Open Thread 103.25

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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631 Responses to Open Thread 103.25

  1. robirahman says:

    The Slate Star Codex meetup group for Washington, DC is having an event this Saturday night. If you’re interested, check for details in our google group.

  2. johan_larson says:

    Those of you working on your merit badge in American Government may be interested in the Second Report of the Continuity of Government Commission, which identifies problems with the presidential line of succession, and proposes various improvements. The fictional scenario on pages 17-23 which illustrates some of these problems is particularly interesting. Who should play the Secretary of Agriculture in the movie adaptation?

    Hat tip to XKCD for a reference to this report.

    • Eric Rall says:

      How would a corresponding scenario work in Britain? Let’s say terrorists blow up the State Opening of Parliament, with all of Parliament, the Cabinet (being a subset of Parliament), and the Queen in attendance. Let’s suppose the sake of argument that Princes Charles, William, and Harry are also there.

      If everyone dies, then Prince George becomes King with Prince Andrew as regent, and I believe Andrew as Prince Regent would have the power to appoint a new temporary government until new elections can be held and Parliament reestablished.

      If Elizabeth, Charles, or William turns out to have survived, then the most senior of the three to have survived would have been Monarch all along, but depending on the circumstances, Prince Andrew might or might not have had the power to act for them. I think complete incapacity (e.g. a coma) triggers a regency, same as a minority, but in a partial incapacity (e.g. injured and requiring hospitalization) or just being out-of-contact, the powers of the Monarch would be exercised by the Councillors of State instead. Andrew is a Councillor of State, but he’s not the only one. The other four are Charles, William, and Harry (whom we’re positing are dead, injured, or out-of-contact), plus Prince Philip (whom we’re not assuming to be at the State Opening), so I think Philip and Andrew would need to agree on how to reconstitute the government. I don’t know what would happen if they disagreed and neither would budge.

      And if Harry turns out to be alive and well, he’s behind George in the line of succession for the crown, but he’s a Councillor of State, and he’s ahead of Andrew in the line of succession for the regency.

      • Protagoras says:

        One of the big complications of the U.S. system is the fact that those in the line of succession (except the VP, I believe, but we’re talking about crises that go much further down the line, of course) are required to resign the positions that put them in the succession if they actually become president, and so are no longer available as fallbacks if someone more senior returns and then again becomes unavailable (as in the complex scenario explored in the report). There is no equivalent to this problem in the royal succession.

        Of course, much more important than the royal succession is the PM; I really don’t know what happens if the PM goes down and enough of parliament goes down with them to make it difficult for what remains of parliament to legitimately choose a replacement. Perhaps you’re concerned about the royal succession because you imagine in such a situation the new monarch would appoint a PM, which is probably technically correct but definitely would not be based on the monarch’s own preferences (what remains of the government would surely force some candidate on the royals). The British would also likely be very quick to hold new parliamentary elections.

        • johan_larson says:

          In the case of the UK, I suspect it’s wrong to focus on the issue of royal succession. The monarchy hasn’t wielded real power in centuries. The real question is parliamentary succession.

          • John Schilling says:

            The monarchy hasn’t wielded real power in centuries.

            Queen Victoria might wonder what definition of “real power” you are using. So, for that matter, might the current monarch…

            The real question is parliamentary succession.

            The last time the UK had to replace a incapacitated Prime Minister was Harold MacMillan (incapacitated by illness), in 1963. This was as I understand it handled by HRH Queen Elizabeth II exercising royal prerogative, pointing at political dark horse Alec Douglas-Home, and saying “Tag, you’re it!”.

            And telling him to go form a cabinet and win an election or she’d have to exercise royal prerogative again. But part of the reason for keeping a vestigial monarchy around is to add a layer of pre-emptive legitimacy to the obviously-correct or at least good-enough decisions when it is going to take an intolerably long time to do things the democratic way.

            So if we’re postulating e.g. a mass casualty attack on London, pinning down royal succession may well be the first step in at least temporary parliamentary succession.

          • Eric Rall says:

            I focused on the royal succession because the monarch has formal authority to decide parliamentary succession. 99% of the time, the monarch’s appointment of the PM is purely ceremonial because by convention she’s duty-bound to appoint the leader of the party or coalition best able to command a majority of the house of common. It’s the other 1% (like the appointment of Douglas-Home which John mentioned, or an extreme continuity-of-government hypothetical) where things get interesting.

          • Protagoras says:

            @John Schilling, Your description of how Alec Douglas-Home became PM does not seem to fit with the standard historical account of the process, which describes him as having been chosen by senior party leaders, not by HRH (though they did enlist her royal prerogative to get it done quickly).

          • Eric Rall says:

            I believe that the current practice is for each Prime Minister to provide the Queen with a recommended line of succession for situations where a new PM needs to be chosen and there’s no time for the party to hold a leadership election, but the list is not made public, and it’s an open question how binding the list is on the Queen’s decision.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Your description of how Alec Douglas-Home became PM does not seem to fit with the standard historical account of the process

            The way I heard it, the Queen picked Douglas-Home since he was the preference of a majority of the cabinet as well as MacMillan’s preferred successor, but she still made the decision to appoint him on the basis of her assessment that he had the most support rather than waiting and for the party to go through the usual process of having a formal leadership election.

          • John Schilling says:

            I do not believe anyone polled the McMillan cabinet and/or “senior party leaders” regarding their preference for a successor. Insofar as there were three strong candidates other than Douglas-Home, it seems likely that such a poll would not have provided a clear majority for any one of them – at least on the first round, and without an established process for run-off elections that gets messy.

            I would wager that the primary driver behind QE2’s decision was “which of these 4+ candidates will face the least opposition in parliament?”, and that she had a good guess as to everyone’s ranked preferences to that end. But if it wasn’t her decision, then the process by which the decision was made does not seem to have been recorded.

          • 1soru1 says:

            In general yes, but this scenario is enough of an outside-context problem that it would come down to ‘who would the military follow’?

            Which wouldn’t be the 27th in line if they even slightly looked like they had wiped out 26th and up. And equally wouldn’t be Parliament if, as would be actually plausible, the 7 Sinn Fein MPs who never take their seats were a majority of the surviving MPs.

            Probably Privy Council direct rule, with highest surviving royal as figurehead, for a few weeks until new elections.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Oddly, one of the junior Government whips does not attend the State Opening but is “kept prisoner” at Buckingham Palace as a hostage for the safe return of the monarch.

      • Lapsed Pacifist says:

        Why continue the monarchy? Let the existing, ugh, *royalty*, live out their days raising children who will need to get jobs and buy their own houses etc. Parliament doesn’t need the monarchy to conduct business. Just elections to fill vacant posts where MPs are bumped up to fill duties left behind by the rump royals.

        • Eric Rall says:

          The Westminster system depends heavily on unwritten norms, and the monarch’s reserve powers are the main enforcement mechanism for those norms. Getting rid of the monarchy would require replacing the unwritten norms with written rules enforced by the courts, or else putting the reserve powers in the hand of an elected head of state. The former is a major overhaul of the system and has the drawbacks of politicizing the courts to an extent and of replacing guiding principles with justicable rules (the latter being easier to follow in letter while abusing in spirit), and the latter puts the enforcement of the norms in the hands of a potentially partisan figure. Either alternative is potentially workable, as evidenced by the examples of the dozens of first-world countries without monarchs or with purely ceremonial monarchs, but it’s neither a simple change nor a change without drawbacks.

          • Lapsed Pacifist says:

            English Common Law is an excellent system, perhaps the best in the world, when it comes to solving the conflicts of rights contained inside unwritten rules. I trust that there’s not a circumstance that can’t be resolved,and I would be interested in gaming it out if someone was interested.

            Can you elaborate one of these unwritten laws that would be a problem?

          • John Schilling says:

            In the case of emergency PM replacement, it hardly matters whether you use common law or an explicit statute of succession or royal prerogative. You still need to have a person make a decision, e.g. a judge in the common-law case, and the occasion will be so unusual that the person will have spent their entire career secure in the quasi-knowledge that this isn’t going to happen in their tenure and they should focus their skills, networks, etc, on the things that will actually matter. For a mostly-ceremonial monarch, that means reinforcing the legitimacy of the elected government and its decisions.

            So you’re going to have someone with adjacent but not optimized competency, pushed a bit outside their comfort zone and faced with a decision where there’s a short list of obviously-good-enough answers and a way for them to really bollix things if they go outside that box, and a surrounding political machine wondering “will X be daft enough to bollix the succession, and if so how can we make it so that their decision doesn’t count?”

            Constitutional monarchs who have few other non-ceremonial duties actually look to be a pretty good way to deal with the problem. Their relative isolation from the normal political process should make for fewer conflicts of interest, and not much gets broken if everyone else says “well that was a stupid decision; we’ve retroactively decided that the monarch hasn’t really had that power for a century now”. But I doubt England would suffer greatly if they delegated the matter to a statute or a common-law judge instead.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Eric, you make is sound so hypothetical. It’s not just that there are republican democracies out there, but there are even Westminster systems in which the Queen’s powers are delegated to a proxy, the Governor-General, effectively chosen by the PM. Sure, this risks partisanship, but it well-trodden ground. Canada and Australia have dealt with worse succession problems than the UK, at least in the post-war period.
            (But Canada and Australia are not republics and it may be that the Queen’s veto power over the appointment of the GG holds partisanship in check.)

        • Lambert says:

          They’re ambassadors/tourist traps/figureheads all rolled into one.
          And you’d have to tread rather softly around property rights. i.e. expropriating a load of stuff without looking like you’re expropriating hundreds of millions of pounds worth of stuff.

          • Lapsed Pacifist says:

            Just tax the property per normal. If they don’t have the income to support it, the market will very happy to take that property off their hands without expropriation.

    • John Schilling says:

      Who should play the Secretary of Agriculture in the movie adaptation?

      By Executive Order, the role of Secretary of Agriculture will be played by Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck, or Chris Pine.

      • johan_larson says:

        Maybe we can get all of them involved.

        Alec Baldwin is the current president. That fits with his age.

        Chris Pine is the Secretary of Agriculture. He’s kinda young for a cabinet appointment, which emphasizes his unfitness for the post of President.

        Ben Affleck, slightly older, is the Speaker of the House, a smooth political pro.

        And Harrison Ford is the distinguished retired Secretary of State who becomes the President pro tempore of the senate and the eventual President.

        • albatross11 says:

          Bring Jack Ryan in, he can handle anything.

          • John Schilling says:

            I am morbidly curious to see Jack Ryan handle the succession dispute between the four claimants to the title of the True Jack Ryan.

            But to make it really fun, we have to have all the Baldwin Brothers lined up to support Alec. Including Adam.

          • albatross11 says:

            If one Jack Ryan is good….

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I haven’t read the entire report yet, but I did read their example of the attack on the State of the Union address.

      One thing that stuck out at me was that all of the problems with Presidential Succession that they cite seem pretty minor compared to the bigger issue of how to prevent total chaos after an attack of that scale. If basically the entire elected federal government and more than half of the Supreme Court is out of commission we should really have a firmer hand at the tiller than any cabinet officer with the exception of SecDef Mattis. In that situation, shouldn’t the Joint Chiefs or whoever assume control directly and we can sort out the presidency later?

      It just seems like, in a crisis, we want more of an Adama than a Roslin. People aren’t going to follow the Secretary of Agriculture, at least not without significant reluctance, whatever the law may say.

      • The Nybbler says:

        In that situation, shouldn’t the Joint Chiefs or whoever assume control directly and we can sort out the presidency later?

        There’s no provision for that in the Constitution. It would literally be a military coup, justified or no.

        • Lambert says:

          I’m fairly sure they could argue that it’s no more extra-judicial than the American Revolution.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Uh, sure, but the American Revolution was completely extra-judicial.

          • Evan Þ says:

            But, @The Nybbler, remember there was some legal justification for the American Revolution: King George and Parliament were arguably infringing on the colonists’ individual rights and refused to provide any remedy within the usual forms of government, forcing the colonists to resort to violent resistance. The Joint Chiefs in this hypothetical could argue along the same lines, as did Lincoln when he suspended habeas corpus and detained Vallandingham to protect the war effort.

      • Eric Rall says:

        A simpler solution to that problem is to pick one of the four major cabinet members (State, Treasury, Defense, Attorney General) as the designated survivor rather than a random minor cabinet secretary. And the designated survivor could be picked on the basis of suitability rather than randomly, if not all of the four major cabinet members are suitable successors.

        • johan_larson says:

          That won’t help if someone, say, drops a big enough bomb on the White House on an ordinary work day when all of those would likely be there.

          • Eric Rall says:

            The Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tem of the Senate are also in the line of succession, so that’s seven people (including the President) who shouldn’t all seven be in the same building. Two of the seven work primarily in the Capitol building, one primarily in the White House, and five who split their time between the White House, their own offices (the Naval Observatory for the VP, the Pentagon for SecDef, the Truman Building for SecState, etc), and the Capitol. It should be feasible to arrange for at least one of the seven to be far enough away from the other six at any give time that it would take a nuke or multiple coordinated major attacks to kill all seven of them at once.

          • johan_larson says:

            The Commission is recommending removing the congressional leadership from the line of succession because it causes constitutional problems. That gets rid of the Speaker and the President pro tempore. And getting the President, VP, and the major cabinet members together only requires a cabinet meeting, and those must be pretty common.

            Unless you want one of the major cabinet members to attend by video?

          • Eric Rall says:

            Ah, that’s the part I was missing. I haven’t gotten to their recommendations yet, nor did I understand that you were speaking in the context of those recommendations rather than as a standalone proposal to remove the junior cabinet members from the succession.

          • albatross11 says:

            But having the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate in the line of succession seems like it makes a lot of sense, given that they have some genuine democratic legitimacy, having been elected instead of appointed by the now-dead president and confirmed by congress.

          • johan_larson says:

            Having the House and Senate leaders the line of succession sounds good to me too. But the Commission disagrees. See pp. 39-40 of the report.

    • The Nybbler says:

      If it’s a comedy, Gilbert Gottfried plays the Secretary of Agriculture, with the Speaker of the House played by Reese Witherspoon. If we’re going for a more serious movie, William Shatner for Agriculture (Kirk, as we know, was from Iowa), and the Speaker of the House may be chosen from Tea Leoni, Elizabeth Marvel, or Molly Parker.

    • Evan Þ says:

      I agree with the Commission that the system needs changing. Specifically, I agree with them that the “bumping” procedure needs to be changed, that lower-level Cabinet officials should be removed from the succession list, and that there should be some method of certifying Presidential incapacity in the absence of a Vice-President. (Unfortunately, the last recommendation would require a Constitutional amendment.)

      However, I disagree with their recommendation of the President nominating five persons to play no role except serve on the succession list. Their examples – governors and ex-Presidents – would be excellent, but with no check and no duties for those offices, he could just as easily use those offices for political rewards. Even if he nominates otherwise-excellent but publicly unknown figures, their succession in a crisis would lack a sense of legitimacy – and that would be one of the main two qualifications. I think it’s better to use someone – just about anyone – with an existing publicly-visible office.

      • johan_larson says:

        Even if he nominates otherwise-excellent but publicly unknown figures, their succession in a crisis would lack a sense of legitimacy – and that would be one of the main two qualifications. I think it’s better to use someone – just about anyone – with an existing publicly-visible office.

        How about the governors of the five most populous states (California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois)? They’re bona fide big-shots, publicly visible, and not usually found in DC.

        • Evan Þ says:

          A good idea, but I wouldn’t want to officially foreclose the possibility of the other forty-five states getting their turn. Plus, getting this through without a Constitutional amendment would require them to be holding a pro forma Federal office, which would require some form of Senate confirmation. Perhaps we could let the President pick (and Senate confirm) which five state governors get on the list?

          • johan_larson says:

            Sure. I could accept that. But I think I would try to establish, if only as a matter of custom, that these appointees be major figures, since they might have to step up to be president and in an emergency at that.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @johan_larson, absolutely. Like I said, they should be visible enough to be seen as legitimate in case of a crisis.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Speaking vaguely of, a lot of John Barnes’ Daybreak trilogy is about a succession fight in the US after a technological collapse. Has anyone else read them? What did you think?

      I’m only giving them a moderate recommendation– some cool bits, but didn’t necessarily make optimal amounts of sense. Also some irritating aspects.

      • Beck says:

        I read them a while back and had more or less the same reaction you did. I mostly enjoyed the series but think it could have been a lot better. I liked the first book a fair bit better than either of the others and thought there were some interesting ideas overall.
        Most of the issues I had were with the writing. There were a lot of characters and most of them didn’t seem to fill out as people. Also, Barnes shoehorns those bizarre sex scenes into his books (the ones that I’ve read, anyway) that don’t do much for the plot and just seem kind of bolted on.

  3. baconbits9 says:

    Is anyone interested in discussing Kevin Erdman’s report for the Mercatus center that claims there was no oversupply of housing during the ‘bubble’ years, and there was in fact an under supply?

    Link to his report

    link to his individual blog on housing

    • The Nybbler says:

      Figure 3 demonstrates the issue; there was indeed an unprecedented number of single-family housing starts during the bubble years. Throwing multi-unit housing in there just muddies the water, as the “conventional wisdom” doesn’t include overbuilding of multi-unit housing as part of the issue. The “overhang” of (single-family) housing supply is easily demonstrated by the abandoned and near-abandoned exurban developments.

      It is probably true in one sense that there was no oversupply of housing during the bubble years; the rising prices demonstrate that. But this was supply of housing for demand that should not have existed, because the buyers of that housing could not actually afford it. Once this became apparent and the credit dried up in the aftermath of the various financial-market collapses, an oversupply condition immediately did exist.

      The article ends with

      The surprising answer to those questions may be that a housing bubble didn’t lead to an inevitable recession. It may be that a moral panic developed about building and lending. The policies the public demanded as a result of that moral panic led to a recession that was largely self-inflicted and unnecessary. They also led to an unnecessary housing depression that continues to this day.

      This ignores entirely the question of whether the lending during the bubble was sensible in the first place. If it was not (and I think it’s abundantly clear it was not), then what happened was not a moral panic but an economic one, as lenders had to face economic facts about creditworthiness of customers that they’d been previously ignoring for various reasons.

      It’s also possible and likely that there was overcorrection, but while that may have extended the recession, it didn’t cause it.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I think that total units is a necessary starting point for a discussion about over building. An increase in building single family homes that wasn’t accompanied by a decrease in multi unit building would be a much stronger case than an increase in one and a decrease in the other.

        The stronger argument from eyeballing figure 3 is that unit production was above average from ~1994 through ~2006 where as previous booms were shorter lived. That 2005-6 was a local maximum after 10+ years of above average building when previous booms were around 6 years is more of an anomaly than the individual years in question.

    • skef says:

      How bad was the supply overhang? Surprisingly, the answer may be that there never was one.

      The Census data provide surprisingly little support for the claim that there were too many homes
      in 2005. Figure 3 provides a couple of hints about how policymakers came to believe that housing
      supply had been excessive and why, in fact, supply has actually been constrained. The number of
      single-family home starts, especially single-family homes built for sale, did rise to unprecedented
      levels. That is a high-profile category, where publicly traded homebuilders operate and where
      many families become new homeowners.
      But the other categories were either stagnant or in decline over the long term. The growth in singlefamily
      homes built for sale came mostly by taking market share from the other types of units.

      This seems like an example of conveniently over-reading in order to criticize.

      Housing isn’t interchangeable, and it is especially not interchangeable in relation to manufacturing cost and location. New single family homes tend to be expensive relative to other options in generally expensive areas, or built out in the far suburbs. There’s nothing I see in this article that contradicts an oversupply in single family homes in the period.

      The broader criticism therefore rests on reading those who argued that there was an oversupply as arguing for a general cross-housing-category oversupply. But the focus on single family homes was not just because they are a “high profile category”, but also because they form the core of the mortgage market that was the primary source of concern.

      I’m sure there are plenty of quotes that can be read as suggesting general oversupply, but that’s also the sort of thing that can easily be written off as sloppy phrasing. And anyway, if the point is that housing was both oversupplied and undersupplied during the crisis, what’s the big deal? (And isn’t the headline of the article similarly misleading?)

      Edit: mostly ninja’d by The Nybbler

    • Eric Rall says:

      I’ve only skimmed so far, but it sounds like his argument is that there was a misallocated supply, not a global oversupply or undersupply. Specifically, he seems to be arguing that there was an undersupply in “Closed Access” markets (e.g. the Bay Area) during the bubble, which caused outmigration to cheaper markets (e.g. Phoenix). And in those cheaper markets, developers responded by building an appropriate number of new housing units for the increased population. Then prices suddenly went way down in the Bay Area because of reasons, so people stopped moving to Phoenix, leaving Phoenix with an oversupply of housing. And the whole thing could have been avoided had the addition housing units build in response to undersupply in the Bay Area been built in the Bay Area rather than Phoenix.

      But if he proposed an explanation for why prices suddenly went way down in the Bay Area, I missed it.

    • Kevin Erdmann says:

      Thanks for the shout out, baconbits9!

      Regarding the comments so far, this policy paper is only a short introduction to the work. A pair of books is forthcoming, which includes much more data about credit markets during the boom, and housing markets within and between metropolitan areas. In short, there was not a credit bubble followed by a housing surplus that led to an inevitable bust. There was a housing shortage which led to a migration event and the bust was due to a publicly induced credit shock. To the extent that flexible credit markets helped facilitate higher home prices in what I call the “Closed Access cities”, it was mostly accelerating the natural long term segregation by income that having Closed Access cities creates. Those loans were mainly going to aspirational young educated households who were moving into cities where housing costs don’t meet conventional norms, regardless of whether you are an owner or a renter. The credit shock was applied publicly and is not the mirror image of the credit expansion that happened alongside the housing boom of the 2000s. The entry level neighborhood in Omaha where homes are currently undervalued by 30% because the school teacher that might have bought a home there can’t get a mortgage under today’s rules is suffering from public capital repression that has absolutely nothing to do with the Alt-A and subprime loans that were made in California and Arizona in 2005.

  4. rahien.din says:

    Aesthetic Idiosyncracies

    I find that we talk a good bit about aesthetics here. And whether it’s all you weenies being unworthy of death metal growls, or Conrad Honcho pontificating on ladies’ tattoos, there is always some kernel of unreconcilable, cilantro-like impasse.

    I’m curious about two aspects of that unreconcilability :

    1. Aesthetic shifts. Have there been times or periods when your own preferences have shifted significantly? Why/how/by what? Was the shift deliberate, observable-but-involuntary, or totally mysterious?

    2. Aesthetic bastions. Are there certain aspects of your aesthetics which are your own essential redoubts, to be defended to the tooth? Are there bastions within you that withstand your own assaults – things which you feel you should like or should dislike, but simply don’t, regardless of how you are internally or externally compelled?

    • Randy M says:

      Are there certain aspects of your aesthetics which are your own essential redoubts, to be defended to the tooth?

      That is certainly a poetic way of obscuring exactly what you are asking for (see below); I think you mean things that we enjoy and believe we are to some extent objectively correct about deeming beautiful?

      I like landscapes, such as the view from the Swiss Alps, like this. That’s up there with a well proportioned female with clear skin, long hair, and a pleasant expression.

      Are there bastions within you that withstand your own assaults – things which you feel you should like or should dislike, but simply don’t, regardless of how you are internally or externally compelled?

      I’ve never really been moved by poetry, despite enjoying thinking about words, sounds, connotations, etc. Perhaps it’s the “forced to study it in school” effect.
      I don’t dislike classical music, but I don’t have a strong positive reaction to it, either. I understand this might be normal; it takes some study or at least attention to appreciate the intermixed melodies, perhaps?
      If you count literal taste in with aesthetics, it’d be nice if I enjoyed sugar less than I do. Other things I like but would rather not? Maybe fighting? I don’t enjoy gore or even mma style events, but there is a moving grace to a well choreographed movie fight scene. In honesty I don’t want to enjoy it less, but maybe I should?

      • semioldguy says:

        I have managed to trick/teach myself to like sugar and sweets less than I did. I started by just forcing myself to avoid eating things that had a lot of it, cutting out most processed food from my diet entirely, and did research on how I could make things I didn’t like as much taste better.

        With varying amounts of success these included (1) preparing my own food, or even just watching it be prepared. I wasn’t so big on tomatoes, but the process of actually cutting it myself and then eating did make it taste better than eating it as whatever state it was given to me. A salad is tastier if I chop it up first. (2) Spices. And not salt. Adding spices to things, and generously, has made me appreciate a wider variety of non-sweet flavor. It can make an otherwise boring dish delicious. Now sweetness is just too overpowering for me and takes away from other flavors I really enjoy. (3) Eating more slowly and not eating to the point of being stuffed/sick/etc. I enjoy the experience of my meals more. (4) The argument that I am not eight years old and therefore should not complain about the food I eat or be a picky eater. If it’s food and doesn’t jeopardize my health by eating it, then I should be able to eat it and like it, or at least not let it affect my attitude/mood negatively. (5) Doing a time and cost comparison between different eating habits. Making food at home and healthy scored favorably on both time and cost when compared to going out to eat, even fast food and specials. Making links to other already existing preferences can influence a change of preference for something seemingly unrelated.

        It has caused a lot of my food preferences and habits to shift dramatically as well. I basically never eat out anymore, as most offerings include things I would rather not have, and usually only do so when the company is enjoyable. I do eat sweets and processed foods from time to time, but I find that when presented with other options, I usually prefer those other options. I am also now inexplicably bothered whenever anyone orders something from a restaurant, but without ____, unless their reason is that they have a severe allergic reaction to the thing they want omitted from their order. I will then forever silently judge that person because of this, even if that person is actually eight years old.

        Also because I went though this sweetness cutback thing… it has resulted in me preferring not to take warm showers. I can link that change of preference back to eating foods I didn’t used to like eating.

        Most of the time my changes in preference are from external causes, but if I am determined enough I’ve found that I can usually change a preference of mine if I really set out to do so.

        This was a lot longer than I intended it to be.

        • Wander says:

          The argument that I am not eight years old and therefore should not complain about the food I eat or be a picky eater

          I find this such an enormous bizarre and alien concept. I’ve spent my entire life with people treating it as a moral failure that I don’t like certain tastes, and it’s absolutely ridiculous that people are so judgmental about a biological response that we have no control over. Expecting people to subject themselves to unpleasant experiences for reasons of “maturity” seems like a really poor way to view the world. Do you expect people to wear uncomfortable clothes or listen to music they don’t like?

          • semioldguy says:

            If doing those things might serve some other purpose that is more important than comfort, then I would expect people to do those things. If comfort is the most important value to someone, then so be it. For me I asked myself why I shouldn’t like whichever food, or rather why it tastes bad. I was dissatisfied with my answers, and “this provides my body necessary nutrition” was a much more convincing argument to myself than “I could eat something else instead.”

            I didn’t frame it to myself in terms maturity but in happiness and potential to avoid disappointment. If there are no foods I dislike, then I can’t be disappointed by receiving food that I dislike or find myself in a situation with only unlikable food available to me.

            Eight-year-old me did not have the same thought processes that I have today. Most eight-year-olds aren’t able to think in the same way that they would by the time they are 30 or 40 or older. Perhaps your conception of maturity could be broadened.

          • Wander says:

            I feel like the depth of your dislike of food is/was probably much shallower than mine, then. The things I dislike I dislike to a degree that I can’t physically make my throat work to swallow them, I don’t have the ability to just choose to not dislike anything. And I think that nutrition has almost nothing to do with it; asking to not have capers in a meal isn’t going to reduce the nutritional value of a meal by any significant amount. It takes very little to avoid ingredients that you dislike.

          • Aapje says:


            I think that most people are picky as kids and learn to appreciate more flavors as they age, which causes picky adults to be seen as immature.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve gotten more tolerant about some tastes and textures (bitterness, orange juice pulp) and less about others (processed cheese) without making an effort. I don’t think it means I’m more mature.

            I do think that people tend to place a high value on the things they’re good at.

          • Enkidum says:

            @Wander (et al)

            A powerful physiological response like being unable to swallow certain foods is indeed something much stronger than merely disliking them.

            That being said, food is an incredibly important part of all human cultures, and modern Western blue-tribe culture in particular places a great deal of emphasis on eating a wide variety of foods. You can (and clearly do) dislike this, but the reason people get upset is, ultimately, the same reason that any tribe gets upset with transgressors.

            And… yeah, we do expect people to wear uncomfortable clothes on occasion (they’re called suits, heels, whatever). As for music, there’s definitely an expectation that people will at least try to listen to different kinds of music. While I’ve given up thinking that there’s a moral component to musical taste, I would definitely have an issue with people who regularly insist on changing the music at a party or something like that – but there I suppose they’re changing everyone else’s experience, not just their own, which is not exactly analogous to the food example.

          • Randy M says:

            A powerful physiological response like being unable to swallow certain foods is indeed something much stronger than merely disliking them.

            I’ve had this a few times when I was younger. It was largely related to texture, for example, plain refried beans or avocado on white bread.

    • toastengineer says:

      Speaking of death-metal growls, while I’d always liked rock and found dad metal hair metal and power metal to my liking pretty much immediately, I never thought I’d like screamo type singing until Pandora suggested Amaranthe to me.

      I guess by mixing in some transhumanism and techno-future-fetishism you can trick me in to liking any kind of ridiculous sh- hey wait a second…

    • bean says:

      Are there certain aspects of your aesthetics which are your own essential redoubts, to be defended to the tooth?

      Iowa is gorgeous and Fuso is ugly.

    • rubberduck says:

      I’ve found that over the past couple years my own aesthetic preferences have been shifting towards a preference for well-defined shapes+outlines, fewer colors, and more geometric styles. I like watercolor paintings a lot less than I used to and am generally not a fan of art with wispy outlines. Though I wouldn’t call either outright “ugly” and can appreciate the skill of the artist, they’re not things I’d wish to hang on my wall. It’s not as if I was a big fan of the opposite style to begin with so maybe my pre-set preferences have just become more pronounced, unless the fact that I got into industrial music has something to do with it.

    • Wander says:

      For 1, I have a very clear example. After my Oma died, and I lost my last connection to my old world family traditions, I found myself very heavily gravitating towards a more folkish aesthetic in pretty much everything. Fashion, art, music, literature, I really like the pastoral, early-modern peasant style of things.
      For 2, I have my extremely tenuous relationship with most modern/postmodern/conceptual art. Despite loving museums and galleries, I can never appreciate anything that doesn’t have a distinct form, and is instead just colours or shapes or patterns and such. The whole thing still seems like some grand joke to me, that people are pretending these are supposed to have artistic value and seeing if anyone believes them.

      • Enkidum says:

        I have a lot of trouble with modern art as well, and with surrealism in film and literature. Occasionally I get it, so I quite like some of David Lynch’s work, but a lot of it feels incredibly shallow to me.

    • Nick says:

      1. Aesthetic shifts. Have there been times or periods when your own preferences have shifted significantly? Why/how/by what? Was the shift deliberate, observable-but-involuntary, or totally mysterious?

      Architecturally my preferences sometimes shift between classical and gothic styles. I wouldn’t call the shifts deliberate, but they are definitely observable.

    • James says:

      My taste—in all art, but manifested most clearly in music—has moved over the past five years or so away from cold, distant, conceptual, bracing, towards warm, pretty, beautiful, accessible. In a nutshell I now prefer beauty to ‘interesting’ and like the merely pretty.

      Hard to say what’s behind this. Part of it was probably to do with reading more widely (embarrassingly as an English lit graduate, it took me until my late twenties to actually start this) and realising that ‘difficult’ or ‘challenging’ as aesthetic praise is actually a quite parochial, twentieth/twenty-first century (modernist?) foible. There’s something more timeless about beauty.

      Also to do with listening to certain bands (T-Rex!) and realising that I could find simple, accessible things beautiful too.

      It might also reflect a change in my personality: warmer, more interested in people and less interested in abstruse, difficult concepts for their own sake. Maybe.

      Was the shift deliberate, observable-but-involuntary, or totally mysterious?

      I pay a lot of attention to what I do and don’t like, and think quite a lot about why or why not that might be, but that (changing) taste always comes first and the observations/rationale second. The idea of consciously trying to change my taste seems bizarre to me.

      It’s always a lovely pleasure to find myself liking a totally new kind of thing which I had hitherto thought I’d disliked.

      • Enkidum says:

        James – I wrote a thing largely inspired by our brief discussion in the last OT. I think I characterize at least some of what you were saying fairly, and thanks for the discussion.

        • James says:


          Good write-up.

          I feel like I enter that jealous state, at a safe distance

          I think the ‘safe distance’ part is key. Part of the benefit of art, I think, is that it lets us play with and try out feelings in a realm without consequences, and where we can safely slip in and out of them.

          I love Funny How Time Slips Away as a bit of songwriting, although—in a kind of microcosm of this discussion—I prefer Bryan Ferry’s version, which is delicately poised between sincere and (for want of a better word?) quotational. Having said that, I don’t know Al Green’s version and will check it when I get home tonight.

          I also thought a bit harder and remembered that I do love some very very early soul, before it was really called soul (R&B?), like Sam Cooke. I lose interest later on when it becomes (to me) overstated and too slick and glossy.

          • Enkidum says:

            Huh, if you like Sam Cooke then I’m going to have to reinterpret what you meant by not liking “soulful” music – I mean, his nickname was “Mr. Soul”, and one of the box sets of his early albums is called “The Man Who Invented Soul”! It’s hard to get much more soulful.

            That being said, he’s definitely not over-produced and slick, and he tends to go for purity over bombast, so I can see what you mean, I think.

            Have you heard his “Live At The Harlem Square Club”? Absolutely fucking magnificent, only a half hour long or so, all killer no filler, pure joy from start to finish.

            I’ve never heard the Brian Ferry version of “Funny…”, will look it up, thanks. I’m pretty ignorant of a lot of the New Wave, which I think he kinda falls into?

            (I would have linked to our discussion here, but I’ve been getting the feeling that Scott would rather not have too many links to the comments, not that more than a handful of people would follow through on such a link from my blog anyways.)

          • James says:

            I think I like Sam Cooke mostly for the songwriting, though admittedly his voice is actually quite charming too. The songs are pretty close to my vision of what a perfect pop song should be: modest, simple, neat, not overarranged or overstated. (Not to mention short!) And he doesn’t do that melismatic soul singing thing which I can’t stand. ‘Purity over bombast’ is a great way of putting it.

            Maybe I’d have to admit that ‘soulful’ isn’t the perfect word for what I’m inchoately gesturing at, but I’d struggle to think of a better one.

            I haven’t heard Live at the Harlem Square Club; I’ll try to check it.

            I’ve never heard the Brian Ferry version of “Funny…”, will look it up, thanks. I’m pretty ignorant of a lot of the New Wave, which I think he kinda falls into?

            More or less, though the arrangements on that album are more ‘classic’, albeit with a quite playful touch. That one’s done almost as a big band number.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      My taste in music expanded to include music which is moderately slow and dependent on emotional shifts. When I was a kid learning piano, Fur Elise seemed totally pointless, but now I like it. Alla Turka was more my speed. I still like that, too.

      This was an unexpected side effect of a lot of body work– I became more connected to my physical sensations, including more able to stay focused.

    • Lapsed Pacifist says:

      I used to wear punk rock clothes, then I just wore only black utilitarian / surplus clothing for a long time as a really naive comment on society or something.

      I smartened up via Actual Bad Things happening and decided to dress like I wanted to be accepted in polite society outside the rural area where I grew up. This meant seriously considering what kind of style I liked because dressing like an anarchist / militia member wasn’t going to cut it.

      At around this point almost everything in my life changed, ended, or burned out. So by coincidence I was left with very few physical belongings, and a need to reinvent my personal aesthetic.

      I’d say that I regularly dress better than my peers now that I’ve made an effort to care about clothing and invest time in learning how to make myself give a fuck. At the same time, I decorate my space / home better (in a more pleasing way than I did before), and I enjoy a wider variety of music. I think that allowing myself to enjoy and sample other people’s aesthetics was the actual change.

  5. Eric Rall says:

    I need to replace the pump for my swimming pool, and the new pump’s connections are different (slightly different alignment, and different type of thread on the union fitting) than my old one’s. The standard way to address this is to cut the PVC pipe just above the old fitting, then glue on the new fittings, plus an additional joint and stretch of pipe to get the length right.

    I could do this, but I’m concerned that it won’t leave me enough fitting-free pipe to repeat the process if I need to replace the pump again in the future, at least if I don’t replace it with the same brand and a similar model enough to re-use the union fittings from this one. They do make compression fittings for PVC pipe (little sleeves that fit over the two pipes, with ends that tighten down on gaskets that grip the walls of the pipe), which seem like they’d solve the problem, but I can’t find anything firm online saying that compression fittings are suitable for this kind of application, as opposed to a low-pressure application like drip irrigation or DWV pipe.

    • The Nybbler says:

      If you mean the rubber ones with hose clamps, those aren’t good for pressurized applications. There are PVC compression fittings which are (and have PSI ratings).

      • Eric Rall says:

        I was thinking of the latter, like this one. I’m having trouble finding a PSI rating for that particular one, but I’ll poke around for others.

        • The Nybbler says:

          This one is claimed to be good to 150psi

          This one claims 280 (I assume PSI)

          I’m sure a pool pump develops much less pressure than that, so it should work. Whether it’s up to code is another question, but if you’re installing it yourself then what they don’t know won’t hurt them.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Pool pump systems typically run around 10-20 PSI, and mine seems to be right around the middle of that range, so it sounds like I should be okay. Thank you.

          • andrewflicker says:

            Seconding The Nybbler here- my day job is swimming pool supplies (ecommerce), and the pvc compression fittings will be fine.

            PS: Where’d you get the pump? Did you go with a VS? I was the guy that wrote some of the online calculators that show whether/how they’d save you money in the long-run vs a single-speed.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Yes, I went with VS. Specifically, a 1.5HP Pentair 342001 SuperFlo VS. I bought it off Amazon, and it looks like they sourced it from Pool Supplies Superstore.

            The old pump is a Hayward SP4000-series. Not sure of the exact model, since the label is faded to illegibility (got the SP4000 part number off the inside of the lid for the strainer basket). I’m pretty sure it’s a single-speed, since there are no controls for varying the speed that I can find, and I’m estimating 1.5HP based on my hourly electricity usage at night (it draws about 1.2 KW).

            If I’ve guestimated my feet-of-head properly, I should only need 1/2 to 3/4 HP for my ~20k gallon pool if I don’t use the solar heater. I’d considered just buying a 3/4 HP single-speed, but the price difference was only a couple hundred dollars, and my research seemed to indicate that a 1.5 HP VS pump running at half speed would be significantly more efficient than a 3/4 HP pump running at full speed. Also, I value the ability of a VS pump to be turned up or down if I’ve misguestimated my feet of head severely or if I change my mind and decide to use the solar heater after all.

          • andrewflicker says:

            Yeah, you’re right that a 1.5 HP VS will generally be more efficient at 1/2 speed than the single-speed pump. Check out your state’s website, too- you might be eligible for a government rebate.

            Unfortunately, you did buy it from one of my competitors- our cost on that product is terrible this year. Wish I could have more impact on our vendor negotiations!

          • Eric Rall says:

            I already checked. I’m in California, and it looks like they discontinued the rebate at the end of last year.

    • skef says:

      If there is an abundance of room you might be able to use a normal glue-based coupler to install a generous extension of the same diameter and then that length would be available for additional future alterations.

      • Eric Rall says:

        There’s enough room to cut and patch the pipe for this replacement, but there is not enough to repeat the process next time, at least without far more extensive re-plumbing.

        • skef says:

          I’m asking if there is enough room to cut the pipe and couple a substantial length of the same diameter pipe to it, so that you can treat the added length as “the pipe” from now on.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Still no. The pump has two pipes coming in, one on the top (the pump’s output, or pressure side) and one on the front (the input, or suction side). Each pipe connects to another fitting within a fairly short distance (an elbow on the pressure side, and a T valve on the suction side). There isn’t any play to let me choose how long these two pipes should be — that’s already decided for me by the locations of the next fittings in the pipe system and by the configuration of the pump.

            All the plumbing for the pool is rigid schedule 40 2″ PVC pipes. None of them are flexible, so there’s no play for me to adjust lengths between components without ripping out a big chunk of the pipes and re-doing them from scratch.

    • rahien.din says:

      Rather than pipefitting, the dominant factor seems to be pump reliability…

    • Lambert says:

      It’s possible that ripping out a chunk of pipe is inevitable at some point.
      When you do that, you can make sure that there is enough space to replace the pump more easily.

      But I can’t visualise what’s going on all that well. Uploading a picture to imgur or something might make things easier for people to understand.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Install a threaded end, and use a generous amount of plumber’s tape to make a good seal with a threaded connector. Make sure the pump side threaded connector has a hexagonal element so in a few years you have something to grip to unscrew it; ideally both sides should have something to grip. It might be ideal if the pipe side connector is copper, and the pump side is PVC; you want the replaceable element to have more give. (If threads strip, you want the replaceable element to strip)

      You don’t need anything fancy. Don’t use rubber, especially in outdoor applications, as UV light will break it down.

      You might consider a section of PEX, although you should check the pressure rating, so you have some give in the construction.

    • Another Throw says:

      Wait, are the unions built into the pump? If so, that’s a terrible design decision on their part.

      I would think about replace the union on the pipe with whatever union is commercially available in your area, buy a enough copies of pump-side flange to serve your replacement needs as long as you plan on owning the pool, and run from the union straight into a barb for whatever your favorite sunlight stable flexible plastic pipe is. Then anytime you replace the pump you can attach a barb to whatever the manufacturer supplies and never have to worry about alignment or fitting compatibility.

  6. skef says:

    I think I ran into this a while back somewhere else, but if I’m confused and it’s already been discussed here I apologize.

    I think this energy storage idea sounds nifty. The depth requirement is a bit restrictive, so it would be good to see it widened a bit (probably in the down direction).

  7. Tarpitz says:

    Does anyone who is better at Word than me (or indeed better at Googling than me) know if there is a way to make columns separate and persistent throughout a document such that the bottom of Column A on Page n continues into the top of Column A on Page n+1, and the bottom of Column B into the top of Column B on the following page in the same way, rather than the bottom of Column A on Page n being continued into the top of Column B on Page n as would normally happen?

    I want to write a play with two characters which for various reasons I think would be best laid out with each character occupying a separate column throughout the play. If there is some good solution that is not Word at all, obviously that is also fine.

    • dodrian says:

      Would it make more sense to use tab stops instead of actual columns in this instance? That way if you need to remove or add lines you don’t have to add or remove spaces from the other column as well.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Insert a 2×1 table into your document and type your columns into the two cells of the table. As each side of the document extends past the end of the page, the table will wrap into the next page. If you want it to look like columns rather than a table, just go to the table settings context menu and select “no borders”.

      For your particular application, you probably want to maintain sequencing between the two sides of the dialog (e.g. if you edit in a few additional lines to Alice’s side, you want Bob’s side to shift down the same few lines so he’s replying to the same statements of Alice’s as he was before). You can handle this by adding more cells to the table (e.g. adding a row for each round of dialog).

    • ninjafetus says:

      I would just make a 2×1 table and remove the borders. When the either cell gets bigger than the length of the page, it’ll spill over to the next page on the same side.

      edit: Eric beat me to it!

    • Lapsed Pacifist says:

      MS Word hates columns and does everything it can to prevent them from working. I end up using tables at an embarrassingly high rate. Like always.

  8. bean says:

    Naval Gazing starts something a bit different by looking at the history of Iowa’s slightly younger sister, New Jersey.

    • Protagoras says:

      Were there any significant differences in design between New Jersey and Iowa?

      • The Nybbler says:

        Yes, New Jersey began as a colonial possession won by England from the Netherlands in war, and was initially granted to two nobles named Carteret and Berkeley. Iowa, on the other hand, was established by Congress from part of the Louisiana Purchase.

        Also New Jersey is older than Iowa so I don’t know what @bean is talking about???

      • bean says:

        Not really. The biggest is that Iowa has a 3-level conning tower, giving the admiral somewhere to go during a fleet action. Here’s a full description of the differences within the class. (I love getting to do that.)

        • gbdub says:

          If Iowa had specific features for flag service, why was New Jersey actually used preferentially by Spruance for flagship duty?

          • bean says:

            That’s something I’ve always wondered, actually. I really don’t have a good explanation. The best I can come up with is that Iowa was already division flagship, and it was considered poor form to take someone else’s flagship.

          • Tarpitz says:

            Could also be some interpersonal question, right? Like maybe Spruance got on better with Holden than with McCrea?

          • bean says:

            I doubt it. First, a battleship command tour lasted a year or so, so all of the relevant ships had at least two captains, maybe three. Second, it applied to Halsey, too. He flew his flag in Missouri in the closing months of the war, and I believe used Jersey at some point, too. Iowa did serve as Halsey’s flagship during the surrender ceremony, because Nimitz bumped him out of Missouri, but I believe she was W. A. Lee’s flagship for the Pacific battleship force for most of 1944-1945. I’d have to check the org charts in Morison to confirm, though.

  9. Le Maistre Chat says:

    What is the social function of cinemas in the age of streaming?
    Will they be limited to SF/fantasy spectacles, and if so, are said movies structurally required to be dumb?

    • skef says:

      Is the “age of streaming” really that different than the “age of DVDs” in this respect?

      To the extent I’m tempted to answer “yes”, it has less to do with streaming per se and more to do with people not wanting to commit to two uninterrupted hours of activity.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Is the “age of streaming” really that different than the “age of DVDs” in this respect?

        Good question. So like, in the age of DVDs Adam Sandler comedies would get released to more than a thousand cinemas months before coming out on DVD, and somehow this was a viable business model. There days, Adam Sandler works for Netflix and people don’t want to spring for the cinema for anything but “event movie” SFX blockbusters.
        That’s the only meaningful difference I see.

        • skef says:

          Maybe the crux is the “age of the commodity 65 inch television”. If you’re sitting coffee-table distant from one, how much difference is there really?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Almost none if the movie is 2D, IMO. That’s indeed another piece of it.

          • gbdub says:

            This seems to be becoming a problem even for live sports, where the “fan experience” has much more to offer than just sitting in a room with strangers. Now the cameras and TVs are good enough that you actually see the action much better, and between the cost, hassle, and annoying commercial breaks at the live event, “big screen HD on the couch with cheap beer and good food” starts to look pretty appealing.

        • Eric Rall says:

          Renting or buying a DVD still required a trip out of the house (or a delay for Netflix or Amazon to mail you the DVD) and an expenditure of money for that movie in particular, so the convenience and marginal cost advantage of DVDs over theaters was significantly smaller than the corresponding advantages of streaming over theaters.

          • INH5 says:

            In my experience, the chances of any particular movie being available on any particular subscription streaming service at any particular time are not very high, so you do often end up having to spend money on that movie in particular if you want to stream it. And thanks to the first sale doctrine, the cost of Pay Per View streaming is very often significantly greater than renting or buying a disc, especially for recent releases.

            I still semi-regularly rent movies on disc from a Redbox kiosk at a nearby corner store, because it almost always costs less than streaming, and it isn’t that much more inconvenient since I frequently have to go there anyway to buy various things.

            Like other people have said, I think that HD video and affordable large screen TVs have had more of an impact on the blockbuster movie market and movie theaters than streaming has.

    • BBA says:

      Alamo Drafthouse seems to be doing pretty well with its fancy overpriced cocktails and actual food instead of just popcorn and Raisinets.

      • toastengineer says:

        Red Letter Media’s theory is that the biggest issue with theaters is having to sit in a room with a bunch of annoying low-status people, and ADH’s high prices fix this.

        • gbdub says:

          “Low status” seems an unnecessary distinction, I just hate annoying people. Alamo fixes that by having smaller theaters in general and a culture of actually booting people for annoying behavior with minimal warning.

          Are their prices really that high? The movie ticket price is in line with other theaters, and the food prices are maybe 10-20% higher than equivalent food at a midrange local bar and grill type place.

          $12 for a $10 burger and $6 for a $5 beer just feels a lot better than $5 for a small popcorn, even if you’re being gouged for a similar net dollar value.

          • dodrian says:

            Their ticket prices seem normal, and their food prices are a little higher, but the format encourages you to order a lot more food/drink.

            Going to a restaurant I’d usually only get one drink, and probably just an entree. By the time the waiter puts down the bill at Alamo Drafthouse he’s already bused three glasses and a sandwich, and I’m still munching on popcorn. It adds up quick!

          • gbdub says:

            Well sure, I spend more at Alamo than I do at another theater, but I also skip going out to dinner, so it usually comes out to a near wash. The magic for Alamo is that they capture 100% of my entertainment dollars for that night, instead of maybe 25%.

          • gbdub says:

            For some reason my edit button isn’t showing up. Anyway, I get what you mean though, I probably order at least one more drink and a snack vs going out at an equivalent restaurant.

            Still, I’m not sure that’s enough to result in a completely different level of clientele on cost alone, which was toastengineer’s implication.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I go roughly once a week with my mother to see smaller, artier films, usually at our local branch of a smaller chain which mostly shows smaller, artier films.

      I think a large part of the purpose for us is that it’s an activity we both enjoy that gets her out the house but doesn’t require us to talk to each other too much.

    • johan_larson says:

      I think cinemas will mostly die out. They just don’t serve much of a function in a society where high-quality video is ubiquitous.

      I had thought they would continue to serve a function by providing a higher-quality experience for people who are willing to pay more, sort of like hardcover books, but the operators seem determined to degrade the experience by piling on ever more ads.

      I like movies. There was a time when I went every week. But it takes a lot to get me to a theatre these days.

      • Lambert says:

        >I had thought they would continue to serve a function by providing a higher-quality experience for people who are willing to pay more, sort of like hardcover books, but the operators seem determined to degrade the experience by piling on ever more ads.

        That’s true for the chains, but independent cinemas are already in the ‘high quality, more expensive, low volume’ niche. I expect them to survive, and possibly benefit from the loss of chain cinemas as an intermediate (in terms of cost, effort, fancyness, deliberateness) between netflix and independent cinema.

    • James says:

      For my part, there’s a certain thrill in seeing a great movie in big room of other people, rather than at home on one’s own. (For so-so movies, I tend to find I don’t care that much.)

      Enforcing a distraction-free, no-pausing-to-check-your-facebook environment probably also adds some value.

      But these things alone may not be enough to stop them from dying out.

      • albatross11 says:

        I expect high-end theaters will continue to exist–the places where the tickets are more expensive and you get wine and cheese instead of popcorn and coke. There’s an experience aspect to going to a movie that’s more fun when it’s an outing, and the bigger screen/better projector and sound effects and such make it more fun.

        But the low-end, packed-together-so-you-hear-the-next-movie’s-explosions experience, I wouldn’t be surprised for that to go away.

    • The screen is bigger in a cinema.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      So here’s what I’m thinking: as blockbusters become an ever-larger percentage of cinema tickets, to the point of hegemony, they become the only unifying element in “universal culture.” People may read English-language novels all over the world, but we all read different ones. We don’t watch the same shows on TV or streaming. Could this feature of contemporary culture serve a healthy function, or can it only be a vehicle for quippy superheroes/space opera/dinosaurs? (Quick, somebody get to work on a movie about a starship of quipping superheroes coming to Cretaceous Earth.)

      • John Schilling says:

        A vehicle for turning universal pop culture into a broad layer of what a Pakistani bricklayer would consider entertaining, with the additional constraint that it not annoy the Chinese government. That allows for a bit more than superheroes and space opera, but it’s still fairly limiting.

    • INH5 says:

      There are still a decent number of people who simply don’t have room in their apartment for a large screen TV and home theater sound system, or have other circumstances that make owning such things impractical. If you move a lot, for example, you don’t want to own many large possessions that can’t be cheaply and quickly replaced. And 3D TVs have failed to catch on despite repeated attempts over several decades, so movies filmed with 3D in mind like Avatar will probably have an advantage for quite some time. As such, I expect that movie theaters will continue to have a market for the foreseeable future.

      But theaters are clearly feeling the pinch. It wouldn’t surprise me if this is a big part of all of the attempts to create shared movie universes: if it works it incentivizes people to see the newest entry ASAP so they can find out what happens next/be a part of the conversation. So far nobody has managed to replicate Disney/Marvel’s success, but if the other studios do figure it out at some point, we could effectively see film serials make a comeback.

  10. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    A question inspired by the conversation about Star Wars in the last OT and a Brin essay I remember reading a few years back:

    Do people here generally prefer their science fiction societies to look more feudal kingdoms, more like modern states, or more like a wild west collision of the two concepts?

    Personally I really like the often-imitated Dune approach of recreating feudal societies in space. Most of those stories don’t need to be told in space; they would work just as well or maybe better as fantasy. But there’s a beautiful contrast between the very personal, very human nature of court politics and the impersonal, inhuman nature of the setting.

    The space western evokes a similar sentiment. The world of the space cowboys is rough-and-tumble but warm, in tension with the bureaucratic space government which is usually the antagonist.

    I like some stories about modern states in space. Star Trek is either the US or USSR in Space, depending on the era of Trek, and is usually entertaining. But it doesn’t have that humanity. Even in the original series there’s this fundamental tension between the human impulses of the crew and the bureaucracy they’re a part of. Unlike in the space western, this tension feels limiting: the characters seemingly have to constantly hold back.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I like science fiction kingdoms because they’re… superversive. They subvert the assumption that the more technology progresses, the more progressive politics must be. Also while I won’t pretend space feudalism is usually realistic in any particular author, strong local government and weak central government makes more sense in space unless the transportation tech is magical enough to cheaply send busybodies from the central government to enforce homogeneous policy.

      • My favorite example of feudalism in space is The Game Beyond by Melissa Scott, because the author actually thought about what conditions would lead to feudalism and what would happen when those conditions no longer existed.

    • Randy M says:

      I think Star Trek might not have the humanity because it is too utopian. Real republics and democracies are filled with squabbling factions. Star Trek higher-ups are often incompetent, occasionally replaced by aliens, but usually well meaning, striving for the universal good. This is a nice ideal, but not the best for accurate depiction of humans. (Later Trek broke this rule as they deviated from Rodenberry’s vision)

    • Nornagest says:

      The boring answer is that it depends what kind of story you want to tell. Depersonalized societies lend themselves well to horror: see for example Alien (your corporate overlords in space, taking “human resources” to a whole new level). Dystopias need at least locally strong authority so that you have something to be doing all that oppressing, but don’t necessarily call for much centralization. Stories about exploration need a state that’s strong enough to be sending out explorers, but also with limited reach so as to isolate the protagonists.

      Western tropes lend themselves well to a broad range of SF because the Western genre is about the virtues and vices of frontier culture, and we’re used to thinking of space as the final frontier.
      Asteroid mining’s just as plausible there as gold panning is. But it’s inherently marginal. You can’t scale the Western up to the size of an intergalactic empire because most of it isn’t going to be frontier. If modern society in space is unsuitable for whatever reason as an alternative, then feudal societies in space tend to be attractive to Western (and Japanese) authors — the feudal milieu is a familiar one, especially if they’ve also written fantasy. Roman-inspired space empires, ditto. But aside from familiarity, I don’t think there’s anything that really makes them special.

      • cassander says:

        This would be my answer as well. As long as the governmental system is well enough thought through (how well is necessary depends on how central it is to the story) I don’t have a strong preference one way or the other, with a substantial exception that making things different from now, while certainly not a guarantor of success, is at least likely to be more interesting than keeping things the same.

    • John Schilling says:

      You know the bit where we all laugh at 1950s science fiction because it is already transparently ludicrous that people will be flying spaceships across the galaxy while maintaining 1950s social norms? Same thing goes for politics. If you’re positing something more than a century in the future and it’s run by a bland representative democracy just like the ones we have today, that’s wasted potential at least.

      Same goes for recreating a too-exact duplicate of medieval feudalism, which actually existed only within a relatively narrow slice of history. Put some thought into how things would work differently in the different social or political context enabled by your novel background.

      • albatross11 says:

        I like the government or governance structures or whatever to be reasonably well-thought-out, and to make some kind of sense for the technology and society.

        For example, I think Bujold did a nice job with Barrayar–the emperor there has a lot of actual power, but also their whole governmental system is based on him riding a tiger–being the most powerful of a bunch of powerful men, so that if he pisses too many of the Vor off, he gets deposed in a civil war. (And over time, the power is spreading away from the Vor and the Council of Counts, as the society becomes more technologically advanced and meritocratic.) And one reason this is important is that a lot of the stories she tells on Barrayar turn on the way politics work. What happens when someone convinces the very young emperor that his former regent is plotting against him?

        I think it matters more for your political/economic/technological system to make sense, the more those things matter for the story. If you’ve got a comedy-of-manners set on a Mars colony, the operations of the colony’s governance aren’t necessarily so important. If you’re describing an internal coup on Mars, then you need to spell that out and it needs to be plausible.

        I think one advantage of an existing or historical form of government is that it gives you some worked examples, some confidence that such a form of government *could* actually function, and maybe some reassurance that you haven’t left some huge hole in your political system.

        I don’t mind some kind of feudalism, empire, monarchy, parliamentary democracy, bossmandum, etc., but I want it to make sense in the context of the technology and society. If there’s a feudal society, there needs to be some reason why the feudal lords/houses actually have the power to demand their privileges, and some reason why this system could plausibly be in existence.

    • Anonymous says:

      Do people here generally prefer their science fiction societies to look more feudal kingdoms, more like modern states, or more like a wild west collision of the two concepts?

      Whatever fits the logical necessities of the available technology.

      I’m perfectly fine with, say, Traveller’s Third Imperium being a HRE-like federation of petty planets and clusters because it makes logical sense to do it that way with a lack of instantaneous communication and redeployment of forces being slow. You just can’t effectively run a centralized government under those conditions – all but the most important, far-ranging decisions need to be made on the spot, because the alternative is waiting six months for the Emperor to respond. The other space polities are organized similarly there, but for some differences in sources of legitimacy (such as the Zhodani Consulate being formally a federal democracy, rather than a monarchy) and racial tendency (such as the Vargr Extents being even more fragmented).

      Same with Star Trek’s centralized military beraucracy. They have instant communication and warp travel is comparatively fast, so it makes sense that absent communication problems, on-the-spot diplomacy or routine busywork, the admirals are going to tell the captains exactly what to do.

    • James C says:

      I’d really like someone to tackle the idea of a space merchant republic one of these days. There seems to be a predominance of feudalism, anarchy and modern government in both sci-fi and fantasy and that’s missing out on all the lovely backbiting, espionage and multi-generational feuds that went on in places like Venice and Genoa.

      • gbdub says:

        The Hutts: A Star Wars Story?

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Maybe I’m just a weirdo but I would still call something like Venice or the Hanseatic League feudal.

        The guild system and all of the intricacies of Town Law are part of what makes European feudalism so fascinating. You can have a feudal system that’s entirely “rural,” but it misses a lot of the charm of historical feudalism.

        • cassander says:

          and this is precisely why I always get annoyed with Crusader Kings!

        • James C says:

          Fair enough, they were definitely a product of their times which was without a doubt the feudal period. I guess I’m more sick of the whole, ‘we have a king, the guy running the town is a duke and everyone else is a peasant’ faux-feudalism that seem to be the default.

        • What is your definition of “feudal”? Is it simply a historical period, or a particular way of structuring a society?

          I think of it as a system where the key resource is held far enough down so that the top person is basically a coalition leader. In the European medieval period the key resource was heavy cavalry. In the urban political machine system described by Plunkett, it was votes.

          I expect that all political systems have some feudal element in that sense, but the degree varies a lot.

          • cassander says:

            that seems like a low bar to me. Every legislature is headed by someone leads a coalition of people who control parliamentary votes, even if they’re in his party, but I’d hesitate to call the US Congress more feudal than, say, imperial germany.

          • SamChevre says:

            I think of “feudal” as specifying a society that is structured by mutual obligations among pairs of persons, rather than groups or roles. So each specific landholder holds land from some specific person, on the promise of specific obligations to that person.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            In general I think the key difference is more to do with how personal authority is and where it comes from.

            A feudal lord, depending on the era, either has some kind of personal relationship to his overlord or at least a familial bond. “My grandfather and your grandfather fought side by side, now I’m a margrave and you’re a prince.”

            In a modern government those relationships still exist to an extent but institutional loyalty has largely supplanted them. A general in the Air Force doesn’t follow President Trump because he is loyal to Trump but because he’s loyal to the office of the presidency.

            Guilds are that same kind of attitude translated into the economic sphere. Fellow craftsmen or merchants are brothers in a fraternity, with a sense that they’re all fundamentally on the same team. That, in effect, was Adam Smith’s main objection to guilds.

      • Enkidum says:

        I think C. J. Cherryh’s Alliance-Union universe has a little bit of what you’re looking for. Mulitple Hugo and Locus SF winners and nominees, some very good stuff there.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      As a fan of Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu, why choose?

    • hyperboloid says:

      @Nabil ad Dajja
      If you think that Star Trek was ever the USSR in space, then you have a very rosy picture of the old Sovetsky Soyuz. You could argue that the federation was something like the post scarcity utopia that the Communists believed would come once the dictatorship of the proletariat had run it’s course. That’s more an example of the Anna Karenina principle than proof that Gene Roddenberry was a dirty red.

      A Capitalist’s vision of Utopia is a lot like that of a Communist because, at some level, all utopias are the same.

    • fion says:

      Not a huge fan of space feudalism. I mean, Dune blew my mind the first time I read it, but it was the first space feudal thing I read and since then I got quickly bored of the setting.

      Similarly, “space western” was fun the first time I watched Firefly, but I got bored pretty quick.

      I like the Culture’s anarchism as well as some of the other rather imaginative government types in that universe (such as the Empire of Azad in Player of Games).

      I found Hyperion’s setting very interesting and entertaining. I’m not quite sure how to characterise it. At the start of the series it was a weird mixture of military-colonial-capitalism and direct democracy, and later in the series a theocracy. Tangential to the subject of government type, but I loved the way Hyperion approached AI.

    • arlie says:

      It depends on the story. Sometimes the government mechanism is relevant, or needs to be consistent with the plot, or even the characterization and mood.

      Beyond that, I like to see something different. I’ve read episodes of real history, rewritten in space and/or on a fantasy world, more times than I care to count. It would be nice to have aliens with different political instincts, or humans doing something uncommon in human history. Failing that, I’ll prefer whatever I seen least of recently.

      Perhaps most fun is a galaxy with a collection of political units, having their own governmental traditions.

      Beyond that, if I want sympathetic characters with mega-impact, along with some degree of realism, they can’t be modern-style politicians, modern style corporate executives, or any kind of illegitimate dictator. I don’t want to read about vote buying, advertising, or schmoozing – I get too much of that in the news. And I’m not going to empathize with someone who stays on top via naked force.

      But mostly I’d prefer to skip the politics, whatever kind it is. So then I just want a backdrop that the characters find acceptable (unless the story is about their rebellion or escape). And to make those characters congenial, it helps if they don’t accept things I’d rebel against … unless e.g. they are explicitly not human.

  11. dndnrsn says:

    This goes to something that came up in the last OT. Is it better to violate a norm and openly state that (even stating that it is good to violate the norm), or to violate the norm while maintaining publicly that the norm is good – and presumably doing something to cover up that you are violating the norm?


    • Randy M says:

      Further complications: Does it matter how likely you, the norm breaker, are to be caught? Does it matter whether you personally agree with the norm, and break it out of weakness, versus don’t agree with it versus agree some people should hold to you but you don’t need to?

      For example, if there were a norm that no one ever had more than one alcoholic drink outside their own home. This came about to lower accidental deaths and does so. But you have high alcohol tolerance. Do you discretely drink more, or do so openly and call for a more nuanced understanding (which will weaken the effect at the margins), assuming you don’t follow it?

      I think that we all are unlikely to accurately estimate how likely we are to get caught, so that probably shouldn’t effect behavior much. If the norm does protect people, like the hypothetical above, it is probably best to follow it, second best to discretely break it and accept whatever punishment comes upon being caught, and worst to call for it to be over turned. (Second worst might be to call for it to be over turned while still following it, to support the idea of norms in general)

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      It probably depends on whether or not the norm is actually normal.

      In the US is the norm to drive the posted speed limit and the majority of people are quietly violating the norm? Or is it to drive 5-10 miles over the speed limit and the minority who drive the speed limit are loudly violating it?

      Or, for a more polarizing example, is obtaining affirmative consent the norm which the overwhelming majority of heterosexual couples are quietly violating? Or is the norm to not worry too much about consent in the absence of a “no” and the small minority campaigning for affirmative consent standard are loudly violating it? Or does the norm even incude ignoring playful “no’s” as well as many still do?

      A lot of people assert the existence of norms that have some form of institutional authority behind them but are rarely followed in practice. These are not coincidentally the norms that people fight the hardest over one way or the other.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Norms where the norm still stands but “everyone knows” the norm is different are bad, because they can be selectively enforced when the enforcers wanna hassle somebody. Maybe a black guy gets pulled over for driving 10 over the speed limit because the cop wants an excuse to pull him over. That sort of thing.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Depends on a lot of things. Do you think the norm is bad, or do you think the norm is generally good and this is an exception? The norm being bad argues for openly stating the violation.

      If it IS an exception, do you think it is easily recognizable as such, or do you think you have special insight and knowledge into what makes it an exception? The exception being easily recognizable argues for openly stating the violation.

      If the norm is bad, how bad is it? The worse the norm, the better the argument for openly violating it.

      If the norm is bad, what’s it’s current status? If the norm is bad and well-accepted, this argues for openly violating it. If it’s bad but most people already understand it’s “more honoured in the breach than the observance”, this argues for quietly violating it.

      How much power/status do you have? Having more power/status argues for openly violating the norm, as it’ll be more likely you can erode it rather than merely being struck down yourself.

    • Brad says:

      First, in response to some of the existing comments, I think the most interesting variant of the question is the version where you think the norm, at least in the general case, is a good one. Maybe you think that person breaking it (secretly or proudly denouncing it) is a justified exception or maybe not, both are fairly interesting.

      Second, I think at least part of any disagreement on the subject is going to boil down to a fundamental difference in the importance of Truth as a terminal value that various people have. I’m not going to try to convince anyone of my position on this but just as a matter of full disclosure I think I am probably towards the far not very important terminal value end as compared to most posters here.

      With all that said, I stick by the claim I made in the last OT that, at least in most cases, hypocrisy is less likely to erode a norm than open denouncing. And the more efforts at secrecy the better in terms of upholding the norm. While I acknowledge that there are second order effects, I don’t think they compare to this difference in erosion, so in general we should prefer the hypocrisy.

      • albatross11 says:

        The value of hypocrisy in government is that you can do something bad without necessarily setting a precedent. The downside is that when that’s done very often, you end up with government doing all kinds of awful things all the time that the voters don’t know about, which has a lot of potential failure modes.

        ETA: So very much like other kinds of lying for a good purpose–you can come up with cases where it would be valuable, but doing it very often probably does a lot more harm than good overall–for everyone convinced by your noble lie, ten end up convinced that all your noble-sounding statements/policies are also lies and acts accordingly.

      • dndnrsn says:


        What if the norm is something that not everybody can violate, can’t violate equally, etc? I mean, if the intelligence agencies are torturing – to take the example that started this – it doesn’t matter whether the norm in general isn’t eroding. It is eroding for the people who the norm should be binding.

        EDIT: I don’t know if I’m a “Truth is the most important value” guy, but hypocrisy really steams my hams for some reason. I think I disagree with you on whether a norm being upheld even as it’s violated still stands – because I think the people doing the violating-while-outwardly-upholding are often not doing this consciously, as much as they have some kind of justification.

        • albatross11 says:

          Truth isn’t the most important value–you should definitely lie to the Nazis when they demand where the Jewish family is hiding. But truth is a really important intermediate value to getting to your other values. And lies tend to spread–once you’ve started lying in one area, you very often find yourself needing to lie in others to keep the lie going. You started out telling your kids that Santa was coming on Christmas, and now you’ve got to hide the fact that you bought those toys, and use different wrapping paper, and maybe tell your kids some quickly-made-up lie about why they can’t get into the trunk of the car right now, and….

          Any society depends on information moving around–nobody can know even 1% of everything needed to keep things running smoothly. Lies have a way of being *really* destructive in that environment. You spread lies that seem harmless and socially beneficial to you, but some of the people listening to your lies try to act on them, and make bad decisions as a result. It was just a little white lie that copper production was at an all-time high this year–you know, to keep up morale. But then wire manufacturers hear about it, and so do makers of copper pots, and they start making plans that will fall through when it turns out there’s actually going to be a copper shortage this year. Or later on, even when you tell the truth, everyone assumes it’s a lie because that’s how things usually seem to work out.

        • Iain says:

          What if the norm is something that not everybody can violate, can’t violate equally, etc? I mean, if the intelligence agencies are torturing – to take the example that started this – it doesn’t matter whether the norm in general isn’t eroding. It is eroding for the people who the norm should be binding.

          If intelligence agencies are torturing in secret, while publicly maintaining that torture is wrong, that’s bad. If intelligence agencies are openly promoting torture, that’s worse. Effective advocacy for torture doesn’t just enable intelligence agencies to start torturing; it also makes it less likely that those intelligence agencies will be stopped. (You can even imagine a world where they face consequences for that torture.)

    • Wrong Species says:

      Imagine that you are a parent of a teenager. They recently did something that made you ground them. Which scenario is preferable:

      They sneak out late at night to hang out with friends or

      They openly tell you that they don’t care what you say, they’re going to walk out the front door regardless.

      • dndnrsn says:

        At least in the second scenario you know where they are.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The norm is only violated in the second case; teenagers are _expected_ to sneak out. This is a difference between a norm and a rule.

        • Wrong Species says:

          The idea is that in the first scenario, they are still showing some respect for the parents authority. In scenario two, you are going to have to use drastic measures if you want to control your kids again. In the same way, if people are hypocrites about some norm, they are still showing some respect for that norm instead of willfully disregarding it. It’s a lot more difficult to get people to follow a norm in general if they don’t even pretend to adhere to it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            How is not respecting your rules and sneaking around them respecting your authority? That’s like saying if I steal money from you and you never find out, I’m respecting your property.

          • Wrong Species says:

            It’s a continuum. Obviously the most amount of respect would be to follow the rules. But if you don’t even bother to sneak around, you’re saying that you have no respect for their authority at all. Compare normal schools to the ones where students don’t even pretend to listen to the teacher. The latter are far more chaotic.

          • helloo says:

            I’m not sure if that’s respecting authority rather than fearing punishment (for doing 2).
            Though the difference between respect and fear of the law is not obvious at times.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think it’s extremely corrosive to respect for the laws/rules/norms when you have a society where powerful people can ignore the laws/rules/norms with impunity (especially in high-visibility situations), but the normal people are still expected to follow the laws/rules/norms. This is one reason why “too big to jail” and “nobody but the whistleblower goes to jail” are really ugly patterns to fall into, as a society.

    • gbdub says:

      I think torture, as brought up in the last OT, is a relatively illuminating example. Starting from the premise that the norm is that “torture is bad”, consider the following cases:

      1) Alice agrees that torture is bad, both privately and publicly. But she believes it may be justified / necessary in certain narrow situations (e.g. “ticking time bomb”). If she engages in or approves torture in these narrow scenarios, she’d be open about it and would accept any assigned punishment.

      2) Bob agrees torture is bad, but thinks that certain edge cases / noncentral examples, such as loud music or waterboarding, are not actually torture and should be allowed. Again, Bob is open about this distinction.

      3) Charlie publicly supports the norm against torture, but privately engages in it whenever it seems convenient, and goes out of her way to cover it up.

      4) Donny openly labels the edge cases torture, but proposes engaging in them anyway, and maybe more if it seems necessary, because he openly believes that it is effective and is being applied to people who deserve no better.

      Alice is probably the most sympathetic case, but she could still erode the norm if she inspires a lot of Charlies to justify their own activities. That’s why her openness is key – by being willing to personally accept punishment, she repairs some of the damage to the norm by reasserting that it was a good norm in the first place.

      Bob could shrink the scope of the norm, but he’s not really eroding it – basically he’s respecting the norm by finding it necessary to justify his actions as not actually violating it. He’s not a hypocrite, he just has an honest disagreement with what the norm should cover. Arguments that he will hurt the norm are basically slippery slope arguments (or maybe arguments that normalizing edge cases and engaging in them frequently is as bad as engaging in central examples of torture more rarely.

      Charlie is probably the only “hypocrite” of the bunch. I agree with Brad though that this sort of behavior is not quite as bad as open defiance of the norm. The danger of Charlie is if there is actually an army of Charlies, engaging in almost as much torture as would occur without the norm. If every Charlie thinks they are acting in isolation, but then finds out that everyone has been a Charlie all along, then the norm could disintegrate rapidly.

      Donny is attacking on the norm directly. On the one hand, this obviously is especially dangerous, particularly if Donny is otherwise popular and powerful – he could potentially swing supporters against the norm. On the other hand, his open defiance of the norm makes him more likely to inspire backlash and be swatted down, reinforcing the norm.

  12. toastengineer says:

    Astral-brain market research:

    How interested would you be in a “building sandbox game” like Space Engineers / Skywanderers / Starmade / From The Depths except instead of block-assembling it’d use real-world CAD techniques? Imagine something like Fusion 360 (probably simplified unless you turn on an “advanced” switch)?

    The idea is that sure, you _can_ just plonk down a cockpit prefab and a thruster prefab and the computer will keep you pointed in the direction you want and won’t let you go over a certain speed limit relative to some nearby body so you don’t get spaceships confused for cars and pancake yourself in to your destination… but all those things are implemented with the in-game tools. If you wanted you could start with “give me structure pieces and gears and hydraulic cylinders and computer chips” and build whatever you want from scratch. Like Garry’s Mod or like Boxtin was supposed to be like in the level of control over your engineering, except without the janky physics.

    Like if you want a cargo ramp on your spaceship, you don’t just stick one end of a “piston block” on the door and another on the rest of the spaceship and then it just works; you have to either set up a motor and a geartrain or set up hydraulics with tubing and oil. (The computer then simulates the mechanics once, checks that they’ll work, then just takes electricity/pressure out of the grid and appears the correct torque at the other end, unless something changes.) The advantage being that you have a lot more flexibility in what you do, and everything ends up a lot more visually impressive since there’s tubing and gearing and wiring running everywhere. If, say, your hydraulic pump blows up (or somebody blows it up) your machine suffers more interesting damage than “you lose some blocks and have to put new ones down.” Most of all, there’s a lot more reward for being clever and putting time in to your design; in order to do cool things you have to take some time to really learn how to do them, and hopefully the rules are a close enough approximation of real life that you even learn something.

    Assuming this looked like it was (going to be) executed well, how much would you pay for this? How much would you crowdfund?

    • beleester says:

      I would be interested in a game that can do complex shapes instead of blocks, because I think there’s some interesting design space there (and for a game with realistic aerodynamics, it would be nearly essential). And I like having multiple subcomponents to each item in your game, because it means that you can have interesting forms of damage like “your left-hand propeller was blown off and now your ship veers to the left.” From the Depths already demonstrated how cool this can be.

      I’ve also heard that Deep Sixed is supposed to have a similar game mechanic where you have to troubleshoot systems on your spaceship and repair them in various ways, although it’s not a design-your-own game.

      That being said, there’s two big issues to simulating to that level of detail. First, the sheer processing power required – From the Depths is murder on the processor already, and it still has significant abstractions (engine power being magically transmitted from source to destination is the biggest offender, but there are also things like ammo providers, and the total absurdity that is wing design). I’m not sure how much deeper you can go before consumer computers stop being capable of running it.

      Second, how much deeper can you make it without losing accessibility? For instance, I don’t want to, every time I’m installing a door, have to break out the microchips and the motor and program “when I flip the switch, rotate from 0 to 110 degrees.” (And then get the angle wrong, so my cargo door slams itself into the ground and flips the ship over). But if you provide a prefab “cargo door”, why would the user ever bother to make one themselves?

      Basically, how much deeper than From the Depths can you actually go, and how would it be better as a result?

      • beleester says:

        (The edit button appears to be missing, so I’ll put this as a reply)

        To answer your question, how much would I pay? I wouldn’t crowdfund it (I very rarely do that), but if it was in Early Access and looked better than From the Depths, I might pay 20 bucks for it.

      • toastengineer says:

        Second, how much deeper can you make it without losing accessibility? For instance, I don’t want to, every time I’m installing a door, have to break out the microchips and the motor and program “when I flip the switch, rotate from 0 to 110 degrees.” (And then get the angle wrong, so my cargo door slams itself into the ground and flips the ship ove

        I mean, that’s exactly how things are in Garry’s Mod, and that’s sold billions of copies.

        I think you can go way deeper! Like, don’t you think your FTD ships are a little boring on the inside? Doesn’t a heavily modded Minecraft world with tubes full of stuff going everywhere and machines moving around look a hell of a lot more interesting? The “cylinders” on the engines don’t even move! I want to have cables and tubes and moving machinery everywhere, and putting stuff down for decoration that doesn’t do anything is cheating. Wouldn’t it be neat to at least see shells moving from the magazine to the guns? Then just apply that thought to everything, everything should have at LEAST a couple moving parts, even if they aren’t actually simulated live.

        • Lapsed Pacifist says:

          All that movement only looks good when you add things like shadowing and lighting and local reflection, which are some of the most resource intensive features..

          You’re really just asking for games to be ultra realistic, which is where we are headed, but it’s not a matter of just deciding to be the people to make this game, there are layers of technological problems (like utilizing multiple CPU threads in real time, and developing a network architecture that can handle what happens if I am to interact with the ultra detailed simulated parts of *your* ship in a multiplayer area.

          Look at the issues Star Citizen is having. The answers to your questions lay there, since Chris Roberts is essentially trying to do what you want to do.

    • bean says:

      I expect you’d founder on complexity. First, as beleester points out, nobody is going to have a computer who can run this, because it’s actually going to be a CAD program, with lots of real-time simulation capability. Second, one of the nice things about Space Engineers, KSP, and the like is that you don’t have to be an actual engineer to play them. With this, you do, and this actual engineer would probably rather play one of those, because when I’m not getting paid, I’d rather spend my time building something cool, instead of worrying about how the bay doors work.

      • toastengineer says:

        Well, the idea is that you don’t _have_ to, you just _can_, and all the “how the hell are you going to fabricate that part/get that in there/get that apart to work on it” constraints are still gone.

        I would’ve said the same thing pretty recently, but I’ve actually been working with a CAD company and the state-of-the-art simulation stuff is pretty impressive. The trick is that it doesn’t have to be all those things at the same time – you design and assemble the thing in “build mode,” you let it chug on its simulations overnight, and then once the game is on it’s only got to do, probably less work than your average block game until something gets damaged.

        So, like, you build your gearbox, it runs a slower-than-real-time physics simulation to see what the gear ratio is and how efficient it is and how much force it takes to strip the gears, and then in the actual game it just goes “multiply joules in by efficiency factor, check if torque in is greater than danger torque and if it is it stops working, multiply torque in by gear ratio.”

        But yeah, would definitely be targeting a way less casual demographic than most of these. I think it just might work though.

        • Lambert says:

          >>So, like, you build your gearbox, it runs a slower-than-real-time physics simulation to see what the gear ratio is and how efficient it is and how much force it takes to strip the gears, and then in the actual game it just goes “multiply joules in by efficiency factor, check if torque in is greater than danger torque and if it is it stops working, multiply torque in by gear ratio.”

          I suspect that either you’d have to very strongly enforce modularity of systems, otherwise you’ll* inevitably wind up breaking the assumptions of the black-box abstract gearbox in a way that doesn’t get noticed leading to some incredibly buggy behaviour.

          *By which I mean the players, malevolently. (see: every single dwarf fortress game mechanic)

          • toastengineer says:

            I dunno; how do you see that working out specifically?

            In any case, that kind of stuff is… _usually_ fun so long as you fix the worst stuff within a couple months.

  13. Andrew Hunter says:

    Greetings from El Paso. You know the nice thing about West Texas?

    That’s not rhetorical. Does anyone know a nice thing about West Texas?

    • skef says:

      You’re within spitting distance of White Sands, which is a cool place that has a much higher than average frequency of sonic booms. The Carlsbad caverns are cool too.

      (Yes, both of these things are actually in southern New Mexico.)

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Greetings from El Paso. You know the nice thing about West Texas?

      You can fall in love with a Mexican girl?

      • Nornagest says:

        Doesn’t that song end with the narrator getting shot for murder and horse theft?

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Yes, as apparently the romantic rival he murdered had a large posse of allies holding a grudge (Off to my right I see five mounted cowboys / Off to my left ride a dozen or more). So, um, don’t get too jealous if a popular man flirts with the girl you’re in love with.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            For a moment, I saw that as a posse of aliens. This would have improved the song.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Haha, yes. A posse of what kind of aliens? All different races he hangs out with at the cantina? H.R. Giger Aliens?

          • zqed says:

            Is the posse really made up of allies of the handsome young stranger? It’s implied that the stranger was a stranger (i.e. not well-known enough that the narrator, a long time cantina customer, would know him), and that a significant amount of time passes between the narrator shooting up the cantina and his return to El Paso.

            A known murderer has returned from the badlands and was spotted on the hills overlooking the town – I’d assume the men would ride out even if they did not personally know the victim.

    • johan_larson says:

      Whole lotta empty space out there. Good place to get away from everything and everybody for a while.

    • psmith says:

      Guadalupe Mountains NP is pretty nifty if you like desert biomes, which I do.

    • sfoil says:

      The hunting’s great, and if nothing is in season you can practice your long-range shooting. Unfortunately all the land’s private so you either need to know somebody or buy. I wouldn’t rule out the former if you work with people who have family or put down roots in the local area.

    • littskad says:

      Fort Bliss has a small museum which is pretty interesting. There’s a botanical gardens I remember liking, but I don’t remember what it’s called. And, ummm, Whataburger?

      • quaelegit says:

        Is Whataburger better or otherwise distinctive in West Texas compared to other parts of Texas (or the rest of the US)?

        • dodrian says:

          My wife was immensely disappointed when a Whataburger in San Antonio informed her that you could only get green chiles on burgers in the West Texas / New Mexico franchises.

          Personally I prefer jalapeños, and you can get those anywhere.

    • Does anyone know a nice thing about West Texas?

      You’re only a little over three hours by car from Mentone, Texas, the county seat and only settlement in Loving County, population 82 as of the last census.

      Loving County is the smallest population county in the United States (the only other contender for that title is an isolated former leper colony in Hawaii), which makes it a frequent statistical outlier among the 3,000-or-so U.S. counties in a variety of dimensions.

      At one point, Loving County was the highest-income county in America. It has the lowest population density of any U.S. county (Alaska doesn’t have counties). Some years ago, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that Loving County had the nation’s highest rate of motor vehicle accident deaths. It was the westernmost county to go for George Wallace in his 1968 presidential run, and in 1992, it gave Ross Perot a higher percentage than any other county. There have been many other such demographic distinctions.

      Every so often, some innumerate newspaper editor would notice one of these extreme statistics, and send a reporter all the way out to Mentone to find out what this weirdo place was like. (Bleak, mostly.) The Associated Press carried features about Loving County around once per decade: 1976, 1982, 1994, and 2001. United Press International did so in 1962, 1973, and 1977. Individual papers sent their own reporters to interview locals and marvel at the statistical weirdness, such as the Detroit Free Press in 1983, and the New York Times in 1988 and 2006.

      For example, see 1 Cafe, 1 Gas Station, 2 Roads: America’s Emptiest County, Ralph Blumenthal, New York Times, February 25, 2006. Or Loving County Journal; Getting By in Nation’s Richest Place, Lisa Belkin, New York Times, December 27, 1988.

      If I were in El Paso with a car and gas money and a free day, I’d definitely drive out to see Loving County, but then, I’m a lot more into demography than most people.

    • Beck says:

      I always liked West Texas when I was passing through. The food’s good and, if you get out in the country, folks are petty happy to talk to somebody they haven’t seen every day for the last 35 years.

    • Incurian says:

      There’s a very nice public outdoor shooting range in Las Cruces.

      It’s a ten or so hour drive to Austin… I forget if you’re doing a road trip or what direction you’re going, but if you’re here on Saturday we have a decent meetup (that I won’t be attending this week because I have other plans) but if you want to hang out when/if you get here send me a message at the obvious gmail.

  14. BBA says:

    Geographical indications sit somewhere between intellectual property law and truth in advertising. They are legal requirements that only products made in a particular place can be called a certain name on their labels. I think they’re useful in the abstract, but in some cases have been abused politically.

    The most famous example is “Champagne” which is the name of both a region of France and a kind of sparkling white wine first produced there. In France the word “Champagne” on the bottle historically meant where the wine came from, while in America it meant the kind of wine in the bottle, whether it was French champagne or American champagne. This has always been a sore point for the French, who for over a century have been demanding other countries respect their appellations, to the extent of imposing them on Germany at the end of WWI (article 275 of the Treaty of Versailles). Other countries agreed to respect the French appellations if France would respect theirs (e.g., “Sherry” must be from Jerez in Spain), and it became part of the EU system. The WTO currently requires its member countries to have some kind of appellation reciprocity but unlike with copyright doesn’t impose a single standard worldwide. The American wine industry was divided – some wanted to keep using the French labels but others wanted foreign protection for American appellations like “Napa Valley.”

    As a result, the compromise law passed in the US in 2006 was that “Champagne” and other “semi-generic” appellations could only be used on existing American wines if the actual place of origin was made equally prominent and that no new wines with those names would be approved. Korbel can continue selling its “California Champagne” but if I open BBA Winery next door to them and make something nearly identical I’d have to call it “California Sparkling Wine.” A bottle with just “Champagne” on it has to be French. In practice I don’t know how much this matters. I recently had some Chandon California sparkling wine, and although I noticed the lack of the magic word on the bottle I had to point it out to others. (In this case it was intentional – Moet & Chandon, probably the best-known French champagne maker, certainly wouldn’t want to dilute their appellation by putting it on wine from their lower-priced American subsidiary.) As long as it’s fizzy white wine people in America will call it champagne no matter what the bottle says or where it came from. But if you know what to look for it’s certainly helpful to the consumer to have clear definitions of what can go on the label.

    But more recently I’ve seen some questionable decisions. In the 2000s the EU ruled that feta cheese is inherently Greek and therefore only cheese made in Greece could be called feta, despite a centuries-long history of other countries making similar cheeses and calling them feta too. The decision, written in incomprehensible Eurobabble, was explained to me in law school as basically being a political concession to Greece rather than any kind of neutral determination from legal principles. For another example, Mexico has made “mezcal”, once a generic term for an agave-based spirit (some of which also qualified for the protected name “tequila”), a protected name itself, and imposed conditions that essentially lock smaller distilleries out of the market. If they’re outside the geographic zone or can’t afford certification, they have to call their agave spirit “komil”, a name nobody’s ever heard of, and can’t refer to it being made from the agave plant. I can only assume that somebody got paid off to make this happen.

    Finally, to link it back to my whiskey post last week that inspired me to write all this, historically “Old Bourbon” whiskey was a geographical term, referring to whiskey made in Bourbon County, KY, and other counties subdivided from it. Gradually it came to mean a corn-based whiskey in the style of “Old Bourbon” but even before Prohibition it was primarily being made further west, in a region stretching from Louisville to Lexington, none of which was ever part of Bourbon County. Today “bourbon” is a geographical indication, recognized here and in other countries, that can only be used on a corn-based whiskey made anywhere in the United States. This is a bit of a stretch to me, but if it means BBA Distillery doesn’t have to be in Kentucky to make bourbon I’m not complaining.

    • gbdub says:

      I’m generally okay with these restrictions, since for products like wine the region is as much the brand as any individual winery. I kind of like the idea of groups of smaller vineyards being able to band together to create their own “brand”, although the way governments have gotten involved in it is kind of Jamon Iberico handed.

      Bourbon is an interesting one though, since it’s both a region and a style (like champagne), but unlike champagne was never really limited to its “home” region.

    • Don’t get me started on Stichelton…

  15. Mark V Anderson says:

    This is my 3rd political myth (of 11)

    Myth #3. That big business is in favor of the free market. All businesses want more customers, higher prices, lower costs, lower wages, less competition from its competitors, and more competition between its vendors and workers. Businesses will favor the free market when it favors these factors. But in most cases regulation will favor existing businesses over start-ups, and so established businesses will usually favor government control.

    Big business in particular often favors regulations because it gives them an advantage over their smaller competitors. The big companies can afford to pay for the experts to abide by the regulations, but smaller firms might be run out of business. From the large business point of view, the higher costs of more regulations are offset by a decrease in competition, which in turn allows the large business to raise prices.

    These are undoubtedly personal differences in ideology of business executives around the country, with some believing strongly in the free enterprise system, and others that believe in a high level of government intervention. But most businesses will favor those policies that benefit themselves, which means subsidies and regulations for their own industries, but competition and free markets for their vendors and employees.

    • syrrim says:

      It is oft repeated that regulation unilaterally help incumbents, but I doubt this is true. Generally, regulations are written *at* the incumbent, forcing them to change some practice. Their new model will generally be as close to their old model as possible within the bounds of the regulation. Because the regulations costs them money, any berth they leave represents inefficiency and lost money. This is where the adage that regulation favours incumbents appears: those with money and lawyers are best equipped to skirt the edge of the regulation. But there is another way, and the majority of businesses we would consider “startups” take this way: ignore the regulation completely.

      The incumbent was originally trying to solve some problem X, and were ignoring some problem Y. A regulation appeared telling them to solve Y. They then solved Y as *little as possible* while still using their original solution to X. What a startup can do is find a new solution to X that solves Y as well.

      Consider emissions standards for cars. One way around these is the VW way. Another way around them is the Tesla way. Or consider passenger regulations for taxis. One could implement them to the letter, or one can route around them ala Uber.

      Big businesses are rarely worried about startups. If a startup tries to compete with them head-on, then the startup will inevitably lose to their brand clout. That’s why you rarely see startups compete head-on. They compete in some parallel space, that you only realize is competing with you once your profits start sinking. Consider amazon: who would have thought a bookstore would be clashing horns with walmart? Walmart could have confidently said, twenty years ago, that no one could compete with the number and density of stores. And they were right, which is why amazon didn’t [spoiler]yet[/spoiler].

      Bug businesses care about free markets for the same reason anybody cares about free markets: they increase profits. If you threaten sufficiently big businesses with competition, they will grin, because they know they can win. If you want to see them frown, threaten them with the right regulation. Tarriffs, laws restricting how much they can advertise, subsidized competition, all will hurt them substantially. It is a fallacy to say that you are merely hurting their competition, because their real competition is not privy to the regulation.

      Take a beer company. If they can’t advertise in certain ways, that will lower their sales. You might say: “a ha, now it will be that much harder to start a new beer company, whereas all the existing beer drinkers will keep drinking their beer”, and you would be right. But their real competition is not other beer companies, it is not drinking beer at all, and reduced ability to advertise will help this competitor out substantially.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Generally, regulations are written *at* the incumbent, forcing them to change some practice. Their new model will generally be as close to their old model as possible within the bounds of the regulation.

        Even accepting this as the case, it still helps the incumbent. The regulation gives the new model (which is only slightly different from the old model) the force of law; it may be more expensive than the old model but it prevents any innovation by competitors.

        But there is another way, and the majority of businesses we would consider “startups” take this way: ignore the regulation completely.

        This only works if the regulators are weak. If they’re strong, you have things like SWAT teams interfering with your operations (as has happened to Uber) or you just get killed like Eric Garner. This is also a case of regulations helping the incumbent.

        • James C says:

          This only works if the regulators are weak.

          I think the implication was that you ignore the regulation in a still legal way. By solving a problem no one knew existed there are no regulations in the space for you to deal with.

          Not sure Uber succeeded in that one, but they held up the figleaf long enough to make themselves a multi-billion dollar business

        • albatross11 says:

          If a regulation has a more-or-less fixed startup cost for compliance (you really can’t do a decent job complying with the regs without hiring a couple full-time experts), then a small company is at a pretty big disadvantage trying to enter the area–they have to incur this fixed cost while they’re still a 40-person company, instead of absorbing an extra couple full-time staff who do nothing useful but keep the company in compliance when they’re a 1000-person company.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Take a beer company. If they can’t advertise in certain ways, that will lower their sales. You might say: “a ha, now it will be that much harder to start a new beer company, whereas all the existing beer drinkers will keep drinking their beer”, and you would be right. But their real competition is not other beer companies, it is not drinking beer at all, and reduced ability to advertise will help this competitor out substantially.

        I’ve often heard that the tobacco companies made out like bandits when TV ads were banned in the US. They could no longer buy expensive TV ads, which contrary to your statement, mostly moved smokers to different brands and not to smoke more. This lowere competition and enriched all the incumbents.

        I am pretty sure your comments that big business doesn’t like regulations is completely untrue. I’ll see if I can find some data.

        • syrrim says:

          It is insufficient in the long term to only appeal to existing customers. All else failing, those customers will eventually die. Businesses need to attract new customers, and the primary way they do this is through advertising. If you look at the popularity of cigarettes in the US since 1964, you will find it drop dramatically. This is probably mirrored or exceeded by a drop in profits.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          I looked for data, but I haven’t found any about the generalized benefit of regulations to big business. Plenty of opinion pieces stating that, but I think it is very hard to find numbers that would show this objectively. It does seem pretty obvious to me that big business benefits, since the larger firms clearly have a competitive advantage over small ones, since regulatory compliance is mostly a fixed cost for each business.

          I did find a study done by the Obama White House on occupational licensing, kind of a subgroup of regulations. The Obama administration would clearly tend to be biased in favor of government regulation, so I think one should take seriously any negatives they find in it. They did find that prices went up for covered goods and services. If one can generalize this to regulations in general, and I think you can, then it is likely that prices will go up in general with more regulations. Those with the lowest cost per unit (big business) will benefit the most from such increases.

      • actinide meta says:

        Regulations are not exogenous but always, to some extent, negotiated with the incumbent regulated parties. There are lots of ways for an industry to put their thumb on the scales, from political lobbying to revolving doors to funding studies to bribery to making convincing (but selective) arguments. The industry will use this (limited) power to minimize the costs of regulation to them [1] and to maximize the costs of regulation to potential market entrants and to incumbents that defect from an oligopolistic equilibrium (for example, by continuing to innovate, requiring their competitors to keep up). Making a regulatory regime incompatible with innovation is a particularly cheap thing to obtain in this negotiation, because there are no powerful concentrated interests opposed to that, because stifling innovation is a relatively natural outcome of careless regulation, and because regulators gain power and status from the importance of the industry they regulate and don’t want to see it disrupted.

        When you look at examples of “startups” that successfully disrupted established business models, by definition you are looking at a very selective sample. You don’t notice the many startups that failed – let alone the even greater number that were not started because the regulatory environment made them unworkable.

        [1] Usually not to zero, but there are cases where regulatory capture is so complete that “regulation” mostly takes the form of outright subsidies to incumbents

    • baconbits9 says:

      I think the more concise version is that big businesses prefer the status quo as that is the environment that they are successful in. Long tenured politicians also tend to have this same preference, making them frequent allies.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Sure big business generally does better in the lack of change, because they’ve already proved they can survive in the current environment. But in my experience big business will always jump at any opportunity to eliminate some of the competition, which is the result of most regulation.

  16. dndnrsn says:

    Here’s part two of my effortpost series on the Bible. In the first installment we looked at the two creation stories in Genesis – ascribed to different sources, one to the Priestly or “P” source and one to the Yahwist or “J” source. While the identification of different sources is speculative, sometimes extremely so, I think it is fairly clear that there are multiple sources that were edited together. While touching on this, briefly I brought up this sort of scholarship more generally. I also threw together a little bit on other Ancient Near East creation myths for Nornagest, upon request. That will be relevant here. We’ll take a look at the rest of Genesis, with a bit of an eye towards history and legend. Initially I thought I’d be able to cover Exodus, but I ended up faced with the decision to do a poor job of covering that and a poor job of covering Exodus, or putting together two separate posts.

    Caveats: this is mostly about secular scholarship, I’m qualified but not incredibly so (master’s degree), and I’m not going to be doing huge amounts of condensing of the Bible – it’s pretty easy to find one, or so I’ve been told.

    To begin, let’s briefly cover Genesis between what we covered last time (until chapter 3) and the patriarchal narratives (which begin around chapter 12). All four stories (Cain and Abel, the nephilim, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel) in this section show us something that will be useful shortly. First, there’s the Cain and Abel story. For our purposes, what’s notable here is that this is (or, may be) a story that explains the origin of something – there are other such stories, as we will see: some scholars associate Cain with the Kenites, a people mentioned later.

    There is a brief, and rather cryptic, reference in Genesis 6 to “sons of God” who took human wives and produced offspring, the nephilim (“fallen ones”) who are “the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown”. In some Greek and Latin versions, they are referred to as giants – but this appears to be read in from Greek mythology. The interesting bit here is that a lot of scholars think that this is a fragment of something earlier and less respectable (in this case, because it’s less monotheistic) – and there’s more semi-disrespectable stuff later on in the patriarchal narratives.

    There’s the story of the Flood, which Noah rides out by building a very large boat. This one – as we saw last time around – is clearly related to other Ancient Near East flood myths (I mentioned Atrahasis; there’s also a guy called Utnapishtim in the Gilgamesh story, which I didn’t mention as it doesn’t seem to me to really be a creation story). As we’ll come to see is also the case in the patriarchal stories, the Hebrew Bible fits into an Ancient Near East context. This is also the source of the Mosaic covenant – which traditionally Jews have understood to apply to Gentiles as well as Jews.

    Finally, there’s the story of the Tower of Babel. This is an etiological story – it explains something; namely, why do people speak different languages? Interspersed in the stories here are genealogies. There’s one in Genesis 5, one in Genesis 10, and one in Genesis 11. These are usually ascribed to P. A J/P split also shows up in the flood story – it’s a lot more fussy and precise than the rest of the story. The Mosaic covenant is usually thought to be P.

    This brings us to the star of the show – the stories of the patriarchs. Take a step back and flip through a Bible quickly (or just skim a Wikipedia summary – I won’t tell anyone; it’ll be our little secret) because there’s a lot here to cover.

    The rest of Genesis, by and large, is the story of God’s promise to Abram (later on, he is renamed Abraham) and to his descendants. Abram is introduced near the end of Genesis 11; in Genesis 12, God instructs him to go to a new land, and promises him that Abram will be the source of a great nation. The promise is repeated in Genesis 15. In both of these cases, God’s promise is linked only to Abram believing it (eg Genesis 15:6); there is a more give-and-take covenant (men must be circumcised) in Genesis 17. Through various twists and turns (not least among them that Abram’s wife Sarai, later Sarah, is barren), the family line continues until the book ends with Abraham’s descendants in Egypt – where Exodus will pick up.

    While we looked at the different sources previously, and could do the same here, it wouldn’t be especially entertaining to talk about which long-dead German scholars assign what passage to this or that speculative source. Instead, let’s consider two things: the gap between history and legend on the one hand, and on the other, the stuff (hints and otherwise) that became less acceptable later on.

    First, most scholars have given up on trying to treat Genesis as history. There are few to no useful references to known historical events, making the text hard to date (we have nothing remotely close to the original documents, and so can’t try to date things in the way that can be done with some New Testament documents). Attempts to do so on a specific level (for example, trying to assign kings mentioned in Genesis 14 to known historical figures) have largely been abandoned, as have more general attempts to link Abraham’s migration to the sudden decline of major Mesopotamian urban centres and the appearance of a people called the Amorites who supposedly moved in from the west.

    Those attempts having failed, scholars have attempted to pick up on clues in the text. Supposedly, by looking at the way people are described as living in the text, one can compare to what we know from other sources. This is, needless to say, highly speculative, and runs into the problem that it assumes that the society that that put the text together was fairly similar to the society described in the text. By and large, the firmest conclusion is that the stories probably didn’t originate earlier than the late second millennium BCE or the early first millennium, although they recount events attributed to a more distant past.

    However, the stories in Genesis are clearly important as legends. Genesis is full of different sorts of legends. They may explain how something came about (for example, in Genesis 9, the rainbow is explained as being God’s sign of the covenant with Noah). They may explain the origin of an ethnic group or some feature of that ethnic group. Others might explain the source of a name. Some explain the source of some ceremony. This is not to say there are not historical facts behind the legends – but Genesis can’t really be used as a historical document. Of course, scholars need something to speculate on, so after they reached the conclusion that Genesis was legend rather than history, they started looking for signs of the original oral traditions that came together to form the text. A bit too speculative for my tastes, honestly.

    Second, there’s stuff in Genesis that is, shall we say, a little spicy. We’ve already seen the weird bit about the nephilim. There’s more like that. One example is the notion some scholars have that the genealogies of the patriarchs and their families is meant to define the people of Israel, creating historical unity, and perhaps more interesting, insisting that the people of Israel were not from Canaan – rather, Abraham was from Mesopotamia. Archaeological evidence – far more reliable than textual criticism, generally speaking – suggests, though, that the Israelites came from Canaan. We’ll cover the origin of the people of Israel in the next post (the one on Exodus) but at a minimum this is pretty interesting.

    Beyond that, the places and the ways that the patriarchs worship are rather different from what’s commanded later on. Some scholars think – again linking to the Canaanites – that the patriarchs might be involved in a modified or selected form of Canaanite religion. Goddesses are notably absent, as is Baal (a pretty big deal in Canaanite religion). Some scholars think this modification/selection is the work of later editors, seeking to make the earlier forms of the religion more monotheistic than it was. Again, this is all quite speculative, moreso than the archaeological link to Canaan. There are other scholarly theories, too, as to how the Israelites got their God, which we will discuss when we get to Exodus.

    Lastly, let’s consider the minor issue of child sacrifice. In Genesis, this is most notable when God orders Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac in chapter 22. God is testing Abraham – but Abraham doesn’t know that. There is evidence that child sacrifice was practiced down to the time of the Babylonian exile. In 2 Kings, it is described how the Kings of Judah sacrificed sons of theirs as burned offerings, and how King Josiah’s reforms destroyed a place where people sacrificed children to Moloch. There are other sources; notable are condemnations of child sacrifice in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah – presumably they would not be required had child sacrifice not happened in the first place. While this is not claiming the case was otherwise (as with Canaanite origin) or editing stuff out (as may be the case with Canaanite religion) later Jewish authors are clearly uncomfortable with the sacrificial aspect – insisting that the idea of the sacrifice came from an evil power or claiming that Isaac was a willing victim. There’s clearly stuff that was part of the religion early on that became unacceptable later.

    So, to recap: after the creation stories, and a few others, the bulk of Genesis deals with the history and genealogy of the patriarchs. They aren’t especially useful as historical sources, and are hard to date; they are legends rather than history. There’s some really interesting evidence of stuff that is maybe a little inconvenient in these legends, most significantly concerning the origin of the Israelites – which we will talk about more next time, when we cover Exodus.

    Postscript: Aron Wall requested a bit of stuff about the dating of the Hebrew Bible texts; this will follow. If there’s anything that anybody else wants to know more about, just let me know and I’ll do my best. And if I managed to screw anything up that you notice, let me know, ideally within the edit window.

    • Aron Wall says:

      You meant to say the Noachide Covenant (the one given through Noah). The Mosaic Covenant is the one given through Moses, in subsequent books of the Torah. As indicated by the name.

      PS as I don’t always read the fractional open threads, it would be nice if you could either email me when you post a new iteration, or else announce a specific plan for the series (e.g. to post in the .25 threads).

    • SamChevre says:

      I really enjoy and appreciate these posts, but do not know enough to comment intelligently very often.

      In the stories of the patriarchs, my single favorite, for sheer weirdness, is Genesis 38. It definitely goes in the “if you haven’t read the Bible, it’s much weirder than you think” category.

      • dndnrsn says:

        My textbook from the school days of yore states that this is a story that may have political overtones (shows Judah in a bad light; the southern kingdom was dominant later on) but is also about how double standards and moral absolutes are tricky.

      • quaelegit says:

        Huh, I feel like that’s actually a pretty well-known story (well, at least the “Onanism” bit is) but my impression might be skewed by a high school summer reading assignment. [Edit: also reminds me of the story of Lots daughters… googling suggests that both are from the same part of Genesis, so I guess that makes sense.]

        Also, do you know why some words are italicised (mostly copulas and pronouns but also “place”)?

      • Nornagest says:

        So, let me see if I’ve got this straight. Judah’s son Er marries Tamar, and dies. Judah’s other son Onan sleeps with Tamar as a surrogate for his brother, and dies too. Tamar doesn’t remarry, at Judah’s request. Then when Judah leaves the house, Tamar veils herself and spends the rest of the day hanging out on the street corner. Judah sees her when he gets back and he’s like “hey, baby, want a ride?” She agrees, and accepts one of his goats as payment, with his seal and staff as collateral.

        Months later, she’s obviously pregnant, and Judah — not knowing she was the prostitute he slept with — throws a fit. Then when she produces his staff and seal, he gets all apologetic and seems to take it as proof that she’d acted virtuously.

        What’s going on here? She did sell herself; the distinction must be who she sold herself to. A guy was expected to take in his dead brothers’ wives and produce sons by them — would a father have done it if a brother wasn’t available? And Tamar tricked him into fulfilling his duty with the prostitute angle?

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Huh, I don’t know. I guess if levirate marriage (“I left a widow, make babies with her bro”) wasn’t considered incest, then the father-in-law marrying her in the event of no brothers left could have been considered a duty rather than a gross act of incest.
          Not unveiling a prostitute when you have sex with her, and face veils even existing in the Patriarchal period, is also weird.

          • sfoil says:

            Maybe they did it doggystyle back then. Compare the The Three Musketeers, where the Comte de la Fere took a while to find out his wife had a criminal’s brand on her back.

        • Jaskologist says:

          His duty was to marry her to the next son in line, not himself.

          • Nornagest says:

            Then the virtuous thing to do would have been to try to pick up Shelah (grown up by that point per Genesis 38:14), not Judah. I’m still confused.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m not sure people of that time would have been bothered by a double standard, but maybe throwing the hypocrisy of the situation in his face made him realize he had wronged her.

          • Nornagest says:

            Maybe, but that feels like applying modern standards to the text.

          • Randy M says:

            More like a modern mindset. I’m not trying to judge him, I’m trying to figure out what caused him to suddenly express remorse. Applying a modern perspective is definitely flawed, but it’s hard to emphasize without putting myself in the situation, which it is hard to do objectively.

          • hls2003 says:

            @Nornagest, Randy M:

            I’ve always interpreted the nature of Judah’s remorse in the context of the purposes of levirate marriage. Since women’s rights were minimal, Tamar’s prospects would have been almost entirely controlled by her marriage and offspring. She was in Judah’s household after marrying his son, but was left in limbo following his death because she had no children. Widows relied on their children for two things: physical provision (i.e. the kid works and provides for his mother) and bloodline preservation / integration (i.e. she gets fully incorporated into the family tree). By Judah refusing to consent to her marriage to Shelah, he was forbidding her from full participation in the family and from any sort of stability of provision. If Judah wanted to kick her out to starve in the street (or ply her trade as a prostitute), he could have done so because she had no family standing. Or, more likely and ominously, if Judah died, his property would all be divided amongst his heirs, none of whom would have the slightest attachment to Tamar, and they could kick her to the curb, and she would now belong to no family.

            Levirate marriage was designed to avoid that by incorporating the woman into the family bloodline, giving her children who could support her, ensuring that she wasn’t left out of the inheritance, and generally giving her a protectable position in the family instead of tenancy-at-sufferance. Judah denied that to Tamar; he allowed her to continue living with him but refused her the security to which she was entitled.

            While I agree the scenario ends up being pretty odd, the message Tamar is sending to Judah is “I am owed your protection and security by the laws of God and customs of men, not just your charitable whim. You tried to deny me children, integration into the family bloodline, and a secure inheritance portion by denying me Shelah. I therefore took them from you directly.” Judah then recognizes that she was “more righteous than I” because he was selfishly (he thought she was a jinx) keeping her in a precarious, dependent state in which prostitution might end up being her only livelihood if he died or changed his mind, while also condemning her to death for prostitution, by which she had taken back the things he owed her already.

          • Nornagest says:

            That makes sense, thanks.

          • entobat says:

            Standard explanation I am familiar with, which also seems fairly obvious: she’s already killed two of his sons, why would he give her a third?

          • Aron Wall says:

            Because Tamar wasn’t the one who killed them. They died for their own sins; in the case of Er for some unspecified wickedness that presumably had nothing to do with Tamar, in the case of Onan for his refusal to give Tamar her rights.

            So if you like, one of the possible morals of the story is: “Don’t be superstitious about jinxes”.

        • kenziegirl says:

          Judah had a third son. He had promised this son to Tamar as a new husband, as was his obligation to her. But he did not follow through, possibly because he thought marrying her was a curse or something and didn’t want #3 to die too. So he was clearly in the wrong which is why Tamar took matters into her own hands.

      • entobat says:

        This story is notable for providing a lot of the fodder for the “masturbation is a sin” stuff in Christianity; Onan dies for the sin of spilling his seed, so obviously all spilling of seed is terrible. (This conveniently ignores the context that he was responsible for giving Tamar a child, acting as his dead brother’s surrogate.)

        If you really want to hear a weird version of the same kind of reasoning, ask me why religious married Jewish women cover their hair in public.

        • Beck says:

          I’ll bite. Why do religious married Jewish women cover their hair in public?

        • SamChevre says:

          I’d be curious also. I know why some Christian women cover their heads (I Corinthians 11, which probably references the story from the Book of Enoch referenced in Genesis 6:

          There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.

          ); however, it’s either sacramental (Mennonite) or modesty-based (Amish), so it isn’t tied to marriage.

    • S_J says:

      A question: the story of Cain-vs-Abel includes a strand of settled-farmer (Cain) vs possibly-nomadic-herder (Abel).

      Are there other Ancient Near East stories that favor the nomadic-herder life over the settled-farmer life? Or is this an inversion of the usual pattern of such stories?

      I also notice that most of the stories about Abram/Issac/Jacob give some reference to a nomadic-herding lifestyle. Which makes me suspect that Genesis in general favors the nomadic-herding lifestyle above the settled-farmer lifestyle. Is this thought to be an artifact of the editing process? Or is there some opinion that the core stories were sourced from a nomadic culture that later settled down?

      • dndnrsn says:

        I don’t know enough about the ANE to comment on your first question, but a lot of scholars think that the patriarch stories picture a society that includes both a settled-town component and a nomadic-herder component – there have been plenty of societies where the two coexisted.

        • S_J says:

          I think that was on my mind because I recently saw a (Reddit) r/askHistorians question about old Sumerian myths, and how they relate to the transition from herding society to farming society…but I don’t remember the result of that question.

          I got the impression that most translators use “tent” and “house” interchangeably in the Pentateuch, and later in the historical books. I’m not sure what to make of that. If this is a persistent pattern in ancient Hebrew, then it might speak of a culture that had a long semi-nomadic existence.

          Among other things I noticed: more than one instance where the powerful tribal leader notices that a neighboring king wants his wife…so he lies about the status of his wife to that neighboring king. (Genesis 12 with Pharoah, then Genesis 20 with Abimelech…)

          That’s the kind of thing that a newcomer in the area might run into when dealing with established powers in the area.

          I’m also curious: I’ve seen claims that Genesis 15 shows a style-of-contract that was common in Caanan (or Mesopotamia) at a certain time period. Two kings would bring a series of animals, slay them, cut the bodies in half, and walk between the bodies.

          But that kind of ceremony isn’t mentioned elsewhere in the Pentateuch, nor in later sections of the Bible. Is there a consensus on where this story came from?

    • aho bata says:

      In Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, Diarmid MacCulloch claims that the Patriarchs, if they existed, probably lived between the 6th and 7th centuries, over 1000 years after the face-value date given in the Bible. This would disturb the relative chronology of stories, which traditionally has the Patriarchs as the first “historical” layer; his chronology puts them after some prophets (see immediately below). His evidence includes
      1. References to the Patriarchs are uncommon in the 7th-8th century Hosea, Jeremiah and Isaiah but become more common from the 6th century on (not sure which materials he is attributing to the 6th century or what his chronology is based on),
      2. The Philistines and Arameans, who supposedly belong to a later period in history, occasionally crop up in stories of the Patriarchs, and
      3. There are some duplicate episodes, most notably the threatened rape of the houseguests in Genesis 19 and Judges 19, that are too similar for coincidence; at least (exactly?) must be fictitious, and I guess the assumption is that the one not involving angels is more likely to be original.
      Each of these arguments is pretty weak, but do you think they add up to something worth considering? Are there many Biblical scholars who take this alternative chronology seriously?

      • dndnrsn says:

        Most scholars have discarded the date you’d get on face value from the Bible, but 6th or 7th century would be very on the late end of what most scholars think is possible. His chronology sounds odd though.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      By and large, the firmest conclusion is that the stories probably didn’t originate earlier than the late second millennium BCE or the early first millennium, although they recount events attributed to a more distant past.

      Something I find grating about the Documentary Hypothesis is the way it turns into a kind of frog-boiling Minimalism. It’s one thing to say “Deuteronomy was forged by King Josiah, and since that’s written in a less archaic dialect than the rest of the Torah, the first four Books of Moses were edited together from sources much older than Josiah” and another to say “The whole Torah was made up by four guys or communities during the Babylonian Captivity and edited together by Ezra.”
      I can’t put my finger on the exact fallacy here, but it’s like an Appeal to Authority treadmill. One scholar takes the existing consensus as epistemically certain, but modifies their “how old is the Bible?” claim downward despite it contradicting the very arguments for the consensus. Lather, rinse, repeat.

      • dndnrsn says:

        “Late second millenium to early first” doesn’t necessarily mean Babylonian captivity; the latter is mid first millenium.

        • Aron Wall says:

          Well King David — who I think it is completely nutty to deny was a historical figure, given his extensive biblical documentation (most of it perfectly realistic even by naturalistic standards) plus at least one apparent extrabiblical reference to his dynasty — lived around 1000 BC. It would be rather wild if the first stories about Abraham and Moses dated later than the actual King David!

          And the fact that the stories about the patriarchs seem heavily anachronistic even by the standards of the culture attributed to David (let alone Ezra), has to count for something regarding their antiquity. I mean, even in medieval times, people just assumed in their art and literature that the ancients wore the exact same clothes, and had the exact same technology and social structures, that they did. So if the Old Testament seems to contain histories describing Israel progressing through very different levels of cultural organization (e.g. from the patriarchal nomads of Genesis, to the disorganized but settled tribes in Judges, to the centralized nation-states of the late Divided Kingdoms period), the simplest explanation is a dating scheme that allows some of the books to be, in fact, much older than others. (Which does not preclude some later editing.)

          • dndnrsn says:

            There’s some stuff in the text that wouldn’t be possible before the 12th century BCE – my textbook lists the mentions of Philistines (show up in 12th century), the mentions of Arameans (attested only from the 11th century), the mentions of camels (mention as domestic animal dates to 11th, being common centuries later), and archaeological evidence suggesting Beersheba wasn’t settled before the 12th century.

            The forms the stories take in the Bible could of course be taking from earlier stories – but that gets into heavily speculative territory too. If the stories took an oral form before being written down lately, they could have changed heavily – some research casts doubt on the notion that nonliterate or semiliterate societies are as good as we think at maintaining the details, form, etc of stories passed down orally.

            There certainly was a dynasty that linked themselves to David; as a historical figure he’s as attested as many others we don’t doubt (my special rage is for people who argue Jesus wasn’t a real historical figure – if you apply the same standard to everything, there’s historical figures from much more recently you must conclude are legendary or mythical) but that’s different from “there was a guy called David, and he did xyz, as in the Bible”.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Thanks for the information! Even if I accept every point you mention, none of them seem to require the Torah to date after 1000 BC (the conclusion of the 11th century), so I think my point about David stands. But here’s a very superficial attempt to check the arguments of your textbook against the internet:

            The camels thing has come up before (Scott’s take on the issue is in the comments to a post on his old blog) and seems to be controversial. At least some people have reasonable sounding counter-arguments. We’d have to look through their citations to know for sure, of course.

            Wikipedia on the Arameans:

            The toponym A-ra-mu appears in an inscription at the East Semitic speaking kingdom of Ebla listing geographical names, and the term Armi, which is the Eblaite term for nearby Idlib (modern Aleppo), occurs frequently in the Ebla tablets (c. 2300 BC). One of the annals of Naram-Sin of Akkad (c. 2250 BC) mentions that he captured “Dubul, the ensí of A-ra-me” (Arame is seemingly a genitive form), in the course of a campaign against Simurrum in the northern mountains. Other early references to a place or people of “Aram” have appeared at the archives of Mari (c. 1900 BC) and at Ugarit (c. 1300 BC).

            However, there is no historical, archaeological or linguistic evidence that the Aramu, Armi or Arame were actually Arameans or related to them; and the earliest undisputed historical attestation of Arameans as a people appears much later, in the inscriptions of Tiglath Pileser I (c. 1100 BC).[6]

            This seems to strongly imply that there was, in fact, a people group called the Arameans living around the traditional dates of Abraham. They simply might not have been the same ethnic group which was called the Arameans in later biblical texts. (Reminds me of the “Homer was actually written by another 8th century blind poet with the same name” joke!)

            About Beersheeba, Wikipedia saith:

            Human settlement in the area dates from the Copper Age. The inhabitants lived in caves, crafting metal tools and raising cattle. Findings unearthed at Tel Be’er Sheva, an archaeological site east of modern-day Beersheba, suggest the region has been inhabited since the 4th millennium BC. The city has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the centuries.

            The article about the Tel Be’er Sheva archaeological site gives more details about a specific settlement that does indeed appear to date from closer to the time of David, but it seems like the wells themselves could easily have predated the existence of more permanent settlements. The existence of a town is not a completely boolean thing, there can be developments of different kinds in the same location, and things are often named after what was there before.

            The Philistines seem like a more serious discrepency with the biblical narrative. While their Wikipedia article has a considerable amount of uncertainty and dissent, there does seem to be archaeological evidence that the Philistine migration to the Holy Land occurred around the 12th century BC, which poses a difficulty with respect to passages like Exodus 13:17 and Joshua 13:3 which imply they had already settled in the area. One thing to note, though, is that the Bible histories do seem to portray the Philistines as becoming much more politically dominant starting in the period midway through Judges (prior to this time, they merely play bit parts; afterwards, they are the main foreign adversary from the time of Samson to David). If this power shift corresponds to the large-scale colonization in the 12th century, that would actually not be too far off from the traditional biblical chronology.

            Of course, none of this necessarily implies that the Torah is as early as its traditional date. But I do worry a bit about whether historians are applying a double standard to biblical texts (especially when using arguments from silence and the like).

            I mean things like: if domestic camels are mentioned in an non-biblical text that purports to be from time T, this proves that camels were in use during time T. But if domestic camels are mentioned in a biblical text that purports to be from time T, this proves that the biblical book originates much later than T, unless there is extra-biblical confirmation. See how that’s not the same conclusion? In the case of the Bible, it’s guilty until proven innocent.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Personally, I favour a late-2nd-millenium date. The arguments for a really late Torah are often a bit tendentious. I think what we’re looking at here favours a late-2nd-millenium date also.

          • Aron Wall says:

            There certainly was a dynasty that linked themselves to David; as a historical figure he’s as attested as many others we don’t doubt (my special rage is for people who argue Jesus wasn’t a real historical figure – if you apply the same standard to everything, there’s historical figures from much more recently you must conclude are legendary or mythical) but that’s different from “there was a guy called David, and he did xyz, as in the Bible”.

            The reason I believe David actually did xyz is of course because it says he did these things in the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles (this last book is from a post-exilic perspective but it explicitly cites 3 earlier sources for David’s life), and I propose we should treat this material with the same respect that we would treat other historical sources of the same quality, from around the same era. Heck, we practically have the guy’s poetry journal!

            I agree that the evidence for Jesus’ existence is stronger. (David’s existence is strong by the standards of 1000 BC, whereas Jesus’ existence is strong by the standards of the 1st century AD.) But if you want a real nutjob, how about this guy who argues that Mohammed didn’t exist!

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I’ve seen a couple different versions of the Documentary Hypothesis. You seem to be educating us on the original 19th century German version, where J and E are attributed to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah before 740 BC. I’ve seen another version where J and E “must” come from the Babylonian Captivity, because the Tower of Babel story and Genesis 14 are criticizing Babylon.

          • dndnrsn says:

            There are mentions of stuff that might be criticizing Babylon in the textbook too – I thought I had noted it in the Tower of Babel coverage, but I might have cut it for length.

            The attitude of the textbook seems to be “ah, those 19th century Germans, they got kinda wacky, but the core of what they thought seems pretty reliable” which I think seems fair.

    • NightOfStars says:

      Thank you for the informative post.
      However I find the 4-way division of the Bible to be inconceivable. The process is largely speculative and is riddled with inconsistencies.
      But mainly, it doesn’t pass a computerized authorship attribution analysis.
      To quote:
      “When applied to Genesis–Numbers, the method divides the text into constituents that correlate closely with common notions of “Priestly” and “non-Priestly” material. No such corroboration is forthcoming for the classic Yahwistic/Elohistic division.”

      That seems to be as close as you can get to disproof short of finding manuscripts.
      To be fair it’s a single study and the only one I could find.

      • dndnrsn says:

        That is actually really interesting; thanks for posting. When is this from? Unless I missed it, there’s no date on it. However, there’s no citations from later than 2011 – so presumably it’s from around then. None of the courses I took talked about computer analysis more than in passing; I mean, who needs computers when you have shelves of books and the ghosts of 19th century Germans? It’s interesting that when the first four books are considered, it cuts E out, given that “what’s J and what’s E” is a source of controversy.

        • NightOfStars says:

          I’m glad you guys found the study as interesting as I did. I’d like to just then touch upon your comments. Indeed, when I was researching the topic, it struck as exceedingly odd that rigorous analysis has not been performed more frequently. After quite a bit of digging, this was the only paper that I could find. It’s done by Moshe Koppel and whose specializes in computerized authorship attribution. It’s indeed odd as you note the Wellhausen and company are still so revered. I think it has something to do with the fact that perhaps more niche academic fields tend to towards isolationism.
          Aron Wall – Just glanced through your blog and congratulations on the Cambridge post.
          Firstly, just to comment on you and the next reply, that the there is a split is undeniable. The a priori split simply means that if the text is actually unified then the results returned will be obvious garbage, distinctions that are impossible to comprehend. Considering that the split seems logical and matches largely what an intelligent human would postulate, I think it’s fair to say it’s true. Now I actually emailed Koppel and he said that using more sophisticated techniques, you can build a model that tries to figure out what the most logical number of splits are and where they should be. He told that he’s planning to work on it when he’s finished some other projects.
          Just a friendly note Aron from a fellow believer (Although I should vehemently decline the title Saint 😊- such would violate my faith): You say that there’s more reason for you to believe in P now. The truth is that it’s impossible to read the Torah and not be struck by the different thematic concerns and languages, that strike one not as a single author. This fact should not be new you. Such things have never bothered me. (I think somebody said something about this previously on the OT) In a theological sense, God is certainly not seen as single entity which relates to the world in a monochromatic persona. He has contrasting and complex attributes that he expresses himself through. I feel no need then to demand that his revelation be a grey blob of uniform language and tone. Such would be absurd in fact. The Bible is an infinitely complex work written in tones and shades and voices and attributes, if you are a believer. If a study shows that great but I see it as plain truth. (Apologies if I have completely unraveled into mysticism).
          Just two final points that I think are pertinent on the topic of editors:
          As you delve deeply, a plausible model of the editor’s work becomes almost impossible. At times they must be master workers, fixing minute disparities. At other times, they seem horribly heavy handed, missing thing altogether and leaving in deleterious parts, stories of paganism, Isaac’s binding etc. and choosing not to remove altogether. It’s very strange.
          This is aside from obvious historical questions such as how, why and when was such a narrative (with significant chunks of shameful history) imposed upon the people. Why are there no alternative texts or manuscripts whatsoever, with the Masoretic text virtually identical.
          Lastly, Aron if you are seriously interested in the topic it seems sina qua non to learn Biblical Hebrew The issues simply cannot be debated without. Just small example from above on “the sons of G-ds” – The Hebrew term is bnei elokim which could mean the above or could just mean the sons of those in power as the word means in many other places. I’m not saying the translation is necessarily wrong but it’s debatable at the very least.
          I hope I haven’t stuck an overly belligerent tone here. I find these discussions awesome and keep it up and just hoping to contribute.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Thanks for your comments, NightOfStars. But I never said anywhere that I think the Torah has a single author! That does not seem very likely to be the case even if it did date all the way back to the Exodus.

            The Bible is an infinitely complex work written in tones and shades and voices and attributes, if you are a believer.

            Of course. A Bible with a more homogeneous tone would be far less useful as a network of concepts (an extra brain, if you will) for thinking about all areas of life. To say it in an overly glib manner: since life is full of inconsistencies, in order to be true to life the Bible must also be somewhat inconsistent (at least in tone and emphasis). There is a reason why the Church canonized 4 Gospels rather than just 1.

            For those who prefer their religious scriptures to have less internal tension, there are plenty of knock-off products available that were written by single authors (and that therefore achieve a much higher degree of internal consistency/homogeneity) but which do not agree with the common message delivered by dozens of different Hebrew prophets.

            Lastly, Aron if you are seriously interested in the topic it seems sina qua non to learn Biblical Hebrew The issues simply cannot be debated without.

            Ideally, yes. But as it happens I’m not good at learning foreign languages (it was hard enough passing my ancient Greek classes), nor am I capable of shutting up about the Bible. So in my case you’re stuck with what you’ve got.

            (And, as you’ve kindly noticed, I do have a scholastic career in another subject to attend to.)

            I’m happy to listen respectfully to anyone who tells me facts about what the Hebrew actually says. But I don’t believe that only language scholars should be a part of this conversation.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            But as it happens I’m not good at learning foreign languages

            For what it’s worth, this community seems to have a bit of overlap with the ‘learning languages as a hobby’ subset of nerd-dom, and one of the consistent messages from that subculture is that languages are almost invariably taught really badly in an academic context, largely because they’re not really the sort of thing that can be taught, as opposed to learned, in the first place, and that exposing yourself to lots of meaningful content that is just slightly above your level is the most efficient way to go. I expect that it is harder to find much material for Biblical Hebrew than most modern languages, but the point is that your problem may not be you, so to speak, you may have just been stuck with bad learning methods.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Winter Shaker

            I really liked my New Testament Greek course, because it worked by giving you New Testament passages, filling in the bits you hadn’t learned, and slowly taking those supports away. It worked a lot better than artificially simple made-up sentences.

      • Aron Wall says:

        Yes, very interesting. Updating somewhat towards P being a thing.

        I do wonder though what would happen if they applied this method to a text which didn’t arise from multiple sources stitched together—it sounds like the method basically assumes a priori that we are dividing into a certain number of sources. The part that I think makes this significant evidence nonetheless is that their P/non-P distinction agrees closely with what the human scholarship thought.

        Although, it is interesting that their computer failed to divide the two creation narratives from each other!

        • Aron Wall says:

          Another key quote from the paper which (partially) mitagates their conclusion:

          It might be noted that our method’s split corresponds to a considerable extent with that between narrative and legal sections of the Pentateuch. In fact, many of the sections for which our method’s split does not correspond with the benchmark P/non-P. split are narrative sections in P and legal sections in non-P. Nevertheless, there are
          numerous examples where our method’s split corresponds perfectly with the bench mark P/non-P split within a narrative section or, alternatively, within a legal section.

          It could also be (as suggested by its name) that P is not so much a specific source, as merely those parts of the Torah that were written by priests or Levites (who perhaps had their own special linguistic mannerisms and cultural norms due to their special religious role).

          • Evan Þ says:

            In other words, you’re saying the P Source didn’t exist for generations on its own before being redacted into the Pentateuch; it was written from the beginning to be part of the Pentateuch?

            (Perhaps a hypertraditionalist could even say P was written by Aaron and J/E by Moses?)

            I need to chew some on the plausibility of that, but it’s a very attractive hypothesis to me.

      • Björn says:

        But they don’t really say in their paper that they disagree with the 4-way division, they only say that their algorithm can detect the priestly source very well, and it fails to divide the non-priestly parts into different sources. I would say this lines up with the consensus that it is quite obvious that the priestly parts go together, but finding other distinct source is much more based on speculation.

        However, I think most of the experts disagreeing about the other sources is a much better argument than the computer analysis failing to divide the non priestly text in different sources. The computer analysis more or less says that it could not group the non priestly text into two different groups based on the word usage. But that doesn’t mean that the non priestly parts are uniform from the view of the program, only that the computer can find no word criteria that divides one part of the non priestly part from the rest.

      • Evan Þ says:

        If this subthread isn’t dead, I was thinking…

        The scholars checked the methodology by running it against interwoven books in the same genre by different people, and against a single indivisible book by one person. However, did they check it against works in different genres by the same person? For instance, suppose we have a fantasy novel which (for whatever reason) includes lengthy monologues on philosophy of science; would this method separate out the monologues (and a couple extra sections which happen to include the same words) and lead the scholars to say “ah, they must’ve been written by a different person and later redacted together”?

        In other words, can we be sure this study is capturing a distinct P source and not just “the times our single author happened to be talking about detailed laws on XYZ”?

    • Chlopodo says:

      One thing I might add, just for curiosity’s sake: I believe John Day says in one of his books that– despite both being dramatic water-themed motifs that appear in the Bible– the Flood narrative and the Chaoskampf (the creation of the cosmos via the hero god destroying a personification of the Sea/Chaos) have 2 different sources: the chaoskampf comes from the Levant and is thus more “indigenous” to the Hebrews, whereas the Flood narrative comes from the Fertile Crescent and so is of foreign origin.

      At some later date the Mesopotamian Flood myth was incorporated into the Hebrew legendarium, and my guess is that this late addition might explain why it disrupts the continuity of the Old Testament so much (with people living before the flood allegedly being ancestral to those who survived after the flood– “those who live in tents” etc.). The chaoskampf was also, in turn, incorporated into the Mesopotamian canon at some point (e.g. the whole Marduk-Tiamat business); this has been attributed to West Semitic Amorite immigrants to Mesopotamia, but I don’t know how much cachet that theory has.

      Pierre Bordreuil and Dennis Pardee, in their grammar of Ugaritic, give the following explanation for the chaoskampf myth:

      [T]he myth of Baʿlu [Baal] against Yammu (‘Sea’) would appear to find its provenance in the same region. The proximity of the sea to the Gabal al-Aqraʿ (the height of this peak is more than 1,800 m, and its distance from the sea is no more than 3 km as the crow flies) explains the appearance of a “mountain effect,” well known in the Mediterranean. In this meteorological phenomenon, dense clouds gather around the summit of the Gabal al-Aqraʿ while, from the center of the spectacular storm, lightning is attracted to the sea. These autumn and winter tempests must have made a big impression on fishermen, mariners, and travelers who considered the region situated to the north of the bay of Ras al-Bassit to be the place par excellence of the conflict between the Sea and the storm-god and interpreted the appearance of billows and powerful waves as the Sea’s response to the storm-god’s blows. The geographical context of the two principal myths from Ugarit, therefore, is found in the interior of the kingdom: Baʿlu’s combat with the Sea is waged from his mountain residence on Ṣapunu [Mt. Zaphon], and Baʿlu’s battle with Môtu [Death] also victoriously concludes there with the return of the god to his palace.

      Just something I’ve always found interesting.

    • dndnrsn says:

      This one is for @Aron Wall, who requested some coverage of how they date the sources of the Hebrew Bible.

      The Hebrew Bible was composed far enough in the past that we have nothing even close to original copies (in comparison, there are fragmentary bits of early Christian writings from well fairly soon after they were composed, and complete or mostly complete copies from not long after that). Thus, scholars trying to date them have to look at the text and try to make educated guesses.

      The anchoring point for a lot of these educated guesses is the date of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy restricts sacrificial worship to a single “place that YHWH your God will choose” (Deut. 12:5) and calls for the destruction of other places of worship. Before Moses, this command would have been unknown, but according to Joshua, Judges, and Samuel, there are other locations of worship. There’s no indication that this was considered contrary to any rules. We know of two attempts to standardize one place of worship and close down the rest: by Hezekiah of Judah at the end of the 8th century, and by his great-grandson Josiah in 622 (see 2 Kings 18 and 22). Josiah’s reform was based on a “book of the Torah” that had been found in the Temple. The scholarly conclusion was that this must have been Deuteronomy – what Josiah does seems based on what is found in Deuteronomy (later, scholars would see it as an alternative to Assyrian vassal treaties in the 7th century, providing another clue as to the date of Deuteronomy). There are strong suggestions that Deuteronomy was not (as presented) an old law rediscovered, but a new law. So, anything that accepted worship in multiple places must be before Josiah (before 622) and anything that addresses it (either attacking or defending it) must be from after that point. (The obvious objection is that someone might condemn it before that point, and yeah, I can’t say much to that; I hope the scholars would have considered that).

      The E source has usually been dated a little later than J – E is associated with the Northern kingdom, and J with the Southern, and scholars tend to think that E was an alternative account, put together after the kingdoms separated after Solomon’s death. They tend to think it based on who the different stories make look good, and who they make look bad. Neither source seems aware of the prohibition mentioned above, so they were likely put together before Josiah’s reforms – probably after the northern kingdom fell in 722. (Yes, this requires assuming that the E source and the J source are different; this may not be the case).

      The date of P is controversial, more controversial than the above. Until the late 19th century, scholars tended to think that P was the oldest source in the Torah. Through most of the 20th century, this was reversed. More recently, there’s been an increase in scholarly knowledge about the Ancient Near East in general, supporting the idea that stuff in P that some scholars thought was later legalism could in fact be much older. There are various other arguments, and a lot of minor point-by-point comparisons between P and D to joust over which is older, but the gist is that the closest thing to a scholarly consensus is: even if P itself is not ancient and is likely later than D (one guess is that the final form of P dates to the middle of the 5th century) it contains ancient stuff.

      There are other arguments about dating which have largely been abandoned, and which I will ignore here – I am trying to focus on what passes for scholarly consensus. I can expand a little on the arguments above if anybody is interested, but I’m getting kind of tired, this isn’t my area of specialty, and all the German names are melting together in front of my eyes. So many Germans. So, to conclude: J and E are probably earlier than D, which is earlier than P in its current form, but P very likely has older stuff in it.

      (A side note: almost all of these scholars are German. The only one I will identify by name is de Wette, because his name might make you think Dutchman. Nope, German.)

      • Aron Wall says:

        Thanks again for presenting this material! Maybe you should have paced yourself by posting this in a future open thread, rather than tiring yourself out and giving yourself Melting German Name syndrome. But since it’s here…

        This (not you, but the arguments you are mediating) seems even worse that I thought it would be. While the cynical suggestion that Deuteronomy was fraudulently written by Josiah (or more plausibly, by Hilkiah the high priest) is hard to disprove, it also seems pretty hard to prove. After all, the political effects of finding a genuinely older (but neglected) text prescribing certain things might be much the same as if it were forged. This seems rather sketchy for something that is supposed to be the foundation of the entire rest of the dating system.

        One of the claims I made at the beginning of our conversation was that it may not be possible to determine the dates of biblical books in a “neutral” fashion that is independent of the question of whether the religious claims are true or false.

        This seems to be an example of this. If the Torah is of merely human origin, it seems very unlikely that it would be written to accommodate future changes of society (e.g. the verses in Deuteronomy describing the monarchy and centralized Temple worship, neither of which existed during the period of Conquest/Judges), let alone the chapters towards the end of Leviticus and Deuteronomy which seem to predict the Babylonian Exile and Return centuries later (which you don’t mention, but must surely play a role in some of these Germans’ thinking). But if the Torah includes elements of divine origin, there is no particular reason why a prophet might not give descriptions/rules for these events in advance.

        You are correct that the early “righteous” kings in Judah don’t seem to have regarded the “high places” as that big of a deal, so long as the people were worshipping YHWH there. They are judged for this (mildly) by the authors of Kings and Chronicles (which on the German hypothesis must reflect their own mores rather than the earlier source material incorporated by them).

        But it is hardly news that religious people often fail to live up to the commandments in their own holy books (or, even if they personally obey the rules, they sometimes do not wish to use their government authority to prevent others from breaking them). Taking the biblical history at face value, the history of Israel was one long struggle against idolatry, including things like shrine prostitution and even child sacrifice. Sacrificing to YHWH on the mountains may have been regarded as a fairly minor peccadillo in the grand scheme of things.

        Also, if the prohibition on high places originates from the invention of Deuteronomy during the reign of Josiah, then why does the non-Deuteronomic part of the Torah also talk negatively about high places in Leviticus 26:30 and Numbers 33:52? (I don’t know which “source” these verses are attributed to, but I assume it isn’t D.)

        And why did Hezekiah take them down 3 generations before Josiah? For that matter 2 Chronicles 17 also says that Jehosephat removed the high places from Judah more than a century before Hezekiah, although Kings (replicated in 2 Chronicles 20) says that they weren’t removed. (Perhaps he did so half-heartedly or did it at the beginning of his reign but failed to keep it up, or was unable to fully enforce the decision etc.)

        (The obvious objection is that someone might condemn it before that point, and yeah, I can’t say much to that; I hope the scholars would have considered that).

        Yeah. Imagine trying to apply this same type of reasoning to United States history (assume to make the hypothetical more interesting that some cataclysm reduces the records to a similarly sparse set of important documents).

        The key crisis is obviously the Civil War, during which time Lincoln emancipated the slaves in order to shore up his legitimacy against the Southern Kingdom. Anything in American history which seems to condemn slavery (e.g. the Declaration of Independence) is obviously a post-Civil War document. On the other hand, the 14th Amendment is an even later interpolation from the Civil Rights era, since otherwise we have to explain why there was a century long period during which time everybody ignored what it said and still had segregation. 🙂

        There are strong suggestions that Deuteronomy was not (as presented) an old law rediscovered, but a new law.

        Can’t deal with this without knowing what the other “strong suggestions” are. (I am aware that it can sometimes be difficult to harmonize the exact details of the laws repeated in Deuteronomy with those in the rest of the Torah, although the broad outlines seem compatible.)

        (later, scholars would see it as an alternative to Assyrian vassal treaties in the 7th century, providing another clue as to the date of Deuteronomy)

        It is not as though the Assyrians were the first to invent the idea of a vassal treaty. And the idea of covenants permeates the whole Torah, not just Deuteronomy.

        Another point which I feel points to an early date for at least parts of the Torah is the Code of Hammarabi (c. 1754 BC), which has some significant legal parallels with Genesis and Exodus, but is earlier than even the traditional dates for the Exodus.

        • dndnrsn says:

          This (not you, but the arguments you are mediating) seems even worse that I thought it would be. While the cynical suggestion that Deuteronomy was fraudulently written by Josiah (or more plausibly, by Hilkiah the high priest) is hard to disprove, it also seems pretty hard to prove. After all, the political effects of finding a genuinely older (but neglected) text prescribing certain things might be much the same as if it were forged. This seems rather sketchy for something that is supposed to be the foundation of the entire rest of the dating system.

          There’s all sorts of little arguments that fix Deuteronomy in place and time – but a lot of them date from after the initial dating of Deuteronomy. They back it up a bit. Deuteronomy seems like the product of the time it was written, both based on internal context and on external context.

          However, I think right now you are thinking in a way that might not match how they thought back then. I can talk about this more knowledgeably with regard to the New Testament; the gist is that at least in the Hellenistic world (I cannot say if this was the case a thousand years or whatever earlier) they didn’t think of “fraud” the way we do. A historian writing a biography of an important figure might put together a speech that person is said to have given based on what he thinks the person would have said in the circumstances, for example. It’s similar to all those Renaissance paintings of the crucifixion with Roman soldiers standing around wearing the armour a soldier of the time the painting would have worn: their goal was to portray what they saw as the underlying truth rather than boring old facts. To us, they come off as at best fast and loose; to them, we’d come off as needlessly pedantic and obsessed with stuff that doesn’t really matter.

          We might say “the secular and religious authorities produced a forgery to strengthen their central rule” but – if we take the notion that the Israelites and their religion were associated with the Canaanites – the stuff that the reforms swept out were often pretty dicey. I’ll take centralization over child sacrifice any day.

          One of the claims I made at the beginning of our conversation was that it may not be possible to determine the dates of biblical books in a “neutral” fashion that is independent of the question of whether the religious claims are true or false.

          I don’t think this is the case; there are plenty of critical scholars who are not atheists or even agnostics. The ones who aren’t believers often find as the issue not the history of the Bible, but other problems (eg, Ehrman ended up becoming a nonbeliever over the issues involved in theodicy). It is not hard to reconcile the two – eg, “the Bible is the attempts of fallible humans to communicate God, God’s will, the history of God’s people, etc; it is unsurprising that fallible humans screw up a lot” – and while this does conflict with some religious beliefs, I don’t think it conflicts with religious belief as a whole.

          This seems to be an example of this. If the Torah is of merely human origin, it seems very unlikely that it would be written to accommodate future changes of society (e.g. the verses in Deuteronomy describing the monarchy and centralized Temple worship, neither of which existed during the period of Conquest/Judges), let alone the chapters towards the end of Leviticus and Deuteronomy which seem to predict the Babylonian Exile and Return centuries later (which you don’t mention, but must surely play a role in some of these Germans’ thinking). But if the Torah includes elements of divine origin, there is no particular reason why a prophet might not give descriptions/rules for these events in advance.

          The problem becomes that it is equally disprovable whether something that seems to be foreshadowing was a later author slipping something in that he knew had already happened, or whether something that is couched as a prediction of the future refers to a given event or not (see all the attempts to explain contemporary history as predicted by Revelation).

          Ultimately, I did leave out a lot of the point-by-point stuff in the textbook; I can reproduce some of it if you’d like (but that might have to wait). My general feeling is I’m probably about 60-75% confident in the rough dating the scholars have come up with – I’d guess it was that, but I wouldn’t bet my money on it, basically. I’m far more confident in the dating of the New Testament documents – unsurprising, given that we have much better external information to go on.

          • marshwiggle says:

            I find the point about whether we have to assume a not divine at all origin for the Torah rather important. If that assumption was necessary to the dating process then the results of the dating process cannot later be used to attack the divine origin of the Torah. I’m not saying you do this. I’m not saying all secular biblical scholarship does this. But I am saying that lots and lots of people do this. They say ‘scholars say late and human origin, therefore not divine origin, case closed’. Academics do this, lay people do this, and it is often not a minor point. If this rests on wildly faulty logic, that’s kind of important to know.

          • Protagoras says:

            Defenders of the historical accuracy of the religious accounts often try to suggest that different standards are applied to their favorite religious figures than to other historical figures. But the assumption of no divine origin is applied to all religious histories, not just those in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It is not inconsistent to say that we want better than the usual kind of evidence if we’re going to believe the miraculous stories that we don’t believe when any other historical sources report them.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I don’t know how an earlier date would make it more likely to be divinely inspired, really.

            My experience, overall, was that the secular scholars just ignored entirely the question of religious truth, and the secular scholars didn’t base arguments for religious truth on the provenance of the documents.

          • marshwiggle says:

            I’m not saying that an early date implies divine authorship. I’m saying that a lot of people say that scholars say ‘late date, therefore no divine authorship’. They discount other arguments for divine authorship on the grounds that late date makes divine authorship impossible. But, if the scholars only really argued that we know the Torah is late if it has no divine authorship, ‘late date, therefore no divine authorship’ is a bad argument.

            This is really a subset of the problem where a lot of people throw around ‘the consensus of scholarship’ without examining the assumptions that scholarship made when arriving at that consensus. The 19th century biblical scholars really really liked to use phrases like ‘the assured results of scholarship’ or however you translate it. I’m quite positive they said that sort of thing more than was warranted, and I’m even more positive that that sort of thing hasn’t exactly gone away.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Well, sure, that’s lousy scholarship. Anyone reporting that as the consensus of current scholarship is misreporting; either that or the school I went to is a bizarre outlier – I never heard any of the secular scholars comment on divine inspiration or the lack thereof, except to say that you couldn’t judge one way or the other using secular methods. I think the first possibility is more likely.

            The 19th century Biblical scholars are probably coming off better in this than they should, because I’m cutting out a lot of failed hypotheses and such for the sake of keeping it moving. The scholars now are… well, for starters, they’re more sensitive; they also have better evidence overall due to various innovations and discoveries.

            You don’t find many people these days who are trying to debunk religion in Biblical studies, honestly. Once upon a time, people very commonly knew the Bible enough that non-fans still ended up knowing it; serious Bible knowledge is less common these days, so anyone who’s into it at least likes it, even if they’re a nonbeliever.

          • Aron Wall says:


            I know that Thucydides says explicitly in the preface to his work that he inserted plausible speeches into the mouths of the historical figures (and some of the speeches are pretty good, too!). Although as you say it’s unclear whether we can generalize from the Greek historical tradition to the Hebrew one centuries earlier. But the question of whether the whole of Deuteronomy would have been morally justifiable as a “noble lie” is ultimately a side issue. If it didn’t come from Moses than somebody needed to invent it; the more important issue is whether biblical critics can disprove its Mosaic authorship in a non-question-begging way.

            Since both my wife and my best friend went to the U Chicago divinity school, I do know something about the atmosphere at these places. So I’m aware that a lot of the faculty are religious believers of a sort (even though I’d personally consider many of them to be heretics or apostates) and that most of them seem like intelligent and friendly people, who (as you say) surely find something of value in studying these texts.

            But that doesn’t mean there might not be anti-supernaturalist assumptions implicit in their work. Even religious people—if they have a self-image as intelligent, sophisticated, or liberal—can feel a pressure not to endorse ideas that come across to them as “crude” or “fundamentalist”.

            And it takes a different skill set to question basic assumptions in the form of scholarship you’ve been taught, then it takes to carry the method forward. Even in cases where the evidence clearly points in one direction (e.g. evolution), surely many people believe it more for cultural reasons than after carefully thinking about the data.

            But I don’t think the right way forward here is to psychoanalyze people. The question of whether there are anti-religious assumptions in the arguments of bibical criticism is better cast as a question about the relationship between ideas, which can be discussed independently of who put forward the ideas and for what reason.

            One of my informants tells me a story of when they were in class and the interdependence of the Gospels came up. One student raised her hand and tentatively suggested that maybe the apostles wrote completely separately and that the verbally identical passages were actually a result of divine inspiration making them all write the exact same thing for those verses. Everybody else in the class was horribly embarassed and eventually the professor said [something like, I’m reporting this second-hand after a decade] about how we have to discount scenarios like that or we can’t do history at all.

            But actually, that’s the wrong answer. The right answer is to say that 1. theologically there’s no good reason to think that God would have any reason to do that particular miracle, and 2. that if he had done it, the results do not seem to explain the texts of the Gospels as we have them, and certainly do not explain them as well as the common-source hypotheses do. Even supernaturalistic hypotheses make predictions, and can therefore be tested.

            The problem becomes that it is equally disprovable whether something that seems to be foreshadowing was a later author slipping something in that he knew had already happened, or whether something that is couched as a prediction of the future refers to a given event or not (see all the attempts to explain contemporary history as predicted by Revelation).

            First of all, did you mean to write “unprovable” or “un-disproveable” rather than “dispovable” here? Because I’m having difficulty parsing your sentence the way you wrote it. But if you are worried that once we throw open the door to prophecy, then people’s prior religious views will play a large role in deciding how they interpret the books—then I don’t see what’s so surprising about that.

            But I don’t think it means anything goes. I think the ultimate answer is you have to make a Bayesian judgement call. To give what I consider a clear-cut example, I don’t think Moses could possibly have written Genesis 36:31 precisely because it doesn’t sound at all like a prophecy; it sounds like a historical retrospective from the monarchy era.

            And while there exist vague Nostradamus-like predictions that could match many possible “fulfillments”, some of the prophecies in the Bible are sufficiently specific that, as far as I know, nobody interprets them as lucky coincidences. (2 of these passages predict the deeds of important future rulers specified by name, 1 gives a blow-by-blow account of the political intrigues between the Ptolomies and Seleucids.) The only naturalistic hypothesis that will do, is to say they were pseudo-prophecies written after the events in question.

          • Aron Wall says:


            I don’t think people should assume a priori that non-Judeo-Christian religious texts have no divine origin either. Although it might end up being the most reasonable conclusion at the end of the day.

            Nor am I saying that it is irrational to import data from one’s philosophical beliefs about life obtained from other sources (besides analyzing the texts in question). But if you do end up doing that, ideally you should be clear about this, rather than thinking that your disbelief was based on something you got from the text itself. (But in many other cases, the text may contain red flags that mean you wouldn’t believe it was factual anyway, even if your worldview allowed for supernatural events to occur.)

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Aron Wall

            There is some naturalistic bias, yeah. Some academics clearly want to sort of de-miracleize the whole thing. But a lot of them simultaneously do believe the religious claims. I don’t think that the religious claims necessarily conflict hugely with the scholarly-consensus-such-as-it-is scholarship, but one would have to do a bit of wrangling to reconcile them, and maybe compartmentalize a bit.

            I meant to write un-disproveable, yeah. A work of prophecy, if we don’t have it conclusively dated, could be prophecy, or it could be backdated. Etc. As noted, I don’t think we can date it to a level of certainty past “ehhhh, maybe 3/4 chance it’s from such-and-such a date.”

            I’m going to get more into this in Exodus. I think we went over this already – the language in the covenant seems similar to other ANE documents, but depending on what you think it’s more similar to, it could be dated radically differently. Which ties into the prophets, actually.

          • A work of prophecy, if we don’t have it conclusively dated, could be prophecy, or it could be backdated.

            In the case of Joan of Arc, as I understand it, we have a prophesy that was conclusively dated and came true.

          • Aron Wall says:

            What event did Joan prophesy, and in your opinion how unlikely was that fulfilment given the natural course of events?

            It is also claimed that in 1415, just as he was about to be burned, John Huss prophesied the coming of Martin Luther with the words “To-day you will roast a lean goose but a hundred years from now you will hear a swan sing, whom you will leave unroasted and no trap or net will catch him for you.” (Apparently “Huss” means goose, and I’ve seen it claimed that there was a swan on Luther’s family coat of arms, but haven’t been able to confirm it.) I traced this prophecy back to what appears on its face to be a contemporary account, but I haven’t done the work needed to establish that it really is.

            I agree it’s hard to prove the prophecies I linked to weren’t backdated. (The one about Josiah even appears in the exact same book (Kings) as its fulfillment, so from an evidential perspective it’s no better than any other miracle reported by this book alone.)

            But my point is not that any of these examples provide conclusive evidence for prophecy. My point is merely that one’s beliefs about prophecy may affect how early a date one is willing to consider for these books.

            (Of course, the individual predicted most frequently by far in the Old Testament prophets is the Messiah, and here it is quite clear that, whatever you think of the claims of fulfilment in the New Testament, they certainly postdate the writing of the prophecies themselves.)

  17. I have a project that I would like help with—I believe I mentioned it once before, some time back. I am trying to put together a collection of short works of literature that contain interesting economic insights. My original idea was for a book, with each piece followed by an essay discussing the economics, but I may end up doing it as a web page, since that reduces the problem of getting copyright permissions.

    My current draft is webbed, with some but not all of the essays written, but I would like to find more things to include—hence this comment.

    There are three things I am not looking for:

    1. Novels or extracts from novels. The idea isn’t to prove that literature contains economic ideas but to use the literature to teach the economics, so I am limiting myself to things people would read for their own sake that are short enough so that a bunch of them can be fitted into a book. At the moment that means mostly short stories, some poems, a few essays.

    2. Libertarian propaganda. Insofar as I am pushing an ideology, it’s economics not libertarianism. I have no objection to stories that make points libertarians like, but also no objection to stories that make points libertarians don’t like.

    3. Things that are about an economy rather than about economics.

    This is probably the hard one, since it comes out of a difference between what I mean by “economics” and what many other people mean by it. To me, economics is not the study of the economy but a way of understanding behavior. Making sense of things like inflation and unemployment rates is one thing economics can be used for, but it can equally be used to try to understand law, crime, marriage, war, … . Its defining characteristic is the assumption that individuals have objectives and tend to take the actions that achieve them, which is what economists mean by “rationality.”

    One of the first pieces I thought of was a Poul Anderson story called “Margin of Profit.” Its central idea is that, in order to stop someone from doing something you don’t want to do, you don’t have to make it impossible, just unprofitable—you can leverage his rationality. Another was the Kipling poem “The Peace of Dives,” an allegory of peace through economic interdependence.

    To see more, follow the link to my current draft.

    I expect many of you have read things I haven’t, so am hoping you can point me at works that would not occur to me.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I recall an Arthur C. Clarke story about using the Moon as a tax shelter. Wikipedia tells me it’s called “A Question of Residence”, and is the last of a set of 6 but stands alone. Not sure if it qualifies but it came to mind.

    • honoredb says:

      Cool project!

      Dark Lord’s Answer is fairly short, if I remember correctly. Asimov’s early Foundation novels are made of stand-alone short stories originally published separately, and they’re often about economics. Ditto for Stross’s Accelerando.

      Some Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal cartoons might fit, like this one.

      I feel like I have better suggestions somewhere in deep memory storage, I’ll see if I can dredge them up.

    • TheContinentalOp says:

      In “The Tale of the Adopted Daughter” in Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love the main character, Lazarus Long, becomes a banker in a frontier town. IIRC, he comes into conflict when he burns some banknotes in his possession. The townfolk are aghast that he is destroying wealth and refuse to understand his explanation that those notes represent nothing but a liability for him.

      • Eric Rall says:

        I think the situational where that came up was the town council decided to “nationalize” his bank, and he was walking them through how he operated the bank so they could take it over. I remember the shock less as anger and more as, “oh, shit, what did we get ourselves into” as they realized that the bank wasn’t the big repository of wealth they’d assumed it was.

    • J Mann says:

      I really liked Heinlein’s short story The Roads Must Roll, where he invents a kind of anti-Marxism called “functionalism,” where every person effectively believes they are personally entitled to whatever costs they can impose through a strike. (The value of their function). IMHO, it anticipates the crisis in the American auto industry pretty well.

    • Ryan Holbrook says:

      R.L. Stevenson’s story The Bottle Imp, maybe. There’s a magic lantern that grants infinite wishes. Except, if you die while it’s in your possession, your soul goes straight to hell, and the only way you can transfer possession is by selling it for less than you bought it for, explaining these conditions to the buyer. There might be opportunities to discuss exchange rates and rationality paradoxes.

      • Thanks. Someone already suggested “The Bottle Imp” to me. It’s a good story, and I am not sure if it works for my purposes or not.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I assume you can’t use your first wish not to die while in its possession?

        • J Mann says:

          Yeah, he covers that – life extension is out. (Other conditions, in addition to the above: the sale must be for “coinage.”)

          The wiki page has a suggestion that you could hack the curse by exploiting currency variation – you wait until the dollar is down relative to the Euro and sell for Euros, then reverse.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Couldn’t you still wish that you find a buyer for the lamp before you die?

          • Ryan Holbrook says:

            Since it was manufactured by the devil, I imagine the fine print is extensive.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Hyperinflation offers a lot of chances for relief.

            My guess is that wishing for hyperinflation would get you sent to hell even if you got rid of the lamp.

            I faintly remember a story about a war that just wasn’t ending, and it turned out that the humans were counting success one way and the aliens were counting success a different way. Possibly one was counting individuals killed and the other was counting spaceships destroyed.

          • Vorkon says:

            Wishing for hyperinflation might also end with your body blowing up like a balloon, until you pop.

      • Steven J says:

        If you die with it in your possession, who is the new owner, and how much did they “pay” for it, for the purpose of deciding whether a given sale will avoid the curse?

        • J Mann says:

          I don’t think anybody explicitly says, but my understanding was that once the first person gets taken to hell, it’s done. At the very least, each sale must be for less than the last – Prester John started it at millions of dollars’ worth of ye olde timey money, and the number has been going down ever since.

    • Kelley Meck says:

      Hm… Piers Anthony’s Golem in the Gears has a spot where a god-like omnipotent-type demon (named X(a/n)^th, pronounced “zanth”) has been engaged in a “we all collectively make up the rules to pass the time” contest with/against other god-like omnipotent demons, and it’s Xanth that uses the tit-for-tat strategy (to great advantage) against the other demons (which are, by long, hard learned experience, all extremely biased against anything that smells like “cooperate”). I remember reading this book as a kid, and finding it a reassuring explanation for why civilization wasn’t all that likely to vanish in a cloud of sudden defect-defect mistrust. In some kinds of games, “defect” requires irrationality. I am pretty sure the whole section is maybe 10 pages long, probably less, and stands alone.

      I also remember thinking Golem in the Gears was one of the less good Xanth books, and googling just now did not produce the relevant passage from the book, so I’m not sure this is really the thing you need. Definitely the whole book is not particularly oriented to issues of economics/economy.

    • actinide meta says:

      “Positive Feedback” by Christopher Anvil. Can be found in the collection Rx for Chaos or here on the web (I hope with permission?). When I first read this epistolary story I thought it was funny but that the metaphor for health care costs was a little too overt. Then I realized it was first published in 1965, which I think makes it prescient rather than political! Actually I think a lot of Anvil’s writing reflects an economist’s way of thinking; read all of it 🙂

      “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik. She is now expanding this into a novel, but I think the original short story in The Starlit Wood would meet your criteria. An enjoyable retelling of Rumplestiltskin, turning (faerie) silver into (mundane) gold by the magic of arbitrage.

      I think I tried to give you both of these suggestions a while ago but your blog’s commenting software ate my post for some reason.

      • rmtodd says:

        “Positive Feedback” by Christopher Anvil. Can be found in the collection Rx for Chaos or here on the web (I hope with permission?).

        From the url, that site appears to be a mirror of one of the CDROMs full of free ebooks that Baen included with some of their hardback books some years back (in this case, 1635:The Eastern Front). Baen gave permission to freely copy and distribute the CDROMs, so yeah, it’s with permission.

      • Thanks. The Anvil one is very good. The Novik story doesn’t seem to be webbed, so I’ll have to either find the collection that contains it in the library or buy the kindle.

        I don’t know why my commenting software didn’t take your comment.

      • J Mann says:

        @actinide meta – I’ll give Anvil prescience points, although he’s obviously starting from Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which began as prepaid health plans in 1929 and 1939 respectively. Still, it’s very impressive.

  18. There is another South Bay meetup this Saturday, starting at 2:00 P.M.

  19. johan_larson says:

    Suppose you had a society where unions won big. Virtually everyone is a member of a union, and there are huge unions representing workers in entire industries. In fact, whatever the formal structure of government, the real political action is the top dozen or so unions jockeying for a better deal for their members, and trying to get more members, which generally means getting them from some other mega-union. Given this setup, what areas might the top unions represent?

    Here’s a few to start with:
    – housing
    – transportation
    – education
    – health
    – food
    – security
    – fun

    Should there be one for clothing? Infrastructure?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Clothing? Certainly, assuming you have such an industry.

      If you have public unions (and I can’t imagine you wouldn’t), you’re definitely going to need infrastructure. (and they can fight with Transportation over who actually builds the roads)


      Construction; you’ve covered housing but there’s lots of buildings that aren’t housing, and it doesn’t really fit into any of the other categories.

      Who builds your appliances, both domestic and large industrial (HVAC systems, etc)? Chemicals?

      Obviously these unions are too big to have coherent interests, so there will be a lot of intraunion politics as well.

      • johan_larson says:

        Take two:
        – resources (mining, timber)
        – energy (oil, gas, electrical power)
        – construction
        – manufacturing
        – retail
        – transportation
        – education
        – health
        – food (agriculture, grocery stores, restaurants)
        – security
        – fun

        • johan_larson says:

          Oh, and communication (phones, mail) and finance (banks, insurance, investments.)

          • AnarchyDice says:

            Are you including things usually considered government concerns amongst the union controlled areas: law/dispute resolution, conservation, safety, defense, standardization (weights and measures type rulings)?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Now you’ve covered construction outside housing, but who is handling real estate sales and leasing (maybe finance takes this) and landlords/property management (commercial and/or residential)?

          Where do cleaning services fit (janitorial/maid/window washing/specialized cleanup)?

          How about fire control (in the non-military sense)? Maybe expand health to cover them?

          • johan_larson says:

            I’m OK with the notion that some useful work doesn’t fit neatly into the categories and either gets left out or gets fought over by unions or associations that cover nearby matters.

            Real estate sales and leasing could go into “construction”, if it’s expanded to cover basically everything related to structures: building them, selling them, renting them, operating them, and demolishing them. That kinda works.

            Cleaning, if done industrially, fits under the broader construction umbrella. Cleaning individual homes is a harder fit. Perhaps traditional servant workers like nannies, gardeners, and home cleaners aren’t prominently represented. They have associations of course but not influential ones. And a lot of that work tends to get done off the books, anyway.

            Firefighting could go under “health”, if “health” is expanded to be more like health&safety. Of it could go under “security”, with the cops and other emergency personnel.

          • JonathanD says:

            @The Nybbler and @johan_larson

            Service jobs are usually covered by the SEIU. Given this system, you’d be sure to have some analog, because there are a lot of these workers. It’d be likely to be one of the more influential unions, especially if your hypothetical society is largely post-industrial.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I think that the word you’re looking for isn’t “union” but professional associations, basically modern trade guilds.

      There are some modern examples of professional associations with a lot of political and cultural clout that one could draw on for inspiration. The AMA in medicine and the state and city bar associations in law are good examples of what a guild looks like in modern times.

      If this model was more widespread, you would probably see most large businesses organized as professional corporations or general partnerships rather than traditional corporations. A lot of government regulation would probably also be effectively outsourced to best practices standards maintained by the associations themselves. It would probably be a poorer society than ours is today due to the massive reduction in competition but it might also be less atomized and anonymous because of how vital ones professional reputation is.

      • albatross11 says:

        Police unions are probably a reasonable approximation of what really powerful unions/guilds would look like in that world.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          The problem with public sector unions as a model is that they don’t have the restrictions private sector unions inherently face.

          The police have to screw up really really badly in order to seriously reduce tax revenue in their municipality. And there’s no possible way, short of allowing criminals to detonate an atomic bomb, for the quality of policing to put a municipality out of business permanently.

          That gives the police union freedom to demand things that no private sector union could. Their bargaining power isn’t unlimited but they’re less restricted than, say, construction workers. If the labor costs increase too much people will cut back on how much they build but they can’t cut back on how much tax they pay without moving.

          • The Nybbler says:

            And there’s no possible way, short of allowing criminals to detonate an atomic bomb, for the quality of policing to put a municipality out of business permanently.

            Almost true. But New Rome, Ohio managed to do it through overzealous policing of traffic offenses.

    • helloo says:

      I don’t think a lot of the ones you mention will hold as much political power/clot as you predict.

      I’d say something along the lines of lawyers, transportation (both internal and things like shipping), police/military, and possibly some “tech” oriented unions will be the big players.

      Those that have some power already, or has great visibility, or large voting (and willing to vote) memberships that share mostly similar values will come out in front in this kind of society.

    • Nornagest says:

      I’m not sure you’d end up with this kind of split; it’s pretty common for the biggest unions to be only nominally focused on a specific industry. There are plenty of people in the Teamsters who are not teamsters (many of its divisions are broadly transportation-oriented, but there’s also divisions for bakeries and laundries, brewing, construction, dairy, printing…).

    • SamChevre says:

      I’m assuming from “unions representing workers in entire industries” that you are thinking of industrial union (United Auto Workers) rather than trade union (International Brotherhood of Carpenters) as the fundamental structure.

      I’d think “maintenance” would be an industry–janitors, repairmen, mechanics, etc.

      I think the industry would be “construction” rather than “housing”.

    • Michael Handy says:

      I’d imagine it would quickly either fall apart, as industries sought to compete and the bosses played them off against each other, or unify into some form of Grand Council of Trade Unions, which is kind of a top down Syndicalism, I guess.

      It would probably form some sort of corporatist structure per industry, as you said, with perhaps Employers, Academia, and The Churches getting seats at the table.

      Edit. But of course, as others have mentioned, this would be hard to enforce. What Happens when the IWW gets popular?

    • JonathanD says:

      Are you talking about the unions running everything (foreign policy and the military, tax policy, education, trade policy), or just the labor regulations governing industries being determined by the unions in their sectors rather than federal labor laws? I ask, because if it’s the latter, we already have that system in the Nordic countries, so we don’t really have to speculate.

      If you already know this please disregard.

  20. Wookoid says:

    I have what I think is a simple question about serotonin syndrome:

    With SSRI’s and MAOI’s there are warnings about severe interactions occuring if other serotonergic medications are taken (for example, tramodol). At the same time, one can take, say, 20, 40, or 60 mg of Prozac safely or 15 to 90mg of Nardil safely.

    Why is taking 90mg of Nardil safe, but 15mg of Nardil plus 20mg of Prozac dangerous? Likewise why is say, 30mg Nardil dangerous to take with tramadol?

    In other words, why can taking large amounts of a single serotonergic medication be safe, but mixing serotonergic medications dangerous?


    • rahien.din says:

      Dose-response curves are not linear. For instance, if a drug’s biological target becomes saturated at a dose of 90mg, taking 120 mg won’t increase your effects. So taking a larger dose of a drug does not always mean getting a significantly larger effect.

      Mechanisms, though, may be additive when doses aren’t. MAOI’s irreversibly inhibit the enzyme that metabolizes serotonin. SSRI’s and tramodol inhibit the enzyme that retrieves serotonin after it has been released. If you dump a bunch of serotonin in the synapse, and you inhibit both its breakdown and its reuptake, its only option is to accumulate.

      Why is taking 90mg of Nardil safe, but 15mg of Nardil plus 20mg of Prozac dangerous? Likewise why is say, 30mg Nardil dangerous to take with tramadol?

      It’s biologically arbitrary. To use your numbers, the number of humans harmed by the combination of Nardil 15mg and Prozac 20mg is sufficient that we recommend against that combination. Might be different in other species.

  21. jonm says:

    I recently came across the paper showing that, while modern humans have around 3% of their DNA from neanderthals, the Y chromosome of the neanderthals is entirely extinct. There are various boring genetic drift/population bottleneck reasons why this could be the case, but they raise the fact that there appear to be histocompatibility antigens that might make neanderthal farthered hybrid embryos unviable.

    If this is the case, I’m wondering if this might be the reason for neanderthal extinction. Any time neanderthals gave birth to hybrids you would have the following options:

    neanderthal male/homo sapien female: viable females (who may only be able to give birth to homo sapien males or any females), dead males
    neanderthal female/homo sapien male: viable females (who may only be able to give birth to homo sapien males or any females), viable males who have some chance of passing on incompatible x chromosomes

    In other words, as soon as there’s any hybridization, the sexual success of male neanderthals should fall through the floor, and the sexual success of any males who do have a homo sapien y chromosome will greatly increase.

    This will leave neanderthal groups who get infiltrated by any level of homosapien cross breeding suddenly left with a heavily female leaning sex ratio that can only be impregnated by homo sapiens.

    Even without any war or resource competition, this leaves those populations with no choice but to either merge with local homo sapiens or die out because of a lack of viable males.

    In other words is it possible that we killed off neanderthals by having sex with them?

    • Enkidum says:

      I have nothing of substance to offer, other than to say that “killing off neanderthals by having sex with them” is clearly the nicest form of genocide that can exist.

      • Incurian says:

        It really depends on the circumstances. I don’t imagine stone age humans were as interested in affirmative consent as we are.

      • Randy M says:

        We try that with mosquitoes as well.

        • albatross11 says:


          Weirdly, we’ve been doing that for a long time. Before there was gene-drive and clever genetic engineering, I think they just irradiated a bunch of lab-grown mosquitos enough to sterilize them and set them loose to cause a big drop in the mosquito populations.

          This article is a pretty nice summary of the bit of this I know anything about. (But I’m an interested amateur, not an expert, so I could be missing a lot.)

          • Randy M says:

            irradiated a bunch of lab-grown mosquitos

            That explains all the spindly, vampiric super-heroes running around.

          • albatross11 says:

            You’d be surprised how hard it is to get “using radioactive mosquitoes to create new superheroes” past the IRB.

    • quanta413 says:

      I guess.

      I feel like the more obvious answer would be that the more common ancestors of modern humans were engaging in a lot of crushing their enemies and seeing them driven before them so to speak (on a tribal level). They might not have killed Neanderthal women as frequently for the same reasons that many invading groups tend not to kill women quite as much as men.

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, I gather there are other big migrations where the genetic evidence tells this tale clearly–the original population’s DNA remains, but none of their Y chromosomes.

  22. DavidS says:

    Does anyone have recommendations for good writing (ideally blogs with comments like this one) from people who make good arguments in favour of ‘social justice’ in a reasonably detached/analytical way, with a clear commitment to checking stats etc?

    By social justice I mean the rough constellation of beliefs that focus on power relations between groups as being crucial and in general on group identity, believe things like micro-aggressions and unconscious bias are a real significant thing, that differences in overall outcomes between groups (e.g. fewer women on company boards, more black people in jail) can be clearly identified as the result of prejudice, that sort of thing). Ideally they’d be able to argue for the position that privileges the ‘lived experience’ of people from oppressed groups and says straight white men should more or less just shut up and listen, but I don’t know if that would be combined in practice with a blog that actually engaged with disagreements in a detached way!

    Lots of people I know seem to sign up to a greater or lesser extent to this sort of group of beliefs, but the whole topic is so laden with emotion that trying to talk about it becomes circular (by questioning ideas around privilege you are demonstrating your privilege etc. etc.) As I’m (typical for SSC) a very analytical-type person I find this sort of ‘I strongly believe this but won’t really discuss it’ intensely frustrating especially as in many regards my sympathise are to a strong extent with the social justice perspective if you compare it to the traditional conservative one – but the tone of discussions is a bit all or nothing.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I don’t think there can be such a thing as a good logical argument for social justice because the assumptions behind many of their arguments, once explicitly stated, are completely absurd. That’s not unique to SJ, of course: it inherited a good number of it’s most ludicrous assumptions from liberalism. But the arguments as presented are much more nakedly absurd, like the difference between the theology of a seminarian and that of a guy from bible college if that makes sense.

      That said, Scott tried his hand at this a while back and his ex-girlfriend Ozy has a blog doing this full-time. They’re not good arguments and they frequently have to jetison large parts of the SJ message to work but it’s as close as I’ve ever seen.

      • DavidS says:

        Thanks: I didn’t mean you had to agree with it as obviously few people here do (though I’d love to hear from them). Just that the approach to argumentation (if not the conculsions) assumes a shared playing field where arguments are what matter.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Eh, there are some mottes hidden in the SJ bailey. For instance, if you look at the original paper that put forth the idea of “white privilege” I think it’s pretty unobjectionable, because the examples of “white privilege” are really just majority privilege. It’s things like “you can go to a general grocery store and find a wide variety of foods to your liking.” This is true, and in Japan, the Japanese would have “Japanese privilege” as they could go to a market and easily find foods that suit the Japanese palette whereas we gaijin would be hard pressed to find, say, a decent rack of St. Louis style ribs.

        That’s all reasonable and moderately insightful, and a problem for minorities that the free market is well suited to handle: while asians are a minority in my town, we have an excellent asian market stocked will all sorts of imported and specialty asian foods.

        The problem is the bailey, which consists of “white privilege, therefore shut up whitey and give us free shit.”

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          The implication of your comment reverses cause and effect.

          It’s very common to say something along the lines that ‘SJ terminology is academic jargon which unfortunately was misapplied by activists.’ That supposes that there was a group of truth-seeking academics whose work was subsequently perverted by a separate group of power-seeking activists.

          But the academics who made these theories in the first place were themselves activists. If can look at the biographies of the major players in these fields, and the lineage of the fields themselves, it’s plain as day that the activism came first and the academic jargon was invented in order to enable it.

          These aren’t good ideas twisted to justify bad ends. They were never anything but justifications for those bad ends.

          • Protagoras says:

            Since we’re not naming names or specifying aspects of the discussion, it’s hard to know exactly which academics or theories you are talking about. But some of the ideas have long histories; you find some of them, for example, in Simone de Beauvoir. Would you then consider her one of these examples of an activist who invented jargon in order to enable and justify her pre-existing bad ends?

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            I was mostly thinking of critical theory and its Marxist origins. Guys like Marcuse and his fellow travelers.

            Simone de Beauvoir is more like Ayn Rand in my view. She’s a woman whose philosophy served seemingly the sole purpose of justifying her own selfish and hedonistic lifestyle. That sort of nakedly self-serving ideology is still quite common in SJ, just look at the Fat Acceptance movement, but it’s not quite what I was thinking about at the time.

          • Protagoras says:

            Fair enough. I already had a fairly good sense of how seriously to take your commentary on this subject, but that helps clarify it a little further, so thanks.

          • DavidS says:

            @Protagoras: I’d like to have recommendations from someone more sympathetic if you have any!

          • drunkfish says:

            You seem to be assuming that activists are inherently not truth seeking, but that doesn’t seem obvious at all. Can’t a person who cares about truth also care about fighting perceived injustices? I don’t think being an activist should serve to discredit somebody at all.

            If you have a field of activists, many of whom don’t care about logic/truth but some of whom do, it seems like a very reasonable situation for the more conscientious among the activists to end up as academics. At least, that’s what I would hope academia would accomplish.

          • Protagoras says:

            @DavidS, I was sincere about being unclear on which academics and theories are intended. I am not an expert on Marcuse, and so if what’s desired is “like Marcuse, but better,” my lack of knowledge of Marcuse makes it impossible for me to know what might qualify (and I’m probably equally unfamiliar with most of the contenders). I have implied that I would recommend Beauvoir, and I suppose I should make that explicit. But I also can’t think of anyone who’s like Beauvoir that I would recommend. Well, since objectification and agency are central to Beauvoir (and the feminists she influenced), I suppose Kant. And by extension modern Kantians like Christine Korsgaard. But I doubt those are central examples of what’s being looked for (though, again, I’m not entirely certain what’s being looked for).

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            You may be right. I went to look for the paper I was referring to and cannot find it. I remember reading it years ago and finding it, as I said, unobjectionable. I seem to recall it was published around 2008. However, when looking at the Wikipedia page on white privilege, the terms and definitions were being used in journal papers long before that, and none of the early (or later) works look anything like neutral scholarship.

            Whatever it is I remember reading must have been a retreat to the motte, and not the genesis of the bailey.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s very common to say something along the lines that ‘SJ terminology is academic jargon which unfortunately was misapplied by activists.’

            This is true as far as it goes, but it’s important to remember that the academics usually have a political angle too — as you say, the branches of academia that this stuff comes from have deep roots in activism.

            The underlying academic ideas are more coherent and defensible than your average Tumblr rant, but they are definitely not products of unbiased truth-seeking. (If you asked most of the academics behind them, they’d say that unbiased truth-seeking is impossible.) But I still think there’s a worthwhile distinction between the original ideas and the social justice consensus that grew out of them.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:


            The underlying academic ideas are more coherent and defensible than your average Tumblr rant, but they are definitely not products of unbiased truth-seeking. (If you asked most of the academics behind them, they’d say that unbiased truth-seeking is impossible.)

            I thank God for my IQ, because it meant I was reading Plato’s Republic before being exposed to feminist propaganda as a university undergrad. Imagine, a disinterested truth seeker could come to the conclusion that women ought to have rights!

          • Nornagest says:

            Could have been worse. Could have been the Canterbury Tales, and then you’d have ended up with a deep conviction for monarchism and a fart fetish.

          • Aapje says:

            The origins of Objectification is pretty interesting, because it actually started as a conservative pro-marriage/anti-prostitution argument by Kant (which is already quite poor in quality), where it is argued that only sex within the marriage respects the woman as a person. This argument is not based on a power disparity, but rather on a claim that sex for it’s own end is like chopping off a body part and selling sex is like chopping of a limb and selling it.

            It was then adopted by feminists and generalized to hetero-sex = rape by MacKinnon and Dworkin, where it is argued that due to the power disparity between men and women, men will treat women as objects and use them for their own gratification, which women are powerless to prevent.

            Then it was generalized again to claim that judging women by their looks is objectification, as women are judged more by their looks than by their actions, which treats them as mere bodies.

            Following that, it was post-modernized, where ‘the male gaze’ was introduced as a concept. It was argued that men define what is male and female and how people should act, be judged, etc.

            Then, Matha Nussbaum generalized it again, with a definition that is a list of ways in which one can objectify others. This definition is actually quite decent and because it is quite decent, it can also be used to describe various ways in which men are objectified. However, Nussbaum’s paper offers only examples of how women can be objectified, where most of these examples come from fiction(!).

            So to me, the steelman version of Objectification is to merely read Nussbaum’s definition and then come up with examples for men and women yourself. Furthermore, I would also suggest questioning whether all these kinds of objectification are actually bad or not (I would argue not). Of course, then you still merely have theory, with no solid evidence to show the extent to which objectification happens and it’s consequences. AFAIK, extremely little of that exists.

          • albatross11 says:

            In many areas, we figure that the individual researchers have their own agendas and beliefs and goals, but that the process of science will eventually drive everyone toward the truth. But that only works when there’s some kind of way to check the theory against reality, and theories gain in status/belief when they do better at that checking against reality than competing theories. For many fields, either there’s no direct way to check the theory against reality (say, moral philosophy), or the only ways to check the theory against reality are so messy and noisy that it’s hard to ever really rule much out (say, macroeconomics).

          • Aapje says:


            In my opinion, the proper way to do science is to create relatively limited theories, where the axioms have been strongly vetted and then testing those theories extensively with solid (and usually expensive) experiments. Usually, this requires multiple (teams of) researchers to test the same theory. Then once the theories have very solid evidence for them, one can treat them as axioms for new theories, etc.

            However, there are fields where researchers are more interested in creating very extensive theories on their own. Since it is impractical for one researcher to do solid experiments for such extensive claims, this seems to typically result in very poor evidence being used for the claims that are being made. For example, minimal/crappy experiments (with tiny n’s, no or little replication, ignoring alternative explanations for the data, etc), just-so stories, ‘logical’ reasoning, anecdotal evidence, etc.

            From my perspective, this leads to theories being considered trustworthy by the field when I consider the evidence to be extremely insufficient. Then when new theories treat these ‘trustworthy’ theories as solid, you get a field built on quicksand.

            An example is Judith Butler, who draws heavily on Freud, despite Fraud’s claim being based on extremely poor evidence. Butler adopts Freud’s claims that fit her theory, while rejecting those that don’t, without applying the same level of scrutiny to both. Major assumptions are simply accepted without any evidence (for example, equating sexual orientation with gendered behavior). So her theories then become exercises in cherry picking, motivated reasoning, etc.

          • Nornagest says:

            despite Fraud’s claim being based on extremely poor evidence

            Is that what you call a Fraudian slip?

          • Aapje says:

            I couldn’t resist.

        • mdet says:

          n Japan, the Japanese would have “Japanese privilege” as they could go to a market and easily find foods that suit the Japanese palette whereas we gaijin would be hard pressed to find, say, a decent rack of St. Louis style ribs.

          That’s all reasonable and moderately insightful, and a problem for minorities that the free market is well suited to handle: while asians are a minority in my town, we have an excellent asian market stocked will all sorts of imported and specialty asian foods.

          Not just “It’s hard to find St. Louis ribs in Tokyo”, but also “If I, as an American, wanted to become successful in Japan, I’d need the additional skill set of being able to assimilate and integrate into a culture that is not quite my own, and to build relationships with people from different backgrounds.”

      • J Mann says:

        I think Ozy and the commenters on Ozy’s blog are a great place to start for an analytical oriented person interested in reading some SJ apologia – highly recommended (and “ex-girlfriend” is a remarkably expressive term).

    • drunkfish says:

      I’ve read very little of his writing, but my impression is Nathan Robinson is at least part of the way there. Obviously he’s far from perfect, and Scott occasionally demonstrates that, but he at least seems better than most and might be a decent starting point. (I’m partially commenting this to see if other folks around here agree/disagree)

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Is he really a social justice writer, though? I thought of him more as “old left.” That is, concerned with class issues more so than the current race / gender / orientation left.

        I find this sort leftist far more readable, because they’re addressing first order inequality. Wealthy blacks are not more oppressed or disadvantaged than poor whites.

        • drunkfish says:

          I guess it depends on where exactly you draw the line, but he has two articles in the last two weeks with “social justice” in the title (admittedly both look like meta discussions, but he’s at least social justice adjacenct).

        • Iain says:

          Here’s Nathan Robinson’s “In Defense of Social Justice“.

          • Thegnskald says:

            The problem with Nathan Robinson is that he treats arguments as soldiers.

            For example, in the article, he mentions criticisms of the gender pay gap as not comparing like-to-like and that the pay gap is therefore overestimated (women and men work different jobs, is his summary, although there is a lot more to the criticism than that, such as hours worked). Then he argues that in a specific age range, women make 40% less than men, and that the earnings gap is therefore underestimated.

            That isn’t good argument. That’s cherry-picking evidence to try to argue a point he thinks it is important to win. He isn’t attempting to arrive at truth – indeed, assuming he is remotely intelligent and can understand his own argument, he is actively subverting truth.

            As rational argument goes, he uses the right form – he presents evidence, he cites sources, he uses logical constructs. But he is cargo-culting rational argument, and forgets the single most important thing: The point is to arrive at the correct information, NOT to win the argument.

            If your goal is to represent SJ well, he is not the person to present. He isn’t any better than the average SJ advocate, he just uses more words.

          • rlms says:

            Rational argument as you describe it (disinterested impartial truth-seeking) about politics does not exist, and therefore is an unreasonable standard to hold Nathan Robinson to.

          • albatross11 says:

            I thought the article was a reasonable statement of some areas where the SJ folks are raising real issues. I can think of fairly solid-seeming criticisms of each of his examples, but none of his expressed positions seemed obviously wrong or dumb or crazy.

            I guess the core issue that comes up here is the one about acceptability of arguing those points. Like, the human b–diversity crowd has a pretty plausible explanation for white a few of the black/white gaps that seems like it explains the world at least as well as historical discrimination, unconscious bias, and structural racism used to spackle the gaps in the theory. But I think most everyone on that side of things (including Robinson) doesn’t think that explanation should have a public hearing.

            Similarly, Damore made a set of arguments about why there might be fewer women than men in STEM without a bias explanation. Sure, he could have made the argument better and more carefully, but he made an honest attempt to engage with the SJ model of the world. Things didn’t go so well for him, and that seems like a pattern–people arguing against that model of the world seem to be denounced more than argued calmly against, and the majority of SJ people seem okay with that. This seems like a fundamental problem.

          • Thegnskald says:

            rlms –

            It is the standard Nathan chose for himself. Nathan argues as if his position is based on a rational assessment of facts. When he so transparently fails to engage his position as a rational assessment of facts, he does damage to his cause.

            When others present him as some paradigm of rational argument for his position, all they can achieve is to convince those with a modicum of ability at judging arguments on their merits that the position being argued has no merits.

          • J Mann says:

            In the arguments I’ve seen, Robinson tends to have a lot of faith in his ability to determine the motives of writers. Conservative writers might have facially defensible arguments, but we can tell they have bad motives. SJ writers might write facially objectionable things, but we can tell they mean well. I can’t say that’s wrong – maybe he’s much better at telling other people’s motives than I am, and how would I know. But it rubs me as suspect.


            Charles Murray’s science is fine, but we can tell he means ill. (To be fair, I find his “greatest thoughts in human history” suspect too, but the rest of it seems like a stretch.)
            Scott is wrong to object to SJ writers calling their opponents “monsters” because the principle of charity indicates they couldn’t really have meant “monsters.” (If Robinson applies the principle of charity to conservatives, he does so in a very subtle fashion).

            That said, I think Robinson is a good recommendation. He makes SJ arguments on a frequency that will probably appeal to most SSC readers, and you’ll definitely learn some points that support a SJ worldview.

          • Iain says:


            As rlms points out, you’re hardly identifying a problem that is limited to Nathan Robinson.

            I don’t think the paragraph you’re talking about is the strongest part of this piece. But your characterization is absurd. This is not a piece that is designed to settle the question of the pay gap once and for all. (He literally says that he only wants to touch on gender “briefly”.) He’s just gesturing at a point from Matt Bruenig that he found interesting: to the extent that different labour market characteristics between men and women are exogenous, not endogenous, the wage gap is actually much larger than the discourse normally acknowledges. Obviously, there is room for detailed argument about how much of the difference is endogenous — but Nathan Robinson’s overarching thesis is that prominent anti-feminists rarely engage on those grounds, instead choosing to beat up on strawmen.

            The only reason he mentioned the wage gap was as an example of how critics of social justice “want to tear it apart rather than to generously understand it. They like to go on about just how absurd it is, how the people who advocate it are such fools who are ignorant of data. But they don’t ever try to listen.”

            You are not doing a great job of refuting him.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Iain –

            Do you see me shooting at his arguments?

            I have no interest in arguing with Nathan. I have argued with people who are better at it than him.

            Rather, I am telling you that his arguments aren’t as brilliant as they may seem to somebody who doesn’t already agree with him. This is an article in which he is supposed to lay out the arguments for social justice, right?

            Seriously. That is what this claims to be. Laying out the arguments for social justice.

            So why, instead of taking on the criticisms of an existing claim, is he making even broader and more vulnerable claims?

            -This isn’t targeted at skeptics-. It is targeted at people who already agree with him, to go. “Yeah, our cause is obviously right”. It is applause lights, self-reinforcement to the existing believers, who can then think “Yeah, we obviously have great arguments, because Nathan Robinson writes long articles listing them with citations and evidence”.

            But he doesn’t actually provide arguments. He mentions criticisms, and doesn’t bother to refute them – instead claiming that they need evidence. What he transparently fails to do is apply the same standard of evidence to his own claims and conclusions.

            Which can be summed up neatly as “Evidence of disparity is evidence of discrimination”. Which, as a claim, is fine – certainly critics offering alternative explanations frequently fail to forward evidence for why their explanations are valid. But he makes this criticism of other explanations while failing to hold his own to the standard he demands other explanations be held to. He treats his explanation as a default, any deviation from which requires special evidence.

            He treats it as self-evident that if there is a 40% wage gap between men and women of a specific age range, this is proof of some kind of social discrimination. It isn’t.

            Let’s take another argument he takes for granted, because I can shoot it down relatively quickly: Uncompensated labor. Setting aside the fact that studies of household distribution of work often ignore commute times and any male-coded work, such as mowing the lawn – let’s take his claim as-is. What does it mean for work to be uncompensated? Is he suggesting husbands pay their wives money for doing laundry? While that would be great for tax revenue, he glosses over the fact that the wife’s compensation is part of the husband’s wages. Which is why stay-at-home wives get a substantial part of the accumulated wealth of the partnership. This isn’t what our universe would look like if “uncompensated labor” was, in fact, uncompensated.

            That is one argument, but it is quite characteristic. The same set of flaws run through the entire article.

            His arguments are shallow, and fall apart under the shortest serious scrutiny. He isn’t writing for me, somebody who understands the issues and disagrees with him – he is writing for you, somebody who already agrees and isn’t going to spend any effort picking apart the flaws.

          • Aapje says:

            @Thegnskald & Iain

            Well, he is addressing the criticism of the common social justice claim by surrendering the motte (women are being discriminated against by employers) and falling back to the bailey (women end up worse off, which would not happen in a just world, so the world must be unjust/sexist to women).

            However, the bailey is merely stronger by virtue of having less solid evidence against it (in large part because it is a far vaguer and more subjective claim). There are many objections that smart anti-SJ people can/will make against the bailey. A few examples:

            – Income is not the only factor. For example, working fewer hours is often considered preferable, if all else is the same. How many men would choose to work 20% fewer hours for the same pay? How many men would choose 20% fewer hours for 20% less pay? Is someone who earns less, but works fewer hours automatically worse off than someone who earns more, but also works more hours? Imagine taking ‘hours worked’ as the sole metric, now you can ‘prove’ that men are discriminated against. Note that there are many other metrics that matter as well. It’s hardly a given that women are worse off if they earn less, if they are better off on various other metrics.

            – If men work more in paid jobs, while women do more unpaid work, but men ‘pay’ for their partner’s labor (called ‘providing’), then aren’t women actually paid for their ‘unpaid’ work by their partner? Shouldn’t the wage gap statistics include this as income for women?

            – Perhaps women more often have a natural (biological) preference for the kind of jobs that are less productive (jobs with lots of human contact, rather than operating machines) & that have less pay because the jobs produce less added value. If so, that cannot reasonably be called sexism, except by nature.

            – Arguing that a lack of evidence for non-sexist reasons why women would earn less is strong evidence that sexist reasons exist, is the ‘God-of-the-gaps fallacy’ where one explanation is privileged as the default. However, taking one theory as the default is very biased and unfair to other theories, since it results in a demand that the proponents of other theories provide strong evidence for their beliefs or against the default theory, while the proponent of the default theory claim victory if their claims are not 100% disproved. Under this doctrine, they can claim to be right if 99% of the evidence supports the other theory, but their own theory has not been conclusively disproved.

            I also think that what what Robinson does is a rhetorical trick. When anti-SJ people say that the ‘gender pay gap is a myth’, they are not arguing that women don’t earn less than men, but they are specifically rejecting the claim that the entire earnings gap is caused by discrimination against women by employers. Their actual arguments should make it clear that this is what they mean, because those only make sense if you read their statement in this manner.

            What Robinson does, is weakmanning the anti-SJ position into a claim that women don’t earn any less men and declaring victory when he proves that women do earn less, even though I’ve never seen anti-SJ people claim that women don’t earn less. So Robinson sidesteps the actual disagreement with anti-SJ people, by pretending that they make an indefensible claim and then disproving that.

            Furthermore, Robinson doesn’t acknowledge that many feminists defend a motte, that Robinson had to abandon to create a defensible position. He would be a lot more fair to critics of SJ if he would acknowledge that they do have a solid case against the motte.

          • Iain says:


            I would be more convinced by your claim that Nathan Robinson’s arguments are bad if you showed any sign of understanding what they were.

            Here is Nathan Robinson’s thesis statement:

            Let me, then, explain how I think the term social justice is used, why I think it’s useful, why nobody should dismiss Social Justice Identity Politics Leftism, and how we might have clearer and more useful discussions about the application of justice to social questions.

            Nowhere does he promise to lay out all the arguments for social justice and defend each of them in every particular. Nowhere does he claim to be presenting the final word on the issue. He is very open about this:

            I’m sure there’s plenty of stuff I’ve said here that can be argued with, and I expect to get the usual long emails explaining why I’m dumb along with a bullet-pointed list of my contradictions and mistakes. But I wish that instead of instantly following their urge to be argumentative, to talk rather than to listen, they would just quiet down for a minute and do a bit of reading, trying to understand why “identity politics” has developed, why its practitioners are so upset, and what they are actually trying to say, even when they may not be saying it as well as they could.

            You are fixated on a throwaway paragraph in which Robinson gestures at the wage gap discourse as an example of what he means. The purpose of that paragraph is not to make a bulletproof argument about wages. Look at what immediately precedes the wage gap discussion:

            One can argue with the claims that are made, but in order to do so one needs to actually understand them rather than offering a cartoon. What people like Pinker and Sam Harris tend to do is say that certain feminists (whom they rarely if ever name) believe some ridiculous thing, like “biology isn’t real” or “there is nothing to the social world beyond a quest for dominance among groups,” and then they proceed to prove that biology is real and that the social world is complicated. They can only do this because they carefully avoid interacting with the people they are criticizing, or asking them whether they in fact believe the absurd extreme positions that are being attributed to them.

            Nathan Robinson is not making a claim about the wage gap. He is pointing at Matt Bruenig’s argument — not as the last word, but as something that needs a response, and is not getting it from the likes of Pinker and Harris.

            This is not subtle. I am not pulling out esoteric hidden meanings. Nathan Robinson is pretty clear about his intended purpose. You seem to have ignored most of the article in your search for something to get haughty about. Maybe next time, you could try reading the whole thing.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Aapje, security matters, too.

            I’m not sure how security of income from marriage compares to security of income from employment.

            And the government doesn’t necessarily make up the difference if the marriage goes away. One of my friends was married to a man who went to ground and didn’t pay child support.

          • Aapje says:


            The problem with the claim that Pinker and Harris are addressing “absurd extreme positions” that (almost) no one believes is that there is a lot of evidence that a lot of people actually do believe that. Not just marginalized outliers in the SJ movement, but politicians, administrators and other high-IQ and powerful people.

            I see many SJ advocates demand laws that force employers to prove that they are not discriminating. This only makes sense if they think it is a significant issue that employers are underpaying women for the same job.

            I see SJ advocates demand blind hiring. This only makes sense if they think that it is a significant issue that employers are refusing to hire women.

            Robinson is falsely claiming that Pinker and Harris are strawmanning, since they are addressing actual beliefs that many people hold.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m not sure how security of income from marriage compares to security of income from employment.

            A lot of people who get married get divorced, some multiple times.
            But I think it’s pretty rare to find anyone under 50 who has worked at only one or two employers.
            It’s not apples to apples, though, since having had a job makes it easier to get another, while that’s probably not true for marriages.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Iain –

            I chose those two arguments because the counter-arguments were simple to make. The flaws are characteristic of the article, not unique to those specific arguments.

            This is a guy who is being presented as a great choice for defending SJ, who makes strong rational arguments. He’s not, and he doesn’t. He skips past any inconvenient counter-arguments and facts. Those two arguments are specific examples of the sort of sloppy arguments he makes.

            And I am not overly concerned with whether or not I convince you; I think you’d feel obliged to defend this individual regardless of how much time I spent going through each and every argument Nathan presents.

            The short of it is, even if those were the only two flawed arguments he presented, their presence is enough to ruin the entire article. If a reader can identify one argument which is so horribly and obviously flawed, it is going to cast everything else into doubt – if you can’t bother to address the most basic counter-argument when addressing an argument in an article nominally trying to establish that a set of ideas is valid and rational to hold, then it isn’t a stretch to ask what he is leaving out with every other argument which might have a strong counter-argument he also isn’t mentioning. It reduces the effectiveness of the article as a whole.

            Assuming those were the only two flawed arguments, which they aren’t.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            Sure, but if you include the wealth transfers from men to women in your calculation of the gender earnings gap, you will not count the providing that is not actually happening.

            Right now, the wage gap statistics treat both the providing that is happening and the providing that is not happening the same: as not being women’s income. In my suggested way to collect these statistics, the issue that you bring up would actually be less obscured.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Aapje –

            Pretty much, yes.

            The argument for spending decisions – that 80% of spending decisions are made by women – is misleading, because it counts household spending.

            It would be really difficult to ascertain exactly how much money is spent by men and women on themselves, as distinct from the household spending which is better regarded as work performed than a benefit.

            But certainly, given the way our society is structured, the earnings gap isn’t equivalent to a resource gap. It is compatible – which is not to say this is the case – with an earnings gap for women to nonetheless accrue most of the benefits of those earnings.

            A more relevant comparison might be between single men versus single women – where the picture looks quite a bit different, at least last time I dig into the statistics. (The last time I looked into it, single women out-earn single men. Married women make less than single men, and married men make the most out of the four categories. Overall the picture looks to me like “Married men and single women prioritize earnings, married women and single men have other priorities, and married men benefit from their marriage in ways that improve their earnings potential”.

            ETA: That last bit might be pretty important in addressing the “security” question. If your ability to earn your current income is dependent on somebody else – for a trivial example, if your long hours are dependent on someone else doing the grocery shopping – then marriage provides security for both partners, not just one. This is one of the things that annoys me about certain aspects of feminist rhetoric – it really devalues traditionally female-coded work, buying into an essentially sexist view of the relative importance of what gets done. (This isn’t unique to feminism, but it looks like much if feminism is still holding onto outdated sexist perspectives that the freaking gender conservatives have moved past, as they argue at length that female-coded work -is- important, which is just plain sad.)

          • Enkidum says:


            You’re being extremely… careless at the very best, disingenuous at worst. No one disputes that sj thinks the wage gap is a problem. But there are specific quotations of the sorts of things Pinker and the like say about sjs in the paragraphs quoted above. I quote it again, because you appear to have missed it:

            One can argue with the claims that are made, but in order to do so one needs to actually understand them rather than offering a cartoon. What people like Pinker and Sam Harris tend to do is say that certain feminists (whom they rarely if ever name) believe some ridiculous thing, like “biology isn’t real” or “there is nothing to the social world beyond a quest for dominance among groups,” and then they proceed to prove that biology is real and that the social world is complicated. They can only do this because they carefully avoid interacting with the people they are criticizing, or asking them whether they in fact believe the absurd extreme positions that are being attributed to them.

            Here’s a fun game: find a single example of a single prominent sjw from the past 20 years advocating those claims. Just one.

            I’m not even saying that you can’t find such an example. I’ve never seen one, and I’ve spent a hell of a lot more time around SJW types than most of the people in this discussion. But I promise you it will be really, really hard. That ought to give you pause.

          • Aapje says:


            married men benefit from their marriage in ways that improve their earnings potential

            That is one way to put it. Another way is that they are pushed into working more than they would otherwise prefer to provide for their wife and child(ren).

          • albatross11 says:

            One really easy way to see whether the deal being offered to stay-at-home wives is fair is to note whether:

            a. Women in those situations seem to be struggling to leave them, vs eager to stay in them.

            b. Women not in those situations seem to be trying to get into them.

            The way it looks to me is that probably most women who are staying home and living on their husbands’ income feel like this is a pretty decent deal for them, and their husbands think *they* are getting a pretty decent deal. That’s not always going to be true, but we live in a society where divorce is common and not especially shameful in most communities, and we also live in a society where there is plenty of support for women working outside the home. So all these voluntary choices people are making that end up with the woman staying home to raise her kids are almost certainly the best attempt of the people involved to live the best life they can manage.

          • Aapje says:


            Here’s a fun game: find a single example of a single prominent sjw from the past 20 years advocating those claims. Just one.

            I know an even more fun game: find evidence that Pinker or Harris literally said/wrote that “biology isn’t real” and “there is nothing to the social world beyond a quest for dominance among groups.”

            I googled the first sentence with both names and found nothing by either writer. I googled the second sentence with no names at all and merely found Robinson’s article. So that is zero out of two. Weird.

            Robinson’s claim is also suspicious because he seems to argue that both writers wrote/said the exact same quoted sentence, which seems extremely unlikely. So my assumption is that Robinson is engaging in shenanigans here. Perhaps he is merely a sloppy writer. Perhaps is he paraphrasing and incorrectly used quotes to suggest that he quoted exactly? But then why would I trust him to paraphrase his opponents correctly?

            In any case, I’d want to actually read the context of those statements to know who argued what and what the exact claim was. My experience tells me not to trust what people say their opponents said.


            A typical SJ claim is that women have fewer alternative options than men on average, so they are forced to accept a worse deal. However, one can also argue that men have fewer overall options than women on average, so they are forced to accept a worse deal. Or you can make your argument, that that it is fairly even.

            There is no conclusive evidence for any of this, so…

          • dndnrsn says:

            There’s plenty of, uh, edgy right-wingers who might agree with the statement “society is just competition between groups” or something like that…

          • J Mann says:

            You can learn a lot from Robinson, but my pet peeve is that he thinks right wingers are acting in bad faith for not reading SJ writers charitably, but he doesn’t seem to make much effort to read right wing writers charitably. Equity seems to demand one or the other.

            But Robinson uses sourced facts, and he reads right wing writers, and he’s a good writer. (He must work hard as well – how does he write essays that long and edit a magazine and do all the reading he must do?)

          • quanta413 says:


            I’ve spent a hell of a lot more time around SJW types than most of the people in this discussion.

            Even if you spent 100% of your time around such people, a lot of the people here spend a very large fraction of their time around people in this bubble. It’s enough to get a very good idea of what’s going on. Many of us on SSC spend almost all our time in very blue-tribe spaces.

            Here’s a fun game: find a single example of a single prominent…

            Giving your own interpretation (edit: or Robinson’s interpretation) of what those people said about their opponents that’s either a strawman of what they said or an inability to read hyperbole and then asking someone to refute it is an interesting strategy for debate.

            It’d be like me asking you to find a prominent Republican from the last 20 years who said “We must maintain the purity of the Aryan race and the volk.”, and if you couldn’t find an example, I’d declare that you were obviously making up any racism on the part of Republicans.

            I’ll leave you with an example of the sort of thing Pinker is talking about (or in this case, Coyne is talking about it).

            And that’s a mild example of fundamental disagreement. I’m not going to dig into the really painful sort of nonsense academics sometimes produce that Alan Sokal made fun of.


            There’s plenty of, uh, edgy right-wingers who might agree with the statement “society is just competition between groups” or something like that…

            Agreed. This is actually a pretty popular idea all around when you look at how people behave in practice. You could steelman it as being half-true since it ignores cooperation but still covers roughly half of what goes on.

          • Aapje says:


            On second thought, both sentences seems to be a paraphrase of an earlier quote in the article from Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate:

            Gender feminism is an empirical doctrine committed to three claims about human nature. The first is that the differences between men and women have nothing to do with biology but are socially constructed in their entirety. The second is that humans possess a single social motive—power—and that social life can be understood only in terms of how it is exercised.

            It is then confusing/deceptive that Robinson uses double quotes for the paraphrase and very strange that he brings up Harris as well, despite not quoting or mentioning Harris anywhere else.

            As for your challenge, Alison Jaggar wrote:

            It is true that my book mentions this possibility in passing, as an extreme illustration of a more general view that indeed I hold, namely, that human biology sets no fixed limits to forms of social organization. This denial of biological determinism is a theme that recurs in a number of places throughout my book.

            This seems reasonably close to Pinker’s claim.

            Jaggar also wrote that:

            I state explicitly that whether or not these
            (developments) ‘are used to increase women’s control over their bodies and thus over their lives, rather than … as an additional means for women’s subjugation’ depends on the relative social power of men and women.

            So she seems to argue that the only thing that will determine whether or not these developments are used to benefit women, is the relative social power of men and women. That fits very well with Pinker’s claim that social life is solely interpreted in terms of power.

            Now, I do think that Pinker goes too far in his claims, in various ways, and I agree with Robinson when he says that this is an unfair generalization.

            However, Robinson seems very unfair as well. For instance, he first claims that Pinker can only have his beliefs because he avoids talking to feminists about biology and gender and blames him for this; but then later he concedes that feminists are unwilling to talk about biology and gender with people who make non-feminist arguments:

            I think feminists would be perfectly open to discussing biology were it not for the fact that most of the time the phrase “biological gender differences” is hauled out, it’s by someone like Peterson trying to prove that there are “natural hierarchies of competence” that result in male-female social differences. In other words, I don’t think this is because feminists fear science, I think it’s because they don’t like how science is used as an excuse to avoid having to empathize with or listen to women.

            I can only read this as a claim that feminists don’t actually want to debate many of their critics.

            Robinson blames Pinker et al for not putting more effort into understanding SJ feminists, including by talking to them, but he doesn’t blame the feminists who are unwilling to talk to Pinker et al. It seems very selective/biased to me.

            PS. Note that Pinker did actually have a public debate with Elizabeth Spelke about the mental capacities of men and women. So Pinker did in fact do what Robinson claims he can’t have done.

            PS2. The shitty picture for the article seems like an ad hominem just by itself.

          • Perhaps is he paraphrasing and incorrectly used quotes to suggest that he quoted exactly?

            I don’t think he is incorrectly using quotes. He writes:

            What people like Pinker and Sam Harris tend to do is say that certain feminists (whom they rarely if ever name) believe some ridiculous thing, like “biology isn’t real” or “there is nothing to the social world beyond a quest for dominance among groups,”

            He doesn’t say that they believe those specific things, let alone that they use those words. He says they believe some ridiculous thing like one of the phrases he gives.

            But I agree that, to defend him saying that one needs to find examples of Pinker and Harris saying things very much like those phrases, ideally things for which those phrases are a fair paraphrase.

          • Enkidum says:


            Thanks for doing the homework. I didn’t, but said you had to, which was clearly unfair, and I was kind of douchey about it. Apologies. Now…

            Pinker (from you):

            Gender feminism is an empirical doctrine committed to three claims about human nature. The first is that the differences between men and women have nothing to do with biology but are socially constructed in their entirety. The second is that humans possess a single social motive—power—and that social life can be understood only in terms of how it is exercised.

            Good, this is clearly the kind of thing Robinson had in mind when making those quotations. I’m disappointed that they were not exact quotations, and I think he does us a disservice by not making that clear (unless he does somewhere else, I haven’t even read his essay yet). Nevertheless, I think they’re reasonably fair summations of the view Pinker expresses in this paragraph. So …

            Yeah, I’m going to go to the wall. I challenge you to find a single prominent SJW who says these things.

            You gave this as an example, from Jaggar:

            It is true that my book mentions this possibility in passing, as an extreme illustration of a more general view that indeed I hold, namely, that human biology sets no fixed limits to forms of social organization. This denial of biological determinism is a theme that recurs in a number of places throughout my book.

            OK, you said this was “close enough”. I guess my real response is “nuh uh”. I don’t know if I agree with what Jaggar is saying, I’m not 100% sure I disagree with it, because it’s not clear what she means. (I’ve also never heard of her, but I’m not that well-versed in feminist theory.) But it’s certainly not clear that it’s the same claim as the ones in Pinker’s paragraph. His account of gender feminism is that biology has no influence whatsoever on sex differences (presumably “cognitive” differences, or something along those lines, obviously things like height, sex organs, etc are genetically influenced). Jaggar says that biology does not place “limits” on “social organization”. There are various ways her meaning could shake out, but in many of them, probably most, “limits” is not a necessary consequence of “influences”.

            So she’s likely not making Pinker’s point. She’s definitely making a related point, but I very much doubt that she’s making an identical one.

            And here’s the rub. The claim I believe Robinson is making, and that I’m certainly making right now, is that gender feminism, as he (really Christina Hoff Sommers) defines it, does not exist. If it does, it is by no means the mainstream position and would probably be explicitly denied by the majority of people who call themselves feminists, or “woke”. People have said stupid things, you might actually be able to find a real match to Pinker’s strawman. Hint: there’s a quotation in Dworkin that is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a match, but it’s one sentence in her entire oeuvre, and she hasn’t been a major player for more than twenty years.

            Like… can you maybe trust me on this? I’m not an idiot, and I’m telling you that the majority of feminists would explicitly deny Pinker’s claims. Because they think they’re wrong. THAT’S A REAL PROBLEM FOR PINKER IF HE’S TRYING TO INTERPRET FEMINISM. You see that, right?

            So she seems to argue that the only thing that will determine whether or not these developments are used to benefit women, is the relative social power of men and women. That fits very well with Pinker’s claim that social life is solely interpreted in terms of power.

            Your interpretation here slips in an unnecessary “only”. Replace it with “One very important thing that will determine…” and I think you’ve got a very accurate summary of what she said. But then you don’t match the “solely”. You see the issue here?

          • Enkidum says:

            More @Aapje:


            I think feminists would be perfectly open to discussing biology were it not for the fact that most of the time the phrase “biological gender differences” is hauled out, it’s by someone like Peterson trying to prove that there are “natural hierarchies of competence” that result in male-female social differences. In other words, I don’t think this is because feminists fear science, I think it’s because they don’t like how science is used as an excuse to avoid having to empathize with or listen to women.


            I can only read this as a claim that feminists don’t actually want to debate many of their critics.

            Then you’re a terrible reader. Come on, thinking is harder than this.

            Read the paragraph again.

          • quanta413 says:

            Like… can you maybe trust me on this? I’m not an idiot, and I’m telling you that the majority of feminists would explicitly deny Pinker’s claims. Because they think they’re wrong.

            Other people can read and talk to feminists without you. It’s true that people sometimes qualify their statements or are unclear enough that they could very generously be interpreted in a way that’s not technically wrong (like in the Jaggar quote), but at some point if too many statements by someone on a subject require such delicate parsing and insertion of heaping amounts of generous extensions to not model the world terribly, there is something either incorrect or useless about those beliefs.

            There are feminists who aren’t onboard the culture uber alles strain of feminism even if it’s not currently as popular to go full bore the other way and say “human society and gender relations have obviously been shaped by human biology, and thus it’s important to understand the implications of biology for human psychology and sexual relations”. So it’s not exactly like there’s some deep need to steelman people who have a view that’s really bent on ignoring biology as much as possible. There are similar enough views without the obvious blind spots.

          • Aapje says:


            Robinson’s blames Pinker et al for not trying hard enough to understand SJ people, in contrast to what SJ people do for Pinker et al. So for Robinson’s claims to have merit, it is not merely necessary for Pinker et al to be unfair to feminists to some extent, but they have to be a lot more unfair than Robinson et al is to Pinker et al.

            I don’t think that Robinson is doing (much) better than Pinker. So that is why I say “close enough.” It’s not that I’m saying that Pinker is right or fair enough for my tastes. I’m saying that if you squint hard enough that you stop seeing the flaws in Robinson’s claims, you stop seeing the flaws in Pinker’s claims as well. If that is the case, then Robinson’s article consists of making stronger demands of the outgroup that he puts on even himself.

            You yourself admit that Jaggar is “likely not making Pinker’s point.” If you are unsure enough to add this qualifier, you should permit Pinker the benefit of the doubt that he actually looked at Jaggar’s claims and thought that his claims were fair representations of her beliefs. Again, for this discussion it is not relevant whether you or I believe that it is a fair representation, but only whether Pinker could have believed so in good faith, which I think he definitely could have.

            However, if we grant this, then we merely end up with Robinson contrasting his own perception of SJ to the perception of Pinker. Why should we trust Robinson to be more accurate?

            He specifically criticizes Pinker, but then suddenly drags in Harris without establishing that Harris actually has similar claims. My googling suggests that unlike Pinker, Harris doesn’t criticize ‘gender feminism,’ so this seems like an unfair attempt to paint his opponents with the same brush.

            Robinson also seems to blame Shapiro and Peterson for YouTube videos that claim that they “destroy” and “smash” their opponents. Shapiro does indeed post videos with those titles, but Peterson doesn’t. So Robinson is taking something that one person does and using that to false accuse another person in the same breath, just like he seems to do to Harris. I’m seeing a pattern here.

            We also know that Robinson refused an offer by Scott to enter into a dialogue, which makes me see his critique that Pinker avoids his opponents seems hypocritical.

            Again, Robinson argues that feminists are willing to debate, but adds the caveat that the debate opponents must be sufficiently within the Overton Window. Robinson seems to believe that Pinker is sufficiently within the Overton Window of feminists, but I consider this far from obvious. Robinson may have talked to feminists who claim to want to debate their opponents, but how many would really accept invitations? Again, we know that Robinson himself refused an invitation by Scott, despite claiming to want dialogue.

            Also note that Robinson’s idea of dialogue seems to be that his opponents must come to the debate with much more intent to listen than they normally do, instead of ‘mansplaining’ (which from my perspective is a sexist slur, btw). I wonder if Robinson would accept a debate where he himself is expected to do this.

          • The Nybbler says:


            Pinker is summarizing also; you’re not going to find exact quotes from feminists/SJWs. The first claim (“The first is that the differences between men and women have nothing to do with biology but are socially constructed in their entirety.”) is absolutely something they say, however. Few go so far as to apply it to upper body strength and until very recently none would apply it to bearing of children, but Kate Millett in _Sexual Politics_ states “it must be admitted that many of the generally understood distinctions between the sexes in the more significant areas of role and temperament, not to mention status, have in fact, essentially cultural rather than biological, basis”. She goes on to say “It appears we are not to soon be enlightened as to the existence of any significant inherent differences between male and female beyond the bio-genital ones we already know.”

            And then there’s the “weakman”, Cordelia Fine in Testosterone Rex

            The third claim you didn’t quote — “human interactions arise not from the motives of people dealing with each other as individuals but from the motives of groups dealing with other groups – in this case, the male gender dominating the female gender.’ ” is what patriarchy theory is all about.

            I have never seen the second made explicit; however, if they recognize motives aside from power, status, and/or wealth, I’ve never seen it mentioned either.

          • albatross11 says:

            As an example of someone engaging with the arguments of an apparently serious attempt to justify the “few important differences between men and women” line, I recommend Greg Cochran’s review of Fine’s book Testosterone Rex.

          • albatross11 says:

            Just one aside: I’m a lot less interested in adjudicating whether or not Robinson is a good person than I am in understanding whether he’s a worthwhile source of insight about SJW-ish ideas.

          • albatross11 says:


            In fact, society is simultaneously a zillion individuals interacting according to their desires and knowledge, lots of organizations of individuals acting according to their organizational imperitives, lots of groups (races, religions, regional groups, etc.) jockeying for status relative to one another, and lots of other stuff, too. Those are all models that you can use to understand society, but all models lie. (So you want to choose the useful ones for your context.)

          • baconbits9 says:

            In talking about the effects of testosterone, Fine mention a kind of cichlid fish where dominance influences gonadal events – causation ( in part) goes from behavior to hormones, instead of hormones to behavior. Interesting. But is there evidence of a similar pattern in humans? No. Are humans so evolutionarily close to fish – in particular, cichlid fish – that any pattern we see in cichlids is an immediate heads-up, something that might be happening in humans? Christ no.

            There is a snarky “Jordan Peterson and Lobsters” comment in there somewhere.

          • Enkidum says:


            I’m going to bow out of this one for now. I think I’m generating more heat than light, both in myself and others, and I don’t see myself doing a better job in the near future so will refrain from making things worse. I hope to take this up again with some of y’all at some point in the future.

            I will add one thing which I think clarifies Robinson’s reference to Harris. I’m fairly sure he’s referring to a time a few years back when Harris was asked by someone why he had such heavily male-dominated audiences. His answer was (paraphrasing based on imperfect memory) “something about my style of talking appeals to males, because of its highly logical structure and cold analytical nature”.

            He was immediately jumped on by the SJW side of things, members of Freethought Blogs in particular. He proceeded to double down and say that criticisms were based on misunderstanding him, and something something inherent differences between men and women.

            FWIW, I’m about 85% on the anti-Harris side here (as I am in most of the other blowups he’s been part of over the past decade or so). But I’ll leave off explaining why for now, since I’m doing a shitty job of arguing.

          • Aapje says:


            To be fair, I think that Robinson was a lot better when talking about race. He is probably just not too interested in gender issues, but feels compelled to talk about it.

            In the part about race, he refers to a lot of evidence, but in the gender part, there is very little. I think that he was fairer to his opponents on race and that he put more effort into his own argument on that topic.

          • Lapsed Pacifist says:

            @ Enkidum

            You said “Here’s a fun game: find a single example of a single prominent sjw from the past 20 years advocating those claims. Just one.”

            Any person saying ‘trans women *are* women’ is advocating one of those claims.

          • rlms says:

            The Categories! My God, The Categories!

      • DavidS says:

        Thanks (and to the others for the discussion below). I’ve seen a little of him: was quite badly turned off him by some bits of the ‘monsters’ discussion stuff but that’s partially because he’s arguing with Scott who is an unfair debating partner for almost anyone, and because he was a bit snarky/unpleasant/dishonest in doing so and I like Scott. Will check him out. The fact he’s written an intro-type piece is great!

    • Philosophisticat says:

      A good place to look would be some of the references here:

    • Well... says:

      For a while now I’ve been kicking around the idea of steelmanning certain SJ ideas on my blog. The theme would be something like “good ideas that SJWs absconded with and ruined” or something to that effect. I don’t know when I’ll get around to it though, so at the risk of sounding like I’m self-promoting (I’m honestly not) if you subscribe to my blog you at least won’t miss it when I do. (Feel free to unsubscribe if I haven’t after whatever period of time you consider long enough to have waited.)

      • albatross11 says:

        Would it make sense to do a smaller version of that as an effort post here, on some issue where you think Social Justice has an important point, even though you think a lot of people run off a cliff with it?

        It seems like there are a lot of ideas floating around in the SJ world that have some real value, but that tend to be overstated or underscrutinized by their adherents. And I think a lot of that is that, very much like right-wing talk radio and such, the kinds of media that spread SJ ideas tend to reward strident voices and controversial statements more than careful, defensible, measured statements and honest engagement with the other side.

        • Well... says:

          Also @SamChevre and others who want me to effort post about it here instead:

          I probably would just publish it on my blog and then announce it here with a link. There are a few reasons for this:

          – There’s a chance that whatever I write wouldn’t end up being long or comprehensive enough to hold up as an SSC-type effort post.
          – Writing it on my blog gives me more flexibility in terms of editing and formatting.
          – I could post it as soon as I’ve finished it instead of having to sit on it until a fresh non-CW open thread.
          – Some other reasons I thought of earlier and can’t remember now.

          Besides, if it’s good enough for Naval Gazing it’s good enough for me!

      • SamChevre says:

        I would find that interesting, and wish you’d do it here.

        I’d contribute as well. I think “safe spaces”, and “privilege”, and “tokenism”, have useful meanings and application.

      • J Mann says:

        I’d be happy to make some suggestions, too.

        My first one would be to use something like “translate” instead of “steelman.” I love the idea of steelmanning myself, but I think some people find it patronizing. (i.e., that there’s a better version of their argument they aren’t capable of making, when it’s sufficient just to say that different people do analysis differently.)

        • Aapje says:

          But…I believe the patronizing thing :/

          • toastengineer says:

            Perhaps think of it more that the vast majority of people don’t put much effort in to actually understanding their tribe’s beliefs, and the ones who do are too busy doing that to talk to you, so you have to reconstruct bits of it yourself like a historian would.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I think “translate” would be better also. Most attempts to steelman become “here is what someone else believes, expressed using the foundations of what I believe” – which, if the difference is due to a really foundational conflict, doesn’t really explain why they believe it.

          • Well... says:

            In that case if you’re steelmanning right, you start by explaining those foundational beliefs and why they might be considered valid.

        • albatross11 says:

          I find the concept and the term “steelmanning” super useful, because it makes a nice distinction from strawmanning. And it’s generally a good idea to restate the other side’s position as clearly and fairly as you can, before you state your objections to it.

          • Well... says:

            That’s exactly the way I see it too. Steelmanning isn’t “I can state your argument better than you can,” it’s “I will try to state your argument the best way I have heard it, in as clear a way as I can.”

            There is another separate thing, which I also like and would do alongside steelmanning but which is not the same as steelmanning, and that’s to come up with novel arguments for the other guy’s side. Sometimes these arguments are so good they can cause you to change your mind. I can’t think of specific examples right this moment, but I’m pretty sure this has happened to me at least once.

    • mdet says:

      I would put Freddie deBoer in a similar category as Nathan Robinson, but he’s on indefinite hiatus and I don’t think his blog has any of his old stuff still up

      • albatross11 says:

        I often disagree with Freddie, but always feel like he’s trying to play fair with logic and the facts, and I almost always learn something reading his posts and articles.

      • J Mann says:

        I don’t know if people would categorize Freddie as SJ. He’s definitely progressive, but he’s most famous for arguing against a lot of current SJ means of achieving their ends.

    • arlie says:

      I’d be interested in this too. My instincts tend to agree with much of what you attributed to “social justice” above. At the same time, other things I’ve heard attributed to “social justice” appear to me to be absurd.

      But exploring the area intellectually is difficult, because even in a place like SSC it immediately attracts an annoying (to me) number of people highly motivated to state their opinions about it as truth, without citing any evidence whatsoever – along with, in most places, a lot of attempts to use social pressure to control what opinions will be expressed.

      • albatross11 says:


        In particular, I find the tendency of the SJ-alligned people I’ve read to be very inclined to:

        a. State their complicated multi-parameter model of how society works as an unquestionable fact.

        b. Become very upset when anyone disputes aspects of their model.

        c. Become outraged when confronted with many of the obvious (to me, anyway) alternative models that explain the same phenomena.

        d. Broadly support shutting (c) and often (b) out of the public discussion.

        That makes it difficult to engage with these ideas in a way where I feel like I can learn much. If you can just barely tolerate having your ideas questioned, then it’s hard to feel like I’ve seen much of a defense of them. This seems to me to be a really fundamental and widespread part of what I understand to be the social justice movement.

    • Nornagest says:

      “Too many people isolate themselves from anyone whose values or politics are at odds with their own, but you should totally isolate yourself from this guy because he listens to a YouTube lecturer you don’t like.”

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Can you link an archived copy? I don’t like giving them web traffic.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:


          Having read it, my immediate thought is how bizarre it is.

          Firstly, the advice columnist breezes past the actual issue that this woman is clearly preparing to commit adultery and accepts her frame that the big problem is her prospective fuckbuddy’s politics.

          Then she lays out the”philosophical battle” plan. Hit him with a pop-science book on gender equality, which has very little to do with Peterson’s core message as I understand it. Then make him watch a YouTube video in which a transgender explains Peterson’s “far right agenda.” Bam! What an effective one-two punch!

          Right at the end she very effectively undermines her own advice by pointing out the various good apolitical reasons a guy might have to listen to Jordan Peterson. According to her the guy gives solid advice that many men need, and is uniquely able to connect to them because he shares their sense of melancholy. If this guy is listening to Jordan Peterson for his good life advice and emotional support, waging “philosophical battle” against JP is only going to make his opinion of progressivism worse. Remember, there is no mention of any alternative source of good advice or validation here; once his mentor is removed, the guy is expected to sink or swim with no help from her.

          • Nick says:

            Right at the end she very effectively undermines her own advice by pointing out the various good apolitical reasons a guy might have to listen to Jordan Peterson.

            I’m amazed you didn’t comment on this part from the end:

            He also offers sad men empathy, a warm respite from the cold shoulder everyone gets from neoliberalism (and many men imagine they are getting from women and feminism).

            Because, ya know, the thing to do to show men you really care is dismiss their concerns and then pathologize their attempt to find solace.

    • j1000000 says:

      I have to admit it’s kind of funny that she wrote this (presumably fake) letter in a way that is meant to provoke maximum anger from the sort of incel/MRA/alt-right/whatever communities who will pass around hate-links to this. “A guy I friend-zoned is being exposed to opinions other than my brand of extreme feminism, help!”

      • J Mann says:

        She’s married! I found the hilarious parts to be:

        1) The guy has never actually mentioned Jordan Peterson, and although she finds him delightful, she’s worried that he might like Peterson because her Jordan Peterson-dar is running at full sensitivity to root out all sympathizers, and she has picked up subtle “clues” that he might like JP. (I hope the chief clue is that his room is very clean!)

        2) The advice columnist goes into a full spiel about how, although Peterson’s advice is quite good and will improve your life, he’s still a cancer and right thinkers everywhere should engage in “philosophical battle” whenever they see someone in danger of falling under the sway of his ideas.

        2.1) Her suggestion for the best weapon in this battle is Cordelia Fine.

        Just as a lagniappe, the second article is by a wildly successful anti-ageism activist who has been offered big bucks by the Man to provide focus group info about modern retirement, but is worried that if she shares her thoughts on “aging in place, workplace discrimination, mindless techno-optimism, and the like,” then the Man will use that knowledge to “sell shit” to baby boomers.

        I want to say both are fake, but if so, either they fooled the Nation, or the whole thing is fake, and if so, then who is it for? Me??

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          1) The guy has never actually mentioned Jordan Peterson, and although she finds him delightful, she’s worried that he might like Peterson because her Jordan Peterson-dar is running at full sensitivity to root out all sympathizers, and she has pick up subtle “clues.” (I hope it’s that his room is very clean!)

          Us woke folk must be on the lookout for members of the alt-right. The most obvious sign short of open racism is their clean rooms.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’ve actually had someone at work try to feel me out to see if I was interested in Jordan Peterson. I have no idea if he was a real follower (like me, he’s in the wrong age bracket) or looking for a heretic to burn. Probably the former, but you never know. Fortunately I’m not a follower, so no moral conflict arose.

          • Zeno of Citium says:

            I’m not racist and my room looks like someone bombed it with a warhead filled with dirty clothing. By induction, a dirty room is evidence for non racism, therefore a clean room is evidence for racism. I’m going to test this over the weekend by vacuuming and seeing if I join the Proud Boys.

        • albatross11 says:

          How much was it in The Nation’s interests not to be fooled?

        • j1000000 says:

          Oh, when I said “fake,” I mean written by the columnist or some magazine intern. I’ve just always assumed the letters in nearly all advice columns (other than maybe the most popular ones like Savage Love) are fabricated in that way.

          I suppose I have scant evidence for that — I only base it on reading Walter Scott’s Personality Parade as a kid, my personal experience at a university newspaper, and the absurdity of 90% of advice column letters.

    • dndnrsn says:

      What I find actually quite refreshing about the response is this:

      What’s more important than refuting Peterson empirically, says Harrison Fluss, a political theorist who has studied the alt-right extensively, is understanding that he’s an “ideologue” and that you should therefore engage in “philosophical battle.” Peterson, Fluss tells me, has a “disdain for mass society, which he thinks is making us weak, effeminate.” Faced with the growing popularity of socialist and social-democratic ideas, Peterson constantly raises the specter of the gulag. Stalinist dictatorship, to him, is always just around the corner. “It’s a really scary dog whistle,” Fluss says. In that context, if you want to convince your friend not to be a Peterson fan, it’s probably more important to persuade him of the merits of your own progressive ideology than of the specific wrongness of Peterson’s many claims.

      This is much, much better than “do not talk with people you disagree with; it dignifies them/gives them a platform” which one sees from too many directions these days. I would have preferred a somewhat better takedown of Peterson, but this is at least better than most, in that it does acknowledge that he has some OK life advice and his fans maybe do have some real problems.

      (Also, I find it funny that the advice to dealing with someone who supposedly thinks society is weak and effeminate is to DO INTELLECTUAL BATTLE)

      • J Mann says:

        Yes, while the Jordan Peterson panic is hilarious, and some of the response is too, it is very encouraging that the columnist (a) suggests engagement, (b) suggests positive engagement (i.e. here is why progressive values are right, not here is why Peterson is wrong; and (c) is able to see some apparently good things about Peterson.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Also, isn’t “I met this man/woman and he/she is so great and our connection is so instantly deep, but I’m married, so no hanky panky will happen!” to infidelity as “I’m sure looking forward to my retirement, though I will miss the guys on the force!” is to the older mentor cop getting killed early in the movie?

      • Randy M says:

        Or “I know my limit” is to wrapping your car around a telephone pole or a pedestrian around your car.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Dear The Nation,

          I don’t know how it happened! I went over to his place, you know, to see if he had any Jordan Peterson books, or maybe something darker, like, you know, Charles Murray or something. One thing led to another, and… Well, his room IS very clean…

    • psmith says:

      Dear Liza,

      I fell into an instant and deep connection with a man while on a work trip. I’m happily married, but his animal magnetism and vital spirit overpowered me–I don’t know what happened…it’s all terribly cloudy…when I came to my senses I was aboard a wooden ship in the South Pacific, crewed by splendid Aryan youths and their beautiful concubines…all fully nude! When I asked them where I was, they smiled at me and offered me papaya and non-dehydrogenated coconut oil! I saw my friend at the helm–nude, he spoke of “Hyperborea”, “hollow Earth”, “quest for tropical Urheimat”! I’ve come to realize he might be fan of Bronze Age Pervert! What should I do?

      Voyager on Hidden Seas

      Dear Voyager,

      U must SUBMIT!

  23. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    From Compton to Google

    Probably worth discussing in re affirmative action.

    • The Nybbler says:

      At least twice — once when he had a shot at an internship in 2009, once when he got a recruiting call a year after not being hired the first time — he blew off an opportunity because he didn’t think he really had a chance. I wonder how often this happens with minorities compared to whites and Asians, especially the internship.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I don’t know if many people watched that twelve minutes, so here are some points that caught my eye.

      He was taken from his birth family because his father was physically abusive. He was adopted by a family which was very good emotionally but not especially well-educated.

      He had access to computers in school (back when there were computer labs) and had a couple of very good teachers in addition to his innate enthusiasm for computers.

      Google approached him four times. One offer of an internship, which he couldn’t take seriously because he had no hope.

      A job offer more than a decade later– he tried for it, but wasn’t accepted, perhaps partly because he mistakenly believed that a Google interview would be about brain teasers and prepared wrongly. (I think Google did use brain teasers at one time.) Getting turned down was such a disappointment to him (including telling the people who were rooting for him) that when Google approached him again a year later, he didn’t try.

      On the next approach, he did know how to prepare and he got the job.

      So, one thing to conclude is that there are probably quite a few people whose luck wasn’t as good who could have done as well.

      He wasn’t deep into social justice– he didn’t really register the lack of other black people at google until he saw the statistics, but that coalesced his discomfort at Google.

      I don’t think Google was knocking itself out for white men from bad backgrounds, but if I’m wrong, let me know.

      Google didn’t hire him just because he was black– note that second failed attempt.

      • Eric Rall says:

        I worked for Google from 2011-2013 and was involved in something like 30 or 40 interview loops while I was there, and I’ve been approached by Google recruiting several times both leading up to my hiring and inviting me to interview to come back a year or two after I left. I am a white male from an upper-middle-class background.

        My experience on both ends of Google recruiting was that Google’s interviewing and selection process are designed to avoid making a potentially bad hire at all costs, even if it means turning away dozens or even hundreds of good hires for each bad hire avoided. When I was there, Google had literally thousands of applicants for every vacancy. Many (possibly most) of them were no doubt unsuitable for the positions, but even so the process was so selective that it was fairly common for teams to have open headcounts for a year or more before they could get a new hire assigned to the team (*). The company recognized this as a problem, but rather than trying to be a little less absurdly risk-adverse in their hiring decisions, they compensated for the very steep hiring funnel by trying to recruit as many people as possible into the big end of the funnel.

        (*) At the time, hiring was done at the company level: you applied and interviewed for a job title e.g. “Software Development Engineer in Test”, and were interviewed by random people in similar roles at the company. The interview feedback got aggregated to be reviewed (along with references, resume, etc) by a centralized hiring committee, which made the hire/no-hire decision, and then another committee reviewed the hiring packet again and decided on the offer package or (rarely, but far from unheard of) vetoed the hiring committee’s decision. Once an offer was made and accepted, you got added to a list of incoming new hires, and team leads could bid on you (based on the importance of the team, how long the headcount had been open, etc) to be assigned to their open headcount slots. I gather this got revised significantly as some point after I left, so people are now interviewing for specific roles, but I’m not sure how much the rest of the process has changed.

        • Aapje says:

          Is there any information on how much they spend per hire? It must be very costly per actual hire.

          • Eric Rall says:

            None that was available to me. Mitigating the costs somewhat is the a lot of the cost I’m aware of is focused on the in-person interview loop, which happens after two rounds of filters (an initial screening by a recruiter, and a phone interview by an engineer) that do most of the filtering. I think there was something like one hire per 10-20 in-person interviews.

            Google’s expenses that I’m aware of for an in-person interview are travel and accommodation for non-local candidates, and the interviewers’ time. A typical interview loop had 4-5 interviewers, each of who would spend about an hour on the interview itself and something like 2-3 hours on preparation and writing feedback, so that’s around 20 person-hours of labor.

            Using $100/hour as the labor cost rate (probably a low estimate for programmers in the Bay Area, but it’s in the ballpark and it makes the math easy), that’s about $2000 for interviewer labor and maybe another $1000 or so for travel expenses per interview, so $30k to $60k per hire for just the final interview loop.

            I don’t know if this is the case or not, but it would have been very easy for Google to underestimate the cost of the interview process because the interviewers are conscripted (kinda like jury duty) from the general population of engineers and are paid out of their teams’ budgets, not out of the recruiting budget. Google might have attempted to account for the time spent in the interviews themselves, but I doubt there was any attempt to account for prep or feedback-writing time (at least, I saw no effort to measure those by survey or time-tracking tools), and there was certainly no attempt to account for travel time for the interviewer to get to the interview (I worked in a satellite campus a mile or so off to one side of main campus, and I was regularly scheduled to do interviews on main campus itself or even on satellite campuses on the far side of main campus; if there was any effort to track my travel time, they would almost certainly have made an effort to schedule me closer to home).

          • Chalid says:

            2-3 hours on preparation and writing feedback

            really? What takes so long? I understand needing to prepare the first couple times you run an interview but I’d expect you could do your tenth interview with < 10 mins prep, unless you're hiring for a very senior position or something. Same for feedback.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Prep does go pretty quickly once you’ve done several interviews, yes, but Google wants interviewers to give very detailed written feedback. I suppose you could half-ass it faster, but that kinda defeats the purpose. Remember that the hiring decision is being made by a committee that has never interacted with the candidate, so the feedback needs to be detailed enough for them to be able to figure out who to believe if two interviewers had different conclusions about a particular aspect of the candidate.

            At Microsoft (my current employer), the hiring decision is made within the team, so I can write interview feedback in 10-20 minutes, basically a “hire”/”no-hire” with a paragraph or two explaining why. But at Google, I would often spend an hour or more writing up a 1-2 page synopsis the interview and my conclusions from each aspect of it. And if I left out details, the hiring committee would grump at me for not giving them enough to work with.

            I think I was also subconsciously including travel time in my 2-3 hour estimate: as I said, I was often assigned interviews on the far side of campus, and I usually walked to the interviews (driving wasn’t an option because of the parking situation on main campus at the time, and I refuse to ride a bike without a helmet) and left myself some extra time in case I got lost trying to find a specific conference room in a building I’d never been to before.

          • Aapje says:

            @Eric Rall

            Now I’m wondering whether programmers who are hostile to Google can DDoS them, by applying with no intent to accept the position 🙂

            PS. There is actually no good evidence that bicycle helmets are particularly helpful. They may worsen some accidents (due to extra rotation of the skull) and help for others. Given that kinetic energy quadruples with speed and that helmets can only cope with the kind of speed/energy that you get from a fall from a stationary bike, many lethal accidents are still quite lethal with the helmet. There is really a relatively small range of speeds in which there is high danger of serious injury, yet the speed is low enough that the helmet may help.

            I do wear one on my racing bike, but mainly for signalling purposes.

          • Eric Rall says:

            I’ve had two significant falls while riding a bicycle. In both cases, I was very glad I was wearing a helmet because the side of the helmet got scraped to hell instead of the side of my face, and I was sore and bruised for a few days instead of needing a trip to the hospital and potentially having nasty scarring. This is admittedly an uncontrolled study with a minuscule sample size, but it’s enough for me to never want to get on a bicycle without a helmet.

          • Aapje says:

            Fair enough, although my experience with rashes (both on asphalt and during field hockey is that they don’t actually leave lasting scars).

            Is Google campus that dangerous to ride by bike or are you prone to accidents? Google has campus bikes, so one would think that people who drive on campus would be used to avoiding bikes. On the other hand, I can easily believe that the cycling infrastructure would be shit (given that the campus is in America).

          • Eric Rall says:

            My accidents weren’t on the Google campus. One was pure clumsiness on my way to the library when I was in high school, and the other was on my college campus where I fell over while swerving to avoid a car door that had unexpectedly been opened right in front of me.

          • Aapje says:

            Yeah, car doors are dangerous and hard to avoid.

          • marshwiggle says:

            If someone knows a decent source with evidence for or against wearing bicycle helmets, I’d appreciate that. I bike as much as I can for shopping and work. I wear a helmet because of course you’re supposed to. If that’s actually I a bad idea, I’d like to know.

          • Eric Rall says:

            I poked around a bit last night, and the consensus there seemed to be that bike helmets help a lot in low-speed (less than around 15 mph) falls onto hard ground, but very little or not at all if you fly off at high speed or if you get hit by a car. On the other hand, there does seem to be a significant risk compensation effect, both on the part of bikers taking more risks when wearing helmets and drivers giving bikers less safety margin (in terms of passing distance) if they’re wearing helmets. I didn’t see anything one way or the other about the thickness of the helmet imparting more torque on the neck, but it sounds plausible at least as a marginal effect.

            The ~15 mph speed below which helmets show a large benefit is specifically the speed at which your head hits the pavement, not necessarily the speed you were travelling on the bike. Your head does accelerate towards the pavement on the way down, but typically almost all of your forward momentum gets “scrubbed off” by other parts of your body hitting the ground first.

            Design speed of bike helmets
            Risk compensation effects
            Epidemiological study on facial injuries
            More on risk compensation
            Survey article on empirical studies of bike helmet effects

          • marshwiggle says:

            Thanks for putting in the time. I found that useful.

            I’m not particularly concerned about risk compensation for myself. Perhaps for my kids it would be an issue. The link to the systematic review of bicycle helmet research seemed to imply that helmets were on balance a good thing. The article on the limits of bicycle helmet design wasn’t claiming at all that they were worse than useless – just that they ought to be better designed so that they helped in more cases than they currently do.

            In short, the evidence seems to be in favor of wearing a helmet.

          • Aapje says:


            There is no good evidence either way. Head injuries are too rare for randomized controlled studies.

            Instead, we have case-control studies, but there is evidence that helmet wearers are safer cyclists. For example, they do have fewer head injuries, but also fewer non-head injuries. It’s very doubtful whether researchers are able to correct for confounders.

            An issue is also that bicycle accidents are very diverse. A major benefit of cars having a safety cage and seat belts is that car accidents are relatively similar. You can test what happens with a dummy and you can make sure that the head is in the right location for the safety features (like airbags), so car builders can optimize for safety fairly well. Helmet designers can’t do this and normally just drop a weight straight on the top of the helmet. The impact is often not going to happen like that in an accident. In practice, helmet designers tend to compete on comfort, while making a helmet that barely passes the official test. So expensive helmets are often no safer, but merely lighter and more comfortable.

            This is a good overview of the evidence.

            As for rotational injuries, there is the MIPS design, where there is a slip-plane in the helmet. Then the helmet doesn’t act like a lever to twist the head (so much). Helmets with MIPS do tend to cost more, though. So far, I’ve decided that the extra cost of MIPS is too high and the reduced choice too much of an issue. Perhaps this will improve in the future.

            Cycling is fairly safe where I am anyway, with mostly good separation between cars and cyclists. Where this isn’t the case, drivers tend to be fairly competent at not hitting me. A US study found that all serious head injuries came from collisions with motor vehicles, so the risk that cars pose to you where you are, matters a lot.

            As I said, I wear one mostly for signalling purposes. My cool weather helmet has a visor under which I wear regular glasses and closeable vents, which I have found to work fantastically for me. So the helmet makes the ride better, regardless of safety. It also makes me look like robocop.

            Anyway, I would suggest a MIPS helmet if you actually want to be substantially safer from serious injury. There is still no solid evidence that it does that, but in theory it should help a lot more than it harms. A regular helmet is sufficient if you care about signalling and/or minor injuries, but I expect that the life-savingness is fairly minimal, although I still expect them to help more than they harm, but not necessarily by that much.

            If you really want to protect your head, then this is the solution 😛

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The really big harm of wearing a bicycle helmet is that you signal to potential riders that bicycles are dangerous.

          • brmic says:

            FWIW, when I researched the matter a few years ago what ultimately made me come down strongly on the side of utility of bicycle helmets were the following two observations, of which Aapje’s link to reminded me/is a perfect example:
            1) The argument for a helmets is ultimately that helmets help when you hit your head, the argument for their harms is either some really special circumstances torque/friction argument or the shift towards more risk by helmeted cyclists or passing drivers. Put like that, I can easily say the first argument is more persuasive to me.
            2) The exact. same. people. on the page Aapje links to who unchain their inner methodologist when it comes to studies showing benefits of helmets (case-control vs. RCT, which injuries exactly?, same cyclist behaviour?; ok, maybe less injury, but relevant/deadly injury? etc.etc. etc.) do not. care. at. all. whether the adverse effects mentioned under 1 actually result in more injuries. In those cases it’s ‘Risk compensation by cyclists who wear helmets has been confirmed in research’ and without any shame whatsoever, the first citation is to a questionaire study, that wasn’t primarily about bicycle helmets and whose abstract ends with ‘The results indicate that risk compensation may modify the effectiveness of [protective equipment] for children engaged in sports and leisure activities. Conversely, the findings also suggest that those wearing [protective equipment ] may be a cautious subgroup.’ Nevermind the next step, where that risk compensation actually results in measureably more accidents.

            So no, is absolutely not a good overview of the evidence, but highly biased. The evidence is actually very clear, that helmets are a good idea. At the same time, the benefit is small due to being limited to specific situations/accidents so that it’s a reasonable personal decision to forgo the helmet

          • Aapje says:


            The ‘special’ circumstance where they may harm by causing torque is when the helmet doesn’t hit something perfectly straight on.

          • brmic says:

            That’s what I’m talking about: The helmet is a roundish half-dome so a substantial number of first impacts are going to be straight on for practical purposes. Afterwards, it depends on residual kinetic energy, angle, surface, etc. And if the criteria for helmet benefit is something like substantial reduction in head injuries, the criteria for torque to be a problem would similarly have to be something like substantial increase/worsening of head injuries due to torque.

            Likewise, if one believes helmets are pointless because non-trivial head injuries are so rare that it’s unnecessary to protect against them, torque can’t really be an issue. Unless you believe in a substantial number of trivial head injuries made meaningfully worse by torque, which either implies a large number of cases where something snags or a far greater amount of friction between the outer layer of the helmet and the street than between skin and bone and the street. But if you reject that as ludicrious as I do, you get to either accept head injuries as meaningful class of injuries and argue trorque or deny head injuries as meaningful, but then torque can’t be a factor.

          • Aapje says:

            Like I said before, an issue is that bike accidents can vary quite a bit and that we don’t have good data how they happen. So we can only speculate.

            Cars are sloped, so frontal crashes with cars may hit the cyclist at an angle and thus hit the helmet at the side. Crashes on the road may involve the rider flipping, hitting the ground/obstacle at an angle, etc. We don’t really know.

            So I personally don’t trust helmets and prefer to avoid crashing if I can help it 🙂

  24. Orpheus says:

    SSC! How do you organize your books?

    • b_jonas says:

      I divide dead-tree books to three big main categories, placed on a different set of shelves:

      1. Fiction books that were originally written in Hungarian. These are currently on the upper bookshelves in the living room.
      2. Fiction books that were not originally written in Hungarian, despite whether they’re a translation to Hungarian or not. Currently on the lower bookshelves in the living room.
      3. Non-fiction books. Currently in the bookshelf in the bedroom.

      I’ve been following this basic system for a very long time, ever since I remember. But how I sort books within each big category keeps changing.

      There are also smaller categories of certain fiction books that I want to access often so they’re in the bedroom, not in the living room, for books that are physically too large to fit on the bookshelf they’d normally go to, and for books I’m currently borrowing from libraries.

      Currently however, more than half of my books are still in my parents’ apartment since I moved out, and those are currently in a disarray. Eventually I have to go through them, get rid of most of them, and take the rest to my apartment.

    • James says:

      Badly. My bookshelf is now overflowing so they’re now in vertical stacks, spilling over onto the surrounding floor, etc. I try to get rid of them as fast as I can but new ones keep arriving faster than I can deal with!

      The only gesture towards organisation is that I try to keep the ones I’m interested in reading soon near the top of the piles.

      Some people organise theirs by the colour of the cover, which in some respects seems a bit superficial, but probably actually works quite well in that when you want a book you can always picture its cover.

    • cassander says:

      By theme, with themes determined substantially by aesthetic requirements of the available space. It’s easy for me now as I just moved to a larger condo with more bookshelves, so I have a lot of extra space available, but the system will inevitably break down as I take bring more books out of storage to fill that space.

    • powerfuller says:

      I like to keep my books very organized. I organize literature (fiction, poetry, drama, literary criticism, etc.) in alphabetical order by author; biographies or criticism specific to an author follows that author, unless the critic is a big name (e.g. Samuel Johnson). Comic books are grouped separately, but that’s mostly due to space issues. Latin books are also in their own spot, regardless of genre.

      Non-fiction roughly grouped into: math & science, western philosophy and religion, eastern philosophy and religion, history, social sciences; organized more by topic than author. I have a rough personal hierarchy of genres (poetry and philosophy at the top, social sciences at the bottom) and decide edge cases based on the quality of the work (e.g. I think I put Lincoln’s speeches in the literature section, but I would probably put another president’s writings in the history section).

      I also have many books hidden behind the shelves and too many books in general.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      By putting them all on one bookshelf.

      That may not sound very organized but I don’t think saving a minute or two of scanning is worth taking them all off again and rearranging them. And it’s still far more organized than my old system of having books littered randomly around my apartment.

      There are downsides though. Back when I was single, having a full bookshelf seemed suspect to more than a few of the women I brought back. And increasingly, as I see how far-left my graduate school is, I’m reconsidering the wisdom of having e.g. Evola’s Ride the Tiger visible for anyone that might doubt the insincerity of my progressivism.

      • James says:

        I think you’re safe with Ride the Tiger—no-one who’d condemn it has heard of it. But my recently-thrifted copy of Atlas Shrugged feels like a liability.

        Of course, this is the advantage of ebooks. All my game material is stashed away on an ereader where it (hopefully) won’t get me in trouble.

      • Nick says:

        How is having a full bookshelf suspect?

        • Enkidum says:

          If you choose to bring home idiots?

          • quanta413 says:

            If only… there are plenty of intelligent people who are not into books. Although some significant fraction of these will have coffee table books they never read to send the proper social signals.

            Even with some intelligent people you have to be careful about what books of yours some people see. Maybe you’re a closet Jordan Peterson fan and that will cause some misunderstandings.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          I’m not entirely sure to be honest.

          I look a bit “bro-y,” people used to assume that I was a fraternity brother. It might have been confusion that I have nerdy interests, along the lines of my girlfriend’s shocked realization that I knew what anime was. You would think my interest in biochemistry and cell biology would clue people in that I’m a nerd but I guess not.

          Or it could just be too effeminate. I’ve also gotten comments that my room is too clean for a straight guy. Women’s idea of what masculinity looks like are very dissimilar from men’s so it’s hard to tell with certainty.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Just put Ride the Tiger next to its polar opposite, read both, and claim to have synthesized them. Then hold their eye as you take a long drink of something alcoholic.

    • John Schilling says:

      Fiction by author, except that for shelving efficiency mass market paperbacks are separated from trade/hardcover and graphic novels from either. Non-fiction by Library of Congress card catalog system, for consistency with the other libraries I use. Mostly in my library (repurposed “bedroom”), fiction on the west side, non-fiction east side. Exceptions:

      The Strategic Book Reserve of unread fiction is shelved separately, over the reading table in the library.

      Boardgames count as fiction, but get shelved separately and I should work out a system that makes more sense than “whatever makes the boxes fit”.

      Two shelves’ worth of general reference material in the living room, along with three of mixed fiction and two of games. The latter two optimized for whatever seems most effective for tempting guests, the first for answering the sort of questions that come up while gaming and/or watching television.

      One shelf of rocket-science references and one of computer references in my office, not terribly well organized but I use them regularly enough that I know where everything is.

      All of this is cataloged in an Excel file, the master version of which lives on an obsolete laptop in the library.

    • James says:

      Having too many books seems to be a theme around here. (I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s also a risk factor for liking Jordan Peterson, especially if there’s some Jung or Solzhenitsyn on the shelf. Be vigilant!)

      By the way, I have a friend who organises his books according to the Dewey decimal system, complete with numeric category stickers on every spine.

      • rlms says:

        I expect liking Jordan Peterson probably correlates ceteris paribus with fewer books. Maybe a question for the next SSC survey!

        • albatross11 says:

          rlms: Beware range restriction!

          I seem to recall that like half the population doesn’t read even one book per year after they get out of school. In that set of people, I’d expect a Peterson fan to have at least a few books. (Perhaps just Petersons, but if they read one of his books, they’d already be at the 50th %ile!)

          [ETA:] Among SSC readers, there might very well be a different correlation. Or not–I have no idea how you’d test such a claim.

          • James says:

            Yeah, I think it depends how much ‘ceteris’ you count in your ‘paribus’.

          • rlms says:

            Definitely. There would only be an anticorrelation in a restricted group, SSC readers was my original suggestion but I think “people who know who Jordan Peterson is” might also work.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Besides stuff I’m reading or intend to read, it’s either sorted by subject and author, usually, on shelves, or it’s in boxes in a closet.

    • David Speyer says:

      I mostly make sure that I know what bookcase to look on, as that saves walking from room to room. So I am looking for categories which fill 1-5 shelves. These are invented ad hoc according to my holdings. Subdivisions by shelf within a category aren’t that important, but I sometimes impose them as shown in parentheses. I don’t worry about sorting within a shelf, except that fiction is alphabetized by author. I also have five shelves of math books in my office (I am a math professor) which are alphabetized by author.

      Current categories:

      Library books/books borrowed from friends
      Adult fiction
      Children’s books
      Board books and other toddler friendly books
      Sciences (math, physics, chemistry, biology, engineering)
      History (vaguely sorted by period)
      Religion (Judaism, Christianity, other)
      Social Sciences (economics, linguistics, sociology, foreign languages)
      How to/home repair
      Yearbooks and other memorabilia

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Mostly not organized, with some small islands of order where a series or at least most of an author are kept together. I have been known to occasionally buy another copy of a book because I can’t find my copy.

    • Urstoff says:

      Broad categories (History, Philosophy, Science) and then chronologically by author date of birth, except for recent books (i.e., published post-2000), then it’s by publication date.

    • Enkidum says:

      One set of shelves is mostly philosophy, organized alphabetically by author / person being commented on. (This only gets confusing for something like Strawson’s book on Kant, since both are legit philosophers in their own right.) One set is mostly cognitive sciences, broadly speaking, again alphabetically ordered by author. One set is fiction + graphic novels + my few remaining physical movies and video games, the fiction is alphabetical by author. The final set is history, science more generally, and politics, ordered roughly by alphabetical order of the topic (so I have a bunch of books on China, they’re in the C’s, etc).

      Any books I’ve gotten in the past year or so won’t fit on the shelves because they’re stuffed full, so they’re just lying somewhere in the house. Also the organization is screwed up due to the large number of outsize books I have, which need to be put onto specific shelves regardless of topic.

    • Well... says:

      There’s how I would order them if I had my druthers, and there’s how they actually get ordered because wife and kids.

      I would like to first build bookshelves all over every wall of my living room, then dedicate to each shelf a single category (e.g. nonfiction by category, plus a category of “novels”, one of “short stories/collections”, etc.), plus a dedicated shelf for library books. Within each shelf I’d probably go left to right by author’s last name, and within that, date of first publication.

      The reality is I have been pruned back to a single cheap sagging bookshelf (wife is an anti-hoarder and thinks we have too many books, and disallows more shelves as a way to prohibit further book purchases) into which books are crammed at random, sometimes horizontally on top of the others. Books that are pulled off the shelves by the toddler are, upon discovery, rescued and hastily reshelved higher up.

    • Lambert says:

      My bookshelf has uneven spacing between shelves, so my books just go in the smallest space that’s tall enough.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Right now, it’s just divided between Fiction and Nonfiction. Certain of my favorite authors (e.g. Tolkien and Sayers) are also shelved separately next to each other.

      I used to have a more detailed division between Fiction, History, and Philosophy (i.e. other nonfiction), but my nonfiction reading these days is mostly borrowed from the library or found online.

    • Zeno of Citium says:

      Other than “in piles where I leave them”, my current library is roughly organized into shelves as such:
      ~ Non-fiction (all) – I mostly read fiction books and read non-fiction online, my non-fiction section is maybe 1/7 of my total library.
      ~ Sci-fi
      ~ Fantasy
      ~ Other Fiction
      ~ Fiction/ non Fiction books that are too large to fit on the above shelves but fit on the extra-tall shelf.
      ~ RPG gamebooks (special tall shelf)
      ~ Comics/ Graphic novels (special tall shelf)

      There’s no attempt at organization inside there categories other than keep the comics in order. My current library has to fit on two bookcases and any attempt at organizing will fail due to space. This won’t get fixed until I own instead of rent due to space concerns. More than half of my books are still at my childhood home despite me not living there in over a decade.

      Now that I look at it, a good half of my books are shelved where they are because of size.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Fiction is alpha by author, grouped by series within an author, and series order within a series. Occasionally, I’ll make an effort to arrange different series and standalone works by the same author in chronological order by when they take place, but I often decide I don’t care enough for that level of detail.

      Non-fiction used to just be stuffed whereever I had a slot for it, but I recently moved to a bigger house with more space for shelves, and I’ve been grouping books by subject category in my unpacking. The current categories are:
      – Politics and current-ish events
      – History, military, and economics
      – Science
      – Math and computers
      – Home improvement and gardening
      – Textbooks and reference
      – Cooking
      – Gaming
      – Books written by my grandfather
      – Religion, philosophy, and general interest

      I’ll occasionally file nonfiction books I hold in particular disregard (due to quackery or spectacular inaccuracy) as fiction, out of spite.

      • Evan Þ says:

        I’ll occasionally file nonfiction books I hold in particular disregard (due to quackery or spectacular inaccuracy) as fiction, out of spite.

        Me too! I occasionally grin at them and wonder what the authors would think…

    • Nornagest says:

      Haphazardly shelved into general topic headings, and then strewn randomly across flat surfaces near where I happened to finish them.

    • Anonymous says:

      I record them on Goodreads.

    • bean says:

      I’m actually about to move, and have been thinking about this extensively. First, I shelve by general category, things like “naval”, “naval history” (these are separate for dark and complicated reasons) “non-naval history”, “general military”, “aviation”, “spaceflight”, “Christian” and “living room” (books that are on the shelf in there because I won’t need them for a project). Obviously, the things I need most often go onto the shelves first. Within naval, I’m going to have to get more bookshelves before I figure everything out, but I expect to shelve by country for the ship design histories and developmental references. There’s also shelves for subject histories and general reference works. For a while “battleships” was its own category, but then that shelf overflowed, so it’s being broken up. I don’t really have enough of anything else for it to have become a problem yet.

      Of course, there are piles near my bed (usually of books I’m working on blog posts from, because it’s comfortable) and on the kitchen table (recent books I haven’t shelved or don’t have shelf space for).

    • Nick says:

      I used to have a system for my bookcases, but it’s not very organized right now. I’ve got a shelf of philosophy and religion, a shelf for general nonfiction and fiction, and a shelf for scifi and fantasy. But when I ran out of room on that bookcase each of those shelves started overflowing into the new one (…which is now also full). Mostly I just arrange fun juxtapositions, like putting Feser and Nietzsche beside each other, or John C Wright and Ursula K Le Guin, or Newton’s Principia and Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle.

      My reading list meanwhile is chronological and stored on Google Docs, except where I’ve grouped an author or a series at a particular spot. I also color it according to books I haven’t read, books I’ve read and plan to reread, and books I’ve read and don’t plan to reread.

    • The science fiction and fantasy is in multiple bookshelves in our bedroom in alphabetical order. In the hall outside we have a bookshelf of fiction, one of detective fiction, one of non-fiction, one of poetry–I don’t think that’s a full bookshelf. In theory things are in alphabetical order.

      My office bookshelf has the books for my legal systems research, other books relevant to academic matters, my books, and a somewhat random collection–clustered somewhat by subject but not alphabetical. For the legal systems books, for instance, books on Islamic law are together. The additional bookshelf I have almost finished making for my office–I did the first coat of polyurethane today–will largely be books that I brought home from my university office when I retired.

      Downstairs there are a couple of shelves of source material for SCA storytelling, a somewhat mixed bookcase largely of my and my wife’s books from college, a shelf or two of history books, … In the living room, also downstairs, two or three shelves on medieval cooking, three or four on historical jewelry, plus others on other SCA related interests.

      There is a row of books on the divider between living room and dining room that includes the OED, Mencken’s American Language, and various other dictionary like things. And the bookshelves in the downstairs hall are a pretty mixed collection, including my 11th edition Britannica.

      That doesn’t include my daughter’s books in her room, or the books belonging to both (now adult) kids in the room in the basement, or … .

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I sell back all my fiction, so I never have more than 10 or so unread ones. But I have been reading a lot more nonfiction over the last decade or so, and I sometimes refer back to them. I guess I really should organize them, because I’ve been having more problems recently finding what I want. Probably should do it by category, maybe social science, economics, history. This is one of those things that one has to start sorting before one knows what is there.

    • marshwiggle says:

      Badly. But we’ve gotten one thing right. The books that I allow my kids were in reach when they were young. That means the math and science textbooks and the books appropriate for little kids. As my kids got older, books moved from out of the way places to the book shelves and crates in their room. The history books and the classics are in my room, and the serious physics stuff. I’m intentionally carefully giving those out as my kids are ready for them, and then they return to my room to be ready for the next kid. Storage decisions that make classics and history a privilege not an automatic right have been a good thing.

      The upper shelves of our bookshelves are a mix of intentional organization by author or topic and books having been put there for who knows what reason. That is, I assume some of my shelving decisions look as crazy to my wife as some of hers have to me. Then, after that, there’s a 1.5 meter square table with stacks of books, library books stacked on the floor, the books that someone is actively reading next to their bed or chair, and the books kids have put some crazy place for who knows what reason.

  25. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere could be a lot cheaper than some people were expecting.

    • The Nybbler says:

      This article sets off some red flags for me

      Carbon Engineering’s design blows air through towers that contain a solution of potassium hydroxide

      The first: how is potassium hydroxide produced? The old way was reacting potassium carbonate with slaked lime; slaked lime is produced from quicklime, which is produced from thermal decomposition of limestone into calcium oxide… and carbon dioxide (not to mention it requires a lot of energy). The modern way is the chloralkali process, which doesn’t release CO2 directly but does require a LOT of energy. So this method reduces the atmospheric CO2 capture problem to either CO2 capture from industrial processes, and/or to carbon-free energy. Both of which are still hard problems. Until you’ve solved them, this process is going to end up releasing more CO2 than it captures. Certainly they’re solvable in principle, though — produce the potassium hydroxide using the chloralkali process nuclear or hydro – so maybe this is only a yellow flag.

      The second is that once you get to calcium carbonate (limestone), you’re basically done. Why mess around more with releasing the CO2, just bury that? Making synfuel from it is going to erase all your gains roughly twice over; once using the energy to make the synfuel, and again burning it. At best, assuming carbon-free energy to make the synfuel and the potassium hydroxide, the whole process is a wash. Unless there’s an actual shortage of CO2 released from power plants or as a byproduct of industrial processes, this process doesn’t seem to make sense.

      • baconbits9 says:

        The second is that once you get to calcium carbonate (limestone), you’re basically done. Why mess around more with releasing the CO2, just bury that? Making synfuel from it is going to erase all your gains roughly twice over; once using the energy to make the synfuel, and again burning it. At best, assuming carbon-free energy to make the synfuel and the potassium hydroxide, the whole process is a wash. Unless there’s an actual shortage of CO2 released from power plants or as a byproduct of industrial processes, this process doesn’t seem to make sense.

        Is it possible that releasing the CO2 like this gives them more potassium chloride to work with without all the associated costs of the first process you described?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Is it possible that releasing the CO2 like this gives them more potassium chloride to work with without all the associated costs of the first process you described?

          They don’t describe it, but once you release the CO2 from the calcium carbonate, you can then use that to produce more potassium hydroxide, which amounts to a way to pump CO2 out of the atmosphere, provided all your energy inputs are carbon-free. But there’s no point in doing this until you’ve got the lower-hanging fruit of capturing concentrated CO2 from power plants and industrial processes.

          As a proof of concept it’s interesting. As an actual practical process, I think it’s a long way from making sense. Once essentially all concentrated CO2 from industrial and power generation is captured, and there’s still need to pull CO2 out of the air, it might be different.

      • Chalid says:

        this process doesn’t seem to make sense

        You could imagine this being a way to solve the energy storage problem. Use energy to isolate carbon when demand for electricity is low relative to supply, then burn the carbon to make electricity when electrical demand is high. This lets you power more of the grid with intermittent green sources.

      • John Schilling says:

        The second is that once you get to calcium carbonate (limestone), you’re basically done. Why mess around more with releasing the CO2, just bury that?

        Because we still need gasoline and kerosene, and if we bury the limestone we generate in this scenario, we’re just going to dig up tar sands and turn them into fuels and burn those.

        Making synfuel from it is going to erase all your gains roughly twice over; once using the energy to make the synfuel, and again burning it. At best, assuming carbon-free energy to make the synfuel and the potassium hydroxide, the whole process is a wash.

        Which is the whole point. We need high-density hydrocarbon-ish fuels, for all the things that can’t be plugged into a power grid, and possibly for peaking power on that grid. From an environmental standpoint, we would prefer that our high-density fuel cycle be net carbon-neutral, neither sucking CO2 from the atmosphere (because ice ages and snowball earth) nor pumping it in (because global warming and Al Gore). This gives us a carbon-neutral high-density fuel cycle.

        So would the plan where we bury the limestone from this process and tell other people to get on with pumping oil or digging coal or tar sands or whatever, but this version skips the unnecessary digging.

      • skef says:

        It’s a loop, so the original source of KOH isn’t all that important unless the loop suffers high losses. (And a primary reason for “messing around more” is to get that reactant back. The trick is making a loop with a sufficiently low energy expenditure.)

        • The Nybbler says:

          An industrial process for large-scale capture of atmospheric CO2 (DAC) serves two roles. First, as a source of CO2 for making carbon-neutral hydrocarbon fuels, enabling carbon-free energy to be converted into high-energy-density fuels. Solar fuels, for example, may be produced at high-insolation low-cost locations from DAC-CO2 and electrolytic hydrogen using gas-to-liquids technology enabling decarbonization of difficult-to-electrify sectors such as aviation. And second, DAC with CO2 sequestration allows carbon removal.

          OK, so this is interesting, but for the fairly distant future. At the moment CO2 is much cheaper than $94 to $232 per ton; roughly $20-$30 for high-purity stuff it appears. And a lot of CO2 is just vented to atmosphere, so if demand rose there would be easier ways to get it than pulling it out of the atmosphere. Similarly, it should be a lot easier to sequester CO2 from high-concentration fixed sources than to pull it from the atmosphere and then sequester it. So until we’ve converted to a nuclear/hydro/geothermal/unicorn fart/solar/wind system for nearly all fixed electricity generation, I don’t see this process being practical.

          (actually there’s always easier ways than pulling from the atmosphere, in particular mining limestone and calcinating it. But that would defeat the purpose)

          • Lambert says:

            You might run into logistic problems.
            Sequestration is going to be highly centralised.
            There’s air wherever you want it.

      • mdet says:

        once you get to calcium carbonate (limestone), you’re basically done. Why mess around more with releasing the CO2, just bury that? Making synfuel from it is going to erase all your gains roughly twice over

        The Atlantic’s article on this suggests that turning the captured CO2 back into fuel provides a revenue source for a hypothetical company to get the technology off the ground.

  26. Well... says:

    Every fitness website and instructor will tell you that diet is the number one most important thing to getting in shape. (And here by “in shape” I basically mean swole/ripped/shredded/jacked/pumped/whatever douchey term you prefer.)

    Prisoners eat like crap, but they have little else to do but lift weights and many of them look like they’re in quite good shape. Same goes for my neighbor, who seems to subsist mainly on Rally’s burgers and freezer meals, but works out 4-6 days a week and looks like an amateur bodybuilder.

    Does this mean if you work out enough, diet doesn’t matter? Or just that a proper diet makes getting in shape easier? Or…what?

    • Randy M says:

      It means that each matter, but you can compensate for deficiency (or just being sub-optimal) in one area by increased diligence/vigor in the other. Different people with different tolerance for hard work/nutritional discipline will have different preferred local maxima for very fit body types. And of course people who really enjoy junk food and really detest exercise and going to have a psychologically more difficult time with it.

      I don’t think that diet alone can get you very muscular, though. The best it can do is get you to a fit level of muscle and low body fat. Developing muscles takes work.

      Working out endlessly can probably overcome most nutritional over-indulgence; micro-nutrient deficiency is another matter and I assume you need to make sure to take in all the amino acids you can’t manufacture if you want to increase muscle mass.

      I think your fitness instructors say that because either if you are talking to them, you presumably are going to exercise, or else because poor eating has more potential to harm your body than under-exercising. Either could be acutely fatal if you really don’t know what you are doing, of course.

    • psmith says:

      a) how many prisoners have you actually met?
      b) youth and genetics go a long, long way
      c) total calorie intake and macros are by far the most important things and are relatively easy to adjust
      d) depending on personal standards, there can be a whole lot of daylight between “looks jacked to me” and “would look jacked on a bodybuilding stage” or “would excel in a quantifiable competition of physical performance”

    • dndnrsn says:

      I can’t find it now but I read an article by a guy who’d gotten jacked lifting weights in prison. He made it sound like the guys who were seriously into building muscle did have to pay attention to their diet – buying cans of mackerel at the prison commissary is something I remember.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      One thing I know from mouse studies on metabolic programming and obesity is that (unsurprisingly) it matters a lot whether they’re fed by the researcher or allowed to eat ad libitum. Prisoners don’t do much ad libitum, which is one of the points of prison.

      If prisoners are on the whole more fit than the average American of equivalent demographics, that’s my guess as to why that would be the case. They might “eat like crap,” but they probably don’t eat as much as they want as often as they want.

      • Anonymous says:

        They might “eat like crap,” but they probably don’t eat as much as they want as often as they want.

        This is a good point. Eating all day is actually something I’m increasingly certain is one of the key causes of obesity. American reality looks like the Onion. I wish I had found out about intermittent fasting sooner – I would have tipped off a friend of mine who needed to slim down for an operation and couldn’t.

    • j1000000 says:

      Does every fitness instructor really say that? Eating healthy can get you skinny, but back in my lifting days the conventional wisdom was that you’ve got to eat plenty to get bigger. (And I’d say there’s a difference between “ripped” and “swole.” Soccer players are ripped but linebackers are swole.) Also, if your neighbor’s young, that makes everything easier.

      • J Mann says:

        Yeah, my understanding is that if you want big muscles (swole), you need to (a) exercise, (b) eat and (c) steroids probably wouldn’t hurt. If you want to lose weight or have low enough body fat to show a 6-pack (ripped), then you need to eat to a calorie deficit.

    • maintain says:

      How are we defining good diet? Who says prisoners have bad diets? Why should burgers and freezer meals prevent you from gaining muscle? Is there some vital nutrient missing from burgers and freezer meals?

    • Anonymous says:

      Looking like a bodybuilder does not necessarily mean you are healthy. I mean, plenty of them are full of various drugs and many suffer sudden death when they fail their Fortitude save against poison.

      That said, so long as you are a) working out a lot, b) consuming enough protein, you will with high likelihood gain muscle. Your bloodwork might be crap, but you may well look good, and be quite strong.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      Every fitness website and instructor will tell you that diet is the number one most important thing to getting in shape. (And here by “in shape” I basically mean swole/ripped/shredded/jacked/pumped/whatever douchey term you prefer.)

      They might say that it’s the most important thing to lose weight, getting into shape also requires excercise. In fact, many will advise against just dieting, because even if you lose weight you’ll still look bad.

      And prisoners eat in a much tighter schedule than most people, which does wonders to avoid overeating.

    • andrewflicker says:

      I’ve got a bunch of family in corrections, and have toured jails and prisons. Obesity is *very* common among prisoners. My father started out as a jail cook, eventually became the head cook, and switched over to being a correctional officer when he found out they made $3/hour more. One of his (and the jail’s) stated principles was to overfeed inmates- fat inmates were lazier, basically, and it was a cheap way to remove many petty complaints or frustrations of the prisoners.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      There is a difference between foods considered junk food and poor nutrition food.,5337/

      The best indicator of a good diet is hitting micros and macros, with foods containing the nutrients in a form with viable bioavailability, usually spread throughout the day for aid of the digestive system and the belief that not all can be digested in one meal.Foods with low bioavailable nutrients can be deceptive in terms of nutritional value(this appears to be the case with some sold vitamins)

      It’s not hard to see how for someone with a high calorie need,foods like this with just a bit of attention paid to variety can provide full nutrition.

      As for prisons, I wonder how much this varies state by state, county by county, and which ones have been mandated to provide adequate micros and macros, vs a “oh jeez,sure looks healthy, hyuck hyuck”

  27. baconbits9 says:

    Anthony Bourdain’s suicide is sobering enough on its own, but skimming a few articles I saw two quotes of his that make it more so

    On why he quit smoking: “I mean, I’ve had more time on this Earth than I probably deserve, and I enjoy cigarettes very much, but now I feel that I owe this child who loves me to at least try to live a little longer, you know?”

    On his work: “I have the best job in the world. If I’m unhappy, it’s a failure of imagination.”

    • SamChevre says:

      I sometimes wonder how much of the increase in depression over the past 30 years is tied to the decline in smoking.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Given the presence of MAOIs in tobacco, certainly seems plausible.

        • SamChevre says:

          It’s a mixture of a stimulant and an anti-depressant, tied in to a social activity. It’s like a 1-2-3 punch at depression.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Wouldn’t the rise of vaping then be counterbalancing the decline in smoking?

          • SamChevre says:

            Yes, I would expect it to–but remember, smoking rates in 1960 were near 50%, and the average smoker smoked more than a pack a day. Vaping is not close in terms of use.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You would still expect suicide rates to decline as vaping rose, as they would be declining from a higher point than 1950s suicide rates.

          • Nornagest says:

            Wouldn’t the rise of vaping then be counterbalancing the decline in smoking?

            Vape juice doesn’t usually have the MAOIs — it’s usually nicotine plus propylene glycol plus flavoring agents. Tobacco smoke has a lot more stuff in it than that.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Eyeballing teen smoking rates and teen suicide rates in the US over the past 20-30 years makes it appear as if the correlation is non existent and maybe even reversed.

          • Well... says:

            Where I live at least, vaping seems to kinda be its own thing. Has its own culture, etc. I expect this means a lot of smokers who might either cut back/quit or migrate to vaping choose to cut back/quit.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I was thinking that at first, but then more broadly if the idea of “do X, it will improve your life” leading to it not improving your life (for various reasons) is a major driving factor.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I read that he spent more than half of the year away from his daughter. People think that traveling will make them happy but it doesn’t. It’s being around people who are important to you.

    • rahien.din says:

      On his work: “I have the best job in the world. If I’m unhappy, it’s a failure of imagination.”

      In other words, “I have the best job in the world, but I am still unhappy, therefore I am a failure.”

      • baconbits9 says:

        Probably similar to “I will quit smoking to live for my daughter” followed (eventually) by suicidal thoughts which make you feel like a failure even if you succeeded in quitting smoking.

  28. Randy M says:

    (warning: dndrsn bait)
    I read a complaint elsewhere that AD&D disallowed women from having 18/76 strength or greater, and at first I thought maybe this is realistic but I’m not sure numerically.
    18 strength represents rolling 3 six sided dice and each coming up a 6, which has odds of .00463 or .463%. The “/76” is rolling a 100 sided dice (or 2 pre-designated 10s) and getting 76 or higher, basically a further 1/4 reduction. Meaning it should occur in .11575% of the population, or in 7 billion people, it is the top 8.1 million.

    So to say women couldn’t have 18/75 natural strength (barring belts of cure gender dysphoria or performance enhancing potions) would be equivalent to no women among the top 8 million in strength of the current global population [edit: or perhaps this is wrong if few people are living up to their capability?]. I don’t have a good intuition about this conclusion. Perhaps look at the top 1000 scores records in a class of lifting and see if any are women, but I’m not sure they keep such lengthy records.
    We could consider the maximum lift and say if women’s maximum is less than 99.884% of men’s maximum it is valid, but I think that is approaching the problem in the wrong way mathematically (women’s record is about 70% men’s record.)

    This chart lists max press of 18/76 to be 330, presumably kg, as otherwise our current record holder would be a fire giant (>1000 pounds). Current women’s bench press record is 272 kg, which would in fact be in the 18/01-18/50 range, so the restriction is actually perfectly reasonable along that metric. And given that the record holder among men is 485 kg, and the press for 18/00, human maximum, is 480, this seems like a pretty dang reasonable chart.

    • dndnrsn says:

      First, is “max press” bench press, or overhead press, the latter sometimes just being called “press”? I believe that in 3rd edition, they measured one’s ability to hold weight overhead. I do not have the correct books in front of me. On the other hand, one can hold more weight arms fully locked out than they actually can get to that position from where an overhead

      Second, not being able to get into the upper quartile of the (utterly bizarre – why does only strength have this, why only for 18, I think only fighters actually got the percentile, etc) percentile for 18 strength seems like a pretty minor disadvantage. Fact is, AD&D stats were bogus. If you roll 3d6 in order, paladins are vanishingly rare because of the stat requirements. If you roll 4d6 drop lowest in order, they’re still not super common. If you arrange either, it gets more common. But I remember a lot more paladins showing up than one would expect from even 4d6 drop lowest arrange. Likewise, 18 STR is rare enough that you wouldn’t expect percentiles to get rolled a lot, and 18/00 would be extremely rare – yet I remember a fair number of 18/00s out in the wild. Conclusion: the AD&D stats were designed with the expectation that people were cheating.

      Third, I vaguely recall looking at (raw, not geared) powerlifting records for men and women, and at 3rd ed, and concluding that a) the top powerlifters are presumably at least of sufficient level to have received +2 to their STR, because the top record for whatever lift I was using for comparison (lift off ground, being deadlift, maybe?) would require a 20 strength. Or maybe it was a 22, requiring a +4, unless they’re half-orcs. Which they aren’t, unless this is the d20 Modern supplement Urban Arcana, in which, I think, nonhumans appeared human unless their magical disguises were penetrated. Also b) that the gap between the best male raw powerlifter and the best female raw powerlifter was 4 points of STR, but you can’t carry this over to untrained and average men and women. There are strength standards that are ostensibly for “untrained” people, but they’re derived from powerlifting meet numbers, and I question whether untrained people actually show up to those.

      • Randy M says:

        First, is “max press” bench press, or overhead press, the latter sometimes just being called “press”?

        No clue! A quick search didn’t show anything more specific, though. Could be whoever put that chart up doesn’t know much more about weightlifting than I do. I was impressed with the correspondance between 18/00 press and record bench press, though.

        Second, not being able to get into the upper quartile of the (utterly bizarre – why does only strength have this, why only for 18, I think only fighters actually got the percentile, etc) percentile for 18 strength seems like a pretty minor disadvantage.

        I heard it was added after complaints that fighters were boring, probably after thieves got their percentile subsystem.
        It is a pretty minor disadvantage–only for 1 class, and basically cuts down a point or two of damage from attacks, seems like about 10% less than max, but of course most male fighters won’t have exceptional strength either.

        But I remember a lot more paladins showing up than one would expect from even 4d6 drop lowest arrange.

        Do you mean at tables or in source books? I think most rules were designed with the expectation that many would houserule them, which is true, probably necessary, and a bad excuse not to test them enough.

        Third, I vaguely recall looking at (raw, not geared) powerlifting records for men and women, and at 3rd ed

        Third edition is of course a different kettle of fish. I don’t think ad&d had stat increases, at least not as experience level rewards.

      • Eric Rall says:

        AD&D specified “military press” (a strict for of the standing overhead press), and it’s measured in pounds. Pathfinder (and I think 3e and 3.5e before it) changes it to “lift over head”, and is nonspecific as to how, so it might correspond to a push press or a clean-and-jerk instead of an overhead press.

        I looked at D&D strengths (using Pathfinder rules) vs real-world powerlifters and strongmen a while back. “Lift over head” numbers seems a bit wonky, but “lift off ground” (2x your maximum load) seems to correspond pretty well to a deadlift. IIRC, Arnold Schwarzenegger in his days as a powerlifter (back in Austria, before he switched over to bodybuilding full-time) was around a 17, and Hafþór Björnsson is between a 22 and a 24, depending on whether you use his powerlifting or his strongman records.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      The complaint was never really that it was unrealistic but that it was sexist. Anyone who says that reality can’t be considered sexist hasn’t been paying attention the last few decades.

      • Randy M says:

        I think that both are made. In the process of supporting the charge of sexism it will be claimed that the differences aren’t really that big or don’t apply to exceptional individuals. I was curious how close this case hewed to reality.

        It will often also be said that in a game with elves why would you expect realism, but I don’t think I need to refute this shallow thinking here.

        • Iain says:

          It will often also be said that in a game with elves why would you expect realism, but I don’t think I need to refute this shallow thinking here.

          Better phrased: in a game with elves, why would you insist on this specific form of realism?

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t see why the existence of elves would make humans being not humans more logical.

            In a role-playing game I would want the shared fiction to match reality as much as possible except where otherwise specified. It is difficult to inhabit the same mental space the further you deviate from reality.

            Further, things are going to make less sense as you change particular facets arbitrarily to make them match your religious preferences better. If you start changing certain things about human anatomy or society without thinking them through the world is going to make less sense and be harder to predict, which is bad for game where the goal is to make plans that rely on a shared understanding of what actions are likely vs plausible. (yes, you can specify every single detail, but you might not remember to do so). It is possible that there is a species pretty similar to humans but with no impactful sexual dimorphism; it’s quite unlikely to behavior like humans in every other aspect.

            And I see no reason a game about conflict is improved by smoothing over inequalities, nor do I see why this should be terribly sensitive of a subject.

            All that said, like dndrsn pointed out, this particular mechanical representation is pretty small fries and no hill to die on. I wouldn’t even say it improves the game, being one more detail; however I do suspect that the kinds of people it offends aren’t people I’d want to play with, though; there’s the impression that they want to rewrite reality, or at least the correct perception of reality, by changing the worlds presented in fiction.

            Now, since they are adding in magic in order to have more narrative & tactical options, I see no reason not to either bias that or make that equal according to your design goals. Balancing out a (small) male strength advantage with a (small) female magic advantage sounds interesting, even in a game like D&D where the magic system makes fighters’s exceptional strength largely worthless. 😉

          • Nornagest says:

            Elves don’t matter. The kind of game you’re trying to make matters.

            Modern D&D is — modally, at any rate; individual games may vary — all about straight-up power fantasies. It’s not particularly eroticized or heavy on gender politics, it tends to shy away from gendered tropes like the damsel in distress, and its published settings are usually pretty egalitarian. As such, I don’t think many games of D&D would be improved by sex modifiers to stats or other mechanics: it’s clunky, and it doesn’t help you do anything you’ll usually be doing. Individual DMs may have other ideas, and that’s their prerogative, but in the average case I think the right move is not to model sexual dimorphism.

            But modern D&D isn’t the only game out there. Some, including older versions of D&D, have much more simulationist aspirations*. Others might include fantasy worlds with more gender politics, or less egalitarian settings, or settings that bake in gendered fantasy tropes to a greater extent — Frank Frazetta plays with those tropes a lot, for example, his stuff finds a lot of appeal among fantasy fans of both sexes, and I can see an RPG based on it finding an audience. Game mechanics should serve theme, so all these ideas might productively include rules based on sex. Now, they’re all admittedly more niche than “swords for everybody, let’s go slay ogres”, but niche games do sell and I don’t see a good reason for declaring them all anathema.

            (*) This despite the fact that the old-school D&D ruleset doesn’t lend itself particularly well to simulation — it’s more a hangover from its wargaming roots.

          • mdet says:

            It is possible that there is a species pretty similar to humans but with no impactful sexual dimorphism; it’s quite unlikely to behavior like humans in every other aspect.

            How much about society would actually change if you assumed a species identical to humans except their females have the same levels of strength and athleticism as the males? The first things that come to mind for me:

            Women are less athletic because testosterone boosts muscle growth. But I don’t think it’s hard to imagine a world where testosterone *doesn’t* boost muscle growth, and I don’t imagine RPG gameplay actually gets down to the level of detail where you’re specifying the output of someone’s pituitary gland anyway. Women are also less athletic because their bodies are built to survive pregnancy — wide hips, higher levels of body fat, breasts. This physical build just isn’t as conducive to athleticism. But again, I don’t think RPG gameplay involves specifically modeling the exact force output of someone’s strides based on the proportions of their pelvis, so this is similarly easy to ignore.

            Ok, going a little bigger — in real life, men are more athletic than women. That means men are more likely to participate in hunting and wars. That means men were violently killed off more often. That affects the gender ratio of a society — possibly balancing out women’s deaths during childbirth, possibly making a society with a very high female–male ratio. In a society where men and women died during hunts & wars at equal rates, we’d expect very different cultural and social dynamics.

            Now I don’t play tabletop RPGs, so I don’t know how deep games get into the exact history, culture, and politics of each locale they visit. If we’re getting to Tolkien levels of worldbuilding, then yes, assuming men and women are equally athletic will change the course of history. But if we’re just going on some quests, how much does this matter?

          • Nick says:

            Now I don’t play tabletop RPGs, so I don’t know how deep games get into the exact history, culture, and politics of each locale they visit. If we’re getting to Tolkien levels of worldbuilding, then yes, assuming men and women are equally athletic will change the course of history. But if we’re just going on some quests, how much does this matter?

            I’ve linked to this post by Charlie Stross before, but I have a lot of sympathy for what he says:

            Let me say it here: when you fuck with the underlying consistency of your universe, you are cheating your readers. You may think that this isn’t actually central to your work: you’re trying to tell a story about human relationships, why get worked up about the average spacing of asteroids when the real purpose of the asteroid belt is to give your protagonists a tense situation to survive and a shared experience to bond over? But the effects of internal inconsistency are insidious. If you play fast and loose with distance and time scale factors, then you undermine travel times. If your travel times are rubberized, you implicitly kneecapped the economics of trade in your futurescape. Which in turn affects your protagonist’s lifestyle, caste, trade, job, and social context. And, thereby, their human, emotional relationships. The people you’re writing the story of live in a (metaphorical) house the size of a galaxy. Undermine part of the foundations and the rest of the house of cards is liable to crumble, crushing your characters under a burden of inconsistencies.

            The really dense asteroid field thing won’t bother most readers, but it will bother some. And for those whom it does bother, it will break their suspension of disbelief. The same goes for role-playing settings and systems. But it’s even more important for RPGs, if anything, since part of what makes a system usable is how consistent and predictable it is, how well players (and player characters) understand it.

            Charlie’s prescription for scifi is this:

            SF should—in my view—be draining the ocean and trying to see at a glance which of the gasping, flopping creatures on the sea bed might be lungfish. But too much SF shrugs at the state of our seas and settles for draining the local acquarium, or even just the bathtub, instead. In pathological cases it settles for gazing into the depths of a brightly coloured computer-generated fishtank screensaver. If you’re writing a story that posits giant all-embracing interstellar space corporations, or a space mafia, or space battleships, never mind universalizing contemporary norms of gender, race, and power hierarchies, let alone fashions in clothing as social class signifiers, or religions … then you need to think long and hard about whether you’ve mistaken your screensaver for the ocean.

            I think he’s right: if we’re going to change the setting from our world, we at least can use that as an opportunity to explore the consequences of those changes. And for those of us whose experience would be the less for not doing that, what choice do we have?

          • mdet says:

            I get that for some people — the kind of people who are probably much more likely to play RPGs and comment on SSC — that extra high level of consistency and predictability matters. (I’m not one of those people. I actually just finished watching the USS Callister episode of Black Mirror, and while I noticed the “asteroid field” trope and a few other things, those were more entertaining nitpicks than immersion breaking flaws. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to enjoy un-realistic fiction otherwise.)

            But what I more so meant to say was — if I woke up tomorrow and our real world had been altered so that women were identically as athletic as men, but nothing else changed, it’d probably take me a long time to notice. Professional athletes would notice pretty quick, of course. But in my everyday life, I could probably go weeks, months, years? without really noticing. Maybe an “Oh, she can carry more than I thought” here and there, but it wouldn’t be world breaking.

            But that’s in my mundane real-world life. Assuming that I am a fantasy RPG hero, then the most immediately noticeable difference might be an uptick in the number of competent female combatants encountered. Which again, sounds not immediately world breaking. As far as I can imagine, it’d really only be on the timespan of generations that the difference would start to affect society. But RPG games don’t last generations? I imagine you might get quick backstories on a locale, a little bit of history so you know the setting, but how often does a game get so deep that you need to clarify something like “Wait, if we’re killing all these female combatants, then shouldn’t that affect the locals men’s ability to find wives? Will the next generation of Shire-folk have an uptick in incels? Will the birthrate drop???”

            “It’s the principle of the thing. I want to compromise predictability and consistency as little as possible”

            Totally. But if we go with what arlie suggests and give females a higher Magic competency to compensate for their lower Strength, then we’re still in the same situation of having to deal with the long term societal repercussions of sexual dimorphism. Of all the divergences from reality you could make, I don’t think giving women similar athleticism to men is all that big a change on timescales shorter than a human lifespan, and it’s definitely a *much* smaller change than “Magic exists.”

            But it’s your game, and if you’re cool with “Female characters have a lower Strength cap”, then that’s whatever.

          • Nornagest says:

            I get that for some people — the kind of people who are probably much more likely to play RPGs and comment on SSC — that extra high level of consistency and predictability matters.

            Like I said above, I think it’s a “kind of game” thing as much or more than it’s a “kind of person” thing. I already illustrated some non-simulationist reasons you might want sex to matter in game, but let’s talk about simulationism: for some games, closely modeling the real world in certain ways is an explicit design goal. It’s still a game — the objective is still to have fun — but part of the appeal is a sense of overcoming realistic constraints or finding clever ways of using that realism to your advantage, and trading off clean rules or other aspects of playability for a broader or closer model may actually be desirable. It’s usually pretty obvious when a game’s trying to do this — pages and pages of fiddly rules for things that have nothing to do with slaying dragons or lasering aliens in the face are something of a tell. This approach to game design is out of fashion now, and it’s probably not the best move if you’re going for broad appeal — but it was very common in the early days of tabletop roleplaying, because early roleplaying descended from wargaming, and wargames at the time were the domain of crusty obsessives who cared very much about the difference between a Panzer III and a Panzer IV. The rules we’re arguing about were trying to do basically the same thing.

            In the computer-gaming world, Dwarf Fortress is a very simulationist game. Bushido Blade is a relatively simulationist fighting game. Survival games tend to be simulationist. And so forth.

          • mdet says:

            The fact that the game is about simulation, predictability, consistency, etc doesn’t actually prevent giving men and women the same athleticism. It just means that you have to think through the consequences. Which was my point — on the timescales that I imagine a normal game playing through, I don’t think the consequences will matter much more than “More female combatants”.

            Which means that sexual dimorphism (or a lack thereof) sounds more like an arbitrary constraint that you may or may not choose to play with than “shallow thinking” to me.

          • Nornagest says:

            Sure, you can run a simulationist game without sexual dimorphism in strength and try to work out the consequences of that — a game I’m involved in is doing exactly that, in fact, though that might also have something to do with one of my collaborators and her penchant for writing scary muscle-bound women. My angle is less that glossing over real-life sexual dimorphism is shallow (I’ll let @Randy M handle that one) and more that modeling it can be a reasonable design choice depending on what you’re trying to do.

            Gygax et al. had simulationist sensibilities, and they didn’t feel any urge not to model this particular aspect of reality — probably because they had in mind a world that was kinda like our own medieval period, complete with its gender dynamics, but with orcs and dragons and wizards. That might not be what I’d do if I was trying to write a retroclone today, but I’m not gonna call them sexists for it.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Doesn’t magic being available change the world at least as much as women and men being capable of equal strenghth?

          • beleester says: