting/altering genes directly is an enormously more powerful tool than selective breeding.

          Breeding is stuck with existing traits and really just lets you concentrate them, barring lucky mutations which are also very limited. Cross breeding can do a bit but doesn’t go that far.

          Irradiation, which was popular pre-GMO in the 20th century (no idea if it’s still popular), is more powerful than breeding, but still relies on luck. You I guess in principle can get any trait that actual genetic modification can create, but in a practical sense that’s not realistic at all.

          Genetic modification allows you to pick traits from the entire animal/plant kingdom. Presumably they won’t all actually work out when put into a new organism, but it’s still enormously more powerful. You’re never going to breed bacteria until they start glowing, and I’d be surprised if irradiation could reliably do it, but genetic modification makes it so easy that it’s a common lab in high school biology.

          In my mind, breeding is like a grenade, irradiation is like a (very long range) grenade launcher, and genetic modification is a cruise missile. Our cruise missile tech is still young, but it’s just going to get better.

          • J Mann says:

            It depends on what you mean by “no different.” It’s better, sure, that’s why we do it, but I think it presents similar risks.

            You theoretically could genetically design a super-competive species – let’s say for science fiction purposes a super-raspberry that grows like kudzu but better and produces grape sized raspberries, or a super-algae that can be processed into vegan foods but completely dominates the surface of any water and prevents any other life from thriving. We should probably have some regulation to make sure nobody does that.

            On the other hand, it’s hard to say how refusing to eat corn that has been modified to have extra vitamins or to resist a particular pesticide is doing anything about that risk.

          • drunkfish says:

            @J Mann

            I think it’s entirely disingenuous to call breeding and gene editing the same at all, though comparing them is certainly useful. I made it up on the spot, but I kind of like my grenade/cruise missile analogy. Sure, at the end of the day they both blow you up, and if you’re really good at things maybe you can use grenades in a very targeted way, but they just carry fundamentally different risks. Again, you’ll never be able to breed a bacterium to glow [citation needed], but it’s basically trivial to do that via gene editing.

            We should probably have some regulation to make sure nobody does that.

            Looks like you’ve solved the threat of a malevolent AI also. I’d support careful regulation, but I’m not sure it’s enough. I’d be more interested in a technological approach to preempt GMO risks, maybe (spitballing, I’m sure there are counterarguments) engineering some sort of ‘kill switch’ that we can try to force all GMO manufacturers to put into their plants so that we can undo any mistakes. Dunno, this is why I’m annoyed that I have to be cautious bringing this topic up, I think there’s a lot of thinking worth doing (that hopefully smarter people are already doing and I’m just unaware).

            On the other hand, it’s hard to say how refusing to eat corn that has been modified to have extra vitamins or to resist a particular pesticide is doing anything about that risk.

            I’m not suggesting that at all. I happily eat GMOs, and I’m on the fence but weakly against forced labeling. I don’t think GMOs as they currently are used are something to avoid, just like I don’t think alphago needs to be banned just because superintelligences carry risks.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I think it’s entirely disingenuous to call breeding and gene editing the same at all, though comparing them is certainly useful.

            Okay I’m not convinced. Yes, I agree that GMO is a whole lot more effective than breeding, but you are arguing that it is qualitatively different. The reason I think we should compare breeding and GMO is because none of those people that want to ban GMO seem to have any issues with breeding. If GMO’s are so bad, shouldn’t breeding have some downsides too?

            Well, I have heard the reasonable argument about monocultures being a danger, which is a problem with breeding. But I don’t see how GMO’s are any worse than monocultures than breeding, so it makes no sense in arguing in that case that GMO’s are qualitatively different. And in fact, I don’t think I’ve even heard the monoculture issue from anti-GMoers anyway. They seem to favor more nutty arguments about GMO food being dangerous to eat and such.

        • Isnt’ the argument that Gm is like breeding and therefore safe, rather close to the argument that an AI is just like a PC, and will just do what it’s told?

      • Douglas Knight says:

        “GMOs are no different than selective breeding which we’ve done for millennia”, which is a super common argument that I used to make too, but is total crap.

        The FDA heavily regulates transgenic organisms, ones where a gene has been copied from one species to another. In between transgenic organisms and selective breeding is the practice of copying a gene from one cow into another cow. Are you aware that this is totally unregulated (at least in America)? What do you think of this super-selection? Is it more like transgenics or more like breeding?

        (People are selling chips to make genetic predictions of how much a cow will produce. Are other people secretly engineering cattle to optimize this? Would we notice?)

      • Iain says:

        The traits that we want in crop species are, more often than not, unhelpful as an invasive species. Getting better as a crop makes a plant worse at life in the wild.

        If you plant a grain, you want it to grow a lot of big seeds — much bigger than is strictly optimal for propagation — and hold onto them really tightly. Then you harvest those seeds, plant some of them for next year’s crop, and eat the rest. You don’t want those seeds to blow away and grow elsewhere, because then you can’t eat them. Because of this, modern highly domesticated strains of wheat can’t survive in the wild.

        Being resistant to glyphosate (“Roundup Ready”) is useful if for crops growing in a field sprayed with herbicide, or for weeds trying to grow in that field. Anywhere else, glyphosate resistance is useless. Spending energy on glyphosate resistance (or, say, generating precursors to vitamin A) is a disadvantage for plants in the wild.

        That’s not to say there are no risks. Bt crops generate an insecticidal protein. Horizontal gene transfer to wild relatives could produce a competitive advantage, at least until the pests develop a resistance (which is already happening in places with poor refuge management). The article helloo links talks about the risk of gene transfer from corn being used to grow pharmaceuticals to corn being used to feed humans. None of those concerns, though, lead to over-powered crop species rampaging through the wilderness, crushing all ecosystems in their path.

        PS: With respect to this bit:

        As long as monsanto et. al. want to force people to buy seeds every year, we might be in the clear.

        To be clear, Monsanto doesn’t use any GM technology to force people to buy seeds every year. The fabled “terminator seeds” got so much pushback that they were never brought to market. The only thing preventing farmers from replanting their old Monsanto seeds is the threat of a lawsuit from Monsanto.

    • Aftagley says:

      Strong liberal here who isn’t convinced that Trump is some kind of democracy-ending threat to humanity. My opinions on him aren’t positive, but this far into his presidency it seems like he hasn’t done all that much and the few things he’s been able to accomplish aren’t any different than what a generic republican president would have tried to do.

      This opinion has not proven to be popular.

      • AG says:

        But how much of Trump’s inefficacy has been due to stronger irrational resistance, that wouldn’t have been present for, say, Rubio?
        Like, yes, Romney suffered a lot of hand-wringing and mud-slinging and Godwin, too, but do we really believe his election would have spurred as much opposition, or that he would have been able to make more compromises because he’s establishment?

        We don’t have the counter-factual of if Trump had become president of a nation where all Democrats had shared your beliefs. A winning pro hockey team scoring only 1 goal in the championship doesn’t mean they’d only score 1 goal against the local high school team.

        • Aftagley says:

          But how much of Trump’s inefficacy has been due to stronger irrational resistance, that wouldn’t have been present for, say, Rubio?

          I’m pretty confident that President Rubio would have been able to accomplish more policy decisions that I find personally objectionable than President Trump has been able to. I think you’re right… the strong opposition to Trump has probably been one of the top factors behind why he’s been do all that much.

          I don’t think the backlash against him is morally wrong, or anything nor do I dislike it. I’m glad that the left is as motivated as it is now. I’m just saying I can’t muster up the emotional revulsion or fear to/of him that seems so common among friends who share my political orientation.

          • AG says:

            I don’t have a strong emotional reaction to Trump, either. But I do try to remind myself sometimes to be thankful that other people care enough to keep calling their representatives while I laze around watching Netflix. I may not like the tone they take on their blogs, but they probably protected some of my consumer rights.

          • toastengineer says:

            Well wait a second; what evidence do we have aside from the guy not having accomplished much that the mainstream opposition to him is actually effectual and not just, yanno, people screaming on the internet? Has anyone actually been seen successfully “#resist”-ing the Trump administration?

          • AG says:

            Democrat wins in special elections. All of those tariff exceptions. Kushner’s clearance getting downgraded. The reaction to net neutrality.

          • sharper13 says:

            @AG,
            To look at your examples:
            Tariff exceptions seem as much from pushback on the GOP side (the traditional free trade group as opposed to the “pro-Union/pro-tariff” wing of the Democratic Party) and other world leaders as from a Democratic Party resistance.
            Kushner’s clearance seems to be in place and was a temporary speedbump maybe not directly tied to the #Resistance.
            Democrat wins in special elections does seem to have been significantly enhanced by non-local help and money which is likely tied heavily into the spirit of #resistance. I suppose we’ll have to see how much difference that makes in the midterm elections to really know the impact.
            The reaction to net neutrality… in the more technical circles I run in, reactions don’t seem to very heavily depend on the the #resistance, as the people in favor of the FCC’s related rules were in favor long before Trump was elected.

            I would have added as the primary effects of the #resistance so far:
            1. Less willingness to compromise in Congress as any deals with Trump are going to be perceived as worse in some circles than they might be for a more “normal” President.
            2. More strident/politicized media/celebrity negative coverage of Trump, along with a corresponding lack of coverage given to positive news. This is similar to previous GOP Administrations, but much more extreme, presumably explainable by #Resistance sentiments. This may be a net positive or negative for the #Resistance itself, depending on if it does more to fuel anti-Trump sentiment or just turns many more people off of listening to constant Trump bashing to the point of where it backfires (or both, as a feedback loop for even more partisanship)

          • AG says:

            @sharper13:
            I’m not crediting the left with all results of resistance. Resistance is resistance, and pushback against decisions from the executive branch by anyone is why he hasn’t been “some kind of democracy-ending threat to humanity.” And I think that pushback, even from Republicans, has been stronger because of a stronger personal sense of distaste on him, than if he had been a traditional candidate.

            I will admit my examples were bad, because I didn’t have time to think of better ones. Now, I’d point to the stalling of executive orders in court. Considering that the base of the travel ban was Obama era policy, a more conventional candidate could have gone about it with much notice from the public.

      • James C says:

        I think a lot of the hand wringing about Trump is less about what he is and more about what he represents. When you get down to the nuts and bolts, democracy and government in general is nothing more than a set of shared norms about how to behave. Most importantly, these norms also codify how your opponent will behave which, in government makes the game playable. Democracy works because every participant knows that, win or lose, they all get to go home to their families afterwards who will be protected from any kind of retribution by the new powers. If that transfer of power isn’t guaranteed, if the safety of your supporters is conditional, then the game gets a great deal bloodier for all involved.

        Now Trump hasn’t threatened his opponents families (terrorists families, yes) but he’s ignored or broken so many norms and taboos that people are leery. Trump probably won’t bring down American democracy, if nothing else it sounds like far too much like hard work. But he might. It’s a small, tiny, really more likely to be an accident than a grand plan chance, but this is a fully fledged existential threat to American democracy.

        For all the gnashing of teeth surrounding Obama’s election no one (outside of the conspiracy theorists who’ll believe anything) thought he would turn around and make himself king. Trump threatened to not accept the result of the election if he didn’t win. Nothing came of it. But when it does come time for him leave power he’s broken so many taboos that maybe he’ll just decide to stay.

        Probably won’t, of course.

        But maybe.

        • Education Hero says:

          Would you also argue that large swaths of the left refusing to accept Trump’s election as legitimate (e.g. Russian interference, #Resist, etc) acts as an existential threat to American democracy?

          After all, they’ve broken so many political taboos that maybe they’ll just decide to overthrow Trump.

          Probably won’t, of course.

          But maybe.

          • andrewflicker says:

            I’m not sure what political taboos they’ve broken yet- generic resistance slogans are pretty old hat. The difference is that Trump is in an actual position of official power- I don’t know of any Democratic senators that are calling for Trump’s jailing without the conclusion of Mueller’s investigation, for instance, which would truly be taboo-breaking.

          • cassander says:

            I’m not sure what political taboos they’ve broken yet- generic resistance slogans are pretty old hat. The difference is that Trump is in an actual position of official power- I don’t know of any Democratic senators that are calling for Trump’s jailing without the conclusion of Mueller’s investigation, for instance, which would truly be taboo-breaking.

            this reeks of isolated demand for rigor. There have been demands to impeach trump since before he was even sworn in. His inauguration saw one of the largest protests in history.

        • cassander says:

          For all the gnashing of teeth surrounding Obama’s election no one (outside of the conspiracy theorists who’ll believe anything) thought he would turn around and make himself king. Trump threatened to not accept the result of the election if he didn’t win. Nothing came of it.

          This is a disingenuous claim. First, Trump did no such thing. Second, even if he had, he would hardly be the first person to challenge the legitimacy of an election.

          Third, just because people claim that trump is going to make himself king is not evidence that he can or wants to do such a thing. You’re basically using people hysterically over the top reaction against trump as evidence that trump is bad, not looking at the evidence and then deciding what the appropriate reaction is. The hysterical overreaction to trump is doing far more damage to american norms than trump could ever hope to do.

          But when it does come time for him leave power he’s broken so many taboos that maybe he’ll just decide to stay.

          People made exactly the same claim about obama. After all, he legalized several million illegal immigrants by executive order, why can’t he just delay the election? The claim was baseless and silly when it was made about him, and it’s silly when it is made about trump.

        • John Schilling says:

          For all the gnashing of teeth surrounding Obama’s election no one (outside of the conspiracy theorists who’ll believe anything) thought he would turn around and make himself king.

          The parenthesized disclaimer makes this a null statement, unless you’ve got an objective definition of “conspiracy theorist”.

          Every US President since Ronald Reagan, there have been a great many people not notably associated with conspiracy theories, who said and seem to have sincerely believed that they had just seen the last true election in US history. That this president was so far beyond the pale and so disrespectful of “democratic norms” that they would either cancel, indefinitely postpone, or rig all future elections to make themselves president-for-life and/or put their partisan dynasty in power even beyond their life, there is no hope, the Republic has fallen, woe is us.

          Trump, as you say, hasn’t threatened anyone’s families. He hasn’t disobeyed any court orders, even when they have directly shut down his core policies. He hasn’t fired the special prosecutor assigned to investigate his alleged crimes. He has fired other top executive branch officials and he’s issued executive orders on things like the enforcement of immigration law, but so has just about every other President.

          Unless I’m missing something, Trump has got you fearing for the future of Democracy, there is no hope, the Republic has fallen, woe is us, on little more than being an obnoxious Twitter poster. Your first post should have been far more specific on the “norms and taboos” you see Trump as having broken, and paid far less attention to what frightened panicky liberals are saying. There are always frightened panicky liberals saying absolute nonsense, except when the Democrats control the government in which case you get frightened panicky conservatives. Who you won’t recognize because they are all “conspiracy theorists”.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Regarding the fact that Trump hasn’t fired the special prosecutor, I’m not 100% sure how worrying it is that he did actually give the order to fire Mueller.

            The people who were supposed to carry out the order refused to do it, and Trump backed down rather than fire them and keep pressing the point, but he did still give the initial order. Then again, he wasn’t willing to fight the institutional pushback against the order, so not as bad?

          • John Schilling says:

            That Trump’s discussion of the fire-Mueller issue ever reached the level of “he did actually give the order”, is unclear and a matter of controversy. Every credible media report I can find on the subject seems to be carefully avoiding the word “order” or anything similarly definite.

      • MrApophenia says:

        Agreed. Going by the respective time through their presidencies, George W. Bush was worse than Trump in almost every respect except basic competence. That is, Trump’s administration seems clearly much less competent than Bush’s, but the Bush administration used that greater competence to start an unnecessary war and make war crimes into official American policy, so I’d say Trump’s not as bad.

        For that matter, so far Trump beats Obama in executive power overreach. Again, probably less from principle than ability, but that doesn’t make it less true.

        Now, Trump certainly still has time to put points on the board and get into the lead for Worst Ever – fucking up North Korea badly enough would do it – but for now, Trump is pretty mild in terms of actual impact.

    • Viliam says:

      I believe that food containing GMO should be labeled so. This makes many libertarians angry, but to me this seems to follow naturally from the libertarian idea that initiation of force or fraud is morally wrong. The argument is essentially that if you know that many people don’t want to consume GMO (perhaps for completely irrational reasons, but hey, that’s their preference), but you want to sell them GMO anyway, and therefore you actively oppose efforts at having GMO labeled… well, you may keep telling yourself that technically this does not fit the definition of fraud, but your profits are still based on the fact that you intentionally hide information that your customers consider important, and which would make them stop buying your product; shortly: misleading the customers is a critical part of your profit strategy. If that is not fraud, it is at least fraud’s cousin.

      For the record, I am agnostic about actual harm of GMO. But it is not important for my argument. Just like I would oppose fraudulently selling non-kosher food as kosher, despite the fact that I consider all religions to be bullshit. Making profit on misleading people who believe in bullshit is still immoral.

      As an analogy, imagine a parallel world, where vegetarians and vegans somehow never became respected groups, and although they are numerous, by the educated elites they are treated like anti-vaxers. Imagine that in this parallel world, some companies start adding powdered meat to seemingly vegetable products, because in this parallel world it somehow makes economical sense. For example, you buy a can of tomatoes, where the label just says “tomatoes”, and it tastes like tomatoes, but it actually contains tomatoes and meat powder. Some vegetarians want to have food clearly labeled whether it contains meat or not, but elites laugh at them, and of course the producers financially support the think tanks which say that vegetarians are low-status fools.

      (Yes, the obvious objection is that there may be millions of groups of people with millions of idiosyncratic food taboos, and we can’t make everyone happy. I know. That doesn’t improve my opinion on people who make their profit knowingly selling unlabeled GMO food to customers who don’t want to consume GMO.)

      • Lambert says:

        Vegetarian/halal/non-GMO foods get marked as such.
        Since the cost of marking them is so low compared to the gain as a selling point, you can assume all foods without that particular label is GMO/meaty/non-halal.

        This is more or less the status quo for things beyond allergies, ingredients and nutritional info.

        • drunkfish says:

          Yeah I definitely prefer this approach. Make it illegal to lie to consumers via labeling, and then food makers can choose what labels they want and consumers who care can look for them. This avoids: 1) The government needing to decide which idiosyncratic desires deserve humoring, and 2) consumers who don’t actually care avoiding goods because they’re labeled with something scary sounding and just trusting the motivations of the laws requiring that label.

        • helloo says:

          The problem with that can be seen on two already wide-spread labels.

          Similar to the gluten-free label, it’ll appear everywhere regardless if it’s appropriate or not except rather than just seem trendy and super-foodish, non-GMOs will be seen as risky and possibly dangerous.

          And like the organic label, it will almost certainly encourage more farmers to go non-GMO which seems wasteful given the unproven risk of GMO foods. (And if it is risky enough, will possibly exacerbate the conditions of the poor that can’t afford non-GMOs)

      • Wrong Species says:

        I’m confused at how you acknowledge the obvious objection and then simply ignore it. If GMOs are perfectly healthy, then not putting GMO labeling is about as fraudulent as not marking any idiosyncratic food preferences. How much information is necessary to make something not fraudulent?

        • Viliam says:

          How much information is necessary to make something not fraudulent?

          If you are well aware that a lot of your customers wouldn’t buy a product with some trait X… and your product has the trait X… and you keep quiet about it, because you know that disclosing the fact would hurt your sales…

          Well, my point is that this technically not a fraud, but neither is it a central example of “without initiating force or fraud”.

      • arlie says:

        Now this is something I agree with, and was surprised at the amount of pushback I got. The subject wasn’t GMOs – it was MSG, which goes by at least three different names in ingredient labels, presumably because the manufacturers aren’t allowed to omit it from the list, but know that many people don’t want to consume it.

        Probably it’s not uncharacteristic for me – being roughly on the blue side – but the pushback I got involved telling me that the belief that MSG was harmful was the result of anti-Asian prejudice (!) – and therefore it was perfectly OK to put it in foods and conceal its presence by making up yet another name for it.

        I’m a bit less rigid about GMOs, but only because it seems to actually be difficult for the producer to know whether some GMO pollen has blown over from a neighbour’s field and affected their crops.

        But those that know they have GMOs in their products, should identify them as such.

    • Viliam says:

      Despite being an atheist, I believe there are many useful things to be learned from successful religions. The epistemic foundations may be horrible, but an organization that survives a few centuries is obviously doing some things right; and we — rationalists — should try to recognize them and learn from them.

      As an example, there used to be LessWrong articles about gratitude journalling; essentially how regularly doing a quick recapitulation of good things that happened during the day improves one’s psychological health. Guess what: this is what religious people teach their kids to do as part of bedtime prayer. But of course for a typical wannabe rationalist it would be low-status to just copy something that works. Instead we must wait for someone to reinvent the wheel and give it a different label; only then it becomes acceptable. What other wheels are waiting for reinvention under a different label?

      (And this is not just about religion. For example, it is okay to talk about “multiple agents in human brain” as long as your carefully avoid mentioning that Freud called them id, ego, and superego. Because anything that Freud believed is automatically wrong, unless you reinvent it under a different name.)

      Funny thing, the same taboo does not apply to Buddhism and meditation. I guess, for a typical LW member Christianity is an outgroup, and Buddhism is a fargroup.

      (Similarly, people who denounce Freud’s speculations as nonscientific are somehow okay with Kegan’s speculations because, I guess, Kegan is again most people’s outgroup.)

      • drunkfish says:

        I’m surprised you’ve experienced that as taboo. I find myself frequently encountering people who say “I don’t believe in god but I like my religion for its moral teachings”, but obviously we exist in different circles.

        I’d love to hear other examples of tools you’ve observed in religions that you think are legitimate. The gratitude journaling idea is interesting, and something I’ve been (much less organizedly) finding myself doing recently trying to stay sane after a tough breakup to try to remind myself that things are actually pretty good. Knowing it has a name (that isn’t bedtime prayer) is encouraging that I should continue it (yes I know that’s me explicitly missing your point).

        Funny thing, the same taboo does not apply to Buddhism and meditation. I guess, for a typical LW member Christianity is an outgroup, and Buddhism is a fargroup.

        Are you sure? Admittedly I haven’t been paying attention for long, but my impression is that meditation as a thing to be considered serious is a fairly recent development. I just assumed that evidence in its favor had overwhelmed stigma around it. Maybe my assumed history is no good though.

        • Lambert says:

          Random vaguely good ideas from Christianity:
          All the Church community stuff in general.
          The way Lent lets you feast on a Sunday.
          Saint’s Days (Petrov, anyone?)
          Actually reaching out to tax collectors, SJWs etc.
          tithe/zakat (EA)

          • The custom of giving up something for Lent.

            A year or two back my son persuaded me that it was a useful custom, so I gave up arguing climate issues on FB for Lent.

            And I never went back to doing it.

        • Viliam says:

          Moral teachings of religion seem to me somewhere between genuine morality and “must obey what the boss said, and must find a rationalization why that is actually a good thing”. There are some great psychological insights, simply because many great psychologists were religious. But there is also a lot of “you cannot do X, because thousand years ago someone anonymous wrote that when you do X you make baby Jesus cry”. But I digress. Let’s move to the good things:

          Praying. — Yeah, it is talking to an invisible imaginary friend. However: Putting your ideas into words can help you think more clearly. If you imagine talking to someone, you automatically think about their reaction; that means further working with the idea. Now if you imagine the person you are talking to is omniscient (but still wants you to use your own words), that creates a pressure to be honest. In other words, praying is almost like having a free Rogerian therapy daily.

          Praying together. — In theory, still talking to the same imaginary friend. In practice, sharing information with the rest of your group. Information about personal stuff: what made you happy, what made you sad, what are your hopes and fears. If a group prays together regularly, they learn a lot about each other.

          Singing together. — A powerful emotional tool to make you feel like a part of the group.

          And I probably forgot something. Now, instead of this, what I see is that someone proposes a Solstice celebration where people would light some candles and read some poetry, and then half of LessWrong freaks out. (“OMG, doing something other than online nitpicking, totally a cult!!!”) Luckily, the Solstice celebrations happen regardless. Or someone proposes to live together and exercise together, and again, people freak out. And luckily again, it gets done. So maybe this is not about religion per se, but rather that many people have a strong stereotype about how they should live (alone, or at least not with their best friends) and interact (baseline hostility works great at preventing cooperation), most likely as an attempt to reverse stupidity (“you know who else cooperates and lives together? cults!!!”).

          Yet another thing worth learning from organized religion is how the whole thing is constructed. You get at least two layers: the wider set of believers, and the narrower set of clergy. The believers have to at least try to obey some basic rules, but that’s it. The clergy works full time, but in return they get the power to collectively make the rules; and they are the recognized official faces of the group. Among other things, this prevents charismatic heretics from getting high status within the organization: if they are incompatible, they cannot join the clergy, and if they become popular enough, the clergy will speak out against them, so everyone will know this is heresy.

          In contrast to this, rationalist community doesn’t have a clear definition who is really there and who is not, there is always someone challenging the basic rules (“politics is not the mindkiller, it’s only people who disagree with my political opinion who are stupid!!!”), or even making fun of the whole thing (“no one actually ‘reads the Sequences’, LOL”). Without some kind of dogma, and some people with a mandate to enforce the dogma, the whole thing will gradually get diluted into mainstream. Probably the strongest force which currently prevents this fate is that at least MIRI and CFAR are organizations with explicitly defined boundaries and membership.

          There is a bit more nuance to this, but this comment is already too long, and I guess the general direction of my thoughts is already obvious.

      • Nornagest says:

        Funny thing, the same taboo does not apply to Buddhism and meditation. I guess, for a typical LW member Christianity is an outgroup, and Buddhism is a fargroup.

        Yeah, picking up a centuries-old meditative tradition is the furthest thing from reinventing the wheel. It may be less a Not Invented Here issue and more an artifact of LW‘s historical links to the New Atheists, or class/cultural issues with Western Christian traditionalism more generally.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I think of myself as a conservative and when it comes to my conservative opinions, they aren’t very moderate. When conservatives talk I generally feel like cheering them on. I have never had any sympathy for communism, even theoretically. However, there are a few issues where I agree with progressives for the most part and a few where I’m very unsure.

      Conservative beliefs:
      Education
      Taxation*
      General mistrust of government regulation
      Housing deregulation
      Foreign Policy*
      Immigration
      Very skeptical about equality in general
      General mistrust of SJWs and most things they get outraged over

      Progressive beliefs:
      Global Warming
      Gun Control
      Abortion*
      Gay Marriage
      Transgenders*
      Welfare*

      Things where I have epistemic learned helplessness:
      Financial regulation
      Healthcare

      *To an extent

      It’s not a complete list but a fairly representative one. Hopefully you noticed a lack of consistency. Ideological consistency is bad, not good. If you can’t think of one issue where you disagree with the people you identify with, it probably means you aren’t really thinking for yourself. That’s something I believe in more strongly than any position on my list.

      • Randy M says:

        What is the conservative education position? Decentralization, charter schools, vouchers, etc.?

      • What is the conservative position on foreign policy? Aggressive anti-communism or non-interventionism? The former seems a bit outdated now that the communist world is down to North Korea. The latter was the old right position but not that of Buckley’s conservative coalition.

        • Wrong Species says:

          I generally agree with someone like Marco Rubio. Disagreements are things like being agnostic about the Iran deal and whether we should intervene to overthrow Assad.

      • sty_silver says:

        Reading this is pretty interesting for me… I consider myself firmly left-wing, but if I separated the same issues under progressive/conservative, it would look shockingly similar to your list. I guess the one big difference would be taxation, but I don’t know how much of a difference there actually is if we also split that field up. Other than that, I’d move a bunch of items from “conservative” to “don’t know” and that’s it.

        So… if a binary decision is required, does that list reliably output “vote Republican?” Is it different for state-level and national level?

        • JustToSay says:

          That reminds me of me and my husband. If you make a list of issues, we largely agree. But we tend to vote very differently. I joke that I have to go to the polls just to cancel out his vote.

          It confused me in the beginning, but then I realized that if you amended the imagined survey of issues to include questions like, And how much do you care? How well informed are you (or do you feel)? How do you think the politician in question would affect that issue in practice? etc, then it makes more sense how we start with similar opinions and end up with different votes.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Honestly one of the reasons I don’t think I could identify as a progressive is because many of them have declared open season against nerdy white guys. I’m not going to constantly apologize for existing. Look how someone like Scott Aaronson is treated.

          Practically, I end up voting third party most of the time.

    • mdet says:

      My in-group is mostly Blue Tribe progressives. To pick just one topic: Gun control has been in the news lately, and while I’m hardly enthusiastic about guns, I’m not really in favor of most gun control policy proposals. Gun control policy is pretty much all about making it more difficult to acquire guns. But even if we banned the manufacture and sale of all firearms tomorrow, it’s still estimated that there’s somewhere around 300 million guns in the US, give or take 50 mil. That seems like more than enough for it to be easy for someone who wants one to acquire one. Short of outright confiscation, which would *definitely* spark an armed insurrection (justifiably, imo), I don’t think any policy in this direction is going to accomplish much. The conservative route of pushing for a kind cultural change in personal & community responsibility, focusing on the shooters rather than the guns, is much harder than passing new legislation [citation needed] but seems more likely to produce results.

      • andrewflicker says:

        Not that I’m advocating for it, but what about an Australian style “harsh restriction on new gun sales, plus massive buybacks”? No forced confiscation, but still a big drop in the number of guns in private hands.

        • John Schilling says:

          Nobody cares about the distinction you are trying to make. Note that the event that American history unambiguously describes with the single word, “Prohibition”, was in fact just harsh restriction on new alcohol sales but with no forced confiscation(*).

          The people who want to Get [X] Off The Streets, are about as happy with severe restrictions as with forced confiscation; the pro-[X] people are just as vehemently opposed to both. Nobody cares about the distinction. Except for the people who will be charged with enforcing it, who know full well the optics of breaking down the doors of private citizens and/or denying sympathetic and obviously legitimate edge cases, so most real and more than slightly controversial “bans” will in fact just be harsh restrictions on new sales.

          * Not counting confiscation from illegal sellers, and I expect any Australian who is found with a warehouse full of guns that he sells to anyone who knows a guy who knows him, will find that Australia sometimes confiscates guns after all.

          • mdet says:

            Since alcohol gets consumed in a way that guns don’t, I don’t think that comparison is quite fair. If sale of alcohol is banned but I get to keep what I already have, well then checking my kitchen, that would effectively become a ban after…a week or two.

            To answer Andrew though, doesn’t a massive buyback imply that there are a bunch of people who have guns and don’t really want them, such that they’re willing to sell? I’m not sure how much that’s the case here. I think gun owners like their guns, and as John points out + evidence from Obama’s presidency suggests, the very proposal that the government might try to reduce the number of guns makes people like their guns even more.

            So that brings me back to the idea that there would first need to be a sweeping cultural change focusing on people’s behavior and attitudes towards guns.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            [In 1993, Moynihan] noted that the nation has a 200-year supply of guns but only a 4-year supply of ammunition.

        • quanta413 says:

          I have an old post many OT’s ago I might try to find later so I can dig up the source, but the bottom line is don’t expect that to do much unless you’re pursuing a much more aggressive policy than Australia.

          Australia had something like 7% of people owning guns pre-buyback and 5% after. There’s a lot of debate over whether this had much effect on shootings. My understanding is shootings were declining before the buyback and kept declining at the same rate after (module noise in the measurement of all of this).

          There are ~5 or so states with ownership rates near pre-buyback Australia. Most states have ownership rates at least double or triple Australia’s. Quite a few have 5-6x as many gun owners.

    • One of my ideological in-groups is libertarians. My rejection of the deontological, natural rights, non-aggression principle approach to libertarianism is unpopular with many of them.

      Another is economists. I reject the usual Paretian approach to economic efficiency, which I think is in most textbooks other than mine, in favor of Marshall’s approach.

      A third is SCA people, historical recreationists. I have pushed for a long time the idea of treating an SCA event as a joint fantasy rather than a costume party, trying to interact as our personas rather than as modern people interested in history. Along with that, I’ve pushed for treating historical authenticity in our activities more seriously than the SCA norm, as something one attempts in general, not just something done to win contests.

      But none of those are things I am loath to share with my peers.

    • Anonymous says:

      What are some beliefs you hold that are unpopular among your ideological in-group? What sorts of behaviors or preferences are you loath to share with your peers, for fear that you’ll immediately wind up on the defensive? In other words, how are you a “defective” liberal/Christian/atheist/rationalist/etc?

      There’s a bunch of things. The ones that spring to mind are:
      – I don’t think that a meat-only diet is right for everyone, particularly if we’re talking quality meat. It’s expensive, impractical and not quite proven to be universally preferable.
      – I don’t think that ordaining married men to priesthood is bad. Indeed, I think that eliminating regular priests from the genepool is counterproductive. (But celibate orders have their place as well, and the episcopacy should damn well be celibate-only, as ancient custom demands.)
      – I think what’s commonly referred to as digital ‘piracy’ is simply a matter of positive law under regulation of monopolies, and does not constitute theft under natural law.

      • Nick says:

        – I think what’s commonly referred to as digital ‘piracy’ is simply a matter of positive law under regulation of monopolies, and does not constitute theft under natural law.

        I’ve wondered whether this is the case myself, but have yet to sit down to examine the Church’s account of theft. Taking a quick look at McHugh and Callan’s text:

        1890. Theft.–Theft is the secret taking of what belongs to another, with the intention of appropriating it to oneself, against the reasonable wishes of the owner.

        This definition isn’t too helpful at first glance, since it’s not clear whether a copy qualifies as “taking,” and it’s not clear whether forbidding copies is a reasonable wish of the owner. But the follow section expands on each of the terms:

        (a) It is a taking, that is, a carrying away of goods.

        Okay, so part of the injustice of theft is depriving the rightful owner of the good. Digital piracy evidently does not do this.

        (g) It is against the reasonable wishes of the owner or possessor; for no injury is done if he does or should consent to the loss. The owner does consent if the person who takes the goods is acting according to a general and recognized custom (e.g., when a servant takes things left over from her employer’s table, which it is certain the latter does not wish to keep); the owner should consent, if justice forbids that he prevent the taking (e.g., when a starving man is taking food from one who has plenty), or if domestic duty commands that he should give the thing taken (e.g., when a wife takes from her husband’s pockets the needed money he denies his family, for a wife and family have the right to receive from the head of the house support according to their station and means). But the owner is not bound to consent to the loss of his goods from the mere fact that he misuses them to his own spiritual disadvantage, or owes them in charity to the taker. Hence, it is theft to take a flask from the pocket of one who drinks too much, or to steal a book from one who is harmed by reading it, or to filch money from a rich man because one is poor and he will not give an alms.

        Copying goods of entertainment like TV shows and video games don’t seem to fall under any of these, so it’s fortunate that it isn’t taking away but only copying. However, we run afoul of another section:

        (c) It is the taking of property. This includes not only corporeal things (e.g., books, money, jewelry, clothing), but also incorporeal things (e.g., patents, trademarks, copyrights), and even persons if they are looked on as possessions. Hence, plagiarism or infringement of copyright or man-stealing or kidnapping (i.e., the carrying off of another’s slave or child) are forms of theft.

        So as long as the particular copyright itself is just, the rightful owners of the property are owed something for copies made. Now, I don’t know whether present copyright law is just, but I think that’s the point that would have to be argued.

        • Anonymous says:

          Absent any actual contradiction of natural law or divine law, I tend to presume that any positive law is “just enough”. Since the temporal authorities regulate and adjudicate patents, trademarks and copyrights, this question is outsourced to positive law, much like the question of, say, capital punishment – the Church says it’s okay to have it either way, and leaves the determination to the secular powers that be.

          Which means for me that I’ll simply follow the secular legality in the matter, in accordance with deference to legitimate temporal authority per the 4th Commandment. However arbitrary that might be.

    • Robert Liguori says:

      I’m super-skeptical about both the capacities and the risks of AI, and feel that a large portion of the rationalist fixation on AI is looking for something God-shaped that they can assign attributes to without answering some hard engineering questions.

      • fion says:

        I am also very skeptical about the capacities and risks of AI, but I think it seems a bit uncharitable to suppose that they’re looking for something God-shaped.

    • rahien.din says:

      [Great question – this was way too much fun! Heterodox, orthoprax!]

      The common theme, vs. almost everyone AFAICT :
      1. There is such a thing as an informational hazard, either in the form of information which is harmful to know, or, data which inappropriately increase uncertainty.
      2. A useful illusion beats a useless truth every time.

      vs. rationalist (or rationalist-adjacent) :
      1. The act of promulgating information is inseparable from the acts of interpretating and operationalizing that information (either by yourself, or by your audience). Therefore we are ethically required to anticipate those consequences before promulgating information. Trying to evade this ethical requirement is isomorphic to the “werewolf defense” and it’s terribly irresponsible (and in many cases it’s just a lie).
      2. When formulated in terms of payout ratios and the probability that Omega guesses correctly, the expected value equation describing Newcomb’s problem is essentially a paraphrase of Bayes’ theorem.
      3. The reason the hard problem of consciousness is hard is that the true grounds of consciousness is irrationality.
      4. Irrationality is a major source of competitive advantage for our species. Without irrationality, we are merely complicated ants.

      vs. theism/atheism :
      The existence of God is not subject to Bayesian evidence-based updating. You can’t think your way to theism (or, think your way to atheism) for the same reason that you can’t read a book from inside the book. If you believe that you have done so, then your belief is incorrect. But it is still valid (not a typo, valid), and this validity is closely related to the reason that it is incorrect.

      vs. medicine :
      1. A good physician is identifiable not by what they do, but by what they withhold.
      2. A great deal of medical testing is done only to assuage the physician and/or the patient, without considering the impact of the test’s results. This is emotional laziness that leads to a violation of medical ethics.
      3. Paternalism isn’t necessarily bad, which is a relief, because it can never be excised from the patient-physician interaction. This is especially true if the patient is medically trained.
      4. “First, do no harm” is nice, but, it’s simply wrong. Optimal medical care is essentially doing the correct amount of harm.
      5. If we had a testing procedure that could swiftly and cheaply run every test known to medical practice at no risk to the patient, it would be a bad idea to use that procedure. The probability signified by “I don’t know” is not a point value of 50%, but rather is a probability distribution.

      vs. [tribe] :
      1. It is completely nonsensical that conservatives are generally environmental skeptics. It is completely nonsensical that liberals are generally environmental champions.
      2. Global warming is liberalism’s Apollo program.
      3. Politics is a battle over false positives. Nobody wants to fight about anything else.
      4. Holmström’s theorem dispels both liberal and conservative utopias.

      • drunkfish says:

        Can you explain 1 and 2 in vs [tribe]? As far as I can figure, we’re either altering the climate or we aren’t, and in the former it’s either worth mitigating or it isn’t. Tribes aside, one of the two groups (people worried about climate and people not worried, not red/blue) is generally correctly assessing the evidence and (highly correlated) one of the two groups is correct.

        • rahien.din says:

          As for 1, in the raw sense that conservatives want to conserve. Consider the chorus to Skynyrd’s “All I Can Do is Write About It” :

          And Lord I can’t make any changes / All I can do is write ’em in a song / I can see the concrete slowly creeping / Lord take me and mine before that comes

          As for 2, a scientific program billed as a paradigm shift that ultimately will be eclipsed by the advances that ride on its wake.

          (Here, I’m not taking a position about global warming, its anthropogenicity, or its consequences.)

      • The act of promulgating information is inseparable from the acts of interpretating and operationalizing that information (either by yourself, or by your audience). Therefore we are ethically required to anticipate those consequences before promulgating information.

        Your “either by yourself, or by your audience” implies that they are separable.

        I cannot be ethically required to do the impossible, and in many cases there is no way to anticipate the effect of promulgating information.

        There is a legal doctrine that puts liability on the last person in a causal sequence who could have prevented the bad outcome. That makes some moral sense as well.

        All of this is relevant to me. One of the things I do is to produce and publish ideas about political/legal/economic systems. I think I have a moral obligation to tell the truth about those ideas as best I can–for instance to discuss ways in which my preferred institutions might produce bad outcomes if I am aware of them. But I am reluctant to participate in applying those ideas to designs that will be applied in the real world—I would prefer to leave doing that, and being responsible for the results, to other people with different and more relevant sorts of expertise.

        Or consider the issue of climate change. From time to time I come across something that I think is clearly a bad, and probably dishonest, argument designed to support the alarmist conclusion. I say so–on my blog and sometimes elsewhere.

        It’s possible, of course, that the alarmist conclusion is true, in which case debunking bad arguments for it might have a negative effect. But if everyone follows out the logic of that and refrains from debunking bad arguments, perhaps even deliberately makes some, it becomes very hard for anyone to figure out whether the conclusion is true. The division of labor is relevant to the project of making sense of the world, and doing your part of job badly because you think you know what the right conclusion is subverts it.

        • rahien.din says:

          Your “either by yourself, or by your audience” implies that they are separable.

          Nah, I agree they aren’t necessarily separable.

          I cannot be ethically required to do the impossible, and in many cases there is no way to anticipate the effect of promulgating information.

          There is a legal doctrine that puts liability on the last person in a causal sequence who could have prevented the bad outcome.

          These are valid and may delimit my claim somewhat, or introduce some discounting function, but they don’t actually oppose my claim.

          There’s also a legal doctrine for crimes committed without specific intent or malice aforethought, for instance manslaughter.

          The division of labor is relevant to the project of making sense of the world, and doing your part of job badly because you think you know what the right conclusion is subverts it.

          Merely making sense of the world is not our most important project. Our most important project is deciding what actions to take. If you pay attention to a secondary project at the expense of the primary project, you’re doing your job badly.

          For instance, if your main project is to hide Anne Frank, and the Nazis ask you “Where is Anne Frank?”, promulgating the information of her whereabouts subverts your primary goal. I would agree that not every instance is so perfectly discrete and clear, but, there is some continuum of responsibility at play. We can argue about the continuum but its existence is beyond dispute.

          • quanta413 says:

            But what delineates the continuum?

            If a piece of information does not make it directly possible to commit a new immoral action, then I do not believe it’s morally correct to suppress it except in the trivial “argue why that information is wrong sense”. There are a few other cases as well where you personally should not say something (breaking a promise to hold something in confidence for example), but I haven’t though of other society wide examples yet. Or at least, not ones that aren’t so horribly contrived I think they’re misleadingly bad examples.

            So telling Nazis where Anne Frank is is bad because otherwise the Nazi’s wouldn’t know to look for her there.

            Telling a rogue government how to build an atomic weapon in detail is bad because then they have the knowledge of how to level cities.

            But almost every example I’ve seen of things that people think shouldn’t be allowed topics in the U.S. (and sometimes aren’t in Europe) doesn’t really match up with the above situations. It tends to be more like “well these people we don’t like have different moral precepts and this information is more convenient for their moral precepts than our moral precepts so we must suppress this information” (and this behavior runs in both directions really; it’s not just one side who plays this game). At worst, this behavior eats away at not just the suppressed but also the suppressor. At best, it’s just a silly game of calvinball for a worthless prize.

        • albatross11 says:

          I’ve been rereading Thomas Sowell’s excellent Knowledge and Decisions lately, and it’s led me to think about a major issue with someone misreporting or withholding facts to accomplish some laudable social goal.

          The important thing to remember when thinking about telling the truth vs spreading useful/socially acceptable lies is that you have no idea when and where people will be using the stuff you’re telling them. Fake histories that are promulgated to teach the right lesson, for example, are then used by people in reasoning about current political situations, or to try to understand whether some social-scientific idea really holds everywhere. Those fake histories become the models in the heads of future decisionmakers.

          Last year, I had a discussion with a very intelligent[0] friend of mine. He was arguing for an elimination of separation of sexes in sports. He’d heard from his social group that men and women are biologically about the same, and he’d swallowed it as a moral principle (which meant that mere evidence was irrelevant). He’s the sort of person who could plausibly push successfully for the elimination of girls/boys divisions in local high school sports, if he put his (first-rate) mind to it.

          Now, if you look at the data, it’s really obvious what the result of that would be if it were implemented widely–there would be basically no women in most sports[1]. Someone lied to my friend–a socially-beneficial lie that was intended to help girls feel better and be willing to play soccer. And he, a very smart and driven guy and devoted father of an active, athletic daughter, absorbed that lie. If enough people absorb it, then we will actually see people eliminating girls’/womens’ leagues for sports, and girls and women will by 99% pushed out of sports at every competitive level. With the very best of intentions, we will do the wrong thing, because people took a socially-beneficial lie in one environment and used it to make decisions in some completely different area.

          [0] Probably at the 1/10000 or higher level, doing an incredibly elite intellectually demanding job.

          [1] Go look at the track and field results for women and men in the Olympics, for an easy objective set of measures of how this would work out.

          • CatCube says:

            Remember last year when John McEnroe said in an NPR interview that Serena Williams was the best female tennis player in the world? The interviewer asked why he thought he needed to qualify it with “female” and he answered, “Well because if she was in, if she played the men’s circuit she’d be like 700 in the world.” Remember the shitstorm that resulted?

            Pepperidge farm remembers.

          • cassander says:

            @catcube

            That incident is especially fun because Serena Williams has said nearly the same thing.

      • albatross11 says:

        rahien.din:

        I find it really interesting that you discuss informational hazards in society at first, and later talk about informational hazards in medical practice.

        I’m curious on your #5. This seems like it makes your decisionmaking ability strictly better. Assuming you’d already seen this set of results on all your patients for many years, do you still think having that information available would be harmful? If so, I’m curious why.

        I mean, I get that doing a mamagram on30-year old women will give a high false-positive rate. But once you know that, why can’t you just take the high false-positive rate into account and decide not to react without more data?

        Is the issue something like Gellman’s garden of forking paths, where you end up misleading yourself on the probability of your results because you’ve done your explorations and hypothesis formation on the same dataset as your significance testing?

        Is the issue some kind of malpractice liability?

        Or something else?

        • quanta413 says:

          It’s actually not clear to me if #5 would be a mistake if the test actually cost nothing (because magic), and if doctors had a chart of how to update treatment based upon results and actually followed it.

          I too would like an explanation of how if the test really had no cost of any kind (no money, no pain, nothing) how much of the problem would be driven by incentives to do the medically incorrect thing (in the sense of say expected value per patient perhaps risk weighted) or whether there is something actually unavoidable where the information itself makes you worse off rather than making bad decisions in response to the information.

    • J Mann says:

      1) As a science fiction fan, I don’t think it’s objectionable for channels to cancel shows that aren’t making a profit, or that I am likely to know more than channel executives about how to market a show. I’m not loathe to express this, and usually end up with more upvotes than downvotes, so maybe it’s not unpopular.

      2) As a Catholic, I think the Church should (a) normalize gay relationships, (b) perform gay marriages, (c) allow female priests, and (d) allow married priests. (I’m not super confident, especially about the last one, largely on Chesterton’s fence principles). I’ve never had a problem – people will disagree with me, sometimes vigorously, but never in a hostile way.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Anti SJW/idpol lefty. One of the best positions currently for having people on both sides think you don’t really understand what you are advocating or that you’re concern trolling/setting up motte and baileys

    • fion says:

      Honestly I don’t really know what my ideological in-group even is any more. Is it the far-left? Is it supporters of the UK Labour Party? Is it SSC?

      Since starting to read SSC (and adjacent stuff) I’ve developed a bunch of views that are pretty unpopular among my various far-left and centre-left friends. A few examples that come to mind:
      The gender pay gap is largely due to choices,
      Social justice activism is sometimes very harmful,
      Capitalism might not be the source of all our problems,
      Gradual, reversible change is better than rapid irreversible change,
      Intelligence has a large genetic component and is a predictor of success in lots of things (as opposed to “everybody is good in their own way”),
      Nuclear power is good.

      Since long before I found SSC my views on religion were unpopular among my lefty (atheist/agnostic) friends. I read the God Delusion when I was quite young and thought it was very good. Since then my opinion of Dawkins has been moderately positive, but the vast majority of my friends think he’s awful.

      Recently I’ve diverged from some of my more liberal (using “liberal” here in a very un-American sense – “more liberal” approximately means “further to the right” for me) friends in opinions on Britain leaving the EU. I’m opposed to Brexit, but I only think it’s a very bad thing that we voted to leave. The orthodoxy in my circles is that it’s THE WORST THING THAT’S EVER HAPPENED AND EVERY PERSON WHO VOTED BREXIT HAS RUINED MY FUTURE!

      Among SSCers I’m probably
      more skeptical of capitalism
      more concerned about climate change
      more sympathetic to social justice activism
      than average. However, I don’t feel like these are in the same category as all my others, because “SSC” is much less of an ideology than “left-winger” or “feminist” or “UK Labour Party supporter”. Also I’m not afraid to voice the ways I’m non-central on SSC on SSC, but I am a bit afraid to voice the ways I’m a non-central lefty IRL unless with a very trusted friend.

      • mdet says:

        +1 to all, except replace “Brexit” with “Trump”, and I’m more sympathetic to religion and free markets than you are (but then again, I amAmerican).

    • schazjmd says:

      I’m a “defective” feminist in that I think some manners of dress and behavior can reasonably be viewed as signals inviting sexual attention. (Even here, I feel I must immediately clarify that those signals in no way justify anyone disregarding a refusal/rejection.) I also think that some few claims of assault/harassment are, at their foundation, “someone undesirable expressed sexual interest”.

      But I can also understand why the group would try to silence such views, and I don’t disagree with that reasoning.

      • albatross11 says:

        schazjmd:

        That seems like such an obvious statement of fact that it seems odd it could be controversial. And trying to silence stuff that sounds like an obvious statement of fact is a good way to make your movement look crazy or stupid or evil.

        • mdet says:

          It seems like a simple loss of nuance between “Do not take this person’s dress / behavior as an invitation to do what you want” and “Never take any dress / behavior as an invitation”. And songs like TLC’s No Scrubs are definitely about “I don’t have any patience for flirting if you’re undesirable”.

          I feel like ideas in general have a tendency to lose nuance and swing towards absolutes as they propagate, and taking this as true, I would prefer the absolutes “never take dress as an invitation” and “don’t think that being high status / desirable means you can get away with everything” to their alternatives.

    • Nornagest says:

      I’m not sure I fit cleanly into any ideological bucket these days. About the only things that I can say I’m definitely not are hard left and populist right; I can think of commonalities but also significant differences with everybody else. Some examples follow.

      Relative to liberals/center-left types:

      – I think material incentives are underappreciated as drivers of behavior.
      – I don’t see creationism or many other shibboleths as a very big deal. Kansas losing a few potential evolutionary biologists isn’t a threat that justifies the levels of attention YEC gets in liberal circles.
      – I’m very skeptical of idpol, although that almost goes without saying around here.

      Relative to libertarians:

      – I don’t really buy the non-aggression principle, mostly because it’s too hard to draw principled lines between force and not-force or fraud and not-fraud.
      – I’m skeptical of proposed solutions for dealing with disabilities, or other large disparities in innate ability.
      – I think the forms of markets and private ownership are relatively unimportant compared to working price signals or equivalent. In particular, I think the potential for privatization/deregulation schemes to devolve into crony capitalism is underappreciated.

      Relative to moderate conservatives:

      – I’m mostly on board with climate change as a serious threat.
      – I think looser immigration policy (preferably Canada-style) is probably a good idea.
      – I think conventionally hawkish foreign policy, as it’s stood for the last sixty years, is reliably counterproductive.

      Relative to rationalist-diaspora types:

      – I’m very skeptical of utilitarianism as a practical ethical philosophy.
      – Despite appearing on Eliezer’s list, I think the virtue of epistemic humility has been pretty much ignored, to our great detriment. In particular I think System 1 thinking is highly underappreciated.
      – The replication crisis kind of kicked the legs out from under the Sequences and I don’t think anyone’s made a serious attempt to grapple with its consequences.
      – I think the rationalist social scene is pretty dysfunctional.
      – I don’t much like puns.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I think for most people here that last one is kind of the the dealbreaker.

      • cassander says:

        – I think conventionally hawkish foreign policy, as it’s stood for the last sixty years, is reliably counterproductive.

        This is an odd claim to make, given that 30 years ago foreign policy changed completely with the collapse of the USSR, and the substantial seesaws towards and away from hawkishness that happened on either side of that line. Could you elaborate?

        • Nornagest says:

          Saying it’s been the same for sixty years would be an oversimplification, but I see Vietnam as an inflection point. That’s not the first COIN situation we’ve gotten into (the Moro insurrection predates it by sixty years), and it’s not the first time we got entangled in regional politics that we didn’t really understand, but it is where you start seeing the pattern of shoehorning the US military into tasks that it’s doctrinally unsuited to, without a clear plan for adaptation, to serve murky domestic political ends. Variations on that repeat themselves over and over until the present, and the end of the Cold War didn’t seem to make much of a dent in the tendency.

          “Conventionally hawkish” may not have been the best way to describe this, though.

          • cassander says:

            That’s not the first COIN situation we’ve gotten into (the Moro insurrection predates it by sixty years), and it’s not the first time we got entangled in regional politics that we didn’t really understand, but it is where you start seeing the pattern of shoehorning the US military into tasks that it’s doctrinally unsuited to, without a clear plan for adaptation, to serve murky domestic political ends.

            Some might say that this description applies to US foreign policy in general, not just COIN. And if vietnam is an inflection point, it’s an inflection point away from hawkishness. Prior to vietnam, every american president who could ordered countries carpet bombed on behalf of american foreign policy objectives, and none has since.

            >“Conventionally hawkish” may not have been the best way to describe this, though.

            Definitely not. When democrats are in power, it’s called responsibility to protect or nationbuilding.

          • Nornagest says:

            Prior to vietnam, every american president who could ordered countries carpet bombed on behalf of american foreign policy objectives, and none has since.

            That’s consistent with the point I was trying to make. Carpet-bombing foreign countries may or may not be a good idea depending on the situation, but it is a task that the US military is doctrinally well suited to.

            My beef is not that we haven’t been hawkish enough post-Vietnam, it’s that the hawkish voices post-Vietnam have frequently called for stuff we aren’t good at, without a plan for making us good at it and often for questionable reasons.

          • hyperboloid says:

            @cassander
            I don’t wan’t to put words in your mouth, but I’m kind of getting the impression that you think the United States has not done enough carpet bombing. Is that the case?

          • cassander says:

            @hyperboloid

            that’s not really the case. There are few long run problems faced by the US today that would be solved well by carpet bombing. But the fact that carpet bombing used to be our go to strategy and is now a war crime certainly isn’t a shift in the direction of hawkishness.

          • hyperboloid says:

            When you say that carpet bombing was the go to policy your generalizing from two and half examples: WWII, Korea, and (sort of) Vietnam.

            On a meta level I’m not sure either Vietnam, or the end of the cold war really are particularly large inflection points. In fact if you look back through history you will see on ongoing cyclical pattern of alternating militarism and relative pacifism going back to the Spanish American war.

            In the aftermath of that conflict, and in particular of the bloody insurgency in the Philippines that fallowed, groups like the Anti-Imperialist League helped to turn public sentiment against foreign intervention. When WW1 broke out Woodrow Wilson, who had defeated Teddy Roosevelt’s former secretary of war William Howard Taft in the presidential election two years earlier, fallowed the sentiment of the times and agreed to keep the US out of the conflict. After he switched positions and rallied the public behind intervention in Europe it would be the Republican’s turn to play the isolationist card against his chosen successor (the now forgotten James M. Cox) in 1920.

            For the next twenty years the US maintained a policy of relative non intervention (with the notable exception of a series of actions by US Marines in central America). This sentiment remained strong enough that even after Cox’s vice presidential nominee Franklin Roosevelt took office his plans to confront the rising threat of Nazi Germany depended mostly on using American industry as an “arsenal of democracy” to aid our allies, rather than sending troops overseas. When the fall of France and the attack on Pearl harbor forced the us directly into the conflict we adopted a ruthless policy of total war, ultimately unleashing unprecedented destruction on the civilian populations of Germany and Japan.

            After the war, rather than using our nuclear monopoly to impose our will on the world, we demobilized and quietly acquiesced to Stalin’s grip on eastern Europe. After the Soviet Union tested a Nuclear Weapon fear of Communist expansion grew, and the United States built up it’s military and turned towards confrontation. First under Truman in Korea, where out of desperation at the inadequacy of our ground force we again turned to aerial bombardment to force a bloody stalemate. Then under Eisenhower when we built a nuclear arsenal sufficient to exterminate the people of the Soviet Union.

            Under Kennedy and Johnson we plunged into a war in Vietnam; before the brutal toll of that conflict, on both the people of south east Asia and the US troops drafted to fight there, became politically untenable. Under Nixon, Ford, and Carter we pursued a policy of detente so far that Soviet leaders spoke of an end of the cold war. In Reagan’s first term we turned again to confrontation; pledging to “draw the line against Communism” in central America, sending arms to anti Soviet fighters in Afghanistan, and pushing the arms race closer to the breaking point than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis. In Reagan’s second term we largely abandoned this hawkish policy, and sought reconciliation with a reform minded Soviet leader who’s abortive attempt to liberalize the Communist system lead to the collapse of the USSR.

            Under Clinton we mostly refrained from intervention, tragically neglecting the the rising threat of trans-national Islamic extremism. After nine eleven president Bush launched an ill conceived crusade to remake the middle east. A policy that Obama tried to reverse without having a clear idea as to how to fill the vacuum left behind by american intervention.

            It seems that rather than being consistently hawkish the United States has seesawed between violent intervention and indifference, with out having any coherent grand strategy.

    • arlie says:

      I’m a disaster as a modern feminist.

      I believe in things like “equal pay for equal work” and “not treating people differently because of gender”. I even believe in things like paying attention to women’s typical/traditional responsibilities, concerns, etc. (e.g. in studying history.)

      But I don’t believe in things like making things more comfortable for [stereotypical] women by adding more social chit chat, more supportive encouraging comments, etc. Being task focussed, or brusque, doesn’t make you or your community anti-woman.

      Statements beginning “Women [all] …” tend to make me guess the speaker doesn’t know many women [if male], takes herself as a univeral model [if female], and is in any case pushing some kind of agenda. I don’t care whether the speaker is attributing good or bad things to the gender group, or whether they are wearing a left or right wing tribal membership tag. Statements that imply women are all the same are, at best, signs of very sloppy thinking.

      But my worst offence is that I think that cis-women should be allowed to have cis-women-only spaces, or even cis-women+trans-men spaces (i.e. spaces for people considered female at birth) rather than being required to include trans women in all women-only events. And I can get irate when I find any supposedly women’s group has more than one trans-woman leader … looks like “male privilege” to me, whatever pronoun the trans-women prefer.

      Oh, and while I’m confessing my sins – I think that most of what women have in common [or men for that matter], has to do with the way they are treated. Not biology. Not innate personality traits, not even overlapping bell curves with different centers. It’s about the experience of being raised as “girl” or “boy”, and all the other gendered things that come afterwards.

      • I believe in things like “equal pay for equal work” and “not treating people differently because of gender”.

        I’m wondering how seriously you mean that. Mate search is a major human activity and most humans want a mate of the opposite sex. If I am a single young man, the fact that someone is a single young woman means she s a potential mate; that will and, I think, should affect how I interact with her.

        • rlms says:

          If I am a single young man, the fact that someone is a single young woman means she s a potential mate; that will and, I think, should affect how I interact with her.

          I’m wondering how seriously you mean that. If I am a gay single young man, the fact that someone is a single young woman does not mean she is a potential mate.

          • Aapje says:

            @rlms

            A decent number of gay men have in fact mated with women, due to outside pressure and such.

          • That’s true, but I don’t think it’s relevant to the point I was making, although it is relevant to the way I put it. If you are a single, gay, young man, the fact that someone is a single young woman also affects how you interact with her, since it means she is not a potential mate.

    • BBA says:

      Unpopular among the left: I think gun rights should be treated like any other constitutional right.

      Unpopular among the right: I think disparate impact can be (and often is) proof of an equal protection violation.

      Unpopular among just about everyone: Because convicted felons are disproportionately nonwhite, banning them from owning guns is an equal protection violation. Therefore felons should be allowed to have guns to the same extent anyone else is. Background checks are unconstitutional.

      I don’t exactly like this conclusion either, but it’s the only stance I can hold consistent with my principles.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Doesn’t the same logic say you shouldn’t be able to imprison convicted felons either?

  7. gbdub says:

    Did anyone else watch AMC’s The Terror? If you didn’t, you should!

    • quaelegit says:

      I really thought there was a discussion/recommendation on SSC recently, but I can’t find it now! From that earlier discussion (wherever it was) it sounded really interesting, but I think that discussion also said it had elements of horror genre. Would you recommend it to someone who found Stranger Things too scary to be enjoyable?

      • gbdub says:

        I recommended it previously as a cross between “Master and Commander” and “The Thing” but didn’t really get any responses.

        That’s a tough question. It is definitely of the horror genre, but most of the horror is of the psychological “the true monster is man” stuff. There’s a monster that occasionally shows up and eats dudes, but it plays a much less prominent role than the monsters in Stranger Things. And the monster, basically a very large, tough, and unusually smart polar bear, is really the only supernatural element.

        Without giving too much away: Everybody dies, mostly in awful ways (you know this in the first five minutes, or if you know anything about the real expedition on which the story is based). There’s the aforementioned monster. There are a couple of people who go off the deep end and inflict atrocities on their fellow crewmates. But there is also beauty, humor, and inspiration in how some of the men face their increasingly inevitable fates. It’s really brilliantly acted and shot.

        Overall, I’d say the feeling it evokes is more despair than fear. I’d say watch the first three episodes, and if you can handle that, it doesn’t really get any “scarier”.

  8. Seanny123 says:

    Does anyone know of a public idea organiser? I describe my requirements on a StackExchange post, but the general idea would be a website listing potential projects for collaboration that a person could sort through based on their desires and then either take or contact me about.

    I realise this is a bit silly, given everyone likes talking about things, but actually doing the things is the problem. However, I would like to at least help people find a good thing to talk about so it turns into doing?

    • bean says:

      And for Friday, a pseudo-review of the book The New Maginot Line, an 80s tome on defense reform. (Which is the theory that not only is the DoD process broken, but also that someone knows how to fix it. I mostly agree with half of it.)

      • cassander says:

        Whenever I read the 80s defense reform literature, I’m almost always amazed that anything as efficacious as goldwater nichols came out of it. I go back and forth on whether or not that happening is heartening, because it indicates that debate leads to truth in platonic fashion, orr depressing, because clearly we just got lucky.

  9. Chevalier Mal Fet says:

    I am spectating the second (third?) game of SSC Diplomacy, and for my own amusement and perhaps the entertainment and enlightenment of the peanut gallery, I thought I’d offer commentary as the game goes on. I’m not privy to any internal discussions, so I can’t spoil things, but participants may want me to wait a season or two before I comment, since I could inadvertently point out something that one of the players missed while there’s still time for her to correct it.

    Nevertheless, let’s plunge full steam ahead and look at 1901!

    Spring 1901:

    The rules of Diplomacy, for those unfamiliar, are simple: 7 powers representing the Great Powers of 1901 battle for control of Europe. The nation that first occupies 18 Supply Centers, specially marked territories around the map which support 1 army or navy each, is victorious. Armies and fleets are all moved simultaneously via pre-written orders. Any collision between equal-sized units is a stalemate – in order to advance, you have to have superior numbers. Since all countries start with the same number of units (except Russia), this means you need to ally with your neighbors in order to progress – but since moves happen simultaneously they could betray you at any moment!

    Typically, Diplomacy breaks down into two separate games: A western triad and an eastern quad. Germany, France, and England fight for supremacy among themselves, while Russia, Austria, Turkey, and Italy squabble in the east. Sometimes Italy or Russia will alter this dynamic with a strong thrust to the west early in the game, but usually this is how things sort out. Whichever nation or alliance of nations ends up victorious in its half then tries to turn and cross the center of the map before the other half of nations can sort themselves out – this typically marks the start of the midgame. Finally, the game ends as one dominant power or alliance lunges for victory.

    In contrast to the weirdness of the first SSC game, World War One in this universe breaks out fairly conventionally, with a few surprises here and there. The mighty British Lion puts its navies in motion and very clearly directs its fleet against the ancient Continental Enemy, France. Cruisers steam up and down the Channel, the main battleship squadron sorties from Scapa Flow into the North Sea, and the paltry BEF begins exercises in Wales and Cornwall, presumably preparing to embark for foreign shores.

    This opening is very openly and obviously anti-French. By marching the army south, it is impossible for Britain to land its army anywhere other than the French coast – so a descent on Norway is out of the question. Furthermore, sending the fleet into the Channel is a sure sign of hostility, since it allows threats to France’s key port of Brest and also enables future army convoys. Britain has given up any chance of forcing his way into Norway in the fall, should Russia choose to contest it (more on that later), which means that John Bull is fully committed to the south.

    Germany seems similarly committed. He makes a play for potentially 3 supply centers in the first year. The fleet sorties to Heligoland, which is a somewhat curious move – it allows for access to the North Sea in the fall, but moving there would mean giving up either Denmark or Holland. Munich was left uncovered in a potential lunge on Belgium, and Eighth Army marches out of East Prussia into the north German plain, ready to occupy either Denmark or Holland in the fall as needed.

    The main area of interest in Germany’s move is the fleet move. Conventionally, Germany likes to open to Denmark with the fleet, letting him threaten Russia with a standoff in Sweden in the fall – such a standoff costs Germany nothing, but has a big influence on the future of Russia, so it affords the Hun a lot of diplomatic leverage. With the Heligoland move, coupled with the army out of Munich, I wonder if Germany didn’t intend to go to war with England at the start – a daring gamble to occupy the North Sea (crucial for any invasion of England, as any glance at the map will tell) while occupying Denmark and Holland? Maybe!

    France, though, put a wrench in Germany’s plans. The Brest fleet sailed for warmer climes in the mid-Atlantic, as usual, and the Marseilles army stayed put. However, it supported the Parisian army firmly asserting itself in Burgundy, against any potential German interference. At the close of spring, France’s armies stood poised on all her borders, ready to spring on Belgium, Germany, Italy, or the Iberian peninsula as needed.

    The Marseilles ->Burgundy move is typically a sign that France distrusts Germany – he worries about a potential German move into Burgundy stranding his army in Paris. The fleet to Mid-Atlantic is conventional, but with no army in Gascony, France can’t repeat John Schilling’s clever maneuver of convoying an army to Portugal – the significance of which I completely missed at the time. So, it looks as if the western powers started off not trusting each other – Britain clearly hates France’s guts, France doesn’t trust the Kaiser as far as they can throw him (and he’s a big guy), and Germany was possibly speculating on an English holiday.

    The eastern quad, now. Italy opened conventionally: A probing attack on the Austrian center of Trieste was thrown back with minor losses on both sides, while the Regia Marina begins to steam in the Ionian. An expeditionary force marches into Calabria for embarkation, but whether they will sail for Africa or Greece is anyone’s guess.

    The Sick Man of Europe, the Great Turk, the Sublime Porte, began to bestir himself. Perhaps seeking to reverse the results of the Balkan Wars (which, er, haven’t been fought yet), the Ottoman First Army marches out of Constantinople and occupies Bulgaria, with the Second Army crossing from Asia to Constantinople behind in support. The Ottoman navy, though, as it attempts to leave Sinope, encounters a detachment of the Russian Black Sea fleet. The two fleets exchange gunfire at long range, but no decisive result is achieved as both admirals withdraw their ships to port for repair and refit.

    The OTHER sick man of Europe, Austria-Hungary, also lashed out. One Austrian army smashes through Belgrade and on into Serbia, overrunning most of the country before the end of June. A second army launches a surprise attack on Venice, only to be surprised itself by an Italian army launching its own surprise attack in the opposite direction – both armies withdraw to their home bases in some confusion. Finally, an Austrian army attempts to defend its claim to Galicia, clashing with the Russian Second Army striking south of Warsaw.

    Russia opened aggressively towards both its southern neighbors. Second Army attempted to push south from Warsaw to Krakow, but encountered a sharp defense from Austrian reinforcements rushing up from Vienna. However, First Army – whatever its commander’s differences with Second Army’s commander, Samsonov – marched into Ukraine and stands poised to join with Second ARmy in a more decisive push on Galicia. The Russian Black Sea fleet steamed off the coast of Turkey, exchanging shots with the fleet out of Sinope before returning to Sevastopol for repairs. Finally, the Russian Baltic fleet sortied, presumably to take Sweden under its, ah, “protection.”

    The eastern quad’s moves were more straightforward. Russia signaled no interest in a Norwegian front with Britain, who likewise is uninterested in a northern war – probably best for both parties, since Britain can often find itself charging right into a cul-de-sac at St. Petersburg. Austria trusted none of its neighbors, employing the classic Hedgehog opening, which guarantees Austria will survive 1902 at least but offers smaller rewards compared with bolder moves. Italy’s moves are entirely conventional as well, although sometimes you’ll see Italy use the more flexible move of putting the Calabrian army in Apulia instead – it can still convoy to Africa or Greece, but can also support Venice in case Germany or Austria places that center under heavy pressure. Finally, the Ottomans’ opening is slightly pro-Russia, since he didn’t send his army towards Armenia and the land route to Sevastopol, but instead marched towards the Balkans. He doesn’t fully trust Russia – or wants people to think that he doesn’t – since he also carefully ensured that no Russian fleet occupied the Black Sea, a circumstance often fatal to Turkish hopes (he has full 3 centers, counting Bulgaria, around the sea!

    I’ll wait for spring 1902 to play out before I comment on the fall moves, but we hsould see some fireworks begin next phase as alliances solidify and people start to stake their territorial claims!

    • moonfirestorm says:

      This was excellent, and I think the ongoing commentary is better than quick summaries of the entire game after it’s all over. As someone who doesn’t play Diplomacy, I also enjoyed the strategic commentary: it’ll be cool to see how they players’ actual thoughts matched up to your ideas.

    • rlms says:

      I’m very much enjoying your commentary, but some of the players have requested that you delay it slightly (maybe by a year?)

  10. ThaadCastle says:

    Does anyone have a book recommendation for a general survey (101/201) level of the slave trade/slavery in the US?

    I have the basic high school history level knowledge (i.e. the triangle trade (molasses to rum to slaves)) and a decent knowledge of the legislative debate about the expansion of slavery into new states and the various crises/compromises during the run up to the civil war, but I don’t know much about slavery as an institution or the economics of the slave trade/plantation system.

    Thanks!

    • Urstoff says:

      Not quite a general survey, but Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom
      is considered a classic.

      Also well-regarded:
      Marcus Rediker’s The Slave Ship: A Human History
      Robert Fogel’s Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery

    • Sui Generalist says:

      The Internal Enemy by Alan Taylor covers specifically Virginia 1772-1832 but it’s full of wisdom and economics.

      During the War of 1812 the British strongly encouraged slaves to defect, partly to undermine the economy and society of the Chesapeake but mostly to get guides to its tangled waterways. To blunt charges that they were abducting unwilling slaves who didn’t know any better, the navy invited Virginia planters onto their ships to attempt to talk their former slaves into coming home. Hilarity ensues.

      There are some incredible letters from behind the scenes where there’s a new generation of enlightenment planters battling their fathers in an attempt to Rationalise everything, which essentially means more cruelty. But they’re in debt up to their eyeballs and Moloch gets us all in the end.

      The book has fascinating/horrifying detail on the relative values of different kinds of slave and how much of a slave’s value was in their ability to make more slaves (a lot). Did you know the importation of slaves was banned in 1808? There’s a clause in the constitution saying ‘no banning the importation of slaves until 1808,’ by which point most of the demand for slaves came from further South and the Virginia planters who controlled the federal government wanted to maximise the value of the slaves they were breeding and selling on.

      And most of all everyone is really, really, really terrified of the free blacks.

      There’s a Tyler Cowen review as well if you’re not sold already.

      • quaelegit says:

        This sounds heartbreaking but also amazing. Not OP, but it’s going on my to-read list!

    • littskad says:

      Hugh Thomas’s The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade 1440-1870 is an incredibly thorough and immensely detailed account of the Atlantic slave trade, including economic, sociological, and political aspects. It’s not an easy read, but it’s not a pleasant topic.

    • SamChevre says:

      Not a book recommendation, but a topic recommendation: any history of the slave trade and the economics of the slave trade as related to the US that doesn’t cover the internal trade in slaves from the tobacco-growing Upper South to the cotton-growing lower South is missing a big, important part of the story.

    • mdet says:

      I haven’t read them, but I think Frederick Douglass’ three autobiographies are some of the go-to primary sources

    • Eric Rall says:

      William Freehling’s Road to Disunion Volume I and II.

      They’re primarily focused on the politics of slavery and secession, but there’s extensive background treatment of economic, cultural, and legal aspects of slavery.

    • sharper13 says:

      Race and Culture: A World View” is very good, as are the rest of the trilogy “Conquests and Cultures: An International History” and “Migrations and Cultures”.

  11. Levantine says:

    A month ago, a poster asked for feedback about his desire to end his homosexual lifestyle. Last evening I discovered there is a whole Wikipedia page on Sexual orientation change efforts.

    • Lambert says:

      Alas, it all seems to be about turning gay people straight.
      I just want to bi-hack, goddamn it.

      • BeefSnakStikR says:

        Do you have a reasonably strong sex drive? Try going for months without any external stimulation and you should be able to find just about any physical contact and/or representations of sex arousing. Then, instead of watching pornography or getting intimate with your — presumption here — girlfriend, look up dirty words in the dictionary on public transit or something.

        It’s not bisexuality, but it is a different experience that will change the way you think about your fixations. Obviously this is easier to do if you’re not in a relationship or your SO goes away for a month or something.

      • powerfuller says:

        If you’re a straight man, this is a bad idea in my experience. You’ll still be more interested in women than men, and most women are really turned off by bisexuality in men. The gains from the gay side tend not to compensate for the losses on the straight side, unless you go hard gay. Also, if later on you commit to a woman who only want a vanilla straight sex life, you may find it more difficult to be satisfied with your sex life than you would have before. If you’re a straight woman, however, more power to you; a lot of guys don’t care and/or are turned on by that.

        • Thegnskald says:

          Your goal isn’t to be attractive to every woman, but rather to the women you yourself are attracted to.

          At the intelligence levels typical of SSC, I would suggest bisexuality would be an asset, not a hindrance; it nets .5 attractiveness points to most intelligent/interesting women, AFAICT, while costing 7 attractiveness points from, ah, the more boring sort of woman.

          • powerfuller says:

            Fair point, but for me it’s not worked out much historically, even with very intelligent, interesting women I find attractive. I’m skeptical it’s an asset, even though there must be some women who like it. I’m not upset at women for this; God knows I have my own “unfair” preferences that exclude huge swaths of women, and being accepted for being bi isn’t the most important thing I look for in a relationship anyway. I admit it’s a little frustrating in the context of conversations like: “Powerfuller, I have something to tell you, and I hope you understand, but… I’m bisexual.” “Oh, that’s cool, me too.” “Uh, gross. I don’t date gay guys. Good bye.” Nevertheless, I’d rather they be upfront like that than secretly resent me for it.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Heck. That would be a Success, as far as I was concerned back when I was dating.

            I would give partners very expensive gifts to see how they reacted, to determine whether or not things would work out.

            Someone dumping me over such a dumb internal consistency would have saved me some money.

          • James Miller says:

            Is intelligence positively correlated with women not being turned off by male bisexuality?

          • powerfuller says:

            @Thegnskald

            Yeah, I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining (as a friend put it, it’s impossible to talk about one’s sex life without sounding like you’re either bragging or complaining). I feel lucky to have been able to have the “by the way, I’m a pervert” conversation, even when it goes badly. But if one can avoid needing to have that conversation by not becoming a pervert in the first place, it keeps the dating game much simpler.

            @James Miller

            I don’t see why it would. Intelligence may (or may not) correlate with being more tolerant of male bisexuality in general, but that’s very different from accepting or desiring it in the context of one’s own relationships. When it comes to your own sex partner, everybody’s discriminatory (and that’s Jim Dandy; I don’t want to date somebody for Justice’s sake either).

          • Thegnskald says:

            James –

            Approximately, yes, by my observations.

          • Powerfuller is treating the pattern of men not being bothered by women being bisexual, women being bothered by men being bisexual, as simply an observed fact. But it makes some rational sense as well, for at least two reasons.

            1. Male homosexuality is associated with health risks that the female partner of a bisexual male may not wish to share. Female homosexuality is not.

            2. One possibility with a bisexual partner is shared lovers. Men have more of a taste for multiple partners than women do.

          • powerfuller says:

            @DavidFriedman

            You’re right; I don’t want to imply women are being mean, stupid, or unfair for disliking it. I can definitely appreciate where women are coming from, and in their shoes I probably would feel similarly. Reason #1 is why I’ve almost never acted on my homosexual desires myself (that and that they’re insignificant compared to my heterosexual desires). As for #2, it is frustrating bisexuality is associated with promiscuity, because I really don’t fit that mold. But I assume the stereotype has some basis in reality.

            Given the risks and downsides, I was curious what the appeal of “bi-hacking” is for Lambert (somewhat assuming Lambert is male).

    • S_J says:

      It’s not really related, but I would like to tell a story.

      Some time ago, I heard a man give a testimony of how his family life sucked as a child, how he spiraled into alcoholism, an eating disorder, and an addictive obsession with porn in young-adulthood. His childhood home involved much emotional abuse, and one of his parents was later diagnosed as a schizophrenic.

      He then told the story of what brought him out of that mess.

      He converted to Christianity, and credited that conversion with beginning that change. The eating disorder ended almost immediately. Alcoholism and porn-obsession continued for some time. After much counseling, and joining a group of other men dedicated to ending similar addictions in themselves, he finally found a way to escape both.

      Among the things that changed: during teenager-hood and young-adulthood, this man had been sexually attracted to other men. He claimed that he never saw any sexual attraction towards women until sometime in the middle of the counseling-and-support-group scenario outlined above. Since then, he’s married a woman and started a family with her.

      From what I can make out, this man’s same-sex attraction didn’t entirely disappear. But now he has ways of dealing with it that he is happy with.

      I don’t know what to make of this story. It doesn’t fit nicely into any socially-approved narrative. And it isn’t very helpful to people who aren’t part of a religious community.

      (I paid much attention to this man’s story, as I recognized pattern of addictive compulsion to consume porn. It was a pattern I had in my own life, and it was a pattern that made it harder for me to have comfortable relationships with any woman. My orientation was definitely opposite-sex attraction, but I recognized the pattern and the problems. Eventually, I sought counseling and a support group of the type that he described…and that helped me end the addictive-style behavior.

      Along the way, I came to the conclusion that some people react to porn the way that alcoholics react to alcohol. There is a notably-large category of people who can drink alcohol without succumbing to alcoholism. Likewise, there is apparently a category of people who can consume porn without falling into an addictive-style obsession. I am not an alcoholic, but I do have that reaction to pornography.

      With that in mind, I don’t want to encourage porn for someone who has that kind of response to porn–just as I would not offer a sip of whiskey to an alcoholic. But I don’t know how to read that dimension of personality during an online discussion.)

      • AG says:

        Nah, sounds like the guy is probably bisexual and mono-amorous. As a youth, he was attracted to taboo and unhealthy relationships. Then he cleaned up his life, and fell in love with a woman. Not mutually exclusive from bisexuality!

        We don’t know that getting into another similarly structure community that was not Christian wouldn’t have also helped. Probably one wasn’t available in his area.

    • Aron Wall says:

      I don’t know if the original poster is still paying attention, but speaking from the perspective of somebody who endorses traditional sexual ethics, it seems to me that the concept of “changing sexual orientation” is a complete misunderstanding of what the desireable end-goal is. It misses the key point that sex is about relationships.

      It doesn’t matter whether it’s possible to change who you find immediately attractive when you check them out on the street. From the perspective of morality, that sort of thing is meaningless at best and a sin at worst. What matters is whether you can have a meaningful romantic and (eventually) sexual relationship with a particular woman. This is something you build up over time with a particular person, and is much easier to accomplish than the elusive goal of “orientation change”.

      Needless to say, it is ethically required to be completely frank with the particular woman in question about your sexual history and difficulties (not necessarily on a first date while you’re trying to show off your virtues, but before she makes any irrevocable commitments).

      • rlms says:

        The idea that it is easier to deliberately be romantically attracted to a particular person than to be deliberately attracted on a superficial level to a broad class is contrary to my experience. Assuming you are a straight man, do you think it would be easier for you to make yourself view some men as attractive or to have a deep romantic relationship with another particular man?

        • Aron Wall says:

          rlms,
          I’d rather not make this discussion about my own sexual orientation. But I’m not sure we’re using the same definition of “romance” or “deliberate”.

          I’m not talking about flipping a switch through sheer willpower to decide that one particular person is your “type”. I’m talking about what happens when e.g. a man spends a lot of time with a woman he feels like he has a lot in common with, has romantic dinners, embraces her, kisses her, etc. (This triggers very different circuitry than sitting in your bedroom by yourself trying to change your fantasy life.) Surely you agree that after dating somebody for a few years, a lot of people will have stronger feelings about their partner than when they first saw them?

          • rlms says:

            Given that you don’t stop dating them, I guess it’s probable. But to a large extent that’s because people usually stop dating people they aren’t attracted to, which doesn’t apply if you’re dating someone of the wrong gender.

            But I’m not sure how that’s relevant. I agree that if a straight man for some reason spent a lot of time with another man, had romantic dinners/embraces/kisses with him then on average he will be more attracted to him than at the start, because he’s starting from a baseline of zero attraction and there’s some small probability of it increasing. However, I think that small probability of increase is less than the probability that he could make himself enjoy gay porn by watching enough of it.

  12. helloo says:

    Pretend you were an inventor or mechanic 10 years before Wright brothers made their first manned flight.

    Say that you somehow had very high confidence that airplanes would exist in the near future and would become widespread carrying both people and cargo.

    What would you do to reduce the number of (non-war) causalities from airplanes – without knowing ahead of time the to be mechanics/design/shape of the airplane (only what a person 10 years ago would have thought), and without simply delaying the advent/spread of the airplane.
    Particularly, try and also think of what would be tried and fail. (cars would probably be better in the possible safety ideas, but the timing of when you would be is problematic)

    Yes, I’m basically asking to play off AI risk for other inventions, but not to decry AI risk efforts but rather ask how this would work with other technologies and A) why we aren’t doing this for basically ALL future inventions to some degree B) if we can’t learn something from history to see where efforts can be made and where efforts are probably misplaced/wasteful.

    • kokotajlod@gmail.com says:

      Good question!

      It’s a bit of a weird scenario because the amount of non-war airplane casualties has been negligible and probably could have been predicted to be that way. (Unless they thought airplanes would become unregulated flying cars owned by almost everyone– in which case the right solution would be to propose the creation of the FAA, which is what happened)

      Come to think of it, maybe the best bet would be to propose the creation of the FAA regardless of how many casualties you think they’ll cause.

      I think a better analogy to the AI risk case would be: Suppose that for whatever reason you were absolutely obsessed with making sure that the *very first* heavier-than-air-flight-carrying-human-passengers involved zero casualties. How would you go about achieving your goal?

      Answer: Find the companies making airplanes, bribe them to take their time and go slow with it, do lots of pilotless test runs first, etc.

    • rlms says:

      I think a better analogy is nuclear weapons (or nuclear technology in general).

      • sfoil says:

        Nuclear power plants are safe and common, and there haven’t been any nuclear wars. Why? Maybe…

        -Nuclear energy requires massive economies of scale, because of how much material has to be processed to produce usable fissile material.
        -Assuming you just didn’t care at all about anything but building a low-yield bomb, it could be done much more cheaply than the “typical” weapon IF you could get your hands the relevant materials without having to build facilities to produce them from scratch. There is a serious “regulatory regime” in place to prevent this.
        -You don’t need to have the capability to produce nuclear explosives in order to build nuclear power plants. BUT, that’s clear only in hindsight. OTOOH, maybe it didn’t have to be. Also, the development of nuclear weapons qua weapons was massively incentivized by historically contingent factors (WW2).
        -There are taboos surrounding the use of nuclear weapons (note that some of these rub off onto nuclear power)
        -There are credible threats of violence against anyone using nuclear weapons but not nuclear power, sufficient to alter the cost-benefit calculus away from using them.
        -There are less credible but still real threats of violence against anyone “unauthorized” building nuclear weapons. These threats have been much less effective in deterring the construction of nuclear weapons than deterring their use.
        -Nuclear weapons aren’t plausibly deniable uses of force. Or at least, the plausibility of the denial isn’t anywhere near good enough to escape the credible threats of violence above.
        -Both the threats and taboos were developed at least partially through deliberately overhyping the dangers posed by early, less-effective weapons (fission bombs dropped by propeller bombers) before the really serious stuff (large salvos of uninterceptable missiles carrying multiple thermonuclear warheads) showed up.

        I don’t completely buy into AI risk, but there you have it. I do think the biggest question is #1 up there, how resource-intensive your general AI is to build and run. Also, you should avoid getting into wars because they incentivize building destructive things.

  13. Aftagley says:

    Kind of a weird realization, but in taking stock of my social life yesterday I realized that I’ve only been to maybe 3 parties in the last 2 years. For the purposes of discussion, I’m defining party as follows: at least 6 people, at someone’s house or other non-commercial space (meeting up at a bar doesn’t count) and for the sole purpose of socialization (so board game night or a club meeting also wouldn’t count).

    I find this weird because back in college, parties were my prime method of socialization and I could reasonably count on attending one every other week or so. In my job in Seattle immediately post college house parties were also pretty common. Around two years ago, however, I moved across the country to a smaller city, got an office job and it’s been almost nonexistent ever since.

    What’s weird is, my overall number of friends hasn’t shrunk… I still average around a half-dozen close friends with maybe three times that in looser associations. I still engage in enough social events to keep me well outside pariah status, but they have almost entirely shifted to event-based activities – going to the bar/mountain/game store and doing trivia/hiking/boardgaming. The specific phenomena of going to a house owned by someone I may or may not know, drinking, and meeting strangers while music loudly plays in the background has just stopped happening.

    Is this just a stage in life? Is my experience atypical, or at some point in your mid 20s do house parties just stop being a social event that people have? Assuming it’s not, how does one reintegrate into the partying system and start attending them again?

    • AG says:

      I think it can be strongly affected by location. Seattle and the Bay Area seem to lend themselves to doing more event-based things than hanging out in houses. There’s always something happening, or a place you can explore with friends.

      For me, it’s because I do talking interactions via social media, so it’s better to have something to do other than talk when I have a meatspace meeting.

      The main reason parties aren’t as much of a thing in my friends group is that we don’t seem to have people who like hosting. Hosts have to clean up their place, wrangle any food/drink logistics, have the capacity to play movies/tv/music. When it’s easier to go somewhere else to meet up, that replaces parties.

      The “meeting strangers” aspect also might play a role. Event-based meeting strangers allows for more buffers and graceful exits in case there isn’t chemistry, or just that meeting strangers is too much work when you’ve got the day job draining social energy. (Working takes more social energy interacting with co-workers than attending a class does, which is why people have more of it in school.) The event reduces that required energy, or provides external energy to drive interactions because you’re also doing something else.

    • powerfuller says:

      If you want more parties, why not host them yourself?

      • Thegnskald says:

        I will second this, if you have the capacity to do so.

        Provide basic food and drinks, and the skeleton of some entertainment, and you are set. (Don’t go overboard. People will generally bring food and drink, provided you can be relied upon to provide basics, and you don’t want to schedule the party’s entertainment down to the minute, just make sure you have some plans if things get dull.)

      • Aftagley says:

        If you want more parties, why not host them yourself?

        This was the same conclusion I reached! The first of (hopefully several) is happening June 2nd, if anyone is going to be in/around southeastern Virginia.

    • dodrian says:

      I think it’s part of the nature of college – parties are easy because people live so close together, and are also usually cash-poor so ‘hanging out in someone’s room with beer and food’ is an good social activity.

      In my late 20s I still attend parties once or twice a month – I think this is because living in a semi-rural area means there aren’t many opportunities for organized activities, and people tend to have their own large houses. A few years ago when I lived in London I would attend maybe two or three a year, and then only because a good friend of mine loved to host them. Seattle is obviously a similar place where the scope for organized activities is huge, whereas people tend to live in shared apartments/houses and would need buy-in from their housemates to throw a party.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Why don’t board game night and poker night count as socialization?

      I still socialize quite a bit, but now most of the parties tend to be associated with a holiday or birthday. The person hosting the birthday will invite their friends and friends of friends, so you’ll meet a bunch of people you wouldn’t normally know (because they are 3 or 4 degrees removed in your social circle).

      I know my wife and I host a Thanksgiving and Christmas party, in addition to parties for both of our birthdays, each one pulling in around 20 or 25 people (out of the 30-35 we invite and the 40-50 we would like to invite). Our friends host Halloween parties, 4th of July parties, Oktoberfest parties, and something else I am missing, each event generally pulling in something like 30-40 people. Then there’s the neighborhood block party, which I like because all my neighbors are rich and have good taste in beer….

  14. johan_larson says:

    I will be in the San Francisco Bay area June 17-23. Anyone interested in getting together for coffee or drinks? Let me know. You can contact me directly at johan.g.larson@gmail.com .

  15. AG says:

    I started watching Scandal, and have finished 5 seasons (out of 7) in about two weeks, during which I really needed to be doing other things, whoops.

    One of the interesting things is, besides becoming amusingly more sensitive to social performativity, that the show incentivizes viewers to dislike characters who can’t play the game. The competence porn is about being to outsmart others’ political maneuvers, so characters that choose to hurt their own popularity because of the strength of their own feelings feel like irrational idiots next to all of the Machiavels surrounding them. The exceptions have been when sticking to their convictions is the smart tactical move, due to it revealing some previously unseen charisma.

    It’s a great yarn of a show with some very silly plots, but it does make me very depressed about how corrupt the US government is.
    Also the show drags either when it gets bogged down in the romantic angst, or when it tries to be a spy show. I want to be watching eyecandy pulling mindgames and outmaneuvering each other politically, not carrying the idiot ball because they’re too busy pining, or for all plots to get subsumed in a black hole of physical extortion!
    Still, the show successfully pulled “daaaamn!”s out of me at its escalating twists on an impressively frequent basis.

    The world of the show assumes that a political dynasty Kennedy-like white guy, former California governor, was elected after Bush instead of Obama, and so explores what a very moderate Republican White House might look like in the modern day. Because the protagonist is a fixer in favor of the president, you have a lot of progressive characters and fans of the show paradoxically rooting for and even protecting the Republican executive branch, while still sparring with both Republicans and Democrats in Congress and elsewhere. The show began airing in 2012.
    The show goes in pretty hard on leftist politics starting in S4, even including a not-Trump character, but is still mostly neutral overall, with the strongly leftist parts restricting themselves to single episodes at a time. Spoilers: Abg-Gehzc trgf gnxra qbja orpnhfr ur onfvpnyyl qbrf n onfxrg bs qrcybenoyrf fcrrpu va cevingr gb gur cebgntbavfg, jub gura yrnxf vg gb abg-Sbk Arjf. Gung rcvfbqr nverq ba Znl 5, 2016. Lbh pbhyq xvaq bs srry gur jevgref’ vapernfvat qrfcnve, naq V ynhturq ng ubj gvql gur raq bs gung nep jnf. Ohg vg qbrf cbvag bhg gung ab znggre ubj zhpu Gehzc zvtug jnssyr ba cbyvpl, ur unfa’g rire znqr gung zvfgnxr, naq nf sne nf jr pna gryy, ur znxrf uvzfrys oryvrir va uvf nssrpgvba sbe uvf fhccbegre “phfgbzref,” engure guna uneobevat n frperg ybnguvat bs gurz, yvxr gur Fpnaqny punenpgre qvq, fb ur arire jvyy unir fhpu n snhk cnf.

    • Nick says:

      Writing-wise, how does it compare to the early seasons of The West Wing?

      • AG says:

        I have not watched The West Wing. But I would guess that Scandal is much much less concerned with policy details. It’s more about how fast people can rise and fall because of their human actions. Political maneuvers are more about changing a person’s public image to the public, whether by disgrace or an engineered feat to be praised. The introduction of a policy wonk character in S4 was to show how much of an exception she was in her priorities.
        It’s also not all politicians. The protagonist helps with CEOs, as well. And as the title of the show indicates, it’s mostly about covering up scandals.

        There were a few scenarios where characters are battling for votes over something, but the exact thing matters less than the mud they sling to influence the congresspeople to vote their way.

        • quaelegit says:

          You should really watch The West Wing! I haven’t seen Scandal at all, but anyone who likes political dramas and is not entirely allergic to left-leaning politics should watch The West Wing! (And when I say “left leaning” I mean by early 2000s standards.)

          (Side note: Josh Malina is in both, though he’s not in West Wing until the 3rd or fourth season I think…)

          From your description, it sounds like West Wing is much more earnest (perhaps even anti-cynical). There’s definitely social jockeying, influence public and insider opinion with clever maneuvers, and backroom deals — but the heart of the show is a team of competent, idealistic people trying to pick the best policies and make the best decisions for the country.

          Edit: Also I’m guessing Nick is asking about the writing style of the show. Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing, has a distinctive writing style, very snappy but information-dense. I would be surprised if Scandal is similar, but hopefully someone who has seen both shows can comment and compare the two!

          • AG says:

            Scandal’s writing has been called Sorkin-esque. These are very quick-talking people.
            But Scandal also loves them some big monologues, too, with key lines repeated multiple times for dramatic effect. Don’t know if that’s a Sorkin thing as much, but it is apparently a Shondaland thing. (Scandal is the only Shondaland show I’ve seen.)

            Scandal is primarily character-focused. Broader themes are mostly about how power corrupts, the lengths people go to get power, and how power defines a person and their relationships. (For example, how the president must be held to a higher standard than anyone else, and so should not be excused for the same feelings as a civilian would.)

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I don’t think you have to be particularly allergic to left-think to not like Sorkin. Both West Wing and Newsroom piss me off at points, and I live in a Blue Tribe Bubble and went through the last decade of social media bologna. It’s honestly shocking to me that Sorkin’s work in 1999 is somehow more smug than 2018 left-twitter.

            However, the writing is truly incredible, enough to make the Kool-Aid a bit more palpable. I’ll be honest that I couldn’t stomach the West Wing for more than 2.5 seasons, but I own the whole box set for Newsroom.

          • Nick says:

            Sorkin’s smug-leftism thing drove me up the wall too, but I still couldn’t stop watching the show until season five, which is when he stopped writing for it.

  16. Sui Generalist says:

    Open call for book recommendations. I’m finishing my finals in three weeks and I want to have some good stuff lined up.

    I will read pretty much anything as long as it’s one of the best things you’ve ever read. But if you’d like a hint I’m particularly looking for recommendations in the following areas:

    Political sociology
    Linguistics
    Social history of pretty much any kind
    Histories of:
    Cortes, Pizarro and the Conquistadors
    The Raj
    Decolonisation
    The Mexican Revolution / 19th century Latin American political economy
    The second industrial revolution

    Which are the best classic fantasy and scifi novels and short stories and which are skippable?

    • dndnrsn says:

      War by Gwynne Dyer. It’s a social history, of war. There’s a few places where he makes some bad claims based on bad science (eg, SLA Marshall’s research seems to have a lot of problems; nuclear winter might not be a thing) but overall it’s a very good book.

    • SamChevre says:

      Social history/political sociology:
      Lincoln Steffens, The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens
      An incredibly interesting book about New York and America from when Theodore Roosevelt became police commissioner and tried to stamp out police corruption until the 1920’s.

      H. L. Mencken, Newspaper Days; “Inventing the News” is one of the best stories about news I’ve read.

      The Raj:
      Kipling: it’s hard to say where to start, but Plain Tales from the Hills and Kim will do.

      Best books I’ve ever read, general:
      Willa Cather, The Bohemian Girl
      About choices, and the settlement of the West, and immigrants, and…Very hard to categorize, but quick to read and incredibly memorable.

    • Chlopodo says:

      If you go for Cortes, Pizarro and the Conquistadors, I would rather suggest not reading Matthew Restall’s most recent book “When Montezuma Met Cortez”. It’s a bit meandering, frustrating, vague, and noncommittal, and has a bit of a chip on its shoulder.

      Not sure what kind of Linguistics is your thing, but if you’re interested in descriptive, structural linguistics, then Describing Morphosyntax by Thomas Payne and The Art of Grammar by Alexandra Aikhenvald are good places to start. They’re both written as guides for bushwhacking field linguists, but also serve as decent introductions on how languages work in general.

      One of my favorite books about language (though I’d hesitate to call it a “linguistics” book per se) is Lost Languages by Andrew Robinson. It’s about deciphering lost writing systems: it opens with three chapters giving detailed histories on how Ancient Egyptian, Linear B, and Classical Mayan were deciphered, followed by several chapters on various as-yet undeciphered writing systems like Linear A, Epi-Olmec, Proto-Elamite, and Harappan.

      Another book that I really like, though it might not really be up your alley, is American Indian Languages: Cultural and Social Contexts by Shirley Silver and Wick Miller. It’s a general survey of all things related to North American indigenous languages: numeral systems, directional systems, speech registers, storytelling, poetry, sign language… basically every aspect you can think of, highlighting various outstanding features of this-or-that language (for example, did you know the Nuu-chah-nulth language has a special verbal suffix used when speaking of or to cross-eyed people?).

    • albatross11 says:

      Thomas Sowell’s Knowledge and Decisions is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I highly recommend it.

  17. littskad says:

    Quiz time! Each of the lists below consists of ten words. Your task is to remove one letter from each of the words, and anagram the remaining letters to form ten members from some category. For example, if a list had the words “dear”, “ruble”, and “energy”, you could get “red”, “blue”, and “green”. As a hint, the categories are given at the end, rot-13’ed, but it’s more fun to try to figure them out on your own.

    A:
    1. burn
    2. lilek
    3. iller
    4. decker
    5. unrobe
    6. markets
    7. obscure
    8. brochan
    9. feathers
    10. treasury

    B:
    1. farm
    2. bloc
    3. omit
    4. bravo
    5. gaits
    6. wrath
    7. downer
    8. debark
    9. boredom
    10. tonsillar

    C:
    1. yorick
    2. arches
    3. dashing
    4. thermal
    5. tanktop
    6. coaching
    7. optional
    8. citation
    9. carroming
    10. overfunding

    D:
    1. drone
    2. lutist
    3. suicide
    4. enslave
    5. arachnid
    6. brutifies
    7. acidulous
    8. mediation
    9. malediction
    10. containments

    E:
    1. agism
    2. umbrae
    3. hazier
    4. cyclone
    5. rapiers
    6. uprisals
    7. shamoyed
    8. shadowier
    9. analysands
    10. popular vote

    F:
    1. elites
    2. sabers
    3. newpert
    4. ordeals
    5. bizoner
    6. lobulin
    7. magmalab
    8. resulting
    9. reticulem
    10. essentials

    G:
    1. impend
    2. grebes
    3. welted
    4. artery
    5. pabular
    6. lignums
    7. homaging
    8. unfallen
    9. milkstone
    10. brigandage

    H:
    1. wain
    2. uhohs
    3. unbag
    4. epoch
    5. toydog
    6. dudbay
    7. goblin
    8. fatify
    9. becloud
    10. tetawny

    N: Flabalzf bs Evire
    O: Jbeqf sbe Znyr Navznyf
    P: Orfg Cvpgher Bfpne Jvaaref
    Q: Ebzna Rzcrebef
    R: Bofbyrgr Pbhagel Anzrf
    S: Zrgny Nyyblf
    T: Snoevpf
    U: Svyy va gur Oynax-Oynax

    • littskad says:

      Solutions, rot13’ed:

      N: Flabalzf bs Evire
      1. eha
      2. xvyy
      3. evyy
      4. perrx
      5. obhea
      6. fgernz
      7. pbhefr
      8. oenapu
      9. serfurg
      10. rfghnel

      O: Jbeqf sbe Znyr Navznyf
      1. enz
      2. pbo
      3. gbz
      4. obne
      5. fgnt
      6. uneg
      7. qebar
      8. qenxr
      9. obbzre
      10. fgnyyvba

      P: Orfg Cvpgher Bfpne Jvaaref
      1. Ebpxl
      2. Penfu
      3. Tnaquv
      4. Unzyrg
      5. Cnggba
      6. Puvpntb
      7. Cyngbba
      8. Gvgnavp
      9. Pvzneeba
      10. Hasbetvira

      Q: Ebzna Rzcrebef
      1. Areb
      2. Gvghf
      3. Qrpvhf
      4. Inyraf
      5. Unqevna
      6. Gvorevhf
      7. Pynhqvhf
      8. Qbzvgvna
      9. Qvbpyrgvna
      10. Pbafgnagvar

      R: Bofbyrgr Pbhagel Anzrf
      1. Fvnz
      2. Ohezn
      3. Mnver
      4. Prlyba
      5. Crefvn
      6. Cehffvn
      7. Qnubzrl
      8. Eubqrfvn
      9. Alnfnynaq
      10. Hccre Ibygn

      S: Zrgny Nyyblf
      1. fgrry
      2. oenff
      3. crjgre
      4. fbyqre
      5. oebamr
      6. ovyyba
      7. nznytnz
      8. fgreyvat
      9. ryrpgehz
      10. fgnvayrff

      T: Snoevpf
      1. qravz
      2. fretr
      3. gjrrq
      4. greel
      5. oheync
      6. zhfyva
      7. tvatunz
      8. synaary
      9. zbyrfxva
      10. tnoneqvar

      U: Svyy va gur Oynax-Oynax
      1. jva
      2. uhfu
      3. onat
      4. pubc
      5. tbbql
      6. ohqql
      7. oyvat
      8. svsgl
      9. qbhoyr
      10. gjragl

    • b_jonas says:

      Trying to solve with the help of a computer and digital dictionary, just like the last time.

      S. zrgnyvp nyyblf. 1. fgrry, 2. oenff, 3. crjgre, 4. fbyqre, 5. oebamr, 7. nznytnz, 9. ryrpgehz, 10. fgnvayrff.

      T. glcrf bs snoevp. 1. qravz, 3. gjrrq, 5. oheync, 6. zhfyva, 7. tvatunz, 8. synaary, 9. zbyrfxva, 10. tnoneqvar. Dictionary was indispensible here, because I don’t think I’d heard of the words 7 and 10 before, and without that.

      • littskad says:

        I’m glad that you like these. As for those two words you hadn’t heard before, here are a couple of reasonably well-known things that make references to them:
        Word 7 appears in a well-known children’s poem, The Duel, by Eugene Field.
        Word 10 appears in the song America, by Simon and Garfunkel.

    • fion says:

      Just wanted to say: I enjoy these. They take me a long time to work out, so I won’t be posting my attempts or anything like that, but despite my silence I’m enjoying the puzzles.

      So far I’ve got the first two. 🙂

  18. Mark V Anderson says:

    Seven years ago, I wrote an essay on 11 myths of politics. It is from a basically libertarian point of view. I plan to put each myth on an SSC thread, to see what commenters think. Most of these aren’t new ideas, but they are worth discussion.

    Myth # 1: That politicians and government act on behalf of the public more than businesses do. In order to survive, businesses must make a profit. In order to do this, they must create a service or product that customers will buy, at a higher price than the total of all their costs. They must also have sufficiently good relationships with employees and vendors so that their output has high enough quality and low enough cost that it is below their revenues. The business must organize the firm so they have the financial prowess to ensure that they will make money, legal knowledge sufficient to keep the government from shutting them down, and planning capability to stay ahead of changes in the business environment.

    For politicians to survive, they must be elected and then re-elected. To do this they must maintain a good image with the general public, and thus keep good relationships with the media, campaign donors, and image shapers within their jurisdiction.

    There is no reason to think that those who are successful at being elected act more in the public interest than those who are successful at selling products and services. To be elected, the politician must convince the majority of his constituents that he agrees on most of the issues and that the politician will be successful at implementing these policies. Since most issues aren’t just two sided but have a range of possible answers (for example, how progressive should the tax system be?), it is unlikely that anyone can possibly be in agreement with the majority of his constituents. A successful politician will thus hedge his opinions to make it appear that he agrees with most of the voters, regardless of his true opinions. If the politician is too idealistic to spin his opinions in that manner, there will likely be an opponent who will do this spinning, and thus the opponent will win the election.

    It is true that there are many idealists out to fix the world that run for office to improve the world, and not for their own personal fulfillment (or not just for their own fulfillment, at least). But if they maintain their idealism strictly and transparently, many voters will disagree and vote against them. Only those politicians that hedge their opinions to appeal to the majority will be successfully elected. Our elected officials are not those people who are strong idealists out to change the world; they are pragmatists who say what they need to in order to be elected.

    Not that the public would be well served if governed by idealists. Hitler had many ideals, and was successful in bringing many of them to fruition. Most idealists aren’t as evil as Hitler, but their ideals don’t necessarily match up with the public’s wishes. In practice, we get pragmatists in office who tell the voters what they want to hear. But it is very hard to tell what these politicians really believe, so we sometimes get officials whose actions don’t match the public’s ideals. If the differences are great, then the official will eventually be voted out, but that doesn’t happen too often, since the public is pretty ignorant of opaque government functions.

    On the other hand, businesses provide products and services that consumers want. If they weren’t wanted, consumers wouldn’t buy them and the businesses would fail. It is true that businesses can fool consumers as to the quality of the products / services provided, at least for a while. But politicians have a much easier time of fooling voters than businesses have of fooling consumers, because the consumers use the products /services directly.

    • SamChevre says:

      Is it in a later point, or is this the place to discuss the critique below?

      Governments are not primarily run by politicians: they are run by bureaucrats, while the politicians provide a sideshow and occasional direction. Bureaucrats have different incentives than politicians: their goal is that nothing that can be blamed on them personally happen on their watch.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I would like to hear any and all discussions. And as a matter of fact, I do not discuss bureaucrats in any of my Myths. It probably would have made a better argument to include bureaucrats in this Myth, although it would have made the discussion a lot longer.

        I do think that government bureaucrats are pretty equivalent to large company bureaucrats, in that both of them don’t have a direct monetary interest in the results, but both have at least some accountability to the politicians or business owners, respectively. So in that sense government and business incentives are a wash. Of course there are a lot more tiny businesses with essentially no bureaucracy, which doesn’t have a close correspondence with government, so that is a difference.

    • beleester says:

      Two immediate criticisms spring to mind:

      In order to survive, businesses must make a profit. In order to do this, they must create a service or product that customers will buy, at a higher price than the total of all their costs.

      Not true for any case where costs are borne by someone else (externalities). Environmental damage is the classic example. Also, for some classes of product, like gambling, this is true only on a technicality. Technically, a guy who runs a casino is providing a service – he takes his customers’ money and in return gives them the hope that they might get it back – but he’s not actually adding anything to the economy.

      The only thing a business needs to do is convince customers to give them money. They usually do this by providing a useful service, but the exceptions are pretty significant.

      Since most issues aren’t just two sided but have a range of possible answers (for example, how progressive should the tax system be?), it is unlikely that anyone can possibly be in agreement with the majority of his constituents. A successful politician will thus hedge his opinions to make it appear that he agrees with most of the voters, regardless of his true opinions.

      I think this is too strong a requirement – a politician doesn’t have to match someone’s position exactly to be in agreement with them. To borrow your example of the tax rate, suppose the tax rate is currently 10%, I think it should be 20%, and my party’s candidate is calling for an increase to 15%. Technically, we’re not in agreement, but for practical purposes, we are – we both want higher taxes, and Mr. 15% is going to get me closer to my target than his opponent, Mr. 5%.

      As a result, politicians generally place themselves in the middle of their constituents. You can see this every election season, as they try to place themselves on the extremes for the primary, then start walking back to get broader appeal in the general election.

      (This also addresses your comment about pragmatists vs idealists – Mr. 15% is probably a pragmatist, since he’s picked a more electable position than Mr. 20%, but that doesn’t mean he’s completely at odds with the ideal.)

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        It might be relevant that governments can also ignore externalities– they do quite a bit of polluting and other environmental damage.

        I’m not sure what you mean by contributing to the economy– would non-gambling entertainment count as contributing?

        • beleester says:

          It’s hard to give a concrete definition, but I think there’s a difference between providing a non-tangible service, and offering a trade that people think is positive-sum but actually isn’t. Especially if your argument is that people are making a rational decision when they pay a business for something.

          Nobody goes to a concert expecting to make a profit, but people do buy lottery tickets with the expectation that they’ll win something.

          • My interpretation of people buying lottery tickets is that they are paying for daydreams. If you are poor, it’s pleasant to imagine that you might inherit a million dollars. You don’t have a rich uncle to make the fantasy more believable, so you buy a lottery ticket instead.

        • IrishDude says:

          It might be relevant that governments can also ignore externalities– they do quite a bit of polluting and other environmental damage.

          Here’s a nice article on “The Ultimate Externality“, the state.

          As Bastiat said, “The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.”

      • Education Hero says:

        Technically, a guy who runs a casino is providing a service – he takes his customers’ money and in return gives them the hope that they might get it back – but he’s not actually adding anything to the economy.

        Casinos provide entertainment.

        • beleester says:

          Technically true, but I’m very skeptical of the claim that everyone who goes to a casino is doing so because they’ve rationally decided that they want the hope that they’ll make money more than they want to have actual money. Some people are just bad at math.

          My broader point is that when Mark says businesses must be acting on behalf of the public if customers are willing to give them money, this is only true if you’re willing to consider literally anything a business provides, including empty promises, as a public service.

          • hls2003 says:

            I agree that casinos provide entertainment, but they are also the inverse of insurance companies. Insurance companies accept risk from risk-averse people in exchange for a profit percentage. Casinos provide risk to risk-preferring people in exchange for a profit percentage.

          • Education Hero says:

            Technically true, but I’m very skeptical of the claim that everyone who goes to a casino is doing so because they’ve rationally decided that they want the hope that they’ll make money more than they want to have actual money. Some people are just bad at math.

            As someone who paid the bills in college through poker, I spent a good amount of time in casinos when not playing online. I would make the anecdotal observation that, aside from the minority of professionals and problem gamblers, most casino customers do not expect to make money on games of chance despite a lack of math skills.

            Games of skill such as poker are a different story with most players believing that they are better than average, although in that case the casino merely provides the facilities for players to gamble with each other in return for a cut of the action.

            My broader point is that when Mark says businesses must be acting on behalf of the public if customers are willing to give them money, this is only true if you’re willing to consider literally anything a business provides, including empty promises, as a public service.

            Would you apply the same claim to nightclubs or dating apps, considering that the majority of their customers do not achieve sexual success on any given evening?

      • J Mann says:

        Technically, a guy who runs a casino is providing a service – he takes his customers’ money and in return gives them the hope that they might get it back – but he’s not actually adding anything to the economy.

        I think you’re right that there are edge cases where businesses do net social harm,* but it’s not necessary for the OP’s point that all businesses be social goods, only that they be about in line with politicians. In the same way that you point out that all businesses need do is convince someone to buy their product, all politicians need do is convince someone to vote for them. His thesis sentence, IMHO, is

        There is no reason to think that those who are successful at being elected act more in the public interest than those who are successful at selling products and services.

        Is there reason to believe that voters, who don’t have any money directly on the line, are better informed and more rational than consumers, who are spending their own money? My recollection is studies show differently – voters know, implicitly or explicitly, that one vote doesn’t make much difference, so they tend to be less educated and more likely to vote as a matter of expression when they don’t have direct money on the line.

        * Note: I don’t agree that casinos are necessarily or even likely a social loss. In addition to the fact that people enjoy going there, the alternative is underground gambling, with consequent risk of encouraging criminal behavior, blackmail, etc. Just as drug legalization might be a social benefit over the alternative, casinos might as well.

        (Casinos also profit from a government-sponsored oligopoly and IIRC are subject to substantial special taxation, which makes it hard to separate out the costs of a free market versus the costs of regulation).

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        In my opinion, the definition of a social good is the same as what the people want. Therefore, if people gamble, it is a social good. IF you or I think it is a bad thing for those who gamble (and I do think gambling is quite often a harm to many folks), that is irrelevant to whether it is a social good. Perhaps even many of the gamblers themselves say they want to stop, but their behavior speaks for their desires more than their statements.

        Yes, externalities such as pollution as a socially bad, but I don’t know that bad externalities of business as a whole are greater than good externalities. And the same question exists for governments. A whole ‘nother subject there.

    • Wrong Species says:

      If your pessimism about democratic governments was right, then they wouldn’t be any better than oligarchies and dictatorships. But if you actually look at the evidence, they are. Read The Dictators Handbook. It’s really easy to make up a story that supports your bias. Unless you look at some kind of evidence, you don’t have any idea either way whether it’s right.

      • J Mann says:

        Unless I misunderstood, Marc is not arguing that democratic politicians are equivalent to dictators from a social good perspective, only that they’re not better than businesses. Unless we agree that businesses <= dictators, I don't think your conclusion follows.

        • Wrong Species says:

          His point is that politicians don’t do any good because instead of helping their constituents they just pretend they will. But if politicians weren’t responsive to their constituents, their policies would be similar to non-democratic governments.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            But if politicians weren’t responsive to their constituents, their policies would be similar to non-democratic governments.

            I don’t think I am pessimistic about democratic governments — just realistic. Even if politicians wanted to be responsive to their constituents, it would be impossible, because constituents want contradictory things.

            I follow the quote attributed to Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

            JMann has my perspective right.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I don’t think you understand what your view entails. If democracies aren’t responsive to their constituents, then what makes them act differently from an oligarchy?

            Even if your view didn’t entail that, your original claim about democracies being non-responsive is completely unsupported by an empirical evidence. Do you have any or do you believe it because it’s convenient for your other beliefs?

          • I think a more accurate model of democracy is that it has a coarse control and a fine control. The coarse control is majority voting driven by free information–what everybody knows, true or false. The fine control is special interest lobbying.

            From that standpoint, the big advantage of business over government is that the individual consumer knows that his decision of what to buy determines what he gets, so has an incentive to be informed about the alternatives–which grocery store is least expensive, how quality of fruit at different stores varies, and the like. The individual voter has no incentive to be informed, since he knows that, except in a very small polity, his vote has almost no effect on the outcome, hence on what he gets.

            The special interest lobbyists, in contrast, have an incentive to be well informed about what laws benefit their interest group. The problem is that they have no incentive to care about costs or benefits outside their interest group, and most of the things they lobby for, naturally enough, are things that benefit their interest group at the cost of others.

            A different way of putting it is that market failure occurs because an actor is not bearing the net costs of his action–is providing costs or benefits to others that are substantial relative to the costs or benefits to him–and so may find it in his interest to do things which produce net costs or fail to do things that produce net benefits. That situation occasionally exists on the private market, as in cases such as air pollution. It is the normal case on the political market, where almost no actor bears a significant fraction of the costs due to his action.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I don’t think you understand what your view entails. If democracies aren’t responsive to their constituents, then what makes them act differently from an oligarchy?

            I went back to my original post to try to figure out why you say that I say that democracies aren’t responsive to constituents, but I can’t find it. I said a candidate will hedge his opinions to make it sound more like his constituents. I said that successful candidates are successful at appearing to be most like their constituents. Of course there is some deception there, since in many cases constituents’ opinions are disparate enough that no one could convince a majority of voters that he agrees with them without deception. The whole point of this part of my post is that candidates are responsive to constituents, even when it is contradictory to the candidates’ own views.

          • What’s the point of criticising democracy if you haven’t got anything better to replace it with?

          • What’s the point of criticising democracy if you haven’t got anything better to replace it with?

            Good question.

            There are two different senses in which democracy can be replaced. One is replacing it with another form of government–monarchy, say. The other is replacing control of some activity by democratic government with non-governmental control.

            If democracy works very badly but all other forms of government are worse, that’s an argument against a different form of government but an argument for doing as little as possible via government—private farms and grocery stores instead of governmental production and distribution of food, private schooling instead of governmental schooling, … .

            To put the point a little differently, the system superior to democracy is competitive dictatorship–the way hotels, restaurants, farms, and grocery stores are currently run. I get no vote on what is on the menu, an absolute vote on whether I go to that restaurant.

          • Competitive monopolies needs exit. Exit needs entry, alternative choice. Entry needs absence of monopoly. Nobody has a mechanism for breaking up monopolies other than government.

          • IrishDude says:

            Nobody has a mechanism for breaking up monopolies other than government.

            Uber broke up the taxi monopoly, which was granted by government, by offering consumers a better experience. Offer better quality and/or lower costs than your competitor and your competitor will lose market share, even if they have a high (monopoly) market share.

          • Not an actual monopoly.

          • IrishDude says:

            Not an actual monopoly.

            How do you define monopoly? Which companies do you think meet or have met that condition?

    • ilikekittycat says:

      I don’t think people are advocating this or other “big government is good because government is good and more is more good automatically!” myths nearly as much as libertarians imagine

      • J Mann says:

        I do think that there’s often an unspoken premise that businesses mean ill for their customers, because they want profit, but putting a legislature or regulator in charge is good, because they’re motivated by the public good.

        A lot of the net neutrality debate is basically restating that premise, particularly since the issue at its constituted now is basically whether we’re better off with (a) no net neutrality regulation or (b) the FCC regulating internet service providers as utilities, so the real question is “do you want to put ISPs in charge of what products they offer or do you want to put the FCC in charge?”

        • ilikekittycat says:

          With net neutrality (and other recent regulations) I don’t think anyone has faith the “government” will generally and in good faith uphold a particular regulatory regime in the public interest. Even as they were being made many people pointed out they would just be reversed under Republicans. I think many more people expect things to gradually get more whiplash-y in the future as politicians from the opposition party tear up suites of executive orders, etc. in the first 100 days of being elected. Even big celebrated victories like gay marriage seem fragile if Trump or the next guy finds himself in circumstances that allow packing the Supreme Court

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I don’t think the belief is quite that crude.

        It’s more that in almost any specific situation (there are some exceptions for sex and drugs), the belief is that the attempted solution which gives the government more power gets preferred.

        The idea that the government should do less to hurt people just doesn’t get thought of… and this is something I’ve checked on, very politely. The idea comes as a surprise.

        • DavidS says:

          I think it’s mostly just ‘someone must do something’ and government is the obvious ‘someone’.

          • J Mann says:

            That begs the question of whether the something will make the situation better or worse, I think.

          • DavidS says:

            Yeah, but most people don’t ask that. They work closer to the Yes Minister model of

            ‘Something must be done’
            ‘This is something’
            ‘Therefore I must do it’

            If you think you’ve identified a problem/injustice and someone says there’s no effective/proportionate way to deal with it, this is definitely a sign that they don’t agree it’s a problem/injustice and shouldn’t be listened to.

            This isn’t even entirely irrational. Plenty of things get dismissed as impractical because people don’t want to do them. If you’re not close to the details, just creating lots of pressure to sort the problem may be more effective than trying to understand the reasons given for inaction. It’s still annoying though.

          • @DavidS:

            One of the things that could be done is for the government to stop doing something that makes the problem worse. Minimum wage law in the case of high unemployment levels among low skill workers. Restrictions on construction in the case of high housing projects. Farm programs that make food more expensive for the issue of poverty. Public school monopoly in …

          • DavidS says:

            I think the general answer there would be ‘that’s no excuse not to do those good things, the government needs to do something else to stop the other bad thing you mentioned’.

            Again, if your starting assumption is that the government has to be dragged kicking and screaming to deal with problems and is in hoc to business and the super-rich, this is a fairly rational strategy. Very little political discussion talks about things being actually difficult or having unintended consequences.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I don’t think people are advocating this or other “big government is good because government is good and more is more good automatically!” myths nearly as much as libertarians imagine

        This is pretty darn close to the campaigns I hear. In my very Blue city, the candidates try to out-compete each other saying how they are going to stop the abuses by business of consumers and workers, and decrying that these abuses haven’t been curtailed already. It is strongly believed that businesses must be heavily regulated because business has no incentive to do the right thing for the people.

        Whereas the politicians are obviously idealistic folks trying to improve the public good – otherwise why would they sacrifice themselves running for public office, when they could make a lot more money in another job (it is an article of faith than any politician could make a much higher salary working for a private company). Unless of course the politician is secretly being paid by businessmen trying to destroy the public good — otherwise why would any politician be against those things that are obviously good for people, such as minimum wage, building affordable housing, creating more programs to end racism, etc. Seriously, does this any of this sound false to you?

        And what Nancy said.

    • There is no reason to think that those who are successful at being elected act more in the public interest

      Whereas businesses do?

      , businesses must make a profit. In order to do this, they must create a service or product that customers will buy, at a higher price than the total of all their costs.

      Nothing about public interest there. People could buy products because they are objectively beneficial…or because they have been bamboozled by advertising. People who vote for politicians could like their haircut, or they could be evaulating them objectively.

      If you could demonstrate that there were more of the one than the other, you would have a case, but to demonstrate that you would need quantities and empirical evidence, neither of which you have.

      • IrishDude says:

        Systems where people making decisions tend to gain most of the benefits and bear most of the cost will lead to better outcomes for the public than systems where people making decisions tend to bear little of the cost or gain little of the benefit. Markets are the first system, politics is the second system.

        People have better incentives to research what products and services they buy than which politician they vote for, and business owners have better incentives to benefit consumers than politicians do to benefit voters. See Myth of the Rational Voter for details on the incentives for voters to be informed. See Public Choice economics for details on incentives facing politicians to serve the public.

  19. Randy M says:

    Question for the readers here: How would you feel about a “novel” written with each chapter being set about 25 years apart? Would it feel like a gimmick, or something that could be neutral or positive if the overarching narrative and individual events were interesting? Without, probably, any cheats about immortality or hibernation or so; new characters would cycle through, with their own arcs and, ideally, thematic and causal links between those arcs creating a larger narrative.

    I have a fondness for stories that are epic in timescale, where you can see the impact of peoples choices on later generations. Probably related to why I like civilization. Anyway, this skipping stone story structure seems like one that could evoke this wistful feeling when done well, and I might intend to give it a shot. (That’s a great deal of indecision there, huh?)

    • Nornagest says:

      James A. Michener made a career of this.

      • Alejandro says:

        Edward Rutherfurd did too. There is also Steven Saylor’s Roma, a novel tracking 1000 years of Roman history.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        This was my first thought. I read a ton of his books in high school, and in many the guy starts with the rocks. There aren’t even any humans for the first 50 pages sometimes. Centennial was my favorite.

        • schazjmd says:

          I liked “Hawaii” the best. He made the geology of how the islands were formed fascinating. I thought most of his other books were uninteresting. (My very favorite Michener is “The Drifters”, but it breaks his mold, taking place over just a few years.)

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I also recommend Michener’s autobiography, The World Is My Home— along with much else, he explains how he invented the big historical bestseller.

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      Sounds like Cloud Atlas, although I guess that was non-linear. I’m tempted to say that non-linear is the way to do it, so that you can splice themes together and jump around as needed, but that’s just me.

      You could also do it as hyperlinked html/Twine/CYOA so that the reader can read it in any order they want.

      • K.M. says:

        “jump around as needed,”

        Cloud Atlas may have been non-linear, but it did have a pretty rigid nested structure rather than jumping around (which really paid off for reinforcing “thematic and causal links between those arcs creating a larger narrative” like Randy wants, so it’s a great example).

        Oh, and if I remember correctly Slade House did timeskips of approximately 10 years per chapter while remaining chronologically linear.

      • pansnarrans says:

        There’s also a really weird book by Alan Garner called Red Shift that features three characters who seem to be linked, all living around the same part of England, but one during Roman times, one during the Civil War, and one on a modern trailer park. Not a million miles from Cloud Atlas, thematically.

        It’s a while since I read it – I think it’s meant for teenagers but is strangely meandering and wistful compared to what you’d normally associate with books for under-18s. It’s interesting, at least.

    • Perico says:

      I liked Asimov’s Foundation, so there’s precedent that this could work.

      • Randy M says:

        Yup, that came to mind. There is some continuity of character, and the individual novels mostly work on their own, but I think it would have been no less interesting if there were more shorter and stories comprising the work.

        • quaelegit says:

          Also Asimov and even shorter: “The Last Question” (you can find it on google if you haven’t read it) has no continuity of character between sections — no section is really fleshed out, just enough of a sketch to show “this is hundreds of years in the future, now this is millions of years in the future.”

          (It’s also one of my favorite short stories so I’d recommend looking it up regardless, if you haven’t read it!)

    • beleester says:

      Charles Stross’s Accelerando did this for the Singularity. One character who lives Twenty Minutes into the Future, with some plausible future weirdness as technology starts to move faster than the law can. Then we jumped a bit farther forwards to his kids, mostly normal except for the part where they’re colonizing Jupiter with self-replicating machines. Then we jump a bit farther forwards to the grown-up kids, now gone fully transhuman while Earth has been consumed by weird AI agents. Then we meet their kids, who are even weirder. It worked pretty well, IMO – it gives you a snapshot of life in each timeframe without getting bogged down too much in how we got there.

      (Especially important for future history, which is always going to have a bit of handwaving as to how we got there.)

    • dodrian says:

      It’s definitely an interesting concept, and one I would want to read. I think the execution would rely on finding something for the reader to care through the whole book, and it risks having too much going on if the reader has to figure out new characters every chapter (I’d certainly struggle with that at least).

      Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz was a few (three? four?) novelas set hundreds of years apart, and is very well done. It worked (or so I remember) by tying everything into the story of the monastery. Stephen Baxter’s Flood and sequel Ark spanned a couple generations, though there were a few characters that were children at the beginning who survived the entire story to link it together.

      • Randy M says:

        Right, I think it would have to have a strong sense that the setting is a character.

    • quaelegit says:

      I think as other people’s examples have shown, this can definitely be a positive element to a book. You just have to make sure the segments tie together satisfyingly.

      I think both Foundation and Canticle for Leibowitz use “the arc of civilization”, and the themes of preserving/rebuilding civilization to tie together sections that are centuries apart.

      Another technique I feel like I’ve seen a lot is to show different generations of the same family. (I think Roots if the famous example but have read/watched in myself — in school we read The Glory Field which I think is similar.)

      I feel like another “tying theme/device” I’ve seen is one item and telling stories of people interacting with it at different times. (I haven’t seen it but The Red Violin might be an example?) I feel like I’ve seen this in books, especially with magic items, but I haven’t recalled any specific examples.

    • Atlas says:

      That definitely sounds like a positive to me, personally, at least. Out of curiosity, were you thinking about a work of speculative fiction? (For some reason I assumed that you were, but when I reread your comment I realized that you didn’t state so.)

      • Randy M says:

        Possibly you correctly put it together with the thread I made in the last open asking about spaceship travel times and colonization.
        On the other hand, I think it would work as well or better as a historical novel, but that would require a deep knowledge of the geography and history of an area to do justice.

    • fion says:

      Have you read Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles? It sounds a little bit like what you’re talking about, although I think the gaps were mostly less than 25 years apart. I wasn’t a fan of it particularly, but I did find it an interesting and novel (to me) way of writing.

    • xXxanonxXx says:

      Nobody else mentioned it, so I guess I will. Just saying the title in this context constitutes a spoiler though.

      Nobhg gjb guveqf bs gur jnl guebhtu Frirarirf gur cybg fxvcf sbejneq svir gubhfnaq lrnef. Gurer’f nofbyhgryl ab cevbe vaqvpngvba guvf jnf tbvat gb unccra. Gur frghc jnf gung gur zbba unq orra fcyvg va cvrprf ol sbepr(f) haxabja naq gur fhofrdhrag zrgrbe fgbez jnf nobhg gb eraqre gur fhesnpr bs rnegu havaunovgnoyr sbe jung (lbh nffhzr) vf whfg ybat rabhtu n crevbq bs gvzr gb znxr guvf n fhvgnoyl ncbpnylcgvp fgbel. Gur cebgntbavfgf ner cneg bs gur fcnpr cebtenz gung riraghnyyl trgf gb gur veba pber bs gur zbba, juvpu erznvaf va n fgnoyr beovg, naq fgneg gb erohvyq fbpvrgl. Ohg vafgrnq bs raqvat gurer n jubyr arj fgbel fgnegf trarengvbaf naq trarengvbaf yngre. V sbhaq vg fbzrjung naablvat naq fbzrjung vagrerfgvat ng gur fnzr gvzr. Gur bevtvany punenpgref unir orpbzr svtherf va n fbeg bs pvivp eryvtvba gung rkvfgf svir gubhfnaq lrnef va gur shgher, fb gur rkcrevrapr vf fbzrguvat yvxr ernqvat n abiry yratgu gerngzrag bs gur obbx bs Rkbqhf naq gura n abiryyn frg va gur 21fg praghel jvgu bhe urebrf serdhragyl ersrerapvat Nneba naq Zbfrf.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        “No prior indication”? Aside from the title, it’s in the jacket copy. Maybe the author didn’t want that jacket copy (but isn’t he powerful enough to control it?), but at some point you have to concede that the cat is out of the bag.

        My memory is that the plates are out of order and thus reveal the spoiler, but maybe I just look at plates. Google books only has the e-book, which puts them in the right place, but it also has a table of contents, which has the spoiler.

        • xXxanonxXx says:

          The title references the inciting incident and even as I was piecing together its other meaning there wasn’t any accompanying realization that this meant the story would continue after that reference was realized in the narrative. I concede the jacket and table of contents. I never read those and didn’t know until you told me.

          I enjoyed both parts, but I still think it would have worked far better as two independent novels.

      • Randy M says:

        Thanks for the recommendation; I haven’t read that, though I should and it sounds interesting. It’s pretty similar in structure to the Homecoming series by OSC taken as a whole; four books following a small group over some years, then a large time skip to the much later generations.

  20. johan_larson says:

    I had a chance to watch Deadpool 2 a couple of days ago, and found it a strange experience. On the one hand, this film is clearly made in the mold of the first one. It has the same main characters, the same fourth-wall-breaking irreverence, and the same hard-R violence. But on the other, somehow my reaction was completely different; I really loved the first one, but this second one is just meh. You’d think the clearly bigger budget would have made things better, but maybe it didn’t.

    Did anyone else have a similar experience?

    EDIT: Maybe it’s just me. The film has grossed $149 million in the US.

    • hls2003 says:

      I felt the same way. On some level, I could clearly tell that this was a better movie. It had an actual plot and some actual character moments that were meaningful beyond simple spoofing and were not solely setups for jokes. On the other hand, I didn’t think it was as funny. There were definitely some very funny moments, but overall I walked out at the end thinking that I laughed more at Deadpool 1.

      My best guess is that it’s simply less fresh. A lot of Deadpool’s humor is referential and spoof-y. But that type of humor has a short shelf life and a quick fall-off in its effectiveness. There are only so many tropes to invert and genre cliches to mock before the techniques start to repeat. It’s sort of a parasitic medium in that way.

      It was still pretty good, I enjoyed the movie and would probably see Deadpool 3. But I am not sure the genre has staying power in the long run. Blazing Saddles can work because of a long history of cowboy movies. There’s almost no way that Blazing Saddles 2: Clevon Rides Again wouldn’t be less funny because you’d know what to expect.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      Deadpool is a gag character. A spoof character. Its probably harder to continue the story vs say, X-Men or ironman.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I had the exact same reaction. There was a lot less “magic” in this particular film than the last one. Not sure what it was. I actually felt pretty engaged through Cable and Deadpool fighting on the truck, after introduction of X-Force. That Domino scene? That was awesome.

      Somewhere between there and the final confrontation, I just totally disengaged. I think the shift in antagonists and protagonists did it.

  21. Szemeredi says:

    For a given year Y, let f(Y) be the proportion of people alive that year who have a descendent alive today.

    What does the graph of f in the range (300,000 BC, today) look like? Is there a slick way of saying what the average value of f is?

    • yodelyak says:

      This is a fun question. Somebody answer it please.

    • David Speyer says:

      The standard model for this problem is the Galton-Watson process. This is much easier to analyze if you only count descent through one gender. (Galton and Watson were interested in the question of British surnames dying out, so they only cared about patrilinear descent.) In this case, let p_k be the probability that a woman has k daughters. Then the probability that a woman will have matrilinear descendents in the far future is the unique solution to t = sum p_k t^k with 0 < t < 1 .

    • David Speyer says:

      PS Are you any relation to Endre Szemeredi?

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      This is interesting in that I recently saw in a museum recently (I think the Smithsonium in DC), that the number of homo sapiens was down to only about 10,000 in the entire world at around 75,000 BC. My understanding was that the number of people was considerably higher in earlier years. That would imply f(Y) would be a pretty low proportion in 300,000 BC. Well I guess there are scenarios where f(Y) could be pretty high, but it seems likely to me that most of the homo sapiens genes disappeared at the time of population’s nadir.

  22. Thegnskald says:

    A discussion I don’t want to participate in, but am curious to see opinions about:

    Are groups obligated to respect cultural expectations, and to what extent? Does it make a difference if it is a closed group (I/e, a private club) versus an open group (I/e, a group of people on Meetup)?

    For specific examples that I hope won’t be too culture-warry I will stick to food, so egetarianism and EA; are the non-vegetarians obligated to participate in vegetarianism for the purposes of EA events? Or Hinduism, based on my admittedly weak understanding of Hinduism in which I suppose other people eating cows is offensive, should a group including a Hindu individual refrain from eating beef when participating in group activities?

    Where does this line end – if you think it is wrong to eat rabbits for personal ethical reasons, and aren’t part of a meaningful larger culture, should your beliefs be respected?

    And how do you handle contradictory beliefs – when two people’s beliefs cannot be simultaneously satisfied?

    (Food is not really what this is about, clearly, but I hope it will be safer territory for people to discuss the meta-level issues here.)

    • S_J says:

      Amusingly (for a resident of the United States): about 40% of my co-workers are expatriates from India. Some are vegetarian, some are vegetarian on certain days of the week and eat chicken on other days. Some will eat meat from birds/fish, but not meat from quadrupeds. Some will eat almost any meat.

      Religously, there is also a mix of various stripes of Hindu, as well as Buddhists, Sikhs, and Muslims. Thus, anytime there is a team from the office going out to lunch, we ask if there are any vegetarians present. (It helps that there are several good Thai/Lebanese/Indian/Ethiopian restaurants in the area. And Mexican restaurants are friendly to vegetarians, which was a surprise to me.)

      Probably because they are immigrants in the United States, they are fairly relaxed about people who eat meat in social settings.

      Back to the original question: it depends on the subject of the discussion, and how much emphasis the cultural context puts on pluralism. It also depends on how much the people involved are willing to make allowances for the cultural limitations that other people are operating under.

    • Randy M says:

      I don’t believe this is an obligation. That puts too much power on the individual to set the rules via complaining and so on.
      Depending on the norms in question, it may be kind of the group to do so. It may be instrumentally useful, if for example many philanthropy inclined individuals happen to be vegan. But in many cases it may well be impossible to satisfy everyone. What if you had a contingent who felt obligated to ritually feast on some animal before important events along with the vegetarians? Or strong proponents of ask & guess culture, or whatever those norms are known by.

      I don’t even think there is an obligation to provide safe space–a group can choose to exclude vegans in good conscious–but of course it is kinder to consider their feelings and the gain probably outweighs the costs.

      Although on the last point one would have more obligation to consider their feelings the more obligated that individual is to attend. If the food on offer at the elementary school is some non-vegetarian, non-kosher, non-halal dish and the school has banned sack lunches, that’s pretty rude.

    • dodrian says:

      When you have a meeting of different cultures there has to be both give and take. Each culture has to recognize that their views, however much they might want them to be, aren’t universal, and take steps to accommodate others in a reasonable manner. Reasonable is a very difficult word, and part of it has to do with recognizing both how important and how common one’s beliefs are, as well as recognizing when and where it’s appropriate to discuss them.

      If an EA group want to hold an event with food at which they want hindus/vegetarians to attend, they must provide non-beef/non-meat food options. They may decide to make the entire event non-beef/non-meat, especially if a lot of hindus/vegetarians are attending, and maybe even if it’s there aren’t that many attending, as it’s not a difficult accommodation to make. Of course, if it were a fruitatarian (only eats fruit that naturally falls off plants) being invited, such a large restriction would probably be unreasonable to apply to the entire group.

      The flip side – if I am a vegetarian/hindu I should recognize that I’m part of a larger culture. I’m I’m a hindu at an event with 100 non-hindus, expecting that no-one eat beef because of me would be unreasonable – though I always have the option of not-participating.

      Respecting and trying to accommodate as much as possible is a good thing, but at the end of the day, the larger culture wins out.

      • Randy M says:

        Of course, if it were a fruitatarian (only eats fruit that naturally falls off plants) being invited, such a large restriction would probably be unreasonable to apply to the entire group.

        The trouble is, this is entirely subjective. How do you measure the size of a restriction? Cost? Fruit is cheap. Nutrition provided? You can go a meal without protein. How upset others are? Maybe someone is as upset by no meat as the vegetarian is by no bread or tubers. Etc.

        • dodrian says:

          Yep, life is hard.

          I really like this essay about (big-L) Liberalism as minimum-viable politics, but I’m also aware that I should be wary of any essay which basically concludes that my political views are objectively the best 😉

    • DavidS says:

      One of my overarching moral principles is that there’s a gap between what I ought to do and what others have a right to expect from me (critically, this also means I can feel I ought to do something but not be angry if other people don’t do the ‘right thing’.

      I think failing to recognise this distinction is a big problem with a lot of modern moral discourse: e.g. I think checking your own privilege can be a good thing, but ordering other people to or chastising them for not doing is a bad thing.

      I’d apply that in this case: you should be considerate of other people’s preferences but they don’t have a right to demand it. How far this consideration depends on a huge range of factors: how strongly they feel, how many similarly strong preferences do they have (i.e. are they a utility monster), how much does it inconvenience you, and of course most importantly: are they asking nicely.

  23. Zephalinda says:

    Lateish to the thread, but some ITT-style questions about gender, inspired by anecdotes in the recent IDW post.

    Below are two sets of statements that both seem squarely within mainstream Blue Tribe thinking about gender (so much so that apparently academic purity tests currently enforce assent to at least some items in each group). I am confused because these seem to conflict so deeply with one another as regards the nature, meaning and human importance of both bodily sex and social/ psychic gender.

    I’m not interested in debating, affirming or denying individual propositions, but can anyone help me understand how these sets are actually logically consistent within a common worldview? Or alternatively, which specific items am I getting wrong?

    **SET A: GENDER IS NOTHING
    1. Gender essentialism is bad. In fact, there is no specific deep-down “essence” of female or maleness.

    2. It is wrong– even scientifically inaccurate– to claim that there is any inherent biological difference between male and female brains, ways of thinking, patterns of behavior, etc. All these, if observed, are the result of (pernicious) social conditioning.

    3. It’s sexist to claim that our sex or gender defines our identity. We are who we are as individuals, in all our diverse glory; this has nothing to do with the sexual characteristics of our body. It’s sexist and wrong when people think that “real women” should have sexy makeup, big boobs and wear skirts.

    4. Forms of social gendering are generally stupid, arbitrary, and bad. They certainly don’t “mean” anything w/r/t the person’s identity, because again, at heart we’re just people, not boy-people and girl-people.

    5. In particular, social expressions of gender essentialism (like the pink sparkly girls’ doll aisle at Target vs. the blue-and-brown boys’ truck one, or girls having to be sexy/wear lots of makeup/ have long hair/think about the male gaze) are wrong. These only reflect a set of entirely arbitrary, bigoted and valueless stereotypes, and should be actively subverted.

    **SET B: GENDER IS EVERYTHING
    1. Individual humans have an essential, interior gender identity. This interior gender essence is real and unchangeable. To feel it strongly is a healthy part of our basic nature.

    2. Having an male gender essence is entirely different from having a female gender essence. If your essential gender is different from your bodily sex, then you’re a trans person, that is, a “boy in a girl’s body,” or vice versa. Being a “boy” is fundamentally, noticeably different from being a “girl,” even if you’re both “in a girl’s body.”

    3. It makes sense that people can sometimes tell their essential gender based on their youthful preferences for conventional opposite-gender toys, colors and behaviors. For example, parents of a child who’s actually “a girl in a boy’s body” might be able to tell because they’ve liked to play with dolls instead of trucks, or experiment with makeup, long hair and dresses– things that naturally align with the female.

    4. Your essential gender also shows up in readily observable physical characteristics of your brain. For instance, when a study presents evidence that girls with gender dysphoria show fMRI activity in some ways more similar to the average among boys than to the average among girls, this proves not that in the right social circumstances plastic brains are capable of adopting similar functional patterns regardless of sex, but that the subjects’ brains actually are boys’ brains in some essential way– or at least, that they have a “trans brain” that is fundamentally different from a real girl brain.

    5. Gender essence maps onto physical body, so feelings of gender dysphoria, far from being pathologies in themselves, are very natural. The natural female way of being is not to have a penis, so if your deep-down real self is a girl, you naturally find it deeply disturbing to have a penis, even if that penis is part of your own body you’ve had since birth. Because one’s essential gender has metaphysical priority, the only reasonable way to treat gender dysphoria is not to investigate the dysphoria itself, or to try to see if the person’s perceived gender can be realigned with their physical body, but to alter the physical body to express the essential gender. In fact, a compassionate healthcare system should readily fund heavy-duty surgical and pharmacologic interventions to alter people’s bodies to match their idea of their gender essence. For parents to delay this body modification in their gender-dysphoric children is a form of child abuse.

    6. One achieves an important form of self-actualization when one’s body fits the conventional social norms for one’s “essential gender.” For example, Caitlyn Jenner had become her true self, a “real woman,” when she started wearing a lot of makeup and cute skirt outfits, got breast/lip implants, and looked hot.

    7. Social gendering is meaningful and important, so a key part of being a “real woman” (or man) is getting to occupy the very distinct social role of a real woman/man (including pronouns, bathrooms, etc). Because social gendering is rightly important to one’s interior identity, not receiving this gender affirmation from society should be experienced as traumatic.

    8. Because visible bodily sex characteristics, social gender role, and psychic “gender essence” are so central to our identity as a person (and because male and female genders are non-substitutable for one another), having the two former not exactly match the latter is akin to being denied basic personhood, a form of terrible violence.
    *********************

    Sorry so long; seemed like thoroughness would make for better discussion. Can anyone take a stab at clarifying how these fit together? Thanks!

    • Thegnskald says:

      My understanding, admittedly potentially wrong:

      The first view of gender is “objectively” correct, but some (many?) people experience the second view of gender subjectively, possibly for social/cultural reasons tying into an internal concept of gender which is hardwired in.

      So girls don’t naturally want to play with dolls, but in a society in which girls play with dolls, they experience that and, depending on how their internal “gender” pointer is mapped, desire to do so in order to conform to who they are meant to be.

      Some people experience a flipped gender pointer, and are told one set of behaviors they are expected to conform to, but internally feel like they are conforming to the wrong social role, which causes them distress. (I fail to address here those with morphological – body – dysphoria, which I think is a distinct phenomenon from social dysphoria.)

      I have no gender pointer; this is my best understanding of the current social consensus on gender. My personal belief is somewhat different from this, and ties into people’s need for a sense of social identity, rather than gender being a unique internal characteristic, and goes something like this:

      There is no “gender” switch, but rather a more complex structure of “identity”, which ties into how one sees one’s role in society. Social dysporia is a disparity between how other people see your role (identity) and how you see it. This is stressful for most people who experience it. Modern gender roles, particularly the masculine gender roles (there are more than one, if you haven’t been paying much attention to people), have grown in complexity and become to a significant extent contradictory, becoming effectively impossible to truly satisfy, resulting in a slowly growing number of people who, feeling that the gender role they tried to adhere to doesn’t describe them, decide they must be a different gender. This is exaggerated by the multiple, competing, and contradictory versions of the gender roles in our society, and by people’s apparent unawareness that there are multiple versions and the failure to live up to one version doesn’t imply failure to live up to any.

      (Personally, I suggest checking out of identity entirely, but people seem to find this more difficult than I do, and I don’t understand why, so I really can’t say whether this is truly a viable option for most people or not.)

      This is just me spouting off observations based on a fairly superficial look into other people’s minds, mind. I am hardly a trained expert, and my opinion shouldn’t be taken as insightful, except only as a basis to do your own research or consideration.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Are there people who have social gender dysphoria without body gender dysphoria?

        Also, I’m inclined to think that believing Male and Female are Fundamental Essences (see E. R. Eddison, Wicca, and Jordan Peterson) and finding that one is miserable in one’s assigned gender and happy in a different gender.

        • Thegnskald says:

          Yes.

          I am not 100% certain what your second paragraph is getting at; it wouldn’t surprise me either, however. Even given that I think our conceptualization of gender is basically socially constructed (which isn’t to say I don’t think there is a biological component, but that the biological component is more like a nudge than a guiding force, with considerable overlap between the sexes based on genetic variation). There is something to be said for trying to live up to an ideal you choose, as opposed to one that is thrust upon you.

        • Aapje says:

          @Nancy Lebovitz

          Tomboys and cross-dressers exist, yes.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Tomboys exist, but they have some traits usually thought of a male. As I understand them, they don’t have a huge drive to be seen as male.

            Cross-dressers (depending on how far they take it) might be a better example.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            I see social gender dysphoria as fundamentally different from body gender dysphoria. The former seems to be merely a dissatisfaction with some of the gender norms. Basically: ‘I like to do X, but people socially punish me if I do X because my gender is not allowed to do it, so I don’t want to be treated as a member of my gender in this way.’

          • John Schilling says:

            ‘I like to do X, but people socially punish me if I do X because my gender is not allowed to do it, so I don’t want to be treated as a member of my gender in this way.’

            Perhaps, but what gender-inappropriate activity is “socially punished” to the extent that openly expressing as transgender is punished? A person who e.g. is male but wants to be a nurse, might privately wish to not be treated as male, but it seems unlikely that they are going to wear a dress in public to get better treatment.

          • @John:

            Interesting question. Wearing lipstick for men, if you count that as an activity. My wife suggests knitting or embroidery for men.

            There are activities that would be difficult but not impossible for women to do along those lines–boxing, for example, or wrestling.

            My wife mentions a woman at her church who is the only woman on the carpentry and repair team for the Winchester Mystery House, and suggests that the men on the team might see that as inappropriate, at least until they get used to it.

          • AG says:

            @John Schilling:

            In the past, some people cross-dressed to get around homophobia. I believe some Middle East countries are sponsoring sex change surgeries as their “cure” for homosexuality?
            Some women cross-dressed in order to become soldiers.

            Gender-inappropriate behavior is punished much less severely now, but also in that awareness of and more acceptance of gender noncomformity means that people are less likely to buy the act, per se. It seems that in the past it was easier to pass, in some ways.

            But there was a recent-ish kerfuffle over JRPG Persona for having a female character who cross-dressed because she could do more when read as a man. (And some people were angry they didn’t go there with her as a trans man) Crossdressing heroines are still quite the popular trope in Kdramas, though most of them are period pieces. (Not so much cross-dressing heroes, though.)

          • rlms says:

            As a man who has knit in public places, I don’t think it’s socially punished at all.

    • Unsaintly says:

      To open with: not all of these ideas are actually compatible. That’s okay, “left” is a broad enough category that it can contain multiple viewpoints on similar topics. However, one reason why A and B can cooperate is that many of the items listed here are either in support or at least not disagreement.

      To open with, I will restate the view of Sex vs Gender that is common among the gender-caring left.
      Gender: A set of social roles and expectations that are informed by society. I will use “Masculine” and “Feminine” to describe gender, where applicable
      Sex: The physical traits of your body, typically sorted into “Male” and “Female”. Most notably genitals, although all physical differences fall under sex

      As a final note before I begin, I will be stating the case as I believe A and B would like them to be made. I make no claim that any of these statements are true, simply that they are sincerely believed by A and/or B.

      A1 is basically restating the Gender definition, specifically the idea that it is a social construct. There is no particular reason why dresses should be feminine or trucks should be masculine.
      B1 is referring to the concept of a gender identity. This is, in many ways, a map. An individual has preferences that imperfectly map to masculine or feminine gender norms. Taken as a whole, they usually fit into being masculine or feminine overall, but exceptions exist.

      A2 and B4 are somewhat in conflict, but can still be reconciled with compromise. Consider the statement: A person’s sex has no significant impact on their brain, men and women would perform equally well on all mental tasks if society were not biased. Brain scans can tell personal differences, as well as being able to identify subjective thoughts and preferences.
      If gender is a social label applied to a close-enough fit of preferences->expectations, you should be able to tell an individual’s gender even if sex has no impact on the brain.

      A3 is an affirmation that not perfectly matching your gender role (whether cis or trans) is okay. Your sex and gender do not wholly define you. This is similar to the explanation I gave for B1.

      A4 is a follow up on A3, and ties into the definition of gender. Because social gender roles are arbitrary, and people almost never perfectly match them anyway, reducing the social expectations of gender creates a net positive as you remove stress from people who don’t match gender roles.

      A5 is basically the same as A4. Reducing social pressure to confirm to a gender role is good, because people who like the thing will like it anyway and social pressure just induces anxiety in people who don’t match social expectations.

      B2 affirms that sex and gender are different. Whatever gender you identify as is a product of your personal preferences, and those preferences are more important than physical sex. Two people who map to a feminine gender (even though both will imperfectly map in different ways) have more alike than a masculine and feminine person, regardless of genital structure.

      B3 is also not in conflict with anything, as it is just making the claim: Because masculine and feminine gender roles involve aesthetic preference, a child exhibiting that preference is meaningful evidence that they will settle on identify as the associated gender. This isn’t a perfect prediction, as nobody perfectly maps to either gender role, but it’s still useful evidence.

      B5 is mis stated, I believe. Dysphoria is not universal among transgender people. However, for people who suffer from dysphoria, surgery is a far more reliable way of resolving it than therapy. To my knowledge, there is no reliably successful psychological treatment for dysphoria, but surgery has a very high success rate. Given that, it makes sense to encourage surgery becoming more readily available to people who suffer from dysphoria.

      B6 is a fairly weak statement. Most gender-caring left people don’t believe you have to be an ideal physical representation of your desired gender to be “real”. It’s great when it happens, but is not a realistic goal or required condition for most people. Instead, B7 is the commonly desired end state.

      B7 is just a desire for social treatment to match internal preference. If you identify as feminine due to holding a majority feminine preference set, it is reasonable to desire to be acknowledged as such. It is important to differentiate “wants to use the restroom/pronouns of identified gender” from “wants to strengthen or perfectly match societal gender roles”

      Finally, B8 is not quite accurate as stated. The better phrasing would be that people want society to treat them in a way that matches their identity, and that people should be able to have the body structure they desire. Not all transgender people want to physically transition, and that is fine.

      Note: This is deliberately simplifying things into a 2 sex + 2 gender system. In reality, many people identify as a sex or gender outside of the common set, but I have avoided discussing that to keep the explanations simple.

      To conclude, the A group’s overall statement is “Physical sex doesn’t matter, and gender roles are arbitrary social constructs” while B’s statement is “People’s personal identities stem from a combination of their own preferences, which don’t always map onto their assigned gender. Allow people to identify as the gender that best suits their preferences, and treat them as such”. B also believes it is important for people to be able to receive treatment for dysphoria, and claims that surgery is by far the best way to do so. Stated in this way, it is hopefully clear that A and B are not in disagreement.

      • Zephalinda says:

        Unsaintly, thank you SO MUCH for such a detailed and helpful response!

        After looking through your discussion, I think I’m getting more clarity. It does look as though A and B could agree about the static facts of the current situation (with the possible exception of the nature of the link between neurophysiology and gender expression). The remaining source of unresolved conflict I’m seeing concerns the evaluative/ normative judgments woven into each set of propositions, about where we should be headed from here.

        If A and B can agree that social gender roles are entirely arbitrary social constructs, including, I assume:
        –They don’t really exist as a set of natural categories; if we effaced them as social formations, they’d go away or be replaced by something much different

        –There’s no natural linkage between social gender roles and biological sex, i.e. no reason why liking dresses should mean having breasts and not a penis.

        And both parties confront a situation where some people are suffering because they feel that their personalities, interests OR physical bodies don’t fully match their complicated social gender role (borrowing from Thegnskald’s point),

        Then I guess you could either address this situation A-style, by reasserting that gender-labeling is a harmful social formation, and working to deconstruct it so that everybody can just love the complex body and personality Nature gave them, OR B-style, by valorizing the gender label system and working to ensure that everybody gets to more fully instantiate the specific social construct they choose. But those two seem clearly to be at cross-purposes with one another, because (B) actively reinforces and adds cultural heft to the artificial gendering that (A) believes should be torn down.

        (In theory, it seems like linking sex reassignment with gender dysphoria should make this even worse, because now not only are you reinforcing that people who play with dolls should be called “she,” you’re also agreeing that they should naturally grow up to have breasts, so much so that society needs to pay for serious medical interventions to make this happen.)

        I guess my follow-up question is, if A truly believes that ““Physical sex doesn’t matter, and gender roles are arbitrary social constructs” then shouldn’t they be horrified when B says “You’re right, dysphoric person, parts of you (your physical sex, your hormonal makeup, etc.) are the problem, let’s lop them off/fill them in until they match your preferred imaginary gender-role-based shell”?

        And to the extent that B focuses on establishing logical “mapping” between individual preferences and identified gender or assigned sex, aren’t they implicitly asserting that the conventional social logic of these mappings (dress-dolls-boobs-estrogen-“she”, etc.) is roughly correct?

        • Unsaintly says:

          As I understand it, B is unlikely to argue that everyone who identifies as a specific gender role should get sex change surgery to match the associated physical sex. Instead, it’s used as a solution to a condition commonly linked – but not universal – to being transgender. If you are physically female and identify as masculine, but have no dysphoria neither A or B would make you get surgery.
          A person from B might be skeptical of a person claiming to not want surgery, but that is more due to our cultural history of pushing hard against sex change surgery leading to some people being in denial about their dysphoria. So a B may ask further questions or gently prod a transgender but not dysphoric person into considering surgery, just to make sure they actually don’t want it rather than feeling pressured into not wanting it. This is not the ideal expression of B, but is a reasonable response to our culture.

        • mdet says:

          if A truly believes that ““Physical sex doesn’t matter, and gender roles are arbitrary social constructs” then shouldn’t they be horrified when B says “You’re right, dysphoric person, parts of you (your physical sex, your hormonal makeup, etc.) are the problem, let’s lop them off/fill them in until they match your preferred imaginary gender-role-based shell”?

          These people exist, and are called TERFs (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists)

          • Zephalinda says:

            Well, yes, but don’t most feminists and Blue Tribe members in general really really hate TERFS? (I recall a sincere “Ask”-type thread somewhere that basically went “My girlfriend made a remark suggesting she’s a TERF, now of course I have to break up and never speak to her again, but also how do I deal with the waves of deep revulsion and horror?”)

            The acrimony is confusing if TERF is basically just a coherent-if-debatable piecing-together of a set of standard viewpoints everybody holds anyway. I figured I must be missing something, but at least I guess I can now search for articles of the form “Why I Hate TERFS.”

        • fion says:

          I think you have something in that there are two distinct approaches here, but they don’t necessarily need to be opposed to each other.

          Using myself as a case study, my sex is male, but I don’t identify with any sort of maleness or masculinity. My preferences and expression are a pretty slap-dash mix of things normally considered masculine and things normally considered feminine. My attitude is mostly that calling such things masculine or feminine is pretty pointless, and I hope society eventually stops doing it.

          Now, most of the time people refer to me as male and it doesn’t really bother me. It’s like, if somebody assumed my blood type was O+ but it was actually O- I wouldn’t care. A strong sense of gender identity is something that only happens to other people.

          All of the above sounds like a very “A” approach to gender.

          But when I’m around trans people or just particularly SJ-y spaces, I’ll generally say I’m agender. I’ll generally respect that there are concepts called “masculine” and “feminine” that are very important to lots of people, but I’ll say that I have a bit of both. And if a particular trans woman finds (for whatever reasons I don’t really understand) that she’s more comfortable when she deliberately makes use of things generally labeled “feminine”, then go for it. Who am I to say “femininity doesn’t actually exist; you’re just fooling yourself nyar nyar.”? So I guess this is more of the “B” approach?

          (In fact, when I make such points more carefully and politely I usually find that she actually agrees with me that femininity is somewhat artificial and it’ll be a good thing if society gets over it, but until it does, she’s damn well gonna make use of it to be accepted and comfortable. Does this imply that my apparently “B” friends are actually more sympathetic to “A”?)

          Damn. I’d hoped to present a clear example of how both A and B approaches could be applied to the same case and provide different ways of talking about the same thing. Re-reading my comment I feel I failed to do that, but hopefully I did provide a little bit of insight…

      • fion says:

        Thanks for your response. Zephalinda’s confusion is one I share, and your post helped me understand better.

      • helloo says:

        They do imply very different approaches though –

        For example
        Person A might suggest to get rid of gendered pronouns altogether (especially for more gendered languages), while B would probably oppose such ideas.
        Person B might suggest to delay children’s puberty as to make it easier for them to transition and pick the gender they want, while A might see it as risky and extraneous at best.

    • drunkfish says:

      Incomplete answer because this puzzles me somewhat too, but one thing a trans person said to me recently that felt pretty important was that just because you don’t believe in something, doesn’t mean it ceases to exist.

      In this case, it’s possible to believe society’s handling of gender is wrong and still recognize that it’s a deep part of our society and how people are treated. Given that society does very seriously treat people differently as a function of their gender, it should be no surprise that some people feel their gendered treatment is a mismatch with their desired treatment, and a subset of those people will feel it so strongly that their lives are significantly improved by getting society to switch to the other gendered treatment.

      Also for what it’s worth, I think the last part of B1 isn’t actually a part of the orthodoxy. Plenty of people don’t identify strongly with a gender and that seems pretty well accepted. Nonbinary people are the obvious representatives, but the droves of cis people whose responses to trans people is just “who gives a damn?” probably embody this group.

    • fion says:

      I’d be very interested if there’s anybody reading who feels like the B statements describe their views well. As I’ve said in another comment, I don’t really “get” the “gender is a real and important aspect of identity” approach and tend to view it as a confusing thing that I just need to accept is really important to some people and not try to force them to rationally justify it.

      I think we’ve got a couple of commenters in this thread who agree with (perhaps a somewhat modified version of) Set A and are doing a good job of steelmanning Set B, but I’m not sure if we’ve got anybody who really feels gender in an essential way. Cis or trans, I’d be interested to hear the input of such people.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      What? This seems suuuuper easy. There has to be *one* corrupt doc or makeup artist on here willing to pull it off. I can do the hardware and software networking and cryptographic protocols. You don’t need to know anything about poker besides the buzz words to get an easy 10 million.

      I understand how saying this in a public forum might make one hesistant to volunteer, but this is easy ya.

      • BeefSnakStikR says:

        I understand how saying this in a public forum might make one hesistant to volunteer, but this is easy ya.

        Maybe no one’s responding because everyone just wants to get in on blackmailing the people who do it afterwards.

        On a more serious note, there must be games that are easier to cheat than poker. There’s lots of games where a distant visual/auditory signal would be enough. This happened with a guy who won Who Wants To be A Millionaire by getting someone to cough.

        Nowadays the trick isn’t just to not get caught…it’s to not leave behind recorded evidence, which casinos and game shows certainly keep.

      • j1000000 says:

        Casinos don’t beat you up anymore (AFAIK..), but they do seem pretty good at getting money back from innovative cheaters well after the fact, like with Phil Ivey’s edge sorting, or that Russian group that used phones to win on slot machines (I think most of them have not been arrested or anything, but that’s because they’re in Russia).

        But then again, I guess some people do get away with it, and that’s why I never hear about them and only have two examples of guys who got caught after the fact…

        • ohwhatisthis? says:

          Don’t casinos deal with this by mostly having games that they are guaranteed to win, and then merely hosting the big poker games? Since its getting shockingly easy to “beat” the system with just a pair of glasses now for anything in that category.

          • Nornagest says:

            There’s a house edge for most games at casinos, but not all. It’s still possible to win at blackjack with perfect play, though not as easy as it used to be. Even slot machines are sometimes set to have a positive EV for a variety of reasons.

          • ohwhatisthis? says:

            I could see a slot machine having a minor positive EV if you think they are going to play a bunch of other games and buy food. And customers that find that out and only play those machines are prooobably booted out of the casino.

          • Nornagest says:

            If memory serves, it’s usually low-stakes slots in visible areas, and the exact machines usually change frequently. The idea is to create an impression in passersby that they’re likely to win.

          • My understanding is that it’s not a particular machine that always has a positive expected value but machines where the payoff varies, perhaps because the size of the jackpot increases until its collected (but I’m not sure of the mechanics). If you understand that you can spot such a machine when it is positive and play it.

    • Colonel Hapablap says:

      What’s your plan here? Steal their bot and use it to coach you while you play live? You could just use it to play online, would be much easier and you wouldn’t have to change out of your pajamas

      • ohwhatisthis? says:

        My bet is most high tier poker players online have simply found a way to use bots.

        This isn’t actually a plan i’m going to carry out. More of a commentary of how absolutely easy it is to do such a thing today. Is the champion today doing it? If not, how long until the champion of tomorrow is doing it? In order to test these, you have to be much much much more invasive then the usual methods of cheater detection, and I don’t see them doing that.

        • beleester says:

          Hold future poker championships inside a Faraday cage?

          Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if they already had some system for catching secret communications to the players. You don’t need an AI feeding you the perfect moves to cheat, it could be something as simple as a guy in the audience feeding you the other players’ cards.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think this issue comes up in chess tournaments–the best computer programs are better than any human, so even though I’m a pretty weak player, I can beat Magnus Carlsen as long as I have computer support and he doesn’t.

    • Iain says:

      This bot plays heads-up no-limit hold’em. Most poker is not played heads up.

  24. eighty-six twenty-three says:

    *checks for culture war ban*
    *not banned?*

    Hey, should I be angry about the North Korea thing?
    I am not a fan of Donald Trump, but recent events seem to have met most of the goals I had.
    North Korea is disabling its nuclear test site! It’s having talks with South Korea!
    And yesterday they sent us a completely unreasonable message, threatening to cancel a talk, and we did not put up with their shit.

    My twitter feed seems upset about it, but they haven’t given a clear reason why they’re upset — seems to be “Trump did it and therefore it is awful”.

    Thoughts?

    • J Mann says:

      There are so many unknowns in assessing foreign policy that I don’t even know how to judge. NK is a problem like Cuba, where what we’ve been doing for decades hasn’t worked, so I don’t object to trying out a low cost alternative just to see what happens.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Depends what you mean by “works”. We’re not at war with Cuba and they aren’t a threat to the US. If we had that North Korea it would be good enough.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Pretty sure this was in the Art of the Deal. Something about never letting the other side know you want the deal too badly or they smell blood in the water and you’re dead. Kim was getting pushy, then insulting, so Trump told him to pound sand. Now they’ll make nice and the summit will be back on in a month or two.

      • My impression of Trump at the moment is that he sees most of life, in particular his current job, as negotiation, bilateral monopoly bargaining. Kim acts in a way designed to imply that if he can’t get a bargain mostly in his way he’ll back out, so Trump responds by implying the same about himself–and, temporarily, backing out.

        A major Chinese company gets very costly sanctions from the U.S. for violating U.S. rules by selling stuff to countries we disapprove of. Trump’s reaction is “great, we have a good excuse for imposing costs on China, what can I get them to give me in reduced tariffs etc. not to do so?”

        It’s all the art of the deal. And that really is part of what diplomacy is about, but only part.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          The interesting part is my impression is that Kim is very like Trump. Maybe Kim read Trump’s book. Kim has done a pretty good job of alternating between threats and conciliation to mostly get what he wants. Kind of interesting to watch two heavy-duty deal makers work each other, except for the fact that a mistaken move could lead to nuclear war.

    • broblawsky says:

      It definitely seems like Bolton/Pence managed to sabotage the talks (intentionally?) by talking about full denuclearization. Even if Kim suggested that was a possibility in private, saying it in public made it look like Kim had caved in.

    • beleester says:

      Disabling the test site is nice to have but doesn’t necessarily promise a lasting solution – a test site is a small part of a nuclear program and probably the easiest one to build. There’s still a significant amount of negotiation to do, and if we’re not actually going to talk to them I’m not sure how we’re going to get that negotiation done.

      North Korea’s message was insulting and blustery (which they always are, take them “seriously but not literally”), but you can see where they’re coming from. Bolton and Pence both called for Libya-style disarmament, and North Korea saw what happened to Libya. They obviously won’t accept that as the starting point for the talks.

      The most charitable interpretation I can give is the same as Conrad Honcho’s – this is a “door in the face” technique, where we start off demanding North Korea’s complete surrender and gradually scale back to something we can actually achieve. But it’s equally likely that the talks will go nowhere – both sides will bluster about the size of their missiles and make some token concessions, and we try again in another ten years.

      EDIT: As for why your Twitter feed is upset? Because “Trump cancels summit” does not look like forward progress on this issue. And because it pattern-matches to other cases where Trump took a quick, showy win, but hasn’t yet delivered the “better deal” he’s so fond of promising.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I think the whole Libya thing is just an excuse. China uses NK for leverage in economic negotiations. Kim does what China tells him to, and Kim started getting all pissy again after his meeting with Xi.

      • broblawsky says:

        At a guess, North Korea had three goals here, listed in order of descending importance:

        1) Give China and Russia an excuse to reduce sanctions
        2) Get some leverage on South Korea
        3) Get aid from the US again

        A deal with the US would’ve gotten them 1-3, but possibly at the cost of their nuclear arsenal; it looks like they’re willing to accept 1-2 as long as they get to keep their nukes.

        • Nornagest says:

          Having nukes is really important to the Norks domestically. They’re literally building monuments to them. They are probably willing to accept a good enough deal that degrades their ability to use or further develop their nuclear capabilities, but only as long as it leaves them a fig leaf’s worth of pretense that they’re a nuclear power and being taken seriously as such.

    • John Schilling says:

      And yesterday they sent us a completely unreasonable message, threatening to cancel a talk, and we did not put up with their shit.

      Their message was a not-unreasonable response to two of our messages, the substance of which were, 1. “No matter what you do, even if you agree to all of our demands, we’re going to kill you all”, and then 2. “Ignore that guy, we’re only going to kill you all if you don’t do what we tell you to”. And the substantive content of Kim’s response was “Threatening to kill us all is not going to result in a favorable outcome from this summit and is a really stupid move if you’re genuinely trying for a diplomatic soluition. Please clarify which spokesman’s threats, if any, represents the true position of your administration”

      I, for one, consider this to be the sort of “shit” the United States should put up with if we’re going to have this sort of undisciplined messaging coming out of the White House.

      • eighty-six twenty-three says:

        Hmm, looks like I might have been confused. I had read this article:
        https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/15/world/asia/north-korea-postpones-talks.html

        “The abrupt change in tone began early Wednesday, when North Korea indefinitely postponed high-level talks with South Korea over the North’s sudden objection to joint military drills by the South and the United States that began last week. The North also raised the possibility of scrapping the meeting with Mr. Trump.”

        “North Korea had previously signaled flexibility about the military exercises, appearing to remove a perennial obstacle to talks between North and South Korea. But the North cited its objections to the joint American-South Korean air force drill in postponing a separate high-level meeting with South Korea that had been planned for Wednesday.”

        “It is not unusual for North Korea to abruptly cancel and postpone meetings with its neighbors. The North’s decision to postpone the border talks was delivered only 15 hours after it proposed those talks on Tuesday and the South quickly accepted the offer.”

        and I do think this was pretty unreasonable of them, but it does look like I was wrong about some details.

        Have you got a link for the actual text of the messages you’re paraphrasing?

        • ilikekittycat says:

          You think its pretty unreasonable that the US should suspend practicing invading North Korea during an opening to talk peace with North Korea?

          • Nornagest says:

            “Once in a generation” is a bit of an exaggeration. The current situation’s fairly close to some stuff we saw in 2007 during the six-party talks, and even closer to the negotiations around the Agreed Framework in the 1990s.

            ETA: okay, that language was ninja-edited away. I’ll still leave this up, since it might provide some useful context.

        • John Schilling says:

          Have you got a link for the actual text of the messages you’re paraphrasing?

          See here and here. Trump, I think, probably meant well but was clueless and unable to admit to a mistake. Bolton knew exactly what “Libya model” means in Pyongyang, and got exactly the result he always wanted.

          Regarding the military exercises, they should certainly have been toned down or rescheduled and definitely not have included nuclear-capable strike assets; notwithstanding all of that, North Korea went ahead withdemolishing its nuclear test site yesterday (and no, it hadn’t already collapsed). The exercises were a tolerable misstep. The North Korean regime was very clear about their main problem being key administration figures issuing thinly-veiled threats to kill them all and not understanding that the megadeaths were going to flow both directions if it came to that.

          Yes, the North Korean regime raised the possibility of scrapping the summit. But they didn’t.

          This is North Korea we’re talking about, and the Kim Dynasty. It shouldn’t take great feats of diplomatic genius to at least look like the adult in the room, and make it clear to outside observers that if diplomacy has failed it is because of Kim Jong Un’s inexperience or intransigence.

          • broblawsky says:

            At this point, though, it really looks like Trump\the Trump administration is responsible for scrapping the peace talks. It’s worth remembering that the real audience for Kim’s theatrics isn’t anyone in the West; it’s South Korea, China, and Russia.

          • sfoil says:

            Trump should fire Bolton for the “Libya model” comment, that he hasn’t suggests he doesn’t really care about trying to accomplish anything with the DPRK. The fate of Libya and its leader is probably the worst example that has ever been set regarding nuclear nonproliferation agreements. (We could at least have arranged for Gaddafi to go into exile somewhere.) And someone not trying to actively sabotage the talks could have easily blamed the whole thing on Obama/Hilary/my feckless political opponents.

          • John Schilling says:

            Trump should fire Bolton for the “Libya model” comment, that he hasn’t suggests he doesn’t really care about trying to accomplish anything with the DPRK.

            Hanlon’s Razor almost certainly applies here. Note that Trump himself used reframed “Libya model” commentary at a time when he was still trying to pull off a successful (i.e. Trump-ego-boosting) summit.

            What’s the term for the thing that’s almost the opposite of a dog whistle, where everybody hears it except the one idiot you (well, Bolton) are trying to fool?

          • MB says:

            When it looked like the peace talks might succeed, many people were praising the two Korean presidents for their statesmanship and deriding Trump for implying that he had anything to do with it. Now they’re blaming the failure on Trump. Of course, should there be any further progress, watch this go back to Trump getting no credit in the mainstream media.
            In my view, Trump did not create this problem, so he should not get any more of the blame for failing to bring peace to Korea than Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and all the others do. Conversely, if progress is made during his presidency, he should get most of the credit, just as Jimmy Carter gets much of the credit for the Camp David agreement.

          • John Schilling says:

            When it looked like the peace talks might succeed, many people were praising the two Korean presidents for their statesmanship and deriding Trump for implying that he had anything to do with it. Now they’re blaming the failure on Trump.

            Please unpack “many people” and “they”, and explain why this has anything to do with the discussion we are having here. You’re weasel-wording.

    • proyas says:

      A good breakdown: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/05/24/what-trump-is-really-saying-in-his-letter-to-kim-jong-un-607732

      I think Trump was genuinely insulted by North Korea’s attack on Pence, and that walking away from the table is a deliberate hardball negotiation tactic. The fact that Trump did this AFTER North Korea released its American hostages and blew up its nuclear testing site might also be a deliberate attempt to make the North Koreans fall for the sunk cost fallacy. They don’t want to look like weak fools who got tricked by Trump, so they’ll agree to some kind of deal with him so they’ll be able to show they got some kind of concession from him of equal value.

  25. Perico says:

    Here is an idea I had based on recent conversations about UBI and job guarantee: multiple currencies. They are common in free-to-play games, and used to obfuscate costs and encourage real money spending. However, I wonder if they could become a force for good, a useful tool for policy?

    Consider gambling. It’s pretty bad: it feeds on people’s compulsions, it can easily burn through someone’s assets and send them into debt, it disproportionately hits poor people, and it makes it easy to launder money. Nevertheless, it’s popular enough that banning it is not feasible. What if it remained legal, but it was gated behind a new currency?

    Let’s suppose that all gambling legislation remained the same (or even that some current regulations were lifted), with one important exception: All gambling services (including, but not limited to, betting, lottery, whatever people do in casinos, and possibly digital stuff involving loot boxes) can only be purchased with a new currency, let’s call it Gems. Here’s how Gems would work:

    – This is a digital-only currency. Each adult individual has a state-managed account with gems. Corporations providing gambling services can also have Gem accounts.
    – In order to get gems, a person can set aside a fraction of their monthly salary to be automatically converted into gems. The maximum fraction that can be allocated this way is capped – probably to something between 5% and 10% of salary. This could potentially be lower (though preferably not zero) for people who are living off a pension or benefits.
    – Corporations can get gems by selling gambling services.The player rewards for these services can be a combination of gems and real money.
    – Gems can be automatically converted into real money for a small fee. This is a one-way operation.
    – Banking services with gems are not allowed. Specifically, there is no way to borrow gems or otherwise transform debt into gems.
    – If gambling services are somehow bundled with other products, e.g. by giving out ‘free’ poker sessions with a hotel stay, then the entire bundle can only be paid with gems.
    – Tourists entering the country can create a temporary gem account, converting their foreign currency into gems up to a cap based on their type of visa (duration of stay, etc.)

    This is a bit convoluted, but in theory, it could allow people to enjoy gambling while severely reducing the potential risks. It probably wouldn’t kill the gambling industry, but their profits would go down significantly once they are not allowed to prey on the vulnerable. Tourism would suffer, but maybe not too much depending on how the thresholds are set.

    I have no idea of what the infrastructure for this could cost – perhaps it’s not enough to offset the benefits. And there are most certainly loopholes to get around the restrictions, but hopefully they will be inconvenient enough to deter most users.

    Is this something that could work?

    • moonfirestorm says:

      My immediate thought is that gems are going to be more valuable than money, because they’re trivializably convertible to money and some people will want more of them than they’re going to be able to get.

      Is it possible that gambling addicts will set up their own gambling services, that pay out consistently at, say, 102% (and pay out entirely in money)? Then anyone who isn’t already up to their maximum gem conversion has an incentive to make a little extra money, by going up to the maximum gem conversion, playing these games to convert it into cash, and ending up with slightly more money than they otherwise would have had.

      I guess you could prevent this by making it so corporations couldn’t use their gems to gamble in other companies’ games. But they are allowed to pay out in gems, so what if they use those gems to make positive-return gem games for their employees instead?

      At that point it might be too complicated, but unless part of it is explicitly illegal, it might be the sort of thing a company would specialize in setting up for people who want to gamble more.

      • beleester says:

        Is it possible that gambling addicts will set up their own gambling services, that pay out consistently at, say, 102% (and pay out entirely in money)?

        You can’t run a game that pays out more money than it takes in. Well, you could, but you’ll go bankrupt eventually.

        • Nornagest says:

          I think the idea is that you value Gems more than dollars, so you’d effectively be buying other gamblers’ (or entrepreneurial non-gamblers’) spare Gems in dollars at a 2% premium. The game is a fig leaf and you only let it run until you have all the Gems you want.

        • DavidS says:

          But the argument is that gems’ actual market value would be higher than their official value. You’re paying £102 for what is allegedly £100 of gems, but as availability of gems is rationed, they’re worth more than that.

        • helloo says:

          The argument is that there’s a limited transaction of money to gems for most people.
          So most people cannot keep playing as they could not use money to buy gems.
          And rather than a money market, basically setting up these games would be the “transaction”.

          I’m guessing that any system that restricts the money->gem transaction would also prevent these games (but not the casino ones).
          Possibly difficult to get licenses?

        • moonfirestorm says:

          “Effectively buying spare Gems at a 2% premium” is exactly what I was getting at. Thank you other commentors for expressing my idea better.

      • Perico says:

        > I guess you could prevent this by making it so corporations couldn’t use their gems to gamble in other companies’ games.

        I hadn’t thought about this scenario, but now that you bring it up, I don’t see any upside in allowing companies to use gems for betting. For a company, gems would only be useful for converting into money, or to give as game rewards.

        • moonfirestorm says:

          As I mentioned upthread, “giving as game rewards” can be translated into “using for betting” if the company has a population of eager gambling addicts (and in this case, they will, because addicts set it up).

          I can’t figure out how to do it without restricting who plays the game though. A company with a surplus of gems that wants to give it to specific people can only really do so through a positive-payout gem->gem game, because it can’t extract any resource other than gems from the players. And everyone should want to play that game (because it’s essentially free money).

          Maybe gamifying useful labour as the act of playing a gem-> gem game? So you can actually get 110 gems for your 100 gems (assuming a $1=1gem ratio), but the game that pays out requires 2 hours of farming gold in a WoW interface, which non-addict people wouldn’t be interested in (since it’s the equivalent of $10 for 2 hours of work).

          Maybe it starts running afoul of labor laws, but I can already turn my time farming WoW gold into cash without being an employee of anyone (and legally, since the WoW token exists). At the very least, we’d probably need to draw some new lines on what constitutes work.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Aren’t the addicts the people who are most incented to find the loopholes?

      • Perico says:

        I think this scheme would probably be more useful to prevent people from becoming addicts (since the play patterns that lead to addiction would be less common) than to cure existing addicts.

        That said, even though you’re right that existing addicts have overwhelming incentives to find the loopholes, many of them may lack the ability to exploit them. Looking at the example above, setting up a shell company to convert money into gems looks fairly difficult for the average person, never mind the average gambling addict. And it becomes even harder if they have to keep it secret from their families / spouses. Finally, the delay and planning involved in setting up these solutions gives them one more chance to change their minds.

        Or that’s the theory, anyway.

      • ohwhatisthis? says:

        IRL, addicts are the most incentivized to find loopholes. On games where you can make a profit, the nerds just build poker bots, and everyone else loses money. On non skill based gambling, you are mathematically guaranteed to lose a profit, so the most incentivized are the least capable of finding loopholes. The most capable understand the expected value is negative for the player.

    • helloo says:

      This would kill out any “professional” players and not work for anyone who does not gain income in a salaried fashion (ex. tips, stock markets)

      Pretty much every income stream would need a way to tie into the gem market and it’ll probably be hard to “guard” against services that could trade money to gems (ie. pay someone cash, they then pay 99.9% back to you but with 10% of it as gems).
      I guess if you made it so that the nation was the sole arbiter (ie. you can pay it as part of the income tax).

      • Perico says:

        Yes, linking it somehow to income tax or other taxes and making the transactions go through a state-owned organization was what I had in mind. And there may need to be some provision for people with sources of revenue other than salary, though I’m wary of this, as it opens lots of loopholes.

        But the problem with professional players is a tough one. I don’t see this system coexisting with people who make a living playing poker, the way they do now. Would it make sense to change professional gambling to a model more like professional sports, where players can get contracts, and sponsors, and competitions can still have huge cash payouts, but the game doesn’t involve actual gambling?

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      That sounds so easily abused, state sponsored ways to gamble.

      • Nornagest says:

        state sponsored ways to gamble

        State-sponsored gambling. Like a lottery, put on by the states. A state lottery, if you will.

    • Björn says:

      Japanese pachinko games work a little bit like that. Instead of money, the players use little balls that can be bought with money. All winnings are in those little balls. The balls can be traded for prices (paying out money is illegal), but the prices can be traded into money, which can be traded into balls.

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

      • Perico says:

        Interesting! However, pachinko tokens seem to serve no practical purpose, other than to sidestep gambling legislation (since non-pachinko gambling is banned).

    • fion says:

      Interesting idea. I’ve been attracted in the past to the idea of having one currency for staples and one currency for luxuries, which seems like a slightly broader version of what you propose. You could have a UBI in the staple currency, but only people who work get the luxury currency. My biggest worry would be black markets. If, as people have suggested, there is more demand for one currency than the other then there will be people who find a way to trade the currencies and possibly lead to bad and unpredictable results?

      How many countries have multiple currencies already? I believe Cuba does, but I don’t know of anywhere else. I remember hearing (from an unreliable source) that Cuba’s multiple currencies led to a situation where taxi drivers and people working in the tourist industry ended up very well-off, because they tended to get paid in the more valuable currency…

      • John Schilling says:

        Interesting idea. I’ve been attracted in the past to the idea of having one currency for staples and one currency for luxuries, which seems like a slightly broader version of what you propose.

        That’s sort of what food stamps are, and the result is about what you’d expect: black-market money-changers, who demand a greater percentage and leave the poor/foolish with less money for staples than if you’d just let them make their own choices openly.

      • Perico says:

        I think that as long as either the currency you are trying to introduce or the goods you are trying to control are physical objects that people can easily exchange, any system of this kind is doomed to failure due to black markets. As it is, the system I propose has a digital currency with heavily restricted transactions, and applies to a service where you should be able to have mandatory user identification (since it is banned for minors) – and chances are, it still wouldn’t work.

        I don’t know of any countries that deliberately support multiple currencies, but, like Cuba, many South American countries have a de facto dual currency economy: their own weak currency, and the dollar. It’s not pretty.

        • fion says:

          Yeah, I suppose I hadn’t really considered the advantage you get from making it a digital currency.

          I thought Cuba deliberately had multiple currencies? Wikipedia seems to suggest there are two different Cuban “pesos”, one of which is colloquially called a “dollar” but is not a US dollar.

      • helloo says:

        Plenty of countries have multiple “currencies”. Just not official ones.
        First Bitcoin. and all the other crypto currencies.

        Arcade currency. Casino chips. Online game currencies.

        And one of the bad effects is that the country often states an official ratio between two currencies that isn’t based on the market/reality. And the mess that follows often devalues the weaker currency even more.

  26. raj says:

    I’ve been seeing insurance polices for small things: cell phones, bikes, pets, etc.

    Traditional wisdom is that you shouldn’t insure against something if you can easily cover the loss (take the hit) – you’re paying for the actuarial value plus overhead for the insurance company’s operation: guaranteed negative EV. OTOH, there’s clearly some information asymmetry at play: if I ride my bike for 4 hours a day, my actuarial risk seems higher than average, but the insurance company can’t know that. OTOOH, in the aggregate markets are rational, so you’d expect the cost of premiums to be driven up by the low-risk dropping out as the high-risk flock to buy policies (as we see with the ACA).

    So, I am wondering if small-cap insurance policies can be rational (that is, +EV) if you are *really* confident the policy has higher value than the premium for some hidden reason, meaning you are basically profiting at the expense of the irrationally risk-averse? Or are you more likely to be tricking yourself (plus, transaction costs) – ergo just steer clear?

    • DavidS says:

      I don’t know what you mean by ‘in the aggregate markets are rational’, but if you mean ‘people only have insurance if it makes sense for them’ it’s blatantly false. I definitely think that if you’re high-risk in a way the policy can’t by its nature catch you could well be getting a good deal. They don’t have to make sure every customer is profitable for them, just that the system as a whole is.

      • raj says:

        I mean in the sense that the premium of an insurance policy is (should?) be driven to it’s “actual” value. If it has one.

    • J Mann says:

      I think they make sense if you (a) have private knowledge that you are unusually likely to experience a covered loss,* or (b) have an unusually strong risk aversion.

      I usually buy road hazard insurance for my tires – I know it’s a very probably money loser, but I hate paying for minor repairs.

      * As you point out, you have to be above average for insurance buyers, not for product buyers, so it’s hard to know for sure that you’re in the high risk category.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Small-cap insurance policies can be rational for people with very thin financial margins (essentially, those living paycheck-to-paycheck), for whom an unexpected expense of a few thousand or even a few hundred dollars would create major financial hardship.

      The standard financial advice would be to do your utmost to improve your financial margins (find a way to operate at a small monthly surplus, pay down debts to reduce interest expenses and clear up more free cash flow, and then build up emergency savings). But a lot of people can’t or won’t do this for various reasons, and for them a small-cap insurance policy can make sense.

    • toastengineer says:

      I dunno; isn’t a low-variance life worth something in itself? I’m willing to trade a 1% chance of having to pay the price of an expensive item for %~1 of the price of the item. Makes it a lot easier to predict how much money I’ll have in the near future.

      Maybe this makes less sense if you have a big buffer of cash such that having to replace your phone doesn’t mean you have to not buy things you normally would for a few months, but uhhh… I don’t.

      • raj says:

        Yeah, I keep enough of a buffer that the variance of a smartphone isn’t meaningful. I’m young and have good income, so I’m all about maximizing longterm expected value of my portfolio. I’m risk tolerant because I can choose to retire at (say) 45 or 46 depending on how things go.

    • Insurance for something small doesn’t make sense. But a service contract, which is sort of like insurance, might. Sears knows a lot more than I do about who will do a good job of fixing their appliances at a reasonable price. So I might want to pay them for a service contract on my washer on the theory that I am paying twenty dollars for a service that costs them fifteen dollars but would cost me thirty dollars.

      • raj says:

        It is a sort of Copernican principle with respect to risk, such that even if I believe I am high risk, I should practice humility because insurance company actuaries are really good at their jobs?

        Even if I know I’m REALLY clumsy and don’t use a case on my phone?

    • sfoil says:

      The problem with the information asymmetry is you don’t even know how deep it is. I have a pretty good idea of what risk category I’m in regarding my car insurance, and I know in turn that the insurance agency actively discriminates between risk categories so that e.g. they’re at least willing to actually charge less money to me than to a 17-year-old with a Camaro and if they aren’t, I can find someone who will. Whereas the phone company appears to charge everybody for insurance. Does this mean that a) everybody’s in the “Average” risk category or b) everybody is in the same assigned risk category as the 15-year-old on a motorcycle. My guess is that it’s closer to b than to a.

  27. Atlas says:

    Wow, does Jacob Rees-Mogg, or one of his staffers, read Slate Star Codex? Because what he said in that interview sounds a lot like part of I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup.

    • fion says:

      I don’t see it, myself. All he said that was reminiscent of I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup was “tolerance means being tolerant of things you don’t like, not just things you do.”

      In the past I’ve got the impression that JRM’s approach to tolerance is much less thought-through than Scott’s (or perhaps it is thought through but just dishonest…). He sometimes seems to try to use religious tolerance as a reason why he should be free from a certain type of criticism. Freedom from criticism is not the same as freedom from intolerance.

  28. DavidS says:

    Looking in at the NFL stuff from outside…

    How much is there evidence of people being outright hypocrites (i.e. people who think it’s OK to sack right-wingers for their views think NFL are breaching free speech or people who thought the former was awful think NFL are totally in the right)?
    How much are there genuine distinctions on either side that justify this rather than give a blatant cover for hypocrisy?
    How much is it just that the left and the right are both big enough to have some people on both sides of the ‘freedom of speech doesn’t just mean the government not imprisoning you’ debate?

    How much is this a big deal for most people?

    Interested both because I care about the free speech debate but also because I’m always flabbergasted by parallel hypocrisy where both sides are inconsistent and simultaenously point this out in the form of accusing the other side of being hypocrites.

    • mdet says:

      “Both sides contain multitudes” is almost always correct.

      The Red Tribers I’ve heard from don’t consider it hypocrisy because in their view, the Left wants to fire people at work for things they say outside of work. But the NFL kneelers are protesting / voicing controversial opinions while on the job, and they’re not exactly academics who need tenure for intellectual integrity, so their employer has the right to inflict punishments. (Voiced as “If I held a protest during an office meeting, I’d be fired immediately”)

      I don’t know what the “fire all bigots” Left’s rationalization is, but I could probably check my Facebook to find out

      As for how big a deal it is — all the typical culture warriors are upset, but I see no lasting consequences from this specifically. NFL players aren’t exactly a huge voting demographic, so worst case is NFL viewership drops slightly among pro-kneelers next season.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Pro-kneelers, sure, but they’ve likely clinched viewers north of the Wall.

      • mdet says:

        To add my own Blue Tribe opinion, I agree with the kneelers concerns and think they ought to be allowed to kneel, but based on the ideas of “know your audience” and “meet people where they’re at”, reaching out to conservatives with a protest that can plausibly be interpreted as disrespect for America was bad strategy anyway. (Kaep gets points for consulting with vets on the kneeling, but loses them for wearing cops-as-pigs socks and a Fidel Castro tshirt.) I’d say that the NFL ban on kneeling is a good opportunity to switch up the approach, but the credibility damage has probably already been done.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Honestly, I think Kaepernick did it about as well as could be done – his choice was between something that could never be interpreted as disrespectful that nobody would notice, or what happened, where something that wasn’t disrespectful was interpreted as disrespectful, due to becoming a front in the culture wars.

          I mean, you’ve got Kaepernick’s protest. Which is, as protests go, about as close to the perfect ideal of nonviolent protest: it’s not even disruptive. It’s not like he’s yanking the mic from whoever is butchering the anthem that particular day. Objecting to this kind of puts the lie to people who say their problem is with violent protests, or even just with unpleasant protests. He’s not smashing any windows, he’s not keeping anyone from getting to work, he’s not shouting in a library.

          The anti-kneeler response to this is really over-the-top. But are they responding to it? Or are they responding not to the kneelers but to the pro-kneelers, who honestly seem as gleeful that the red-staters are getting hit in their home turf? (Next thing you know, Skoal will put #resistance on its packaging!) Compare: for some reason a lot of people I know who don’t give a rat’s ass about football, American or otherwise, suddenly cared about the superbowl. Why? Because the Patriots are Trump’s team. Or something. This was the second time in my life I’ve gone to a Superb Owl viewing party, and the first time was a student organization had to blow some money at a bar.

          But the anti-kneelers can’t say “the protest is OK but we don’t like some of the people who support it from afar” – that’s like having war propaganda where the enemy isn’t some slavering brute. It’s (culture) war and humanizing the enemy can wait until critically acclaimed movies in a couple decades, or whatever. They have to come up with some version of reality where respectful, quiet, low-key protest is pissing on the graves of the brave men who died for our right to, uh, free speech.

          Honestly, Kaepernick is one of the people who comes out looking the best from all this. He did everything he could to have a protest that was noticeable (what’s the point of a protest otherwise?) and he seems like a decent guy. Still not enough to overcome the culture war.

          • J Mann says:

            Mmmm, I’m going to quibble a little. I do think Kaepernick was well-intentioned, but . . .

            1) I’d personally be much less likely to go to an entertainment event where I knew I was going to get what I perceived as an anti-American protest. And I won’t argue if you want to call me jingoist, but one of the most enjoyable parts of a US sports game for me is the Anthem.

            2) Maybe Kaepernick didn’t mean to cause offense, but at some point if you know you’re causing offense and don’t stop, that’s much less of a distinction. And I’d find it rude to protest someone else’s Anthem at a sports game, even if I had substantial objections to aspects of that county’s laws or culture.

            3) I know, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but I can think of a lot better ways to raise this issue. Start a charity, keep up a constant twitter feed, wear armbands, etc. If his goal was to convince people who didn’t already agree with him, he failed.

          • dndnrsn says:

            If the issue is that you perceive something as anti-American, and that you think someone should stop what they’re doing based on someone else’s offense regardless of the first person’s intent… How is that different from the sentiments of the Hairdye NKVD types people around here love to hate? Might as well call failing to stand for the anthem a microaggression, to be honest. I look forward to the video of scream-crying guys in trucker hats surrounding lefty professors and shouting about how unsafe they are being made to feel.

            I believe he has started a charity or something like that, and if he had a twitter feed or an armband, I’m sure people would find a way to object to that too. I don’t think that the objection is to what he’s doing, it’s to the fact that it’s possible for anything to become an element in the culture wars. If Trump declared Neapolitan ice cream to be the official ice cream of America, then some people would start boycotting it, and other people would start buying it up. There would be stupid thinkpiece articles about it. It’s not about what Kaepernick actually did.

            How does, in this situation, one convince people who don’t already agree with them? What Kaepernick did was significantly friendlier and more respectful than the usual activist playbook on either side of the fence. One could easily come up with a steelmanned, red-tribe-friendly message – something like “black Americans, who are as American as any other American and in some cases more so, want to be treated like full members of the country they live in, have fought for, etc [eagle cries a single tear; fade-cut to flapping American flag; zoom-out from the black soldier’s face on the Vietnam War memorial statue to the whole thing]” but it’s still the Culture War, and I’m sure that if the American right didn’t object, people on the more septum-pierced side of things would find a reason to object (there’s at least 3 in what I just whipped together someone of the campus-left variety could get upset about).

            That’s why it’s culture war. It doesn’t become about the thing itself, it becomes about who’s for or against it.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      I’ve seen the left be fairly consistent, advocating common sense employment protections that would prevent you from being fired for these sorts of political expression, regardless of your philosophical position on what “Free Speech” should/does entail

      • mdet says:

        I know Blue Tribe progressives on social media who relish in sharing “This person said something bigoted, share until employer fires them” posts, which definitely goes against “advocating common sense employment protections”.

        I’d understand if you said “Those people aren’t the real Left, they’re just everyday people with Blue Tribe membership but no real ideological credentials” or something along those lines, but others would probably consider that a No True Scotsman.

    • drunkfish says:

      Blue Triber here. I don’t think the NFL is violating free speech, I just think they’re being really shitty. I don’t think the constitution is what should be stopping them, I just don’t think they should be banning people from protesting in such a benign way and I hope that markets stop them. I think the NFL has every right to tell players what to do on the field, but I think it’s ridiculous that they’re actually exercising that to tell players when to stand or not stand.

      • John Schilling says:

        The NFL is the National Football League, and clearly interprets that in part as being a symbolic force for national unity just as most of its teams are symbols of regional unity via friendly rivalry. It is a legitimate business decision for them to chose to provide this legitimate service to a customer base that wants to buy it, and having done so, to fire anyone who goes explicitly off-message while on-camera.

        It is also legitimate for everyone who isn’t big on US nationalism to decide that they don’t want to buy what the NFL is selling. And long past time that they do so.

      • albatross11 says:

        drunkfish: +1

    • J Mann says:

      I don’t think anyone needs to be a hypocrite. You can be for firing John Rocker and James Watson* and against fining the kneelers by saying “It’s wrong to use power to silence people who are saying good things, but necessary to silence people who are saying bad things,” or you can make a different distinction by saying that Kaepernick was expressing political opinions and the other two weren’t, etc.

      That doesn’t mean everyone will agree with you, but it’s not hypocrisy.

      * I can’t remember if Rocker and Watson were actually fired, but whether or not, you could still support firing them!

      • One can also distinguish between people who are, in effect, using their employer’s resources to push their political views and people who are pushing their views with their own resources and get fired by their employer for doing so.

        The football player has an audience because the football teams have spent a lot of effort producing one. He is then hijacking that effort to make his point. That isn’t illegal, but it isn’t unreasonable for his employer to object if they think what he is doing hurts them.

        It would be a different case if the football player used the fact he was famous to get visibility for views he put up on his blog or posters or ads or … .

      • MB says:

        Indeed, this is a completely consistent attitude. Speech is not, in itself, good or bad, only its contents make it so.
        It’s refreshing to see a public admission, though, that free speech is better suited as a tactic than as a goal, as opposed to the pompous and embarrassing celebrations around the so-called “Free Speech Movement”. That diversion has served its purpose and has gone on for much longer than necessary. It’s time to bury it once and for all.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Left wingers who typically support sacking people for right-wing views generally believe said right-wingers are racist/sexist/other-ist that should not be permissible in modern society. They won’t fire you for saying “we should lower taxes,” because that’s a legitimate right-wing view, but they will fire you for saying anything that even remotely sounds like an attack on a protected class (well, as long as said protected class membership isn’t a “privileged class,” because attacking white CIS male is speaking truth to power. The law will see it differently, but they don’t).

      More than a few are not committed to free speech rights, even according to their “XKCD Theory” of censorship. That Nazis are allowed to demonstrate is abhorrent to them, and that the NFL is even allowed to fine the players is equally abhorrent (and a demonstration of why America sucks). So don’t think of your social feed partisans as staunch Bill of Rights supporters: they aren’t.

      It’s not different people. It’s the same people, judging by my Twitter and FB feed. The same people who support torching Damore are the same people who think it’s abhorrent for the NFL to fine kneelers. I can’t speak for the right-wingers, because the right-wingers on my Facebook feed did not even mention Damore (it was all left-wingers wanting to toast the guy).

      I don’t care if you don’t stand for the anthem, because I don’t expect either patriotism or nationalism from regular Americans (or athletes). However, the position that “protest is patriotic” befuddles me: it obviously depends on WHAT you are protesting. None of these people saying “protest is patriotic” are claiming the Charlottesville Demonstrators are patriotic.

      • mdet says:

        I don’t think I’ve actually seen anyone say that the NFL shouldn’t even be allowed to fine the players. Plenty of disagreement that kneeling deserves fining of course, but no statements “The NFL has no right to fine players for breaking the rules”

  29. cryptoshill says:

    I did some collation of data regarding success rates of “coding bootcamp” students. One control I left out due to lack of data availability is:
    How many bootcamp attendees had four-year degrees to start with and were using a bootcamp to change fields or add to their skillset?

    Some assumptions I made:
    Regardless of success or failure, both bootcamp graduates and college students paid full price
    Computer Science graduation rates are similar to those of the wider college set (I FIRMLY disagree with this but am unable to find aggregate data for graduatioon-rate-by-major at this time, if anyone can point me to a solid source on this I’m happy to adjust this table
    Link here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/13w8IIIAGznmp2rCYA9Sa-0TboDhm9qZ0BgMI2DdG-X0/edit?usp=sharing

    Dataset:
    I used the most recent set of data available on the CIRR website (January – June 2017). I wonder how much this will change if the dataset is expanded?

    This is in reference to Caplan’s signaling hypothesis, I felt like I could shed some light given that I’m doing a project on the tech worker shortage more broadly.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I very much buy into Caplan’s theory on education signalling generally, but my impression was that coding bootcamp was not that kind of education. I don’t know a whole lot about the bootcamp, but isn’t it a pretty short program, so it doesn’t tell you anything about the graduate’s tenacity. Does the bootcamp give grades, or otherwise create signals that would tell an employer how good the coder is? No grades would indicate less signaling. And no distribution courses, I assume.

      I looked at your spreadsheet, but I don’t know what it is supposed to show. Success of the graduate doesn’t tell you whether that success is due to signaling or human capital.

      • cryptoshill says:

        Those schools represent a sort of vocational model of technical education. To me the critical data that is missing is “how much signaling value do the people at these institutions already possess.”? Clearly it is not zero. However you are exactly correct that it is not the four-year “deal with endless academic drudgery with only 50% of it even tangentially related to your ostensible field of study.). A lot of the problem with these vocational type schools that teach you real skills in short periods is that they have no way to obtain the requisite signaling value to justify their tuition.

        So I should’ve been more clear that the relationship between my work and the signaling hypothesis is on the cost side, not on the signaling side. Vocational schools tend to be have a greater degree of skills and a smaller degree of signaling(as a portion of their training time or dollars). Comparing the costs between the two is forming the basis of my hypothesis that in order to address worker shortage problems in tech specifically requires the creation of a focused technical body outside the realm of academia. On the signaling front – showing a stark difference between the skills-value of a bootcamp education and the signaling-value of a degree is pretty damning. Although I absolutely wish that there was a way to control for “percentage of people represented in these statistics who already possess a four year degree” to make this more correctly about signaling and not just a cost comparison.

        As an example – one of the interviews I conducted with a few professionals was a just-above entry level IT who possessed no industry certification whatsoever. He expressed that the hiring manager came to him and told him that “you’re hired because you have a degree and it’s a checkbox we have to meet, there are other people we would rather hire but you have the degree.” This is potentially the strongest case for signaling I have heard yet.

    • dick says:

      I hire software engineers frequently and could weigh in, but I’m not sure what you’re trying to establish. I don’t think of bootcamps and 4-year CS programs as being all that similar, and the difference is not a matter of signalling, they just teach different things. There’s no question that a degree is more valuable in absolute terms (ease of getting a job, salary, etc), but there are times when that’s not true – say, for a 6-month contract front-end UI position, a company might prefer a bootcamper (whose final project was in the language/framework they use) because they can be gotten cheaper. But such a position would emphatically not mean that the bootcamp was better than a degree in some way, and certainly wouldn’t be evidence that someone in a CS program is wasting their money.

      To answer a question downthread – bootcamps don’t generally give grades (if they do, they’re ignored), and their signalling value is low. The point of a bootcamp is not “look at my certificate”, it’s the project(s) you did at the camp. There’s very, very little difference between a bootcamp grad going in to an interview and describing the toy app they built for their final project, and any other random person going in to an interview describing some app they built in their spare time.

      Happy to answer bootcamp-related questions from a hirer’s perspective!

      • cryptoshill says:

        I don’t mean to indicate that the two are qualitatively equivalent, the qualitative difference to me is that the four year degree carries much stronger signaling value as well as a mpre generalized skillset. My basic thought here is that “a lot of positions “require” that generalized, theoretical skillset in hiring regardless of the usefulness of that skillset”, my proposed model for industry education and training was to expand the bootcamp out a little bit with an actual industry internship.

        The company would only need to maintain a 20% success rate through this method (for full time developers) to financially be cheaper to the organization than hiring fresh college grads.

        I was inspired by the number of development positions that are currently open, with the BLS predicting a 24% growth by 2026. With CS grads at about 50k/yr, these organizations are leaving a LIT of value on the table by trusting mainstream academia to actually filter and educate people on topics that enable performance.

        • dick says:

          Sorry, I didn’t see this. I’d like to help but I’m not sure what you’re driving at and it seems like you’re working off of some incorrect assumptions.

          a) Signalling is not nearly as important as you’re making it out to be here. Most/all of the important differences that a CS degree might “signal” (e.g. understanding of complex data structures) are things I can just ask about in a phone screen, and everyone knows this, and acts accordingly.

          b) Lots of bootcamps include internships, so I’m not sure what you’re proposing? To be sure some of them could be longer/better (I’ve heard some bootcampers complain that their internship was low value or not relevant).

          c) I’m not sure what “CS grads at about 50k/yr” means. Is that salary? It’s not common for even fresh bootcamp grads to make that little, unless it’s some kind of internship or trial employment.

          d) If you want my two cents, the #1 overriding problem with bootcamps is that they (in my experience) pay little to no attention to QA or test automation, despite QA being the easiest software job for a bootcamp grad to get in to. It’s crazy that they do this and they could definitely help their grads by fixing this.

          If you want more info, my email is my username followed by ineptech and a dot com at the end.

  30. dodrian says:

    The National Transport Safety Board has released their preliminary report on the fatality last March involving Uber’s Self-Driving technology.

    Quotes from the PDF linked on that page:

    According to data obtained from the self-driving system, the system first registered radar and LIDAR observations of the pedestrian about 6 seconds before impact, when the vehicle was traveling at 43 mph. As the vehicle and pedestrian paths converged, the self-driving system software classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle with varying expectations of future travel path. At 1.3 seconds before impact, the self-driving system determined that an emergency braking maneuver was needed to mitigate a collision. According to Uber, emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control, to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior. The vehicle operator is relied on to intervene and take action. The system is not designed to alert the operator.

    The self-driving system data showed that the vehicle operator intervened less than a second before impact by engaging the steering wheel. The vehicle speed at impact was 39 mph. The operator began braking less than a second after the impact. The data also showed that all aspects of the self-driving system were operating normally at the time of the crash, and that there were no faults or diagnostic messages.

    The inward-facing video shows the vehicle operator glancing down toward the center of the vehicle several times before the crash. In a postcrash interview with NTSB investigators, the vehicle operator stated that she had been monitoring the self-driving system interface. The operator further stated that although her personal and business phones were in the vehicle, neither was in use until after the crash, when she called 911.

    Questions yet unanswered: will the operator be charged with vehicular homocide/manslaughter? Will Uber be charged with something for bad safety practices?**

    **Pointed out elsewhere in the article is that the Volvo comes factory-equipped with auto-braking technology, this was disabled (I’m guessing this is the technology that is standard on all modern cars, and disabling it was necessary or made it easier to install Uber’s own systems). The emergency braking that’s part of the Uber software was disabled to avoid the car stopping randomly [presumably] because of not-yet-mature software issues. Is it reasonable to disable both of these systems and pass the onus of crash-avoidance back onto the operator in an otherwise fully automatic system?

    • dodrian says:

      An additional point – At 1.3 seconds (~25 meters away) when the autonomous system ‘decided’ to emergency brake, it looks like it still wouldn’t have been able to stop in time (31m, according to this site), though that probably would have avoided the fatality.

      • Well... says:

        Maybe people should just be required to wear crash helmets and rigid armored suits while riding in them.

        • John Schilling says:

          Or walking on public streets in cities where they are allowed, presumably. Do you want a dose of Butlerian Jihad? Because that’s how you get Butlerian Jihad.

    • maintain says:

      >emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control, to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior

      facepalm.jpg

      Why didn’t the car swerve though?

      Also, self driving cars need to be trained to honk.

    • AKL says:

      This is particularly frustrating because Uber seems to have cheaped out on “normal” safeguards:

      In video footage of the interior of the car leading up to the crash, the driver is repeatedly seen looking down toward the center console of the car. Many commentators assumed that she was looking at a phone, but she told the NTSB investigators “she had been monitoring the self-driving system interface.” In fact, the testing method requires operators “monitoring diagnostic messages that appear on an interface in the center stack of the vehicle dash and tagging events of interest for subsequent review.”

      Other self-driving companies’ testing protocols involve two people: one to drive and the other to monitor the system’s outputs and do the computer work. Uber itself did this too until late 2017, when the company decided that the second operator’s job could be done by looking at logs back at the office.

      It’s one thing to recognize that testing this technology entails risks and that there is likely a tradeoff between safety now and time-to-market (and, consequently, reduced fatalities across all time horizons). But the simplest way to prevent this fatality wasn’t to slow down Uber’s testing; it was to pay an extra 45k a year for a second person to sit in the car making notes… just like every other company does. The more I think about it, the more outrageous it sounds that Uber’s standard protocol was that the same person would monitor and make notations on an electronic display while simultaneously “driving.” There’s a reason we have laws against texting while driving.

      This is particularly frustrating because it seems like the biggest risk factor for NOT having fully autonomous vehicles in the near future is regulatory / public sentiment. Obviously one or two accidents have not been enough for the public to clamor for stronger regulation (and consequently slower progress), but what about a fatality every day?

      In the long run, it seems really likely that different companies’ cars will have different safety profiles. What do we do if Uber’s self driving cars are 10x safer than today’s drivers but Google’s are 100x safer? It seems inconceivable that this would drive consumer behavior (not a perfect analogue, but it’s not like anyone chooses an airline based on its safety record), so Uber really would be killing 10x “too many” people. Based on various companies’ (Tesla…) current approaches and risk tolerance I would argue that this is occurring today.

      The way I think about it, Uber / Tesla are bearing the direct costs of their approaches via litigation risk, but the externalities of “making the public less likely to support innovation and risk taking re: self driving cars” are orders of magnitude larger than settlements that are probably in the range of single or low double digit millions.

      Do tech companies have any incentive to prioritize safety above the minimum threshold for not derailing testing / development via regulation or public outcry? How do we (as a society) incentivize companies to prioritize 100x vs. 10x safety improvements even at the cost of a 1 year delay? What are the roles of regulators / licensing boards / the courts in a future where multiple autonomous operators have very different safety profiles?

    • John Schilling says:

      It is a good sign that the toaster recognized the need for emergency braking. Admittedly, this was one of the easier problems for a self-driving car, but getting it right at least marginally increases confidence that the system might someday be trusted to get the hard problems right too. Meanwhile, we just need to find the guy who decided to disable the automated braking and arrange for him to be drawn and quartered by four self-driving Ubercars.

      The more worrisome part is, just how “erratic” was the behavior that lead to that decision? There’s no question that self-driving cars can be made safe if you dial the paranoia setting up to eleven, but if the result is that every self-driving car will panic-stop every two minutes because it was afraid of its own shadow, and again every time it sees another self-driving car panic-stop, that leaves them being banned from the public roads as an intolerable gridlocking annoyance rather than as an intolerable safety hazard.

      Self-driving cars need to find the middle ground between Too Dangerous and Too Annoyingly Paranoid, and I expect that at the current state of the art those two exclusion zones overlap. Which is going to make it difficult to do the sort of realistic testing needed to greatly advance the current state of the art.

  31. Well... says:

    In my approximately 15-20 years trying to use a studfinder to securely mount things on walls, I have never had much luck with them. Maybe 99% false positives, an unknown but surely massive number of false negatives, and a whole bunch of what appears to be insubordinate beeping followed by evident device malfunction — even after switching out batteries and devices! (I have two studfinders.)

    I’ve studied the very simple instructions on the back of the device countless times, I’ve looked up instructions on handyman websites to make sure I’m not crazy, and I always follow these instructions carefully.

    Still no luck. I just end up tapping around with my knuckle until I find a place that sounds solid, then I hammer a nail in to see if I got lucky. Usually after 5-6 nails I find a stud, or else (if weight limits allow) I give up and just switch to a drill and use drywall anchors.

    Goddamn studfinders. Is anyone able to use these accursed tools successfully?? If so, what’s the secret?

    • Zephalinda says:

      Fancy electronic studfinders never work for me either, but I recently got a simple magnetic one that works like a charm 95% of the time– it doesn’t operate by finding the stud itself, but finds and sticks to the drywall nails in the studs.

      A moderate downside is that doesn’t give you info on where the edges of the stud are, only finds a middleish point, which I guess could be an issue if you needed to hang something really heavy-duty requiring precisely centered holes.

      • Well... says:

        Presumably it also means you could pass right over a stud because there aren’t nails or screws in it at the locality where you’re passing by it left-to-right. Right?

        In other words, it solves the false positive problem but not the false negative one.

        • Zephalinda says:

          You generally try for 2D coverage by doing wide, shallow zigzag passes moving slowly up or down the section of wall you want– drywall tends to be fastened every few feet and, the magnet is strong enough that you start feeling a bit of a tug once you’re within ~1″ or so of the nail, so this only takes a couple of seconds.

          Unless there’s a weird framing setup, the rest of the stud will always be straight up/ straight down, so once you can mark the horizontal location of the stud you’re good to go anywhere along the vertical.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      My wife, who worked in construction for a couple of years and then has had construction-adjacent jobs for the last decade, assures me that studfinders have all the value of dowsing rods.

      • Well... says:

        That’s what I was afraid of hearing.

        So how do serious contractors find studs? Surely they have a more efficient method than the one I use. I guess I could ask this over at the home improvement forum I sometimes frequent…

        • CatCube says:

          Well, most studs are on known intervals. Every place I’ve had to drill into a wall they’ve been on 16″ centers, and I’ve been able to work out where they are from measuring from a door (accounting for the doubled studs, if the wall isn’t a multiple of 16″, the extra space is divided evenly on both sides).

          Of course, it’s both been a while since I’ve done this, and I’ve not done it often, so maybe it was harder than I remember. The last place I did this was my parents’ place since I’ve rented since moving out, and I’ve not hung anything heavy enough to need to make sure I find a stud.

          • Well... says:

            Yeah, both houses I’ve owned have had 16 on center studs in the walls, but the problem is all the weird exceptions. We had one room that was unfinished on one side so I could see the studs in there. They were highly irregular, to accommodate all sorts of things. I gather this happens more often than one might think.

          • Well... says:

            PS. The other problem is finding that first stud.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Ultrasound works great.

    • hls2003 says:

      Mine usually works fine. Basic Craftsman electronic stud finder. It did take me awhile to figure out some of the usage nuances. The best I can recommend is to make sure you try several different locations for the “calibration” initial click. If you calibrate it on an already-filled area (including a generally crowded wall full of electrical boxes or unexpected double studs) then you will get useless results as it won’t be able to tell the empty from the full. Calibrate it in several different areas and make very sure your final choice is empty. Then slide slowly along the wall until you get a hit. Keep moving after the hit and see if your hit declines back to empty after about 2 inches (for the 2×4 stud). Then keep moving after that and confirm that your next hit is about 16 inches away (most homes are 16 inch on center). Once you get a proper calibration leading to even one reliable hit, you can then mostly use measurement to find the next stud in line and just use the studfinder to confirm edges and that you don’t have wonky double studs or former windows or electrical conduit or what have you (because then it’ll act stupid).

  32. Well... says:

    Last weekend I drove several hours to attend a Helmet/Prong concert (they’re co-headlining a tour because God is great and we must have pleased Him somehow) and while Prong was on I was standing there thinking.

    In front of me was a mosh pit in which a handful of powerfully-built, in-shape-looking guys approximately between the ages of 25 and 45 were apparently filled with so much energy by the music they had no choice but to prance around and shove and crash into each other at high speeds. Everywhere else around them were people who were moved at least enough to enthusiastically nod in rhythm to the music (myself included) or in some cases headbang or tap their feet or make devil horns with their fingers or whatever else.

    All that is to say, heavy rock is very compelling, energizing music. I have a portable CD player that I never open because I keep Helmet’s “Meantime” in it permanently. I listen to it sometimes when I work out and that is the sole reason I bought the CD player. That album makes me feel like I could kill a grizzly bear with my hands. Seeing that music performed live is even more energizing.

    Meanwhile I was remembering an interview with Tommy Victor (Prong frontman) in which he was talking in a very realistic and resigned but of course somewhat melancholy way about the fact that the kind of music he plays just isn’t that popular anymore, doesn’t typically sell out large venues, and is hard for even him (a hugely influential figure) to support himself on. I remember at another Helmet concert I went to, Page Hamilton (Helmet frontman) made a comment between songs that led me to believe $10k was more money than he typically makes off a whole tour. Tours usually last several months.

    If someone opened up a gym with a stage, or converted a concert venue to a gym, and contracted “residences” with heavy rock bands like Helmet and Prong (or similar-sounding “local” acts), do you think it could be a viable alternative to the way those kinds of bands (try to) make money now?

    It would be a whole new kind of experience: work out while a live band plays hard, driving music. To me that sounds pretty awesome, and beats the hell out of having sports news on a bunch of TVs strewn all over the gym. I’d pay an extra $10 a month for membership at a gym like that if the music was at least consistently not bad, especially if there was an opportunity to walk over and say hi to the band members after my workout.

    To pilot the idea, you start by just piping in recordings of the music and only having live acts once a week for a few hours. If that catches on you expand the number of time slots for live acts.

    Have I temporarily lost my mind? (It’s possible.)

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      It sounds reasonable to me, and I liked “Meanwhile” even though that’s not usually my sort of thing.

      Also, they’ve got Unsung, and that’s not almost a coincidence because nothing is ever really almost a coincidence.

      I wonder if this would work as music for games.

    • maintain says:

      I can’t work out without thrash metal. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get sick of all the thrash albums I have. Hopefully I’ll be swole by then.

  33. ohwhatisthis? says:

    https://www.thesouthafrican.com/land-redistribution-government-fast-track/

    There must be historical examples of similar cases in relatively recent history. How have they worked out?

    • hyperboloid says:

      I don’t know enough about the South African case to have an informed opinion; and we all know what happened in Zimbabwe where Mugabe’s government handed out the most productive land in the country to his inept political cronies. Nevertheless land-to-the-tiller reforms are one of the most effective ways of combating rural poverty and political instability. If you want to understand the basic difference, for instance, between India and Pakistan, the concentration of land ownership is a factor you can not afford to overlook.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Could you elaborate on India vs Pakistan?
        I thought that the difference was that India was big and diverse and that Pakistan was small and homogeneous. Isn’t BIMARU pretty similar to Pakistan? Has there been diversity in land reform across India?

        The usual argument for land reform is that big landowners have poor incentives. But I don’t think that there were big landowners in either Zimbabwe or South Africa, not on the scale usually discussed in Asian land reform. [When I google “Indian land reform,” I see articles complaining about some people today having 6x as much land as others, but I don’t think that’s what people meant 50 years ago.]

        (The claim that big landowners have poor incentives is largely an empirical one. Maybe there’s a theoretical issue about feudalism that competent managers can’t expand. But there’s an empirical claim that big landowners try to bleed the peasants dry, rather than offering simple incentives to improve productivity. They may offer a 50/50 sharecropping deal, but then they engage in monopsony.)

  34. ManyCookies says:

    @John Schilling please tell me what my opinion on Trump pulling out of the summit should be. Trump’s administration blowing everything with stupid posturing? A 6-D Parcheesi negotiation tactic like some Trump supporters are suggesting? An insider trading conspiracy on Trump-Kim commemorative coins (the new demand crashed the buypage)?

    • rlms says:

      Trump’s administration eventually deciding not to do the summit for the same reasons that the past few Presidents decided not to do a summit? (I don’t know what those reasons are).

    • John Schilling says:

      A 6-D Parcheesi negotiation tactic like some Trump supporters are suggesting?

      A total goat rodeo, as some Trump critics are suggesting.

      Trump impulsively committed to a high-stakes summit on such short notice that it would have taken first-rate diplomatic ground work to pull it off in a productive manner, and then promptly fired both his secretary of state and his national security advisor. Replacing them with people, particularly APNSA, for whom the only good Kim is a dead Kim and diplomacy is an inconvenient roadblock to that desired end.

      North Korea’s response was a consistent “This is not going to end well, and we’re going to be up front about why it isn’t going to end well and whose fault that is, but we’re not going to be the ones to actually cancel the summit and we’re going to position ourselves to be the Reasonable Aggrieved Party when it all comes apart”. They were handicapped in this by having a staff translator who really sucks at idiomatic English and is apparently working from a 1950s style guide and dictionary, but their actions were all on-message and I believe that message was effectively delivered where it counts – in Seoul and Beijing.

      South Korea’s consistent position was, “We really don’t want to be caught in the middle of someone else’s nuclear war; can you two please make peace?” They were handicapped in this by their tendency to, shall we say, strategically mistranslate when acting as a go-between. For example, no North Korean spokesman ever publicly said anything like “we are prepared to give up all of our nuclear weapons in the near future if it will get us peace”, and it is exceedingly unlikely that they said anything like that in private, but South Korean officials seem to have told US officials that North Korean officials told them to relay such a message. I’m guessing they thought this sort of thing counted as a little white lie, in the service of peace by telling Trump/Kim whatever flattering things would get them to the table to talk peace, but it clearly didn’t work.

      Trump’s consistent position seems to have been “Someone told me North Korea would give up all of its nuclear weapons, and the Nobel committee would give me one of their prizes, if I just say the right words and show up for the summit”. He was never consistent in what he thought the right words should be, probably because different advisers kept whispering different words in his ear and he wasn’t paying much attention to any of them. And when it became clear that he wasn’t going to get North Korea’s nukes and/or a Nobel, he called off the summit.

      John Bolton’s consistent position was, “Kill them all and let God sort them out, which should be easy because they are all atheist commie scum”. If this were being written by Shakespeare, Bolton would be the Iago to Trump’s Othello. Unless we can figure out how to have Iago play against Falstaff, which would be a better fit. Particularly if we can recruit Brian Blessed to play Trump as Falstaff.

  35. Vincent Soderberg says:

    This week I’m just wondering how many swedish people read SSC, and if any of them could say hello to this question. it would be nice to get to now some swedish ssc’s

  36. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Is it at all plausible that people have a strong genetic drive to invent sex roles?

    • dndnrsn says:

      Sex role, or gender role? If we erase gender entirely – everyone is “they” and wears beige jumpsuits – some of these people are still bigger and stronger and provide a component necessary for reproduction, while others of these people take a much bigger role in reproduction (which takes much more time and leaves them in a vulnerable state for a while). There doesn’t have to be a genetic drive for it make sense to have the former lift the heavy stuff, not risk the lives of the latter needlessly by having them get stepped on by mammoths, whatever. That might result in a genetic drive – a tribe where they have the men try to bear children and the women go fight bears will likely die out; dying out is bad for continuing your genes (citation needed). But if every tribe sat down and did what made most sense, they’d do this.

      EDIT: The fun part is when a society then bases gender roles on these sex roles, and then enters a technological level of development where fighting mammoths doesn’t really matter and you don’t need to be having babies all the time because almost all of them live, but still having gender roles awkwardly ported over to the new society.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I was dithering on sex roles vs. gender roles, and guessed.

        What I meant was that societies (all of them, so far as I know) mark male/female much more strongly (a lot of differences in clothes and ornaments) than is needed for work or reproduction.

        • albatross11 says:

          It seems like there are incentives in a given society for people to make themselves extra-visible and attractive to potential mates, and also to try to raise themselves in status relative to other people in the same class (young society women, say). It seems like that would be enough to explain a lot of sex differentiation in dress and mannerisms far beyond what biology mandates.

          • gbdub says:

            Yah, it seems like there will always be an incentive to be “extra-feminine” or “extra-masculine” – people are naturally competitive and seeking to attract attention, both within the sexes and between them.

            This would naturally drive more extreme differentiation than is strictly necessary.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Maybe?

      Differentiation might help mate selection, especially if clothing obscures more obvious sexual characteristics.

      Anything we can say about it just going to be a just-so story, though.

    • Zephalinda says:

      We do seem to have a strong instinctive drive towards various forms of social differentiation, where in a group of a certain size the stable equilibrium is not perceiving self/others as “sea of identical khaki jumpsuits” OR “a thousand unique snowflakes,” but as some number <10 of distinct groups of well-defined similars.

      At that point, the groups all pick visual and behavioral markers of identity, create a rational self-concept, and set about enforcing conformity to those norms within and across group lines, including creating social structures to keep people "in their place".

      I feel like you can see this kind of role formation happening in lots of spaces unrelated to sex/gender. But the level of natural physical dimorphism we've got around sex, including its being stably identifiable from birth onward, makes it a particularly good… nucleation site?… for free-floating social differentiation instincts.

    • The Element of Surprise says:

      If there is an allele that makes women want to pursue self-actualization, and a competing allele that makes women (but not men) want to stay at home and bear lots of children, then I think it is plausible that the second one would have an advantage. This effect is probably weaker for populations with historically strong moral norms against birth control and stronger for populations that historically gave women greater freedom in their life choices. (But I don’t actually which populations had more or less birth control / freedom to women).

  37. johan_larson says:

    Those of you who write code for a living may enjoy this, from the user documentation of a Python code formatter named Black:

    Black is the uncompromising Python code formatter. By using it, you agree to cede control over minutiae of hand-formatting. In return, Black gives you speed, determinism, and freedom from pycodestyle nagging about formatting. You will save time and mental energy for more important matters.

    Blackened code looks the same regardless of the project you’re reading. Formatting becomes transparent after a while and you can focus on the content instead.

    Bug reports and fixes are always welcome! However, before you suggest a new feature or configuration knob, ask yourself why you want it. If it enables better integration with some workflow, fixes an inconsistency, speeds things up, and so on – go for it! On the other hand, if your answer is “because I don’t like a particular formatting” then you’re not ready to embrace Black yet.

    • achenx says:

      This is.. exactly what I would expect from the Python community.

      To quote the mildly famous “brief, incomplete, and mostly wrong history of programming languages“:

      1991 – Dutch programmer Guido van Rossum travels to Argentina for a mysterious operation. He returns with a large cranial scar, invents Python, is declared Dictator for Life by legions of followers, and announces to the world that “There Is Only One Way to Do It.” Poland becomes nervous.

  38. toastengineer says:

    A while ago, there was a link on a link dump about using Google’s word vector technology to generate puns. I now find myself wanting to do a similar project, but I’ve been looking for an hour and can’t find the damn thing. Anyone remember where that is?

  39. Well... says:

    Time to see if SSC is better than Pandora.

    If I really love Samuel Barber’s violin concerto Op. 14 (esp. the first movement), what other contemporary orchestral music would you recommend I listen to, O Codexian Commentariat?

    Omit works included in any of the Fantasia movies. Omit works composed as film scores (although I am interested in other music composed by people known for their film scores).

    • Machine Interface says:

      So if we exclude Stravinsky because Fantasia, the obvious choices here would be Rachmaninoff (try the Piano Concerto No. 2 and the Vocalise), Debussy (try the “Prélude à l’après midi d’un faune”, “la mer” and “Nocturnes”), and possibly Dvorak (Symphony of the New World).

      Stretching it a bit but probably worth checking as well are some late romantic composers; I’ll exclude Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky again because Fantasia, but maybe try Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem.

      • Well... says:

        I like all those composers and pieces you mentioned (so good job on that front) but I don’t think of any of them as contemporary, at least not in the same sense as Barber.

    • hexbienium says:

      The Barber violin concerto is gorgeous. I don’t know much else by him, but try the First Essay for Orchestra.

      Definitely check out Korngold’s violin concerto; there’s a good performance by Hilary Hahn on YouTube. Depending on whether your definition of “contemporary” includes Ravel, his piano concerto in G should be a good fit (I think Martha Argerich is the go-to for this one). Richard Strauss is a bit old but his Duett-Concertino was written late in life and it’s really really good, so try it.

      And a further-afield suggestion: Sibelius, symphony no. 5.

      • Well... says:

        Thanks. I’ll check out Hillary Hahn (who else!) playing Korngold’s violin concerto.

        I’m sure I’ve heard more by Ravel than “Bolero” but “Bolero” is all I could hum off hand.

        I’ll have to check out R. Strauss’s “Duett-Concertino” too. All I really know by him is “Als Sprach…”

        I’m already a huge Sibelius fan, though my listening on him is spotty. I’ll keep an ear out for symphony no.5.

  40. arlie says:

    I’d like to get the reaction of people here to one of (many) modern business practices that annoy me, and contribute to my general conclusion that folks who run large corporations are a lot more dangerous than folks who run governments.

    The following is a copy of a blog entry, not significantly editted. It’s written as a statement of frustration, not inquiring as to why they would do such a thing. But what I’m asking here is a combination of “why does this make sense” and “(how) can this be justified (morally etc.)”. My instinctive reaction is “because [the owners/executives] are evil sociopaths” – but that’s not exactly a rational[ist] POV.

    Amazon

    Some months ago, when I did a very specific search on Amazon, not logged in, they showed a number of other things before the one I wanted – quite knowingly – those were “sponsored”. I went to the Barnes & Noble site, and bought the same thing there for a higher price.

    Today they did the same thing when I was logged in. The overall impression I got, before noticing the small-print “sponsored”, was that either they didn’t have what I wanted, or they’d totally broken their search algorithm.

    This behaviour isn’t really unique to Amazon. Every grocery store I go to seems to be paid by their suppliers to put things the suppliers want to sell in convenient locations, and thus puts the things I want to buy in hard to reach, hard to find, or otherwise awkward locations, and also stocks less of them, such that they are often out of whatever it was I wanted.

    The big difference between the two is that I have to eat something. If I’m stuck in a food dessert, with only overpriced, oversugared, overchemicaled junk being offered by all competitors, I still have to eat. Whereas if even Amazon no longer offers a real selection, making it too hard to get what I actually want, then this merely takes me back to the days of local bookstores – which never seemed to have room for the things I most wanted – and not buying anything because nothing much appealed.

    For a while, Amazon rescued me from the doesn’t-have-what-I-want problem, which was really a too-inconvenient-to-get-what-I-want problem, since most bookstores were happy to special order specific books for me. Actually, Amazon did it not just for books, but for some types of food as well. I guess all good things have to come to an end. Fortunately I have a house full of books, and two decent public libraries. I don’t need to buy more.

    OTOH, perhaps this is the price I pay for going to their sponsor-your-favourite-charity-by-buying-from-Amazon URL rather than their main URL, and they are still willing to show me what I asked for at the main site, if logged in?

    Well, sort of – at smile.amazon.com, there were two rows of sponsored content, essentially taking up the whole window. At the main site, the “sponsored” content only takes up the top half of the screen. And no adblock available, since they are serving it themselves, and only things like the picture of the sponsored book are individually blockable elements – they’ve merged the unwanted irrelevant crap into the list of search results. (How do I know it’s crap? Well, if it were any good, they could sell it without shoving it into the faces of people who explicitly requested something else.)

    I left feedback that the ad was unsuitable – didn’t match the query I’d done, hence “unrelated to what I was there for”. I then tried to leave a review for the book, but as soon as I clicked “I hated it”, they said “Sorry, we are unable to accept your review of this product. This product currently has limitations on submitting reviews. There can be a number of reasons for this, including unusual reviewing activity.” I translate that as – every other person offended by having half the screen plugged with ads has been leaving “I hate it” reviews of the sponsored content, so we’re only accepting positive reviews.

    And here I thought all they’d do when they’d driven their competition out of business was charge monopoly prices. Nope – their wonderful, easy to use web site turned into an exercise in clicking past the adverts just to get anything done. Oh how I love modern American business practices.

    • gbdub says:

      What searches are you doing? I can’t really replicate your result unless I look for something super generic like “toilet paper”. And there, sure, I get a lot of “sponsored” results or straight up ads, but they’re all relevant. I do wish they’d flag “sponsored” a bit more visibly, like they do “best seller”, but a I can’t get too worked up about it. Scrolling is not that big a deal if I really prefer to wipe my butt with something other than Charmin.

      And I’m kind of glad they didn’t accept your review? I hate it when a product has a bunch of one star reviews that are all “I didn’t even buy this but how Amazon advertised it to me is dumb”

      • arlie says:

        The search was for “david weber”. I had an impulse to find out which of his collections of short stores about the Honor Harrington world were still available but not yet owned by me, and buy them. 50% of the results returned were not written or editted by him, and about 50% of those were “sponsored”.

    • maintain says:

      If it really bothers you, buy stuff from another web site. It’s not like you can complain that network effects have locked you in to using amazon. Amazon is not like Facebook or Microsoft in that regard. You can buy the same products that are on Amazon on other web sites.

      Am I wrong?

      • arlie says:

        As long as Amazon isn’t running an effective monopoly that works. Or at least it works as long as the folks making the relevant decisions aren’t coming from a small group of specialists that has come to a consensus on the best/only/most profitable way to relate to customers.

        It turns out that Amazon’s “monopoly” is still just a scary news story, at least in books. Barnes & Noble’s selection is way down, but they still exist. Powells appears to be thriving (added advantage there – they have an excellent and reliable used book business). So this at least is a false alarm – no need to deal with Amazon at all.

        And it may well be that the reason gbdub didn’t get the same results is A/B testing. I.e. they are trying something on a subset of their customer base to see whether it produces whatever result they are measuring for. Alternatively, he doesn’t understand the difference between toilet paper and books ;-(

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      The reason that businesses are not more dangerous than governments is competition. If you don’t like how one company treats you, you can go to another one. Amazon is extremely popular, so obviously most folks don’t have the same reaction to Amazon as the blog writer. I personally never noticed such problems when I used Amazon. One can always shop somewhere else.

      The blog writer seems to be saying that all food stores have the same dysfunctional way of stacking their food, but I find this basically nuts. The blog writer is saying big box supermarkets, Wal-Mart, Aldi, Whole Foods, and co-op groceries all do this same thing? Assuming this person is in the US: this country has an extremely diverse set of food retailers, and there is no way they do their marketing the same way. I think the blogger is greatly stretching the truth trying to make a point that isn’t true.

      • arlie says:

        I think all that is being said is that all the grocery stores in reasonable driving range are doing the same thing. Or worse, in reasonable walking/public transit range.

        There’s also the hypothesis that the problem is caused by the wholesale food suppliers/manufacturers. There’s been enough consolidation in that business that while there are many brands, I don’t think there are many vendors.

        Googling “grocery store product placement” gives some supporting evidence for what I thought was common knowledge – that the brands pay the grocery stores for where their stuff is placed. Also various consumer-oriented articles on working around those of the bad effects that don’t simply involve putting unsponsored products on top shelves (unreachable by 25-50% of the customers) or bottom shelves (difficult for customers with mobility issues, such as the elderly).

        • Another hypothesis is that the blogger has sufficiently non-standard tastes so that he is often looking for things that few other shoppers want, hence things that it doesn’t pay the store to put in the most obvious and convenient places.

          I have a related problem due to both non-standard taste and non-standard height. My son and I both drink quite a lot of caffeine-free diet coke and coke zero. Quite often the only bottles are on the top shelf. I’m short, and bottles on the top shelf and a little ways back are out of my reach.

  41. johan_larson says:

    Alex Schmidt (of Cracked) on football as a brutal, fading sport:

    I am not here to tell you to stop watching football. I’m telling you that the world will convince you to stop supporting football FOR me. In a surprisingly short number of years, liking the NFL will not feel normal. It will not feel default. You’ll find yourself putting active effort toward justifying football if you keep liking it, and that will feel gross and weird.

    And I hate to tell you that. I know football means so much to so many people, including many people I love. But I see a future where you’ll do an NFL-y thing, and people will react like you lit a cigarette inside a restaurant. Or butt-patted a service employee. Or plunked down a bet on a dogfight.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I buy none of that, and I stopped watching football 4-5 years ago. Lets take his statement that society sets an acceptable level of violence in entertainment at face value, well outside of football we have boxing, hockey and MMA. Heck women’s MMA has drawn some large crowds, which is not something that you would expect from a society on the cusp of ditching violent sports for their violence.

      I can buy an argument that the NFL is going to lose it’s status as the top, or maybe even 2nd draw in US sports, or that poor management was hurting their brand or perhaps even that large financial costs for concussions would hurt the league significantly, but the idea that the NFL is going to become a social pariah and losing market share indefinitely doesn’t sound realistic. The author is an example of why, he writes about giving up football in 2017, almost a decade after the concussion issue was starting to get major media attention. That is not a high attrition rate, not a symbol of disgust or horror or social consciousness, its just a guy growing out of watching football and finding a way to fluff himself up about it.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        +1

      • cassander says:

        I can buy an argument that the NFL is going to lose it’s status as the top, or maybe even 2nd draw in US sports, or that poor management was hurting their brand or perhaps even that large financial costs for concussions would hurt the league significantly, but the idea that the NFL is going to become a social pariah and losing market share indefinitely doesn’t sound realistic

        I think a case can be made that it’s more likely that the NFL will become a pariah then that it will fall to third in the near future. For the NFL to fall to third, some other sport has to replace it, and that strikes me as unlikely given how far ahead football is of other sports. Football brings in 2.2 billion a year in TV revenues, baseball 340 million. According to gallup 37% of people say football is their favorite sport compared to about 10% for any other sport. For that gap to close in a short timeframe (e.g. 10ish years) there would have to be some sort of major scandal, and one big enough to close that gap seems like it would be large enough to do much more damage than just rough parity with other sports.

        • baconbits9 says:

          TV revenue means more for Football, gate revenues for baseball. (googling) Baseball had 10 billion in revenue in 2016 to 13 billion for football. Obviously this is a large gap, and not likely to be closed in the near term, but it is far closer than TV contracts imply.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      On that note, i’m somewhat surprised the MMA is now the largest fighting sport. Its sufficiently far removed from IRL fights that focusing on the methods there are well, kindof odd.

      Why not Greco-Roman wrestling as the top dog?

      • dndnrsn says:

        Is MMA further from a real fight than boxing or wrestling?

        The reason wrestling is not top dog is that grappling is less fun for people who don’t really know what’s going on to watch. You might not understand the technique in boxing – I mostly don’t; I don’t know much about striking in general – but someone getting punched in the face is always someone getting punched in the face. Not so for grappling; there’s a reason a decent chunk of people in the arena will start booing when it hits the ground.

        This is probably one of the reasons MMA is top dog (in the US at least) over boxing nowadays: most MMA fighters are grapplers who have crosstrained in striking, so, not great strikers, and even the ones who are decent strikers by the standards of striking have to break more rules in striking so they can avoid takedowns, avoid getting pushed up against the cage, etc. This means defences are generally a bit more porous, fights are generally a bit more sloppy, and people who don’t really know what’s going on would rather see that.

      • Education Hero says:

        Its sufficiently far removed from IRL fights that focusing on the methods there are well, kindof odd.

        There is no combat sport more similar to an IRL unarmed fight than MMA.

        Why not Greco-Roman wrestling as the top dog?

        Because it has an extremely restrictive rule set that omits striking/submissions/holds below the waist, resulting in a less exciting and realistic combat sport.

        • ohwhatisthis? says:

          I find it fundamentally ridiculous when every person who is big on fighting in the streets is also big about getting a pipe or knife or gun with his boys, or is liable to get a glass bottle and slice your face with it…as if the main move IRL isn’t booking it. That doesn’t sound super badass though.

          I tend to view badass fighting in this lens where possible.

          • Education Hero says:

            Again, my claim was:

            There is no combat sport more similar to an IRL unarmed fight than MMA.

            How does your response address this in any way?

        • Nornagest says:

          There is no combat sport more similar to an IRL unarmed fight than MMA.

          This is true, at least under a certain set of assumptions, but it’s also kind of like saying that the closest living relative of modern tetrapods is the lungfish. Combat sports are different from street fighting in ways that’re really hard to work around; you cannot practice a combat sport under realistic conditions because if you do, half the practitioners will be in the hospital by week two and the other half will have wisely quit.

          Fortunately, this also means that no one’s really good at street fighting, so being good at something that’s almost but not quite entirely unlike it can still be a decisive advantage.

          • Education Hero says:

            Training does not require an intensity level identical to performance. Live sparring rarely approaches competition intensity, but nevertheless prepares fighters extremely well for competition. Students actually improve faster when the majority of their sparring involves slower paces and less strength, allowing them to focus on developing and implementing technical improvements.

            Advanced militaries frequently provide unarmed combat training to their troops in a reasonably safe manner, and such unarmed combatives converge upon MMA when not explicitly derivative (c.f. Modern Army Combatives). Military leaders clearly believe in the effectiveness of such training despite its imperfect replication of unarmed combat, just as they do in marksmanship training despite its imperfect replication of infantry combat. The same applies to law enforcement training.

            Further, the available empirical evidence (easily observed in online videos of street fights involving at least one trained fighter) conclusively demonstrates that unarmed street fights really do bear a strong resemblance to MMA, and that those with training in MMA (or it’s major components) enjoy tremendous advantages by employing their training with minimal adjustments. In fact, most of the practical differences (absence of rules/referees/breaks, hard surfaces, etc) actually magnify the physical and technical advantages of trained unarmed combatants.

            Such training is obviously much less relevant in scenarios involving weapons or multiple opponents; those situations instead draw upon training in armed combat and tactical acumen.

          • Nornagest says:

            Such training is obviously much less relevant in scenarios involving weapons or multiple opponents…

            I’m less sanguine than you are about unarmed combat training (especially military training, but that’s another conversation), but this is a lot of what I was getting at. Anytime you’re liable to get yourself into a serious self-defense situation — as opposed to fending off a drunk asshole or restraining a friend who looks like he’s going to be that drunk asshole — it’s very likely that either weapons or multiple opponents are involved. I’ve never gotten jumped myself (plenty of drunk assholes, though), but a lot of my friends have, and every one of them described one or the other and frequently both.

            Multiple attackers is a whole ‘nother skillset that MMA simply won’t give you. Weapon mitigation likewise.

          • Multiple attackers is a whole ‘nother skillset that MMA simply won’t give you. Weapon mitigation likewise.

            I have no experience with MMA and have never had to defend myself against a real attack. The two martial arts I have some experience with are Judo and SCA combat. I think the judo would be of some use, although not a lot, in hand to hand combat against a single opponent. I think the SCA experience could be helpful against both weapons and multiple attackers, assuming I had something vaguely like an SCA sword–not necessarily a real sword but at least a short walking stick or something similar. SCA combat includes fighting more than one opponent at a time.

            The weapon I have easily reachable in the downstairs for the unlikely need is in fact a sword.

      • hyperboloid says:

        sufficiently far removed from IRL fights

        ¿Que?

        I remember seeing a comic somewhere that recounted the adventures of “Particularly-good-at- archery-man” who did quite well fighting crime before being defeated by his arch nemesis “Doctor- barely-competent-with-a-machine-gun”. The point of the joke being that, despite what you may have learned from comic books and kung fu movies, in real life no matter how skilled you are in some old timey fighting style, you will always be bested by the ancient art of Mexican judo (as in “judon’t know that I got a gun”).

        The basic rule of serious purposes irl violence is to do everything in your power to avoid a fair fight. If you’re headed for a fight, bring a weapon; in fact bring all of your friends who have weapons. And if you get the chance wait until who ever you plan on fighting is taking a shit so you can shoot, bludgeon, garrote, or stab him while he has his pants down.

        The two complaints that I hear over and over again about the supposed lack of realism in mixed martial arts are:

        1) There is too much grappling.

        2)That if this were the kumite the fighters would be using some secret Count Dante move that can totally kill a guy with one hit.

        There are three things to say about this. First of all, in UFC one the only rules were: no biting, eye gouging or groin strikes; and the tournament was dominated by the one pure grappler who showed up. Second, for the reasons I stated above, the few real world one on one fist fights that occur are between people who usually don’t want to permanently injure each other. When people square off mano a mano in school yards, bars, and streets they are looking to test their manhood or protect their honor in the face of some insult. If there were higher stakes (the kind of thing you might kill someone over) then there wouldn’t have been a fair fight in the first place. And finally, even if there is some secret deadly move known only to ancient marshal arts masters, and toughest of street fighters; how are you ever going to practice it well enough to use it against a resisting opponent? You can’t exactly use the five point exploding heart technique in sparing every week.

        MMA is as real as a combat sport ever could be and reamin safe. And the few real fights I’ve seen looked a lot like drunken sloppy UFC matches.

  42. proyas says:

    Aside from preserving the privileges of the wealthy, what is the incentive/benefit of having a caste system? As I said, I understand why it would appeal to wealthy people to lock in their status for all time, but how does anyone else gain from it?

    I think caste systems are unethical, but the fact that they’ve come into being many times throughout history in many different places suggests they provide some (perceived) benefit, or are an inevitable social manifestation of something in the human psyche.

    • DavidS says:

      Ensure there are always people to do each sort of job? In the roma n empire diocletian introduced a thing where many people had to do the job their parents had done as part of his economic reforms – as a deliberate policy rather than a social situation with its roots in unwritten history might be a good example to look at?

      I’m general even societies witho u caste found it very useful to be extremely clear about status (e.g. Only nobles can wear some clothes, use some hawks etc). May make sense as a form of that?

    • Anonymous says:

      If there is near-total endogamy, it preserves the intellectual level of each caste by limiting regression towards the mean. For the lower castes it may be a problem, but keeping the ruling castes intelligent in the long term is a very good thing.