OT106: Alexios I Commentos

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

1. I had originally asked teams in the Adversarial Collaboration Contest to be done by today. I would like each of the fifteen teams who originally signed up to check in (as a reply to the first comment on this thread) and tell me whether you’re done, whether you need more time, or whether you’ve given up. If done, please send your finished product to scott[at]shireroth[dot]org.

2. I’m going to write some posts soon that reference Conflict vs. Mistake, but I’m not entirely happy with it as some people said they thought it was wrong in important ways. I tried talking to those people and didn’t get a good feel for what they disliked, especially whether they rejected the idea that there was a dichotomy at all or just thought my post misrepresented one side of it. I would be interested in having someone who does think there is a dichotomy but thinks I misrepresented it rewrite the post, changing it as little as possible except to correct what they thought the misrepresentation was. If anyone does a good enough job of this I’ll post it on here as a new post and link the original to it.

3. Comments of the week are by bbeck, a drug patent lawyer who explains how a melatonin patent could incentivize supplement companies to sell the wrong dose, and how drug dosing patents work more generally.

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1,105 Responses to OT106: Alexios I Commentos

  1. spencer says:

    Conflict vs mistake: I guess it’s too late to change it, but my biggest qualm with the theory is with the words themselves. I find the core dichotomy useful, but when I’ve tried to explain it to others the terms tend to get in the way.

    For one, both ‘conflict’ and ‘mistake’ have negative connotations. No one wants to be characterized as having an innately conflict-oriented worldview, nor as being mistaken/seeing mistakes in others. I find the terms hard to relate to.

    Second, there’s an asymmetry in how they apply. ‘Conflict’ refers to one’s own point of view, whereas it is one’s opponent who is making the mistake.

  2. johan_larson says:

    Has the study of foreign languages in high school gotten less popular than it was a generation ago? I’ve been looking through the website of the school I went to, and the language offerings look a bit thin. My school now offers four years of French, three of German, and one of Spanish. I’m sure Latin was offered back in my day, and I think more Spanish was available, too. And there are no language offerings at all from outside Europe.

    Dean Dad has a report of declining interest in language study in institutions he is familiar with, namely community colleges.

    At the three community colleges at which I’ve worked, I’ve seen the same trend in language departments. Spanish dominates the field, and American Sign Language is picking up strength. Every other language is niche, declining, or dead.

    It wasn’t always so. There was a time in my memory when French was vital. At many colleges, undergraduate German was, too. Now, we can’t run enough sections to justify a hire. (If you follow Rebecca Schuman’s darkly comic series about job postings in German, it’ll become clear quickly that this isn’t just a quirk of a few places.). At various points, Japanese, Arabic, Portuguese, Russian, Italian, and even Latin have had flashes of interest, but none has lasted. The jury is still out on Chinese; we haven’t been able to get steady instructors to really find out one way or the other.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Language offering declines in HS probably has more to do with funding than anything else. Although, if there is a lack of an offered AP test, I think it would tend to eliminate the offering.

      Both my children took foreign languages in HS and then AP tests for college credit. French for one, Spanish the other.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I don’t know anyone who has become able to speak or read a language other than Latin via school courses in the subject. Perhaps the uselessness of the courses has actually caught up to them. (Took several years of Spanish in HS; I think all I got from it is the phrase “escuchen y repitan”)

      • dodrian says:

        My 3 years of HS Spanish were enough that I could communicate basically when I moved to a Spanish-speaking country. After 3 months in the country (and some private tuition) I would have rated my Spanish as ‘good’, and after 9 months I considered myself fluent.

        My school was private though, and I was put on an advanced track, those things probably made the difference, a few of my peers had similar experiences to me with the German and French offered by the school, but my wife can’t speak a word of German despite her 3 years in public high school.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          If you take enough HS foreign language to pass the top level AP exam, you will be able to at least read and write in the language. Idiomatic and casual writing may be less understandable. Spoken language will probably be more difficult, as it is always more casual than written.

          Whether you retain any of this is, well that’s different. But I haven’t retained my Calculus, and I was a Math major, and for roughly the same reason that my French is in such shambles…

          • dodrian says:

            Retention is certainly an issue – though I managed to keep enough that it was still useful in the four years between my last Spanish class and my needing to use it. At some point living abroad it felt like I ‘internalized’ Spanish, and while I’ve forgotten vocabulary and some of the more esoteric grammatical constructs, I ‘feel’ like I’m still fluent, even six years out of practice.

            It was certainly a worthwhile course for me, though the most obvious benefit was only realized because I had the opportunity to live abroad and really practice it. That said, I hated studying it during High School, as I was better at pretty much every other subject but even then I recognized my English was getting better for understanding a bit of a foreign language, and that was at least a small benefit, if only for the joy of learning about how the process of language worked.

      • sfoil says:

        I think this is the most likely explanation for the decline in high school studies; my experience is the same, right down to the comparative effectiveness of Latin instruction. That might be skewed by the lack of real-world conversations occurring in Latin, on the other hand after three or four years above-average students had the ability to read real, non-instructive texts. Meanwhile, practically no one achieved anything worthwhile in the other classes and the language AP tests were mostly just taken by native speakers.

        I don’t know about a possible decline in post-secondary instruction, also mentioned in johan’s post. Maybe standards have fallen in other fields (e.g. philosophy students no longer required to read original texts in German, so less demand for German language instruction), maybe English has become steadily more dominant, maybe translations have gotten better and more widespread, maybe high levels of immigration have made teaching language of lower value by increasing the supply of bilingual individuals for any given language.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Language learning classes are probably the single most pointless mandatory classes. If a kid isn’t motivated to learn the material, they simply aren’t going to, even if they get an A in the class.

        • Matt M says:

          Indeed. I took two years of German in HS, got an A in both classes, and retained virtually nothing. Although that’s partially due to the fact that the teacher was both mostly blind and mostly deaf, making it trivially easy to cheat on everything.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          If a kid isn’t motivated to learn the material, they simply aren’t going to, even if they get an A in the class.

          This seems like a charge we could level at any mandatory course. Is algebra pointless? US history? Chemistry? I see some value in all of them beyond winning trivia events and having something fun to talk about at parties.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I think it’s worse with language learning. If you aren’t interested in chemistry, you still have to engage with it mentally to some extent, which makes it more likely to stick in your head longer, especially if you want an A. Language learning classes are just rote memorization, which you will promptly forget when the class is over.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            It might, however, be necessary to engage with people who speak a foreign language. Or you might have reason to think you might have to. I suspect that motivated a great deal of the participation in Spanish class in my high school, for example.

            It might not be necessary in general, but then in general in the US, Spanish is probably a good language to learn. Also in general, it might be useful to learn any language, simply to get accustomed to the act of learning one, in case you have to.

            To be fair, I can see this being less the case in places that do speak English or Mandarin. You stand a good chance of being able to get by with one of those two for your entire life.

          • johan_larson says:

            I suspect the fact that most of us are English speakers influences our views of this. We already speak the de facto world language, the one that people everywhere are trying to learn. And they try hard. In Finland, they started teaching us English in grade 3, and I think it continued all through school.

            In Canada, by contrast, they didn’t bother starting foreign language instruction (in French) until grade 6, and it is only mandatory for four years. And I have to tell you, the French-language instruction isn’t even a little bit ambitious. There is typically no foreign language requirement to get into university, or to graduate from it.

          • Wrong Species says:


            If these classes had a lasting impact on someone’s ability to learn a language, I would agree with you. Every American would probably be better off to some extent if they knew Spanish. My point is that spending three hours a week on it with nothing to show after two years is a waste of resources and that’s what’s happening.

          • albatross11 says:

            My kids had Spanish every single year of grade school/middle school. They didn’t retain enough to be able to have a minimal conversation beyond “Buenos dias” or “¿Como estás?” This is despite the fact that I’m fluent in Spanish, try practicing Spanish with them, occasionally take them to Mass in Spanish, routinely listen to the radio or watch TV in Spanish, etc.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            If these classes had a lasting impact on someone’s ability to learn a language, I would agree with you. Every American would probably be better off to some extent if they knew Spanish. My point is that spending three hours a week on it with nothing to show after two years is a waste of resources and that’s what’s happening.

            If this was all there was to it, I’d agree with you. However, I don’t see this as the only point you’re making. (Maybe it is and I’m misreading you.)

            My response to the above is: well, what’s the distinction between foreign language and any other class where students spend 2.5-5 hours a week and forget it all within a few years? I doubt I have to convince you that this also happens with pre-calc, world history, American literature, and chemistry. If so, does that mean we should do away with the entire curriculum outside of straight-up trade skills (mechanics, typing, college prep, et al.)? Or do we teach them anyway, and hope that some of it takes, even though a lot of it won’t? Or something in between?

      • Thomas Jørgensen says:

        Well, this posting is proof I learned English.
        Und etwas Deutch.
        The French, however, did not stick at all.

        • ana53294 says:

          Do you believe you learnt English as a result of public schooling, though?

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            I know I did. Not all of my english, the full reach of my vocabulary is the result of extensive reading, but certainly I would not have been able to do that absent formal instruction. Comparing with the german – Which was not assisted by media saturation – then the main difference in attained proficiency is years of instruction and how much I have used it since.

            German is very handy for certain technical subjects, and of course, German language literature, but.. Well, largest recent exposure was binging “Dark” on netflix.

    • BBA says:

      A few years ago I read SUNY Albany was discontinuing its French program. Because it’s not as if there’s a major French-speaking city like Montreal just a few hours’ drive from Albany, amirite?

      • John Schilling says:

        I grew up near Albany. Approximately zero percent of social and/or economic interaction was with the population of Montreal, and of that ~0% approximately all of it was with Québécois who spoke fluent English. The purpose of learning French in high school or college was a mix of signalling, intellectual curiosity, and rationalizing a vacation to either Montreal or Paris as “educational”, and not securing a comparative advantage through superior access to opportunities in Montreal.

      • dndnrsn says:

        If someone really wanted to learn French, why would they do it in Albany instead of going to UQAM?

    • theredsheep says:

      People in community colleges may have somewhat different priorities from the general population; if you’re there to get a vocational certificate of some sort, you can probably use Spanish at your later job (whether it’s in welding or massage therapy or cookery), and maybe ASL, but you’re unlikely to take those skills overseas to places where they speak Arabic or Russian.

      • Matt M says:

        I’d also say that if you live in a place or work in a job where you need Spanish, you probably had opportunity and/or need to learn it in a time and place other than high school.

  3. Doctor Mist says:

    I’ve just stumbled across the notion that there was a period of a few million years when life was possible in the very early universe (popularization here).

    Between 10 and 17 million years after the Big Bang, the universe had cooled enough that in principle there could have been planets and water, even though there were not yet stars — the entire universe was in the Goldilocks zone by virtue of the cosmic background radiation, then radiating at something like room temperature rather than 3 degrees Kelvin.

    It was not a propitious time for life to evolve, as matter was almost entirely hydrogen and helium — most of the heavier elements were produced by supernovas much later — but the Big Bang likely produced minute amounts of heavier elements like oxygen and carbon. And seven million years is surely not enough time for anything very advanced to evolve, so we’re not talking about Elder Races here, and *really* not talking about anything we could prove one way or another.

    Still, I find something poetic and poignant about the idea.

  4. johan_larson says:

    I am not often grateful for having gone to high school in the 80s, but at least I wasn’t sentenced to 40 hours of community service like the kids these days.

    • ana53294 says:

      I wish it were just 40 hours. It’s 40 h + homework. Classes have become so rowdy and ineffective, that even 40 h a week is not enough to teach kids basic stuff to a reasonable standard.

      Spanish parents have gone on a homework strike. In France, after their homework strike, Hollande banned homework.

      Edit: which is to say, I agree with you. My main reason to think about homeschooling my future kids, is that I think making kids spend that much time in a closed jail with people they don’t choose to be friends with is cruel. I think that most topics should be teachable with a 10 am to 1 pm schedule, at least to age 14.

      • johan_larson says:

        Perhaps I wasn’t making myself clear. The “40 hours” I was writing about is a requirement of 40 hours of volunteering in various community organizations. Except it’s mandatory, so it’s not really volunteering. We didn’t have any of that in my day.

        • Aapje says:

          The Christian-Democrats tried to make it mandatory in my country, but they had to compromise to make it voluntary, where doing it supposedly counts extra for hiring decisions for government jobs.

          • johan_larson says:

            I’d be OK with giving students academic credit for it. Having a course that deals with the role of volunteer and community organizations in our society seems reasonable. And if the course were to have a hands-on component that consisted of working with/for such organizations, that would be fine, too. I just object to making it mandatory.

        • ana53294 says:

          Ah, sorry I misunderstood. It just didn’t occur to me that anybody would think that it’s a good idea to force kids to do actual community service, on top of everything else they are supposed to do. Aren’t a lot of them too young to be allowed to do unsupervised community service?

          Some universities have that – Deusto University in Spain is a Jesuit University that forces student to do the 40 hours of community service. But it’s a private University; public Universities or schools shouldn’t force people into sharing their values.

          Also – it is my understanding that a lot of American Universities value volunteering for admittance purposes. If every person who has graduated has done 40 h of volunteer service, that would mean that those who want extra points would have to do 80. This just raises the bar for everybody.

          • johan_larson says:

            I’d be tempted to pervert the requirement. What’s the most obnoxious organization I could volunteer with, and still get credit for having done so?

          • albatross11 says:

            Public schools where I live have a mandatory volunteering requirement for a certain number of hours. I haven’t seen a lot of people opposing it, though for the record, it seems like a kinda dumb idea to me.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It’s a tax on those with little free time, so people who have time to hang around school board meetings love it.

        • Matt M says:

          This existed in my high school back in 2003. Fortunately my parents agreed with me that it was BS, and happily signed the note stating that I had completed the requirement, even though I didn’t.

          If the experience at my high school was any indication, up to 50% of students are probably finding out a way to fake this without actually doing much of anything.

      • WashedOut says:

        I think making kids spend that much time in a closed jail with people they don’t choose to be friends with is cruel.

        Bit over the top don’t you think?

        Kids in school get to be around heaps of different people, some of whom they choose to be friends with and most of whom they either choose not to, or simply ignore. I would argue that this combination of positive and negative socialization is a net benefit, inasmuch as it is the antidote to a sheltered upbringing.

        I agree with your other views w.r.t. homeschooling though.

        • ana53294 says:

          I agree that kids have to learn to interact and manouevre with unpleasant kids. But one of the things you learn as an adult, is that you only have to do this up to a point.

          So, if your boss is sarcastic and unpleasant but fair and the pay is good, and your colleagues are nice people, you deal with it. Looking for another job is probably not worth it, because who can guarantee that your future colleagues and boss won’t be worse? But if your boss regularly throws stuff at you, and your colleagues force you to pay for their meals and regularly ruin your personal belongings (a typical experience for a child that is bullied), you quit.

          Most kids don’t have that many options w.r.t. the school where they go to as an adult has about their workplace. That is fair enough, because they don’t have the ability to do the work necessary to change jobs. But knowing that, and still forcing them to spend so much idle time together, when they form cliques and hierarchies similar to the ones in jails, is only necessary insofar parents need free childcare.

          Schooling is compulsory in Spain. If there was an option where they would teach us 10-1, and had free childcare/other activities 9-10 and 1-5, my mother would have been able to send me to school just for school. In such a limited time, there would be less chances for kids to be bullied or ostracized, because they would be studying most of the time, with small breaks between classes. So I wasn’t complaining about the fact that kids are forced to interact with other unpleasant kids, but about the length and intensity of that interaction, and the lack of choice. Adults don’t have to deal with this shit! Which is why I don’t understand people who are nostalgic for their childhoods. My childhood wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t the most pleasant time of my life. That was college.

          Edit: homeschooling is alegal in Spain, as our Constitution allows choice of education, but there are national laws that make schooling compulsory. So it usually just ends to the discretion of the prosecutor.

        • John Schilling says:

          Kids in school get to be around heaps of different people, some of whom they choose to be friends with

          I was around a lot of people in school, some of whom I chose to be friends with. But those people mostly didn’t choose to be friends with me. So what good was that?

          and most of whom they either choose not to, or simply ignore.

          You know what really helps when you’re trying to ignore people? Not having to be in the same building or the same room as them six hours a day.

          If you’re serious about this, I wonder if I can persuade you to at least be consistently serious. We can save a lot of money by firing, say, every single schoolteacher everywhere. Keep the security guards, the school nurses, and the librarians. The students will be around stacks of books, some of which they can chose to read, most of which they will simply ignore. They’ll learn what they need to know, right?

          Otherwise, don’t you dare imagine you are providing a “net benefit” with your “combination of positive and negative socialization”, and do understand how much I hate and despise all the people like you who helped guarantee so very much negative socialization for my childhood while not lifting a finger to arrange any of the positive sort.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m pretty sure I would have learned more (and I would probably have enjoyed it a lot more) if my whole grade/middle school experience had been free access to a library plus adult tutors for when I wanted to learn algebra or physics or something, but couldn’t find anyone who would teach it to me.

            My experience in grade/middle school (not unlike John’s) led me toward developing a pretty toxic worldview. I basically equated value as a human with intelligence, and mentally mapped most of my classmates as either dumb harmless animals or dumb dangerous animals. It took me many years to recover from that and realize it was a fucked-up way to look at the world.

            OTOH, I did much better in high school. I’d like to say this was because I developed much better social skills, but actually, I joined the football team, started lifting weights regularly, and got big and strong enough that picking on me stopped being an appealing prospect. I also met some other kids who were smart and had similar interests to mine, so I wasn’t feeling like the one sentient human on a planetfull of zombies or something.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            … a fucked-up way to look at the world …

            It’s a very useful, practical, and survival oriented way to frame the world, especially for tween-age auto-didact.

            I leave my own copy of that frame constantly running still. I’ve not replaced it, I just developed other frames to run in parallel with it.

          • albatross11 says:

            Labeling your fellow humans as subhuman for not being as smart as you seems to me to be almost guaranteed to lead you to do morally horrible things. It scares me, sometimes, to look at the moral trajectory I was on. Though when I was away from my fellow inmates at the local public school, I wasn’t especially concerned with them–it’s not like I wanted them sent to camps or something, I just really wanted to never see them again.

            And IMO our society has a hell of a lot of thinking that’s at least first-cousins with this. Basically the whole sneering at the red-state nobodies in flyover country, their bitter clinging to guns and racism, their deplorable political views–is a symptom. There’s an overtone there of “whatever happens to these dumb shitty people is fine, as long as the ones we care about[1] are okay.”
            And we’ve spent many years now with the smart people at the top of our society finding ways to screw the dumb ones at the bottom over, by intent or omission.

            [1] Many, though not all, of the Vox crowd’s mascots are also not very smart or educated or intellectual. That usually doesn’t matter, but when it does, that same crowd has generally been fine with harsh policing and supermax prisons and all the other goodies to deal with scary nearby underclass (as opposed to faraway underclass we sneer at).

          • Mark Atwood says:

            In my defense, they defected first.

            And now it’s not the only frame I run.

            And I’ve refined the working definitions of “smart”, “dumb”, and “dangerous”, such that smug cosmopolitan Blues fail, and more and more “flyover” Reds pass.

    • ana53294 says:

      Countries that had the military draft in the past did institute mandatory community service for those that refused to serve in the military because they were conscientious objectors. I know Spain and Germany went through that. At first, in Spain, the people who were conscientious objectors went to jail; this meant that very few people felt strongly enough about it to go to jail. Then there was a movement where so many people refused to be drafted that they realized that they couldn’t just send everybody to jail, but they had to come up with a way that people couldn’t just declare themselves conscientious objectors to avoid the military draft.

      So they put the compulsory community service. People served in the Red Cross and a lot of other charities. The service was a bit longer than the army, but you could live at home and receive a meager stipend, similar to that of soldiers. Spain got rid of the draft a long time ago, and Germany did so recently.

      This seems much worse than the 40 h for graduation, and I heard that some people in Germany supported the community service draft and didn’t want it abolished.

  5. IrishDude says:

    Since Putin mentioned Browder at the press conference I looked him up. He pushed for sanctions against Russian individuals involved in the murder of tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky, who investigated a $230 million dollar fraud committed by Russian tax officials. The Magnitsky Act was passed and sanctioned 18 Russian officials, banning them from entry into the U.S. and preventing them from using U.S. banks.

    I’m curious if anyone has insight into how those 18 Russians were identified. Did a Senate committee hold a sort of trial in absentia with witnesses and evidence presented? Did CIA do an investigation and give lawmakers a list of names? Something else?

    • MrApophenia says:

      They weren’t sanctioned for personal criminal involvement with Magnitsky’s death, they were sanctioned for being part of the cabal of oligarchs that actually runs Russia. The basic idea of the Magnitsky Act is that human rights sanctions against the Russian state do nothing, because the rich dudes who actually set policy don’t care about those sanctions. Hitting their own finances directly gets their attention.

      This seems to have been the case, because a huge amount of Russia’s foreign policy ever since then has been focused on trying to get us to life the Magnitsky Act sanctions. They have also leveled some reverse sanctions against America, including a ban on Americans adopting Russian children.

      And just to show all this stuff is tied together, that’s also was what the meeting at Trump Tower during the election was about. Remember the stuff about how they just wanted to talk about adoption policy? “Adoption policy” means “if you lift the Magnitsky Act sanctions, we’ll lift that adoption ban.”

      • IrishDude says:

        They weren’t sanctioned for personal criminal involvement with Magnitsky’s death, they were sanctioned for being part of the cabal of oligarchs that actually runs Russia.

        I thought it would be weird to for the U.S. to use Magnitsky’s death to sanction Russian officials completely unrelated to that incident, and so I researched a bit more and found this article:

        “Sixteen people were put on the U.S. list “because of their association with the persecution and ultimate death of Sergei Magnitsky,” a senior State department official said on Friday. The other two people on the list are linked to two other deaths.”

        The article also seems to indicate where some of the names came from, citing “Magnitsky’s supporters” as a source and Senator Benjamin Cardin as another source. I’d be interested to know a bit more about how the final list was created though, as wikipedia indicates the Act is a new tool for holding foreigners accountable for human rights abuses, but also raises questions for me about how to hold accountable those identifying the people to be sanctioned if they should make a mistake in who’s included on the list.

        Some of the intrigue around this act is also fascinating, as you allude to with the Trump Tower meeting, and the different obfuscations used to conduct international diplomacy. Adoption policy cover stories, a Russian pop-star using his publicist to reach out to Trump Jr. to set up the meeting, etc.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I’m also extremely curious how Mueller’s team identified the 12 specific GRU officials to indict for the DNC/Podesta email breeches last week. These sorts of things are notoriously hard to attribute to specific actors, and they did this without examining the DNC servers or Podesta’s laptop or anything.

          My suspicion is that they don’t have a case, and are bluffing, because they’re never going to be able to extradite these people from Russia to stand trial. It’s a political stunt. Mueller will be able to say “see, my investigation wasn’t worthless! I found the culprits! Oh, if only we could get them in court so I could put those sorry sons of bitches behind bars, but alas!” without ever having to actually prove a case. I would find it hilarious to highest degree if Putin called their bluff and sent one or two of the GRU officials to the US to surrender themselves to US authorities to stand trial. Let’s have discovery and see what you’ve got. What’s the maximum sentence any of them would get even if convicted? A few years in Club Fed? Do that standing on your head, and Putin kicks your family a few million as compensation.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            and they did this without examining the DNC servers or Podesta’s laptop or anything.

            My understanding is that this is untrue.

            First off, CrowdStrike, the company the DNC brought in to initially investigate and remediate the hack, actually shared images of the DNC servers with the FBI.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Okay, that’s better than I thought. I wonder what that means for chain for evidence, though.

            And I’ve read the entire 29 page indictment, and I would still like to know how they tied the online activity to these specific, named GRU officers.

          • Iain says:

            I’m sure the Russians would also very much like to know how Mueller knows. Indeed, just revealing the information in the indictment is already a significant cost: the Russians might not know precisely how US intelligence agencies gained visibility into their activities, but they at least know that it happened, and what sorts of information the US could glean. It looks pretty clear that some of this information is from forensic analysis of the DNC servers, some of it is from Google giving access to search histories, and some of it involved hacking into the communications of the GRU agents involved. In the future, Russian agents are going to be a lot more careful with their search engine usage, and that’s going to make things harder.

            In any case, if you look at the level of detail, there’s no way this is made up. If Mueller says “these twelve agents were involved”, and Putin can say “no, we have clear records showing that those agents were all working on other things at the time, and we’re calling your bluff” then Mueller’s case collapses entirely, and his investigation is almost certainly over. Barring banana-pants conspiracy theories, Mueller has the goods.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            It doesn’t take banana pants conspiracies. When indicting the companies for meddling in the election by buying FaceBook ads and such, he indicted a company that didn’t exist. When another company showed up to call Mueller’s bluff, his team started scrambling for delays and to exempt them from discovery.

            He already bluffed once and got called on it. I wouldn’t put it past him to do it again.

          • dick says:

            I would still like to know how they tied the online activity to these specific, named GRU officers.

            I wondered the same thing; it seems like we traced the hacking back to specific groups within the GRU and then just named people known to be leading or involved with those groups. Do you believe the gov’t is lying about having solid evidence tying the hacks to Russian intelligence, or just that we got the wrong names and should’ve indicted different GRU agents? The former seems wildly implausible and unsupported; the latter seems plausible, but I don’t know of any evidence for it and I don’t know that it would matter much if true.

          • Iain says:

            @Conrad Honcho:
            From your Reason link:

            As to the claim that Concord didn’t exist during the last U.S. presidential election: There are myriad old references to Concord Catering in Russian media, and press releases about Concord events and openings in Russia say that it was founded in 1996. It also still seems to be operational today. It’s unclear if or when Concord Catering began doing any business in the United States.

            Given that the indictment correctly identifies Concord as a Russian agency (Page 6: “Defendants CONCORD MANAGEMENT AND CONSULTING LLC and CONCORD CATERING are related Russian entities with various Russian government contracts”) I don’t see what the mistake is supposed to be. This just looks like blustering from the defense attorney.

            The Reason article seems carefully worded to be technically accurate while giving the inaccurate impression that the lawyer’s claims are true and Mueller somehow screwed up.

          • dick says:

            It doesn’t take banana pants conspiracies. When indicting the companies for meddling in the election by buying FaceBook ads and such, he indicted a company that didn’t exist. When another company showed up to call Mueller’s bluff, his team started scrambling for delays and to exempt them from discovery.

            This is a wildly inaccurate description of the contents of the article you linked to. Like, very close to “you can safely ignore future posts from this guy” inaccurate. The indictment was against the “Internet Research Agency” troll farm and its owner, and is very much not a bluff. And per your link, “As to the claim that Concord didn’t exist during the last U.S. presidential election: There are myriad old references to Concord Catering in Russian media, and press releases about Concord events and openings in Russia say that it was founded in 1996. It also still seems to be operational today.”

            Please say you just skimmed this too fast or misremembered it, and are not intentionally making shit up and hoping no one bothers to click?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I don’t think the government has really shown anything, yet. An indictment is not a conviction. After all, you can indict a ham sandwich.

            If the evidence as stated in the indictment is true, it still doesn’t connect to GRU. They have presented evidence that Russians were doing this, but that’s not the same thing as it being GRU as opposed to Russian business interests or hackers doing it for the lulz. There are lots of people who do not like America, American foreign policy, and who do not like the Clintons.*

            There isn’t anything in the indictment that says “and we know this was GRU and not just the Russian equivalent of the kid who hacked Sarah Palin’s email account because reasons.” And certainly nothing that identifies the actual agents.

            And of course, all of this requires taking assertions from the intelligence community in general and Mueller specifically at face value, which seems like a terrible idea given their histories. The IC lied (not “were wrong” or “misspoke.” Lied.) about WMDs in Iraq. They lied about the Gulf of Tonkin incident that started the Vietnam war. These people have a long history of intentionally lying about wrongdoing by nations they really want wars with. TPTB have been itching for a casus belli against Russia for a long time.

            Then you’ve got Mueller’s own incompetence, like in the anthrax case where he got fixated like a dog with a bone on “it must have been this one guy!” and ignored everything else. So he starts with the assumption, “it must have been Putin!” and any other explanation does not enter his brain.

            So, the indictment lays out the case that it was Russians, but doesn’t say anything about how it’s tied to GRU, and nothing at all about those specific individuals. And the people making the indictment have a history that puts them somewhere between “bald-faced liars” and a cross between inspectors Clouseau and Javert: as incompetent as they are dogged.

            * The other blind spot in the media and the left with regards to the hacking is that it must be done to help Trump, and with Trump’s knowing collaboration. No. The Clintons have lots of enemies. Lots of people all over the world hate them for entirely justifiable reasons. People they’ve bombed, nations they’ve wrecked, corrupt governments they’ve propped up. It’s far more likely that whoever did this was against Clinton than that they were for Trump. Even Wikileaks. Clinton wanted Assange hit with a drone strike. Maybe Assange would prefer her not be in power, and would act the same regardless of who her political opponent was?


            Please say you just skimmed this too fast or misremembered it, and are not intentionally making shit up and hoping no one bothers to click?

            I should have said “indicted a company that the lawyers say didn’t exist.” We’ll see how it turns out, but I do not think Mueller ever expected anyone to show up in court to stand trial.

            Similarly with the GRU agents, if they actually wanted to get these guys in court and convict them, why have the press conference to announce the indictments? Why not seal the indictments, and then try to get them into a jurisdiction where they can be arrested?

          • dick says:

            “I should have said “indicted a company that the lawyers say didn’t exist.”

            It wasn’t a minor error; your whole point in bringing it up was to argue that Mueller has a history of bluff indictments, and this was the opposite. The indictment was against a very real organization which approximately everyone agrees really did engage in a lengthy campaign of misinformation.

            Anyway, I’m not here to defend Mueller, this is not about him. Here’s a high-level overview from late 2016 that explains exactly what happened and blames the Russian intelligence services: https://www.us-cert.gov/sites/default/files/publications/JAR_16-20296A_GRIZZLY%20STEPPE-2016-1229.pdf That’s from well before Trump took office, and it was co-signed by the NCCIC, DHS, and FBI. As far as I know, none of that has been disputed by anyone since.

            So, what are we to make of this? Here are the theories as I understand them:

            1) Russian intelligence agencies really did hack the DNC, and the FBI found evidence of that fairly quickly, and everything since then has been hashing out the details.

            2) Someone else hacked the DNC, and some unnamed high-ranking people in Obama’s FBI and DHS and other agencies colluded to pin those attacks on the Russian intelligence services for one reason or another, and that conspiracy has been a complete success despite a lengthy investigation by a Republican special prosecutor with essentially unlimited resources and the full cooperation of those agencies, which are now led by Trump appointees who have enormous incentive to reveal any Obama-ere wrongdoing.

            My position is that the first one is probably correct. Nothing about it seems hard to believe and I’ve seen no evidence against it. Theory 2 is the banana-pants conspiracy Iain mentioned. If that is not your position, please tell me what theory 3 is.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            My theory is that someone used an unsophisticated spearphishing attack on the DNC/Podesta email accounts/servers and either was Russian, or used a tool like UMBRAGE to make it look Russian. Whether it was or not is immaterial, as pinning it on Putin is right in line with the goals and prejudices of the intelligence apparatus. Mueller is certainly not going to question that and has a history of railroading suspects, facts or truth be damned. Told to get the Russians, he will get the Russians. Unable to find the culprits, but needing to show something for all this to save face for his investigation, he indicts 12 guys from GRU who will never see the inside of a courtroom much less a prison cell.

            Was is Russians? Probably. (I’ll kick this up to 50% now knowing the FBI got the disk images from the servers.)

            Was it GRU? Maybe. (Still 20% as it all seems really sloppy and amateurish)

            Was it these 12 specific GRU officers? How can they possibly know?

            Can Mueller prove this in court? Almost certainly not.

            So why indict? It’s political theater. He’s bluffing.

          • Iain says:

            Was is Russians? Probably. (I’ll kick this up to 50% now knowing the FBI got the disk images from the servers.)

            Was it GRU? Maybe. (Still 20% as it all seems really sloppy and amateurish)

            Was it these 12 specific GRU officers? How can they possibly know?

            Can Mueller prove this in court? Almost certainly not.

            So why indict? It’s political theater. He’s bluffing.

            This isn’t as impossible as you think. We have public information that pretty clearly ties Russia to the Podesta attack. (I’ve previously posted about it: see here, for example.)

            Looking at the details contained in the indictment, it seems clear that Mueller also gained access to at least some of the internal communications of this group. (See, for example, point 25: “The Conspirators referred to this computer as a ‘middle server’.”) I don’t know how he did this, and there are very good reasons for keeping the exact mechanism secret, but this does not seem implausible. This is the sort of thing that the NSA exists for.

            In addition to that, Mueller clearly has access to the search engine history of several of the agents. Again, we’re probably never going to find out how he got it — but it’s a very realistic achievement. This is basically what the NSA is for.

            Now, I do agree that this is political theatre, but not for the same reasons. There’s no way that Russia is going to extradite its own intelligence officers, and Mueller knows it perfectly well. The purpose of the indictment is simply to say: my investigation is not over. Real crimes have been committed, and there are many loose ends yet to be pulled on. Look, for example, at section 43A:

            On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, received a request for stolen documents from a candidate for the U.S. Congress. The Conspirators responded using the Guccifer 2.0 persona and sent the candidate stolen documents related to the candidate’s opponent.

            Trump has been trying very hard to make the case that Mueller’s investigation is winding down, and there is nothing left to discover. Little nuggets like that are Mueller’s way of refuting that claim.

            In the meantime, while you may not have any way of personally verifying the accuracy of the indictment, there are people out there who do. The depth of Mueller’s knowledge can’t be comforting to them.

          • dick says:

            My theory is that someone used an unsophisticated spearphishing attack on the DNC/Podesta email accounts/servers and either was Russian, or used a tool like UMBRAGE to make it look Russian. Whether it was or not is immaterial, as pinning it on Putin is right in line with the goals and prejudices of the intelligence apparatus…

            Mueller-bashing aside, this is identical to the theory 2 I described, correct? Your theory asserts, on circumstantial evidence, the existence of a criminal conspiracy within the US intelligence community who is bent on “pinning it on Putin”, yes? And you think the probability of this is 80%? Do I have this right?

            I really should just let this thread go, but since we’ve come this far, why does it follow that Mueller must be bluffing and hoping to avoid court? Wouldn’t his contacts in the Illuminati be able to gin up enough fake evidence to fool a jury?

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t know how he did this, and there are very good reasons for keeping the exact mechanism secret, but this does not seem implausible. This is the sort of thing that the NSA exists for.

            So, to prove that Russian intelligence agents perpetrated a great evil upon the USA by spying on private communications, our heroic and virtuous intelligence agents have “somehow obtained” private communications of the Russians?

          • MrApophenia says:

            In terms of how they identified the specific GRU officials, it seems likely to be tied to the information provided to the US by Dutch intelligence, which we found out about back in January:


            And the original Dutch reporting (in English):


            The short version is that Dutch hackers had thoroughly infiltrated the specific operation that performed the DNC hack, and were not only monitoring their internet traffic while they did it, they had access to the security camera in the front lobby of their building and were watching specific Russian intelligence officials come and go every day, and they gave all of this to the US.

          • Dan L says:

            So, to prove that Russian intelligence agents perpetrated a great evil upon the USA by spying on private communications, our heroic and virtuous intelligence agents have “somehow obtained” private communications of the Russians?

            Less of this, please.

          • albatross11 says:


            When CIA operations come out in public/the press, they often look pretty sloppy and amateurish. I suspect the same is true for other countries’ intelligence agencies, for the same reasons. Give the DMV or the local school board a black budget and lots of secrecy that allows them to bury their embarrassments and mistakes, and the most likely outcome is *not* that they become more functional and competent or less wasteful.

          • Matt M says:

            Less of this, please.

            Less of what?

            Pointing out that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Suggesting that maybe if our “proof” of Russia’s guilt is that the Dutch were spying on them and told us, that maybe we shouldn’t be that outraged at their spying on us?

            I’m literally mystified here.

          • albatross11 says:

            There are a lot of things NSA does that are questionable; spying on/hacking into the computers of foreign intelligence agents who have been running an intelligence operation on the US is not one of those things–it’s exactly what you’d want the NSA to be doing.

          • Matt M says:

            it’s exactly what you’d want the NSA to be doing.


            But isn’t that also exactly what Russians would want their own intelligence agencies to be doing as well?

            You don’t see the problem of denouncing Putin for spying on us, when our proof of such spying was obtained by us spying on him?

          • dick says:

            You don’t see the problem of denouncing Putin for spying on us, when our proof of such spying was obtained by us spying on him?

            This would be a real zinger, if the person you were responding to had denounced Putin for spying on us. Or if anyone at all had. As it stands, I’m with Dan L.

          • albatross11 says:

            The Russians ran an operation to spy on the Democratic party, which is day-ending-in-Y stuff. But then they leaked that information and ran an online propaganda campaign in the US to try to influence (probably mainly to throw sand into the gears of) the election. That’s worth pushing back on, because we would like foreign countries to be more reluctant to do that sort of thing in the future. That is true, even though we do both of those things to other countries from time to time.

            However, the much bigger issue in this case is that there were people involved in the Trump campaign who were apparently interacting with Russian agents, and may have somehow been made part of that Russian intelligence operation against us. Russia spying on us is 100% normal (though obviously if we catch someone spying on us for Russia, we’re going to deport them or send them to jail–same as everyone else). American politicians getting caught up in the works unintentionally, that’s interesting because we’d like to help them avoid that in the future, since we’d like foreign countries to have less influence over our politics. American politicians / political operatives knowingly taking part in foreign governments’ intelligence operations against the US is a serious matter. We want to push back on *that* sort of thing really hard, perhaps with some jail time, because we *really* don’t want high ranking political figures (elected or appointed) who are beholden to / working for foreign governments.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Right. The problem isn’t that they spied, it’s that they tried to change the result of an election.

            And honestly, even if that was all it was, we probably wouldn’t have much ground to get too indignant – America really does do shit like that all the time too, fair enough. They are our opponent, that’s the game. Nations gonna nation.

            (I mean, it is still an attack, putting the perpetrators firmly in the ‘enemy’ category. But once everyone agrees that we are each other’s enemies, we are going to do spy shit to each other, sure.)

            The real question is why the current President seems so keen to play for the other side in the game, and whether he actually assisted them in their espionage.

            Russia engaging in espionage against us is business as usual. An American citizen – let alone President – helping them do it, is something else entirely.

            It’s also kind of weird how many conservatives are suddenly so defensive of our enemy’s moral right to attack us. Or the way they keep insisting there’s no reason to think Russia attacked us until so much evidence piles up that this becomes incontrovertible, then flip to “Well maybe they did attack us, but so what! That’s fine!”

            I mean, it’s just odd.

          • Matt M says:

            That’s worth pushing back on, because we would like foreign countries to be more reluctant to do that sort of thing in the future. That is true, even though we do both of those things to other countries from time to time.

            This is your personal opinion and I don’t think I agree.

            We want to push back on *that* sort of thing really hard, perhaps with some jail time, because we *really* don’t want high ranking political figures (elected or appointed) who are beholden to / working for foreign governments.

            I’m slightly more inclined to agree with this – but even still I don’t think it’s as cut and dry as you make it sound. The older and more ideological I get, the less stomach I have for supporting the American government for the sole virtue of the fact that it’s “American.” I’ll support whoever is doing the best job of safeguarding my interests.

            I’m not a Putin fanboy by any means, but it is non-obvious to me that having the USA secretly run by his agent Trump would be worse for me than having the USA run by the American deep state cabal and their agent Hillary.

            Foreign governments running the USA sounds really bad, because it seems likely that such people will have very different values opposed to my own and will not act in my best interest. But hey – wouldn’t you know it, all of that is also true about the entrenched American government. I know that they have values opposed to my own. I know that they do not act in my best interest. So what am I supposed to be afraid of again?

          • Matt M says:

            The real question is why the current President seems so keen to play for the other side in the game

            The answer seems obvious to me.

            Any concession from Trump that Russia had anything to do with helping him win can and will be used against him in the court of public opinion, and possibly in a court of impeachment. He has nothing to gain by agreeing with his enemies on this one.

            And from a political point of view (which I believe is all he really cares about), his enemies are the Democrats, not Putin. It’s the Democrats who might try to impeach him. It’s the Democrats who will attack him bitterly in 2020.

            How could it possibly benefit him to agree with their years long line of attack that his election was illegitimate and that he maybe even did something illegal along the way.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Well, obviously, he can’t admit he did something illegal – that’s true whether he’s guilty or innocent.

            But a President who can’t admit it’s bad when our enemies attack us is failing at basically the main job of being President. I mean, there’s a reason even he caved within 24 hours and gave that half-ass would/wouldn’t walkback – even for Trump, it was unsustainable to be so visibly siding with Putin.

            (I also feel like openly allying themselves with an enemy of the country against Democrats may prove to be a poor political strategy for the right wing in general, but I guess we’ll need to wait to see how that plays to be sure.)

          • Matt M says:

            But a President who can’t admit it’s bad when our enemies attack us is failing at basically the main job of being President.

            I think the issue here is that Trump doesn’t see Putin as an enemy (which seems reasonable enough, Obama mocked this concept in 2012), and doesn’t see someone hacking and releasing Hillary’s e-mails as attacking “us.”

            Nor do I, for that matter. Putin has done me no harm. He is not my enemy.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:
            Man, you are really down the rabbit hole.

          • he indicted a company that didn’t exist.

            He indicted a company that the attorney for one of the other defendants says didn’t exist. The page you link to mentions evidence that it did:

            As to the claim that Concord didn’t exist during the last U.S. presidential election: There are myriad old references to Concord Catering in Russian media, and press releases about Concord events and openings in Russia say that it was founded in 1996. It also still seems to be operational today. It’s unclear if or when Concord Catering began doing any business in the United States. Searches of Nexis business info, the SEC database, and the National Business Register turn up no results for any company called Concord Catering except a small and unrelated business in Arizona.

          • dick says:

            I think the issue here is that Trump doesn’t see Putin as an enemy (which seems reasonable enough, Obama mocked this concept in 2012), and doesn’t see someone hacking and releasing Hillary’s e-mails as attacking “us.” Nor do I, for that matter. Putin has done me no harm. He is not my enemy.

            This is a novel and interesting position! Why not just come out and say it in plain language, instead of wading into a discussion on a somewhat-related topic and tossing off a sarcastic potshot that kind of hints at your novel and interesting position but does not actually say it, forcing people to draw it out of you via questioning?

          • albatross11 says:

            Matt M: I disagree with a lot of your position, but I think it’s worth highlighting two points of agreement:

            a. Trump’s denial/dismissiveness about allegations surrounding Russian interference in our elections makes perfect sense, given that if those allegations are true, they weaken him in his domestic political battles, and also damage his reputation[1]–it’s like having an asterisk put next to his accomplishment of getting elected president. This doesn’t require any “Russian agent” explanation.

            b. I’m also very uneasy about the way that so much US media, popular culture, and the intelligence/foreign policy establishment seems to be pushing us toward seeing Russia as an enemy we must all reflexively hate and fear. This kind of PR campaign in the US often ends up with us going to war with someone, and somehow stumbling into war with Russia (perhaps because Trump feels he can’t back down from some conflict without validating all the accusations about being beholden to Putin) is something that could absolutely happen, and could plausibly end with a lot of nukes flying.

            [1] Which I think is a big thing for all presidents, and Trump probably more than most. Nothing about this guy’s past life suggests that humility is among his virtues.

          • Dan L says:

            @ Matt M

            I’m literally mystified here.

            If you want to start a digression, opening it by gotcha-ing a strawman is an unproductive way to go about it. I assume you know that. When said gotcha is the entirety of your comment, it makes an assumption of good faith very difficult.

            And glancing at the thread, it looks like it is a good way to derail evidence-based updating of factual beliefs. I feel the urge to launch into a “this is exactly what is wrong with the SSC comments section” rant, but this deep in an old OT it’d just be gratuitous.

            That all said, the object-level topic of moral values in international espionage is an interesting one, and I might engage when I get back to a real keyboard. One clarification though:

            I’ll support whoever is doing the best job of safeguarding my interests

            This is a very strong declaration of intent to Defect. How much do you mean that?

        • Matt M says:

          IIRC there was a Planet Money about this, which suggested this whole thing was the personal crusade of this rich businessman who went to Russia in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, made millions, was friendsw with Magnitsky, eventually ran afoul of the Putin regime for some reason or another, saw himself charged with corruption, leading to having his business assets confiscated and having to flee the country at risk of jail, at which point his buddy Magnitsky ended up mysteriously dead.

          He then returned to the US and made it his life’s work to try and get back at the evil Putin regime through lobbying the USG to impose sanctions on any and everyone he deemed responsible.

          Planet Money, of course, presented all of this uncritically, and made no attempt to even speculate about any sort of ulterior motives, or what the other side of the story might be here. It was basically a “Putin murdered this guy’s friend for no reason, now watch him heroically strike back through the only means left available!” type story.

  6. IrishDude says:

    Anybody watched the HBO series Succession? I haven’t watched it yet and wonder if it’s worth my time to catch up to the seven episodes they’ve shown so far.

  7. Lillian says:

    So in light of earlier discussions on tariffs, i though this article from 1962 might make for an interesting read. Below is my favourite part, which rather cleverly illustrates how even a unilateral tariff can hurt the party that imposed it.

    Perhaps our protectionists could understand this issue better if they would consider the economic effects in Illinois of a tariff against all products from our other 49 states. Here is how it would work.

    We do not have, for example, an automobile industry in our state. The reason is simple—we can buy cars cheaper from Detroit and, in effect, pay for them with machine tools that we produce cheaper than they do. We could easily create an automobile industry in Illinois, however, if the state were permit­ted to put a 25 per cent tariff against “imported” cars.

    With that amount of govern­ment protection (really a concealed subsidy), capital would flow from our machine tool industry into our new automobile industry that could then offer the owners of the capital a higher return on their money. That development would immediately increase costs (and prices) for machine tools because those companies, in turn, would then have to pay a higher price to hold and attract the needed capi­tal. And for a while at least, the machine tool companies would also have to pay higher prices for labor because the new automobile indus­try would bid especially high for the services of those skilled me­chanics.

    Thus, even if Detroit didn’t re­taliate with tariffs against our machine tools, the higher prices would automatically mean that fewer would be sold. That, in turn, would mean fewer jobs in the ma­chine tool industry. Meanwhile, you and I would also have to pay $500 more for a car. In turn, that added cost would mean that you and I would have $500 less to spend for housing, education, en­tertainment, and so on. Thus those industries would also have to lay off workers. And since Illinois would soon run out of “unem­ployment benefits,” those people would have no choice but to scratch out a living as best they could. Under those circumstances, obviously it wouldn’t be much. But unquestionably, many new jobs would have been created in our new automobile industry.

    After that arrangement had continued for 10 years or so, it would be almost impossible to stop it; the protectionist politicians would quickly and correctly point out that all the jobs in our high cost Illinois automobile industry would be wiped out overnight if we removed their protection from competition and permitted those “cheap cars from Detroit” to be sold in our local markets.

    • mtl1882 says:

      I’m not sure if I’m just missing the point, but *does* it necessarily hurt the party that imposed it?

      I’m not a tariff proponent or expert by any means, but it seems to me that tariff opponents take the argument to a ridiculously simplified/narrow place. Yes, the general public would have to pay more for a car. Companies that have to purchase a lot of vehicles would take a hit to their profits, putting some out of business. But if done for 10 years, in a well-planned/scaled manner (I know, that’s unlikely), isn’t it possible that the benefits of the new domestic car industry would outweigh those costs? Consumers have to pay more per car, but more of them have jobs at the local car plant. The car company charges more for cars, but now sells a lot more. And this new, ideally healthy and secure car industry with better paid employees would be able to make improvements that lower costs at some point. Additionally, if enough people are employed at decent salaries, people have more money to spend at other businesses, and a much better, more stable community. Like it allegedly was before the factories went overseas.

      I realize this is an ideal scenario that is likely to be botched completely in implementation, but I don’t understand why people keep pointing out that tariffs raise prices as if that ends the argument. That is the whole point. You are being forced to pay more if you want to support people in other countries instead of those in your community, with the idea being that you should be penalized for doing so because wishing to save money off of cheap labor drives down wages/quality of life here. The idea is that the overall benefits to the community due to jobs etc. justify the costs. Specific individuals may suffer, particularly at first. But that’s what happened when we moved things overseas – some people bore the brunt of that, and others benefited. The idea that the lowest price is the only thing that should matter to consumers is ridiculous, though I know many subscribe to it. Most people, if they really thought about it, would probably prefer a stable job/salary/community and somewhat higher prices to what they have now. I realize some people would definitely not prefer this, and I know by many measurements we are better off due to globalization, but not everything can be measured or satisfied in gadgets and money.

      The predicted collapse of everything is somewhat ridiculous. No doubt it would send some people over the edge, but it’s lazy like the anti-minimum wage argument. Raising the minimum wage definitely has downsides that many proponents completely fail to consider, but the assertion that every business would drop their employees by a proportionate amount is just not true. Many businesses do not have such razor thin margins that they couldn’t raise wages without mass firings. Some do, but many don’t. And the people making these higher wages spend more money and may be motivated to do better, which offsets at least some of the downsides. It’s not a directly proportional issue – things adjust in complex ways. It’s not everyone being out $500 and that’s it.

      Again, I’m not saying we should have tariffs, or that it would go down as intended by the government, but the idea that no one has considered that it would raise prices is bizarre. The debate isn’t ended by pointing out that out, although it is effective as a scare tactic. Raising prices is the stated intention, either to penalize the other country or to benefit our own. Obviously there is a rationale behind them, or no one would propose them.

      To go back to your example, wouldn’t that party be in good shape? Now it has everyone employed in the local community, so it retains power. Sure, some people would not like it, but it’s not automatically bad that they defend those jobs and forego cheap cars from Detroit. I realize the implication is that everyone else is starving and needs those cheap cars, but I don’t think that logically follows. Why does the passage completely ignore the idea that the new industry would create new jobs? Why couldn’t more of the machine workers/companies be hired by the car companies? Why couldn’t some of the people who had to spend $500 extra on the car get a job that more than makes up for it at the car company? I know it is not so easy and there are only so many jobs, but it is at least worth a mention. And eventually, new corollary industries would grow up around the car industry.

      Sorry for the rant, but this issue has been bothering me.

      • Many businesses do not have such razor thin margins that they couldn’t raise wages without mass firings.

        The issue isn’t “couldn’t.” Firms are not in business in order to provide jobs for their employees, they are in business in order to make profits for their owners. The question is not whether they could pay the higher wage but whether, at the higher wage, it would be in their interest to continue hiring the same number of low skill workers.

        The answer is almost certainly not.

        For your question on tariffs, you can find a sketch of the relevant economics in a chapter of my price theory text. I don’t know if you will find it helpful or not.

        • mtl1882 says:

          Thank you for the link – I will check it out.

          My point is that I don’t think support of tariffs is more absurd than many commonly-held political beliefs, but it is treated as such, and the arguments made against it generally don’t engage half of the issues involved. I am not saying that it is likely to work, or that it is not highly vulnerable to criticism, but I do think it should be fairly addressed, and I rarely see that happen.

          For the typical reasons given, I don’t think raising the minimum wage is a good idea, but a large part of the issue I have with this stuff is that I disagree with the notion that a business is solely about profit. I don’t deny that making a profit is the most important concern, as otherwise it would cease to exist, and of course the owners must benefit. But I do believe that a business’s existence should be in part devoted to the idea of contributing something to society, in the sense of making a useful product and not merely finding ways to get money out of people. I do believe that some minor level of morality should be in play, and I think the companies and owners themselves benefit from contributing to a more stable community. Making profit the only aim does not generally provide the biggest benefit to the company or owners, unless you define everything in life by getting a few more dollars. I realize many people do think that way and do not believe in any other purpose, but that is not a self-evident idea nor a healthy one, in my opinion. Many companies are ruined that way, and that logic does not come naturally to everyone.

          I’m not saying firms should be a social support system existing to prop up workers, but it should be considered a great thing that they are able to find and employ workers in an arrangement that benefits both. Employees are not just a cost drain, they are supposed to be contributing to the company. If that’s not true, your company is doing something wrong. Not everyone making close to minimum wage is all that low skilled. At least some companies would be willing to hire close to as many people or even the same amount if they needed those employees to keep the company running. If they are, as alleged, mainly motivated by minimizing labor costs, then they probably don’t have many extraneous employees. It may lower their profits, but it is still in their interest to do so, to keep the company properly staffed and running well. To say otherwise is to admit some employees were unnecessary, or that profits should come at the expense of good service/products, which is a longer term threat to profits.

          Of course, this is all case by case. I agree that in the aggregate, the effects would probably be negative, especially with the minimum wage issue. There is a huge potential for backfire. I just wish the issues weren’t addressed in such a narrow, unrealistically robotic way. Not all firms care *only* about profits, and few decisions are made in way directly proportional to fluctuations in profits, especially in large organizations, which make economically “irrational” decisions all the time. Other things matter, and ripple effects occur. Raising the minimum wage or giving someone a steady job does more than put money in someone’s pocket so that they can buy stuff – it can change someone’s life, pride and attitude in a way that has other benefits. I’m not saying things turn into some sort of utopia, but I think we as a society have sold ourselves short. People are not these perfect rational actors who are always motivated or discouraged by the gain or loss of a few dollars. There are certain thresholds involved that have societal implications that can’t be dismissed.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      By way of counterargument, I offer a picture of Detroit in 1962 versus Detroit in 2013.

      You keep finding other ways to tell me that tariffs make things more expensive. I already understand this. I completely understand this. I’m saying the true cost of the cheaper goods is the hellscape that is Detroit, and my value is not “cheapest goods” but “fewest hellscapes.” So if you want to convince me that tariffs are bad, please tell me how our lack of tariffs in the face of tariffs and import restrictions imposed by our trading “partners” reduce the number of hellscapes in the US and I’ll be right on board.

      • S_J says:


        the picture from 1962 appears to be show the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Trumbull [1] as its foreground…the second picture shows another part of the city of Detroit, that appears to be mostly a residential neighborhood (minus a noticeable number of houses that apparently existed sometime before 2013).

        Can you at least give a before-and-after of the same part of Detroit?

        Conversely, I can show many photos of the Detroit Metro Area which show improvement or stasis across the time window of 1962 to 2013.

        Which of those photo-pairings would be more accurate? It is my opinion that the decline of Detroit was not caused by a desire for “cheapest goods”, but by a collection of other factors unique to that city.

        [1] The baseball stadium gives away the location, as does the collection of skyscrapers in the background. A photo of that location from 2013 would not show the stadium, but it ought to show the old baseball field and at least one new skyscraper.

        • Chalid says:

          Call me crazy, but I think a superior approach would be to gather information from about economic activity across the country for the past several decades and compile it into aggregate statistics.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I apologize for the cheap rhetorical trick.

          That said, I thought it was obvious that the Detroit of yesteryear was a nice place to live, and today is blighted. Is this not so?

          • S_J says:

            As a resident of the Detroit Metro Area (and a worker at a company that supports the Automotive Business):

            The City of Detroit was a much nicer-looking place during the 1960s.

            The Detroit Metro Area mostly looks as good, or better, than it did in the 1960s.

            Most of the “destroyed sections” are in City of Detroit proper, not the wider Metro Area.

            By population, the City of Detroit is hollow shell of its 1960s heyday. At that time, the Metro Area had a population in the vicinity of 2 million, and about 1.8 million or so of those people lived inside the City of Detroit.

            Within a few years of the ’67 riots, many residents of Detroit decamped to purchase houses in the suburbs. I’ve heard stories of people who lived in a neighborhood in the early 60s, then left for University. When they drove through the old neighborhood in ’68, they thought that an army had come through and destroyed everything in sight.

            Most areas of Detroit have seen small changes (up, down, or mixed) since then. The biggest change in the City was in the aftermath of those riots.

            To mention population again: from the 1970 census to the 2010 census, the population of the City of Detroit shrunk. In the 1980 and 1990 census cycles, the City fought hard to convince the Census bureau that its population was more than 1 million. By the year 2000, the City still tried…but couldn’t find more than about 900,000 people. By the year 2010, the City of Detroit population had shrunk further than that.

            In contrast: the population of the Metro Detroit area rose during most of that time frame. From the ~2 million number of the 1960s to a ~4 million number in 2000. (That number remained mostly-the-same in 2010, indicating stagnation but not much decline.)

            The fortunes of the Metro Area seemed to rise and fall with the national economy. The fortunes of the City of Detroit seemed to fall with the exodus of population to the suburbs.

            There is some interplay of the fortunes of the City of Detroit with the national economy, tariffs, and overseas competition. But those things are overshadowed by the population movement that was triggered by the riots of 1967.

          • Lillian says:

            You’re off by a decade, Detroit’s 1.84 million population peak was in 1950. By 1960 it was down to 1.67 million and by 1970 1.51 million, all the while the urban area as a whole continued to grow. The riots merely accelerated the process of white people fleeing the urban core for the suburbs. They were not the cause.

      • CatCube says:

        The problem with Detroit is that its advantages have been eaten by a combination of cheap transport and the increasing cost of mining in the Lake Superior and Appalachian regions. Why was Detroit the motor city (or why were steel mills on the Great Lakes, in general)? Because you had the iron ore mines in Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula, and the coal mines (for coke) in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. You had cheap water transport over the Great Lakes for the iron (which is denser and lower value than the coal), and somewhat more expensive rail transport for the coal. Where do these come together? The shores of Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie.

        However, now the mines have closed down, due to the fact that they’re simply too expensive to mine. It’s simple economic reality–eventually you’re hauling your mineral so far vertically that no realistic price for it will pay for the energy to do this. An example for this is the Quincy Mine in the UP’s Copper Country–at the end mine life, the shaft was some 9200′ (about 6000′ deep, as the shaft wasn’t vertical). That means that every ounce of copper and pound of waste rock had to make journey of over a mile straight up, and nearly two miles on its actual path of travel. Unionization increasing wages and environmental legislation increasing costs have certainly sped the process up, and I’m in favor of reducing those burdens to stave off the inevitable as long as possible, but there’s no getting around the basic fact that the iron ore and coal resources that gave the Rust Belt cities their raison d’etre are much reduced.

        Similarly, now that transport is much cheaper, you don’t need to worry nearly as much about keeping the mills as close to their raw material sources as you used to, nor keeping the consumers of steel as close to the mills.

        There is absolutely no lever that Trump or any politician can pull to bring back the Rust Belt to its former glory. He can only nibble around the edges (which is all these tariffs are doing).

        Look, I’m from a small town that is dying because its mine is closed. I recently took a trip home for a family commitment the week after Memorial Day, and I deliberately scheduled my trip to avoid the holiday weekend, because it’s actually painful for me to watch the Memorial Day parade that was a source of joy in my childhood as a sad shell of what it used to be. But my emotions will not change the fundamental economic reality of the mining industry. We’ve been mining in the US for a long time, and many of the old mining districts are played out. Places like Detroit that were located due to those mining districts are in the same boat.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          If we were able to increase mining and steel production in the US, would the state of US manufacturing improve?

          • Matt M says:

            My impression is that the Detroit metro area has some very nice places to live, and some very not-nice places, like most cities.

            When we talk about cities being nice or not, I think what we generally are measuring is the percentage of area in the city that is nice vs the percentage that is not nice.

            Which might not be particularly relevant, so long as you are not forced to either live or work in the not-nice part.

          • CatCube says:

            Unless the steel produced was cheaper, I can’t see how. If you force manufacturers to use it, they’re now less competitive. If the steel isn’t cheaper, but manufacturers aren’t forced to use it, you have to pay the steel industry cash on the barrelhead to keep them from going out of business. (Whether this takes the form of direct payments or a subsidy for Buy American doesn’t change the flow of money.)

            And if they’d be cheaper naturally, you wouldn’t need the government to put a thumb on the scale.

            Note that this thumb is very, very expensive. We just got the word late last week that our cost engineers have been ordered to pull back all of the Internal Government Estimates for the projects currently in the works and recalculate them because steel prices are up 30%. Your tax dollars at work.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            The Swedes, who are certainly not skimping on wages or labor safety do not seem to mind hauling iron up from 1.3 kilometers down..

            but Sweden has very cheap electricity, thanks to nukes and hydro. So, really, to revive US mining, you have to drive down the real cost of electricity.

        • engleberg says:

          @Why was Detroit the motor city-

          Henry Ford did a Runaway Shop from New Jersey to escape his union. After Lyndon Johnson industrialized the old South, a bunch of Midwest industries did a Runaway Shop to the weaker unions down South. Since then Runaway Shops to Mexico and China. Access to steel and coal and transport, sure, and Detroit had factories for iron stoves and horse carriages with workers who had useful skill sets, but management really likes to cut and run now and then.

          • CatCube says:

            That may be part of it, but Ford couldn’t choose literally anywhere. If he ended up paying more for shipping raw materials than he gained from dodging unionization, he still comes out behind–plus paying the cost of rebuilding the plants. He wanted to get away from where he was, but he was still limited by transport networks. Once transport got cheaper and you could get raw materials moved further for the same cost, they decamped for the South for both the better business climate and the actual climate.

            If you’re ever wondering why a city in the US is in a particular place, the answer is “transportation.” That may not be why it stays there now, but that’s why it was founded. Once founded and a network in particular industries has been built up, the city may continue for other reasons, as most US cities have.

            It’s easy to miss how big a revolution in transport has changed lives. As I mentioned in a comment above, I’m from a town that’s dying due to the closure of its mine. But even if that mine reopened, it probably wouldn’t bring the town back!

            Back when the town was first founded around the mines, workers had to live very close to the mine portal, and this more or less continued through the open-pit iteration by tradition, so when the mines were running, a new worker could move to the town and be confident in finding at least some amenities (though they were a lot less picky then). If the mine reopened now, workers would now have the choice of living 30-45 minutes away by car in a larger city, and I’d expect that most would take that option. So we would have an operating mine, but probably still a shrinking, aging population. It’s a death spiral that no politician can really fix, because the fundamental reason the town started–that people live in the same town they work in–is no longer true.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            If you’re ever wondering why a city in the US is in a particular place, the answer is “transportation.” That may not be why it stays there now, but that’s why it was founded. Once founded and a network has been built up.

            See also: all major cities are built near waterways or ports, which we no longer need to make settlement practical, and which in many (not all) cases limit growth.

            I’ve wondered if there isn’t low hanging fruit for founding new cities far from waterways, though there’s obviously network effects for settlements.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            See also: all major cities are built near waterways or ports

            A minor corollary to this is that one tends to see minor cities about a day’s travel away from any major city, etc.

          • johan_larson says:

            See also: all major cities are built near waterways or ports, …

            That must have started to change by the time the American West got settled. Denver, for instance, isn’t on a waterway of any note. The same goes for Las Vegas.

          • Nornagest says:

            I thought of Las Vegas too, but it’s pretty close to the Colorado River. Not actually on it, but close enough. Denver’s not, though, and neither is Salt Lake.

          • johan_larson says:

            It doesn’t look like there’s a Las Vegas port on the Colorado. Was there ever one?

          • Matt M says:

            Wasn’t Salt Lake selected by the Mormon settlers specifically for its undesirable location. As in, “Nobody else will possibly want this land – which makes us safe from being slaughtered en masse” (a legitimate concern for them at the time)

          • Nornagest says:

            It doesn’t look like there’s a Las Vegas port on the Colorado. Was there ever one?

            Looks like no, but it does owe some of its growth to the Colorado, in a roundabout way — the first casinos there were built to cater to workers on the Hoover Dam in the early Thirties. The city already existed as a railroad and wagon stop, though.

          • CatCube says:

            I phrased it as “transportation” in general, rather than “water transportation” because of the west, where railroads did have rather more to do with settlement patterns than the rivers did.

          • BBA says:

            Atlanta began as a railroad junction and hasn’t got a port on the Chattahoochee, which I don’t think is even navigable that far.

            The largest city without a navigable waterway is Johannesburg, a gold mining boom town that got big enough to keep going after the mines closed.

          • ana53294 says:

            See also: all major cities are built near waterways or ports, which we no longer need to make settlement practical, and which in many (not all) cases limit growth.

            I think that water transportation still matters a lot.

            These are the biggest cities in China:

            Shanghai (34 million) – sea and Yangtze river
            Guangzhou (25 million) – Pearl river
            Beijing (24.9 million)
            Shenzhen (23.3 million) – Pearl river delta
            Wuhan (19 million) – Yangtze and Han rivers
            Chengdu (18.1 million)
            Chongqing (17 million) – Yangtze basin
            Tianjin (15.4 million) – sea

            So most of the Chinese cities that are growing are located near waterways. And a lot of these cities have experienced this massive growth during the last 50 years, after modern transportation technologies became available. And they are not all the result of a city just growing – Shenzen was a really small vilage 50 years ago. Sure, it started growing as part of a SEZ, but why did this specific city grow more than others in other SEZ? I think how close it is to Hong Kong and others centres of economic importance probably makes a difference.

            If you look at a night time photo of Spain, you see a bright spot in the middle, where Madrid is, and the lights in the coast; the middle of the country is much darker. Even the cities in Spain that had a lot of historical importance but aren’t on the coast have not been growing at the rate of coastal cities, with the exception of Madrid. And I do think this is due to transportation, in part, although historical reasons also matter. Otherwise, why is Seville (on the coast) growing while Salamanca (the city with the oldest Spanish University) and Toledo (which was an imperial city, before the court was moved to Madrid) are not?

            Edit: I understand that US geography is different than other continents. We don’t have that many big navigable rivers, or big lakes in Europe. But, from my scant knowledge of US geography, it seems like the biggest cities are still located somewhere on the coastal states. Which middle states are densely populated? Is there no correlation with river transport?

          • CatCube says:


            No, the largest city in the Midwest is Chicago, which is on Lake Michigan, and is tied to the Mississippi River system through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Because Chicago was a major connection for waterborne transport, it then became a major rail hub.

            St. Louis is at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, and right at a major obstacle to navigation (Chain of Rocks), so there was a significant amount of portaging and transloading of river cargo occurring there, so a city naturally sprung up.

            Denver is probably the biggest interior city I can think of where water transport wasn’t a major role, and the Transcontinental Railroad also didn’t originally pass through the area. So for the most part, cities in the heartland are still highly correlated with river transport, though more for historical reasons. Rivers are still a very important method of transportation, but not as huge a percentage of the economy of cities as it once was.

            Edit: I think I didn’t actually discuss your question regarding the density of population, rather than largest cities. The interior of the US is much less densely populated than the coasts. Popular names are the “Eastern Seaboard” or “Boswash Corridor” for the conurbation from Boston to Washington, which is basically one continuous city.

            There’s nothing like that in the interior, which is one reason passenger rail struggles in the US. Look up the rail route from Los Angeles, California to Chicago, Illinois in Google Maps. This is roughly the same distance as Paris to Moscow. The only major cities on the line are Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Kansas City, Missouri.

            There are a whole lot of areas that are nothing but grid squares of nothing in the interior.

          • littskad says:

            Denver is probably the biggest interior city I can think of where water transport wasn’t a major role, and the Transcontinental Railroad also didn’t originally pass through the area.

            The Dallas-Fort Worth area is quite a bit bigger than Denver, with no major water transport to it either. Phoenix, AZ and Charlotte, NC are also bigger than Denver, with no major water access.

          • engleberg says:

            @That may be part of it, but Ford couldn’t choose literally anywhere. If he ended up paying more for shipping raw materials than he gained from dodging unionization, he still comes out behind-plus paying the cost of rebuilding the plants. He wanted to get away from where he was, but he was still limited by transport networks. Once transport got cheaper and you could get raw materials moved further for the same cost for both the same cost, they decamped for the South for both the better business climate and the actual climate-


            @If you are ever wondering why a city in the US (Or anywhere else) is in a particular place, the answer is “transportation.”

            And if you are ever wondering why factories move, the answer is ‘workers who don’t know in their bones you will Runaway Shop if you unionize.’ Ford I was rebuilding anyway for a wild new technology in Model Ts.

            Certainly agree with you that raw material cost and transport cost is vital to cities and factories. I just hate to see anyone mention a factory moving after labor trouble without the magic words Runaway Shop. My shibboleth, not your problem.

      • mtl1882 says:

        Thank you. You said what I meant in a far more concise way. I’m not sure if it was me you were responding to when you said “You keep finding other ways to tell me that tariffs make things more expensive,” but that was the point I was trying to make. That is what tariff opponents keep doing, as though tariff proponents are not aware. They’re ignoring the fact that there are other, almost certainly superior values besides the worship of saving a few extra dollars, and some people might just hold those values.

        “Fewest hellscapes” is my new motto. But it is amazing how many people either find that issue irrelevant, or actively take pleasure in the existence of hellscapes! And they think that attitude is self-evident!

        • BBA says:

          Detroit became a hellscape in the 1970s, well before the American auto industry was destroyed by NAFTA (1994), WTO (1995), and [most crucially in my view] the Toyota Camry (1982).

      • Lillian says:

        @Conrad Honcho: Allow me then to present this picture as a counter-counter argument. If foreign competition destroyed Detroit, why does Grosse Point Park remain intact and prosperous despite being literally across the street? Are we to suppose that national trade policy applies to one side of the street but not the other? Fact is the suburbs of Detroit are doing quite fine despite being subject to the same prevailing economic conditions. While the city’s population peaked in 1950 and has dropped continuously since then, that of the metro area has never been larger and continues to grow. In light of this, i think it makes more sense to attribute Detroit’s sorry state to local factors rather than global ones. This becomes even more evident when you compare Detroit to other cities. Pittsburg in particular stands out for facing a similar decline of its principal industry, yet it fares much better and indeed by all accounts it’s quite a nice city in its own right.

        Also, you are far too dismissive of the effects of cheaper prices on goods. For the people who consume those goods, lower prices are interchangeable with higher wages in that they ultimately translate to more money in their pockets. You want to minimize hellscapes? Well under a protectionist regime half of Detroit would still be abandoned, and on top of that everyone there would be poorer since their dollars would have less purchasing power.

  8. Oleg S. says:

    Hey, has anyone read Rodney Brooks’s recent Steps Toward Super Intelligence? It kinda corrected my understanding of what AI developments are realistically possible within next 5-10 years, but I am not an expert in the field. Is there any response from GAI community?

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      I am unsure who exactly belongs in the GAI community or if such thing exists, but Yudkowsky and his friends like to downplay the observation “our epitome of AI research is still far behind the capabilities of 2-year old human in many crucial aspects”, because their pet project sounds much more important (and easier to gather funding for) if the prevalent story is “AGI could be here soon! There is no smoke alarm, you can’t even see it coming” instead of “our so-called AIs are not very agent-like, let alone on the par with human toddlers”.

      Meanwhile, I assume the Brooks’ observations are things that anyone working on things that get labeled “AI research” are either explicitly or latently aware of.

  9. Randy M says:

    If one has a family history of psych disorders (not sure of the precise term; anxiety, bipolar; some institutionalization) are there specific behavioral habits that can mitigate or prevent the onset?

  10. Alliumnsk says:

    How difficult it’d be to create a bird with hands? Parrots and corvids apparently would have found use for them.

    • theredsheep says:

      Well, are they turning the wings into hands, thus losing their main means of propulsion, or losing the feet they stand on instead?

      • Alliumnsk says:

        The former (many parrots are bad flyers anyway, and when they’re pets it’s no use)

    • Well... says:

      1. To create a bird with hands, you must first create the entire universe.

      2. Would a bird with hands still be a bird?

      3. If I saw a bird with hands — we’re talking real hands, like a raccoon or a chimp, or even like a human’s — I might find it a little disturbing.

      4. So far I’ve assumed the hands would be instead of wings. (I must emphasize, it would be a nightmarish sight.) If the hands were instead of feet, that could be interesting; the bird might grip a perch with one hand and use the other for some fine meticulous work, then alternate hands when one got tired. It’d be hilarious to see two parrots having a conversation and gesticulating appropriately.

  11. knockknock says:

    If you’re looking for literary cultural referents, I’d say that behind The Bard and The Bible #3 has to be … Peanuts! Yes, I’m saying it would pay to sit down with Schulz’ great collections from the 60s for a surprising shitload of wit and wisdom.

    (And then make sure you do or redo 1984.)

  12. helloo says:

    Conflict vs Mistake (we probably should have just created one big top lvl thread on this…)

    Did not like the article all that much actually, mainly because I felt it had too many holes and presents a false dichotomy.

    The first reading I thought it was talking about how most people/discussions use data/facts to justify their side and as ammunition. And that recently there’s been more movement in the side of where people use math/scientific method/rationality to base or judge their decisions.
    However, when reading it that way, the piece wasn’t all that great. It mixes up accounts where someone takes a side due to some logical understanding, but then backs and pushes it with passion OR vise versa where someone takes a side due to values or partisanship but then backs and pushes it with data and “reasoned arguments”.
    There’s also plenty of arguments where it goes “You should do this even if it makes it worse off for you personally”.

    Another idea which took a while longer to form was that this was more “understanding vs value” than “mistake vs conflict”.
    One thing that really kept annoying and itching was how the conflict was somehow able to understand and steelman their opposing side, but the supposedly more rational mistake simply dismissed them as being ignorant.
    Then I realized, that if the mistake side assumes that opposing sides can come to an unanimous agreement on anything, then they are not taking account of different value/utilities that could cause the uncompromiseable conflicts (that the conflicts assume create the issues in the first place).
    By moving the split this way then the conflicts will try to shape one’s values (or to push supporters to action for their values).
    And the mistakes will try to shape one’s understanding.
    Which seems to be much closer to how people actually behave.
    There’s still going to be messes where one assumes mistakes shapes the other’s values or when one’s values promotes mistakes. Things like “you’ve been brainwashed by your political party/media to oppose/support this”.

  13. luispedro says:

    I just found out (at the pharmacist) that here (in Luxembourg), even though melatonin normally requires a prescription, you can get 0.3 mg pills without one.

    The pharmacist was not impressed with the request for a 0.3mg dose, saying “this is basically homeopathy”. Since that was why they were willing to sell it without a prescription, it was probably not in my best interest to correct them (and, thus, they remain ignorant).

  14. johan_larson says:

    You have an odd sort of time-travel ability. Every day at midnight you get to choose whether to keep the last 24 hours and continue, or roll back time 24 hours and live the day again. If you used this ability to make money, how quickly could you amass a vast fortune, say $100 billion?

    • Aapje says:

      How much do you start with?

      One early strategy might be to play roulette and bet on odd, even, black or red and roll back if you lose. That would nearly double the money you have every two days, until the casinos ban you.

      After that, you probably have enough money to start making highly leveraged bets in the stock market or gambling on currency prices. The idea would still be to make 50/50 bets, with high payouts if you win and huge losses if you lose.

      • johan_larson says:

        How much do you start with?

        Let’s say $1000, just to pick a number.

        • Aapje says:

          Playing roulette, you’d need to have 7 winning days to get to $128k, so assuming 50% odds, about 14 days of play. Casinos seem to cap roulette bets, where $100k for even/odd/black/red seems common. So you could play for one more day, but not for your full bankroll, unless you play multiple times.

          At that point, you’d need an alternative to keep doubling your wealth every two days, so on to day trading…

      • brmic says:

        Depending on the exact rules, you could keep betting until you lose, then on the next day repeat, change your bet on the last round and stop betting after that.

        But I suppose it’s much easier and covers a wider range of potential rule sets to use some online sports bets, memorize results and bet on those, with or without safety margin depending on the extent of butterfly effects.
        After a week I’d look into having middle men do the betting for me, maybe come up with some deep learning plus blockchain bullshit story to explain my uncanny predictive ability. Then switch to the stock market.

        $100 billion? Never. The attention that kind of money brings far outweights its utility to me. Expecially when I know I can easily make more money should I want to. I hope I’d spend the time and effort to get close enough to someone in power to prevent/mitigate catastrophes.

      • Tatterdemalion says:

        If you’re going for two-outcome bets, 50/50 probably isn’t your best strategy.

        Suppose for the sake of the argument that each day I have the option of a range of bets, each of which pays off with probability 1/x and multiplies my money by x if it does.

        Then over n days I expect to have multiplied my money by x^(n/x). To optimise that, I want to set d/dx (x^n/x) = 0, which works out at x = e.

        So rather than 50/50 bets, you should be looking for 37/63 ones, I think. That way your expected wealth on day n is 1.444^n times your original wealth, rather than 1.414^n times it.

        Of course, if you bet on things with multiple possible outcomes you can do much better than that.

      • tayfie says:

        Why 50/50 bets?

        For any possible betting activity, you see the winner. All you have to do is live through it once and on the second go-round bet on the highest payout thing that happened. a priori probability hardly matters because the evidence of actually seeing the event happen will outweigh it.

        My tactic could still fail spectacularly if the universe is highly random and rolling back time will not result in identical (except for you those you interact with) days.

        Edit: After reading farther down, this seems a fairly solid argument you don’t want the most unlikely event, but I think my point still stands that you want more risk than 50/50.

        • Aapje says:

          I assumed that the roll back would be complete: you’d also lose your memories.

          This greatly complicates things, as you not only don’t know the future, but you even don’t know whether you are reliving the same day or not.

      • Thomas Jørgensen says:

        Roulette is not going to work – it is deliberately engineered to be a chaotic system, just your own interactions with the croupier and the entire place is going to change outcomes.

        You need to make bets on things that have effectively been “set in stone” before the rollback began. Stock market movements based on information going public is the most certain, though you end up looking like an insider trader if you are not careful.
        For straight gambling.. well, horses and greyhounds? The condition of the animals is not going to change between resets, so you should have at least far better than average odds of picking winners. Though, still, do not bet the entire bankroll.

        • Aapje says:

          If you lose your memories, then you need to be gambling on a chaotic system, to prevent losing loops, where you lose, go back in time, make the losing choice again, go back in time, etc.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I can imagine a dystopian scifi story where someone can roll back, without keeping memories, and they are just having a particularly bad day but on that they can’t do anything about. And they keep on resetting the day, forever, never getting out of it.

    • aphyer says:

      An amusing and relevant article: https://ftalphaville.ft.com/2015/02/27/2120422/meet-the-man-who-could-own-aviva-france/

      Your superpower is much better, though.

    • Some Troll's Serious Discussion Alt says:

      I suspect how much attention you draw is the important llimiting factor here. Doubling every day is all well and good, but its hard to get your 14th double in when you’re tied to a chair in a dark room shouting “something something blockchain!”

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      This has come up in a few recent open threads (possibly hidden ones).

    • The Nybbler says:

      I think the sweet spot at the beginning might be horse racing. There are a LOT of horse races every day, so long shots are going to win fairly often. And unlike roulette, tiny changes in conditions caused by my rewind aren’t likely to affect the outcome. Looking at Belmont last Friday the 13th, I see a $12.20 payoff (on $1) to win on one race, and the trifecta pays off $80.87 on $0.50. And a Pick 3 (winners in three races) of $987.50 on $1. So if that day is typical, I should be able to assemble almost a million dollars from a thousand on my first day (with one rewind, so 2 days). But total bets placed _per day_ in the US are in the single-digit millions, so that’s about my limit there.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Things break down at the high level. I’m not sure what Jeff-Bezos-with-30-billion-dollars could do to grow his fortune using only 24-hour rewinds. How much money can a hedge fund make on a daily basis? I’m hand-waving tens-of-millions a day.

      • knockknock says:

        And tracks don’t watch people like casinos do. Just don’t win anything at 600-1 odds or better because that triggers the IRS — so stay away from big trifectas or supers

        • The Nybbler says:

          New York reports at 300-1, but there’s no reason not to win the big bet. The IRS is easy to deal with, just pay them. Since you only have to be “lucky” once before you’ve got too much to increase significantly by horse betting, you won’t attract all that much scrutiny.

    • Murphy says:

      Seed money: 5 bucks.

      To get into the millions should be easy enough.
      Conventional betting deals in those ranges so you could roll back once and then bet on accumulator bets picking the winners for a number of event on the same day.

      Or just rewind once buy a lottery ticket 10 minutes before the draw with the correct numbers.

      Though it may take a while for the money to clear.

      Whatever your approach once you’re above the 10 million mark you might attract attention so invest a few million in security and lawyers.

      Once you’re into the hundred-million ranges you probably want to start looking at the stock market. Being able to replay the day you could make crazy returns in any given day.

      Once you’re into the billions your transactions can move the market in their own right.

      Your greatest challenge will be avoiding attention of SEC types.

      Within a few months world conquest would be on the horizon and whatever hour of the day you roll back to will be your weak point since you would struggle to respond to unexpected events/attacks shortly after that point.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Or just rewind once buy a lottery ticket 10 minutes before the draw with the correct numbers.

        Lottery tickets generated by tumbling balls can probably not replicated. Someone did the math, and 1 gram of matter moving 1 millimeter away on the other side of the earth will completely change the result after 13 seconds of tumbling.

        • Murphy says:

          In that case horse race accumulators.

          Though it would also be interesting to see what’s rigged. If you noticed a lotto where the same numbers did come up again and again then you’d know which ones were rigged and non-genuinely-random.

    • honoredb says:

      I’d either need to retain my memories (or at least know how many times I’ve rolled back) or have access to a source of true randomness. How quickly in calendar time or subjective time? You can win the lottery in one day of calendar time (or it might take like a month to get access to the lump sum payout, I don’t know), but depending on the exact rules it might take decades of subjective time.

      Assuming I’m not retaining memories but have a way of making different random choices, a calendar month seems reasonable–I imagine you could start out by making 10 to 1 bets pretty easily, and have to gradually lower the payout ratio until by the end you’re risking 90 billion for a chance at 10 billion.

      • honoredb says:

        If I am retaining memories, the right answer might actually be to hire myself out as an oracle (over the internet from an undisclosed location, with a butterfly effect disclaimer).

      • baconbits9 says:

        I don’t think you can get there with bets, not one is going to effectively bet you on a 50/50 prop with a 50 billion dollar payout, casinos limit their payouts by limiting the amount you can bet and will eventually ban you. Attempts to get action by offering great odds, say offering 10-1 on a coin flip for a billion dollars might get some traction at first, but in short order people will become very suspicious about how you always win.

        If you can use it to win the lottery getting to a billion is easy, getting above 10 while staying out of prison or something similar isn’t so easy.

      • albatross11 says:

        If lotteries are chaotic and truly random, and you go back in time 24 hours without remembering anything and carry *any* randomization with you (like what direction you’re moving), then every time you go back, the lottery will be a new random number.

        So you can play the lottery with an expectation of winning eventually. However, for safety (in case the lottery isn’t really as chaotic as you think), you should add in some other randomness source that will be rerandomized each time you come back. Maybe roll ten 6-sided dice, and if they all come up 1s, then decide not to go back in time that day even if you don’t win the lottery.

      • johan_larson says:

        The intent of the question was definitely that you would retain your memories of the day you rolled back. But I see I didn’t spell it out. And considering the opposite case seems viable, too.

  15. outis says:

    Have there been any cases of identical embryos gestating in different wombs? In humans or animals?

    • albatross11 says:

      Animals have been cloned–that’s a genetically identical embryo gestating in a different womb *at a different time*. I think there’s a worldwide prohibition on cloning humans, but who knows if someone’s tried it somewhere without issuing a press release, or how well it worked if they did try it.

    • Lambert says:

      Embryo splitting. It’s where they break an early embryo into individual cells and implant them in a uterus.
      There’s no reason for all the cells to be implanted in the same uterus.
      IIRC, it’s used to make livestock, being a middle ground between natural breeding and full on cloning.

  16. frenris says:

    Re conflict vs mistakes I think your problem is that you’re trying to advance an argument to suggest that people who advocate for marginalized groups are either ignorant or just don’t care about facts.

    /S. writing sometimes like a conflict theorist is fun. I think though that you don’t make the case for conflict theory nearly as strong as it could be. There’s a couple reasons why conflict theory makes sense as a way to engage, and I think it deserves the steel man that you refuse to give it (I don’t see how the linked article applies as you’re trying to describe conflict-theory as a practice, not summarizing specific person’s argument).

    Conflict theory makes sense because

    – people are generally self interested

    – evaluating the truth value of people’s claims is hard

    If some technocrat has some proposal I don’t understand, how should I react? Do I believe the claim that the proposal is in my interest? If I think that the technocrat is “on my team” sure, if not he’s probably out to get me and he’s trying to hide that beneath some jargon I don’t understand.

    You see this constantly with the arcane justifications for obviously self-interested proposals by companies trying to effect regulatory capture. You don’t need to hire your own PhD economist to understand that their PhD economist is probably just making stuff up. You just need to understand that the enemy is out to get you and you need to fight back.

    Conflict theory makes sense when you’re in the situation where you’re not intelligent enough to evaluate some truth claim but you still need to advocate for yourself. What can you do? You use basic heuristics to decide if you’re in conflict or not and then you agree or disagree.

    Your Pfizer example I think is super compelling because while given as a mistake theory justification for free speech, it could just as easily be used as a conflict theoretic justification for distrust of power. I mean, if you’re surrounded by a conspiracy of greedy bought out doctors you won’t be able to fix things by engaging with them in a good faith debate regarding medicine. Maybe you do actually need a revolution.

    What makes this extra compelling is that people are quite self interested when they reason. Even someone who is trying to be objective is likely advocating for themselves in some way (insert reference to breast cancer, coffee motivated reasoning study). How can you deal with seeming objective arguments which are likely being made to disadvantage you, when you’re not clever enough to deal with the arguments on their own merits? You engage in conflict-theory type disagreement, because you still need to be able to advocate for yourself.

  17. mustacheion says:

    Conflict Vs. Mistake: I really like this idea, and have some minor suggestions about how to improve your framing of the idea.

    1) I think it is really important to stress that the important difference isn’t a difference between groups of people (even though it does often end up cleaving along group lines) but that at its core it is a difference between ways of thinking. It is a difference in cognitive frameworks, or mental architecture. And I think that some people might alternate between the two frameworks at different times, or in different contexts, which might be the source of a lot of the confusion people are having with the idea.

    2) Even though you made an effort to generalize the dichotomy beyond Marxism, I think you failed. You clearly had the context of Marxism in your mind when you wrote this piece, and this distorted your description of the conflict theorist position. I think it is true that Marxism is dominated by conflict theorists, but I think you can find many conflict thinkers on the right as well. In fact, I might venture that conflict theorists are most common at the extremes of the political spectrum, and mistake theorists most common at the middle and among those who don’t fit well into the left-right spectrum.

    I re-read the piece before posting this. You have three introductory paragraphs followed by many alternating mistake/conflict perspectives that you use to try to clarify the distinction you are trying to make. I feel like the first pair is really clear and helpful, the second is still pretty good, and after that the quality takes a nosedive because you start to use them to shame people and behavior you don’t like.

    I think that rational agents using the mistake framework have can form a mental model of conflict theorists and the conflict/mistake dichotomy. I think that rational agents using the conflict framework lack some key abstract mental … thing (representation?) which forbids them from being able to model mistake theorists or the dichotomy itself. This sounds like a very unkind thing to say, and I apologize for that, but I cannot think of another way to communicate what I am trying to say. This isn’t to say that conflict theorists are stupid or anything – I think that the conflict framework is a very useful way of simplifying political discourse in a way that is very often fair, valid, and useful. But I think that the mistake framework is crucial in the struggle to solve the most sticky and unclear political conflicts.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I’d postulate that this is the case because conflict theory has for the last 30+ years been a dominant theory of the American left, and is considered “acceptable” there (ala calling a person a racist) while it has been a fringe right theory, although gaining power recently (ala preaching white supremacy).

      In fact, this is actually what I have seen as a major divide on the right currently between “defectors” (aka never-Trumpers) and “loyalists” is that the “defectors” deny that there is anything like a “conflict” and that Hillary was only wrong, Trump is more wrong, and if the right would vote against Trump then the Hillary camps would go from “wrong” to “less wrong” and the former Trump camps would become “more right”. On the other hand “loyalists” either embrace the conflict with the left (about 5%) or say, “I wish I didn’t have to support this, but I do, because they have overstepped line ______ and thus I can no longer pretend to be having a cordial disagreement with a sane person, but must treat them as an adversary akin to General Lee.” The line that was crossed in almost every situation is one of: Free Speech, Freedom of Religion, or other Attacks Against the Person (whiteness, maleness, etc).

  18. Le Maistre Chat says:

    So I just watched Robocop (1987) for the first time.
    Except for the throwaway references to the white city-state of Pretoria having a neutron bomb and an ABM laser satellite “accidentally” killing two of the President’s predecessors, this cyberpunk dystopia was a really optimistic view of 1987’s near future. Space travel is cheap enough that the President gives a press conference from a space station. People with heart disease can go get an artificial heart – they’re advertised on TV. The South Precinct of Detroit is a nice middle class area where cops don’t “work for a living.”
    Is this bad?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Is this bad?

      Only for the downtrodden of Old Detroit.

      • albatross11 says:

        I’d buy *that* for a dollar!

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          In the future, audiences will love raunchy comedy by a man with an old-timey catchphrase!
          Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting with Netflix to pitch my sex farce about a barbershop quartet trying to get floozies to reveal their ankles.

    • hyperboloid says:

      I also just rewatched Robocop and had the same thought. Remember the board meeting at the beginning were they first show ED-209? The president of OCP gives the following speech:

      My friends, I’ve had this dream for more than a decade now. A dream which I’ve invited you all to share with me.

      In six months we begin construction of Delta City, where Old Detroit now stands. Old Detroit has a cancer. The cancer is crime, and it must be cut out before we employ the two million workers that will revive this city.

      Shifts in the tax structure have created an economy ideal for corporate growth. But community services, in this case law enforcement, have suffered. I think it’s time we gave something back.

      This is also a world where major corporations invest billions gained from tax cuts in massive job creating infrastructure programs. It really shows the naive utopian optimism of the late nineteen eighties.

      • Aapje says:

        Paul Verhoeven likes his sarcasm, so that probably was intended as dystopian, not utopian, which is also made clear by ED-209 failing to work correctly.

  19. adambliss says:

    Scott, I’m glad to hear that you are following up on “Conflict vs Mistake”, as it is one of my all-time favorite SSC posts. I don’t think it’s entirely correct or entirely incorrect, but it has given me a useful framework for thinking about important and otherwise mysterious matters, and that’s about the highest praise I can give any writing in the genre.

    Here’s another recent (longish) article that has been very useful to me along similar lines. I would love to hear what you or the other SSC readers think of it and how it might relate to Conflict vs Mistake theory: https://thewholestory.solutionsjournalism.org/complicating-the-narratives-b91ea06ddf63

    • albatross11 says:

      I really enjoyed the linked article.

    • dodrian says:

      Thank you for sharing this article.

    • Matt M says:

      Eh, perhaps it’s because I’m too far gone down the rabbit-hole of tribal warfare. Or perhaps this is just a red-tribe sort of view… but I’m very skeptical of the claim that you can win people over by “making the issue more complex.”

      I’ve actually called this out as a rhetorical tactic before, the “appeal to complexity.” To the extent that it is used in popular media, it typically seems to be a way for sophisticated blue tribe to try and obfuscate the real issue and trick simple-minded red-tribe into going along with things.

      Yes, most issues are very complicated, but often what people want is actually very simple. To use immigration as an example, what red tribe wants is for existing immigration law to be vigorously enforced. And that’s really about it. And for far too long, they’ve been misled and betrayed by politicians (often Republican ones) whose response to that is something like “Immigration is a very complex issue, what we actually need is comprehensive immigration reform.” And it just so happens that the “comprehensive immigration reform” bill includes mass amnesty.

      I don’t know if there’s a blue tribe equivalent of this, but red tribe is definitely starting to see through it. And, to use a probably inaccurate and beaten-down cliche: “That’s why Trump won.” Trump is the very epitome of someone who does the exact opposite of what this article recommends, and it helped him perform possibly the greatest electoral upset of all time. He literally told his voters “Mexicans are rapists and I’m going to stop them with a giant fucking wall.” And it worked. Because people were tired of hearing the likes of Jeb Bush drone on and on about how immigration is a very difficult and complicated problem and we have to be careful to consider all the potential causes and effects that policy changes might have… *falls asleep*

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        This is gnawing at me… I could swear I watched a documentary about modern political campaigns that included an attack ad of construction workers building a wall with a somber voiceover saying “[enemy candidate] wants to build a wall around America.” The visuals dated it to the late ’70s or Reagan administration.
        Am I crazy, or did Trump reclaim an old reductio/insult?

      • dodrian says:

        but I’m very skeptical of the claim that you can win people over by “making
        the issue more complex.”

        Trump performed well in the polls, but did he change many peoples’ minds about the issues? (I’m sure he collected some Democratic voters who agreed with him about, eg, immigration, but did he change anyone from pro-immigration to anti-immigration?)

        • Matt M says:

          Trump performed well in the polls, but did he change many peoples’ minds about the issues?

          I feel like he changed the minds of plenty of right-wingers on the issue of “Is it worth my time to bother voting for a Republican presidential candidate?” Which is the only issue that mattered to him.

          And none of his “Let me talk to you about how this issue is very complicated for several hours in an attempt to obfuscate the fact that I don’t agree with you” rivals did any better of a job of convincing blue tribe that Republicans aren’t racist. Did Mitt Romney win over any left-wing hearts and minds on any significant issues of our day? John McCain?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I basically agree. There’s a saying that my googling attributes to P.J. O’Rourke but I swear I heard elsewhere in conjunction with the financial meltdown, “complexity is fraud.” Whenever you hear “complex financial instrument,” run. This is someone trying to steal your money. You know what’s not fraud? Index funds, which are dead simple.

        Compare with Getting Eulered.

  20. J says:

    Someone on the subreddit posted calvinanddune.tumblr.com, which is delightful.

  21. johan_larson says:

    Here’s a question. Who is the least powerful person who can meaningfully affect the outcome of the next US presidential election?

    Let’s peg “meaningfully” at a 5% swing in the probability a particular candidate will win.

    My bet would be some of the staffers who do research to prepare the candidates for their debates. A flubbed answer to a question could possibly have a 5% effect, and ensuring the president had a good answer to that question could be the responsibility of some 25 year old junior staffer.

    • Matt M says:

      I have almost the extreme opposite view here. No one individual can affect the outcome of the election, possibly including the candidates themselves.

      • johan_larson says:

        One person can build a truck bomb that demolishes a major building. Detonating such a bomb in the midst of an election should meaningfully swing the election in the direction of whichever candidate has staked out a more ambitious anti-crime or anti-terrorism position.

        I agree with you that it’s hard for someone to deliberately swing the odds of the election. I don’t agree it’s anywhere near impossible.

        • Matt M says:

          5% is a pretty damn big swing.

          That’s a wider range than the difference between John Kerry/Hillary Clinton and Obama 2008.

        • albatross11 says:

          Yeah, it seems like very few people could shift an election 5% short of massive terrorism or assassination or some such awful thing. Assuming we’re not talking about either of those, what’s left?

          a. The candidates could probably throw the election by saying or doing something super-offensive[1] just before election day. Maybe the running mates, as well.

          b. High-ranking campaign aides could probably cause or help along some kind of unforced error, though it’s not so clear how big that would have to be to shift an election 5%. If Hillary’s collapse on 9/11 had been followed by just the wrong sort of PR response, maybe? (Like outraged denials that it was anyone’s business why she collapsed, an angry attack on journalists who asked the question, an “accidental” mention of a possible stroke quickly corrected, etc.)

          c. Anyone who had actual serious dirt on the candidate could release it to change the election outcome. Though again, this needs to be pretty big. Trump paying off a pornstar, probably not enough–Trump financing half a dozen abortions for his various lovers, maybe. John Edwards’ scandal would have done it[3].

          d. A really high-profile journalist at a high-profile publication might manage to make something up that was plausible-looking and damning enough to change the election outcome. OTOH, this did not work out so well for Walter Cronkite, despite his towering reputation and high-profile position[2]. And even if it worked, it would probably come apart on the journalist soon afterwards and end his career.

          e. If you were the FBI director and just the right information came in at the right time, you might manage to make just the right announcements to swing the election somehow. Probably even the guy you (inadvertently) got elected would can your ass for it, though.

          Who else?

          [1] Offensive to their voters, perhaps not offensive to you personally. And this would have to be really scary or offensive–not some comment that could kinda-sorta be taken in an offensive way, but a complete meltdown on TV, or saying a bunch of stuff that would intentionally drive all their voters away. Imagine the Republican candidate saying in an interview “You know, honestly, we’d be better off without a second amendment, and I’d like to work toward a country with no privately-owned firearms.”

          [2] Cronkite looks to have been fooled himself, probably because he really, really wanted to believe. I suspect that’s a very common situation for major journalistic f–kups.

          [3] A female ex-staffer and a male ex-staffer were living together with “their” child, but it turned out Edwards was paying them off to pretend it was theirs–really, it was his child with the ex-staffer.

          • johan_larson says:

            Let’s keep in mind that the 5% difference is how much a candidate’s probability of election rises or falls, not his lead in the polls. A candidate who is ahead in the polls by 20% has more than a 20% chance of victory; in fact, his victory is almost assured. So the 5% is significant, but not a huge swing.

          • Matt M says:

            But “probability of election” is a speculative and unknowable value.

            Did Comey’s announcements about Hillary’s e-mails decrease her odds of election by 5%? How can we know? Especially when we know that the oddsmakers wildly overestimated her chances throughout the entire process? (well, we don’t *know*, it’s possible they were completely correct and we just witnessed a 1-in-20 event or some such thing)

          • Don P. says:

            I presume you mean Dan Rather, not Walter Cronkite.

        • 10240 says:

          One person can build a truck bomb that demolishes a major building. Detonating such a bomb in the midst of an election should meaningfully swing the election

          … especially if one of the candidates is in the building.

      • sty_silver says:

        I mean, of course they could. All Obama would have had to do was to pull down his pants during a debate, and you got your 5% swing.

        • Aapje says:


        • Matt M says:

          I’m not even sure Trump’s comment about shooting someone in broad daylight was wrong.

          I myself had made similar comments about Obama during his Presidency (that he could murder someone on live TV and very few of his supporters would stop supporting him)

          • Some Troll's Serious Discussion Alt says:

            Having a bunch of innocent people killed for various reasons is an inherent part of carrying out the day to day duties of being president of the United States.That Trump has the moral courage to look at least one of them in the eye as he personally pulls the trigger is a ringing endorsement! Do you really want some liberal or cuckservative who just picks up the phone and erases people by the villagefull but doesn’t have the balls to be within a thousand miles?

          • AG says:

            insert Cheney joke here

    • John Schilling says:

      Here’s a question. Who is the least powerful person who can meaningfully affect the outcome of the next US presidential election?

      Lee Harvey Oswald was basically an inept loser in every other aspect of life, but he had a profound impact on JFK’s electoral prospects in 1964.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        There’s a question on Quora I had read just the other day that mentioned how this is virtually impossible to pull off today. Most of the answers seemed to say that no assassination has succeeded since 1963 because the Secret Service has gotten that much better.

        I’m not sure if I believe that – the sample size seems too small for me to definitively say they’ve reduced their error rate relative to assassins’ efficacy. OTOH, there have indeed been multiple attempts since then, including apparently many more after JFK than before, according to my brief search, and none have worked. Sample size seems to be roughly twenty.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Most of the answers seemed to say that no assassination has succeeded since 1963 because the Secret Service has gotten that much better.

          Hinckley only failed by the narrowest of margins, so I suspect there’s a large helping of luck involved.

          • CatCube says:

            They’ve changed their procedures dramatically since Hinckley, to where nobody is on a rope line without being screened. This drives politicians crazy, because they legitimately* love rope lines. The following is my recollection from “Inside the Secret Service” by Ronald Kessler:

            The Secret Service apparently started out only screening people on rope lines that were near the president, where they would plan on shaking hands, but didn’t bother with ones in the distance where people were there not to shake hands but to only get a glimpse of the President. Bill Clinton then drove the Secret Service crazy, because he’d walk to any rope line in his field of vision, even the non-screened ones. After the Secret Service failed to convince him to stop doing this, they started screening every person who would come within sight of him, which is where I believe their procedure still stands.

            * I mean in the sense that (based on the little reading I’ve done) most Presidents and hopefuls thereof seem to enjoy it for its own sake–not merely for cynical political calculations. The descriptions I’ve heard is that Clinton especially would “come alive” when out shaking hands in a way that he didn’t elsewhere.

          • John Schilling says:

            Hinckley only failed by the narrowest of margins, so I suspect there’s a large helping of luck involved.

            And Oswald was only captured by the narrowest of margins, which I doubt would be the case today. So, luck and procedures both.

            This isn’t the place to discuss Presidential assassination tactics, but there’s only so much that can be done to protect someone whose job requires so many public appearances. I think any reasonably intelligent person with the resources and credible persona of an average middle-class American would have a good chance of assassinating a president or presidential candidate, if they set their mind to it and if they didn’t mind a near-certainty of being caught or killed in the process.

  22. mobile says:

    Scott recently asked what would happen if the police chief publicly commits that from now on, he’s going to prioritize solving muggings over solving burglaries? No one is sure.

    But thanks to a police chief in Florida, we now know what happens when you prioritize solving burglaries!

  23. HeelBearCub says:

    I’m just surprised that the original Conflict vs. Mistake post did not include the word religion, and did not mention, say, abortion or (even better) homosexual relationships.

  24. albatross11 says:

    Quillette piece by a self-described ex-online-mobber who repented after he was purged from his movement.

    I suspect that the mindset he describes is a common mode for human brains and societies to fall into–one you can find in a lot of times and places. What beliefs are heretical and what measures may be done against them changes over time and place, but the basic mental/social machinery seems very similar. Today it’s secret Jews or heretics, tomorrow it’s secret Communists, the next day, it’s secret racists. But always it’s secret shameful evil beliefs that threaten the community and must be rooted out.

    This makes me suspect that having a predefined program available to help you fit into this kind of social environment must have been useful for our ancestors for a very long time–that would explain why you see it all over the world, from many different cultural and genetic environments.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Have you read any of Rene Girard?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I think his story is plausible, but I wonder what his well-paid job in the social justice industry was.

    • Aapje says:


      Think away the police and other bits of modern civilization and instead imagine a (small) society which is faced with challenges and various ideas how to solve them, where the worst option is often to spread the resources thin. So if most people and/or the most respected/capable people decide to do A, they need to be able to make the people who prefer B go along with A, rather than lose those resources by having them do B, or having to kill them.

      Hence the ability and willingness to shame (or worse) people into submission.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Conversion stories are untrustworthy by nature. Pseudonymous ones even more so. Quillette is reasonably trustworthy, but not THAT trustworthy.

      If real, it’s notable that he thinks his story does not identify him.

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, I have no idea whether he’s telling the truth about his story. It’s quite possible that someone at Quillette verified it, but I don’t know that, and if so, I don’t know how or how carefully they verified it. And Quillette has a pretty strong editorial position against the sort of woke social-media-mobbing movements that this guy purports to represent, so you could imagine them wanting to believe they had a repentant social-media-mobber confessing his sins. (They publish a lot of the sort of people that the woke social-media-mobbing types either have mobbed successfully or wish they could hound off the public stage, but their target’s making too much money off their Youtube channel, public appearances, and lobster-oriented self-help advice books.)

    • Well... says:

      Imagine you live in a city with a professional sports team that is potentially going to be bought or sold in a way such that the team will “move” to some distant place. There is an organization lobbying to keep the team in the city, and you see bumper stickers with this organization’s motto every-damn-where.

      You personally don’t care about the sports team and are pretty sure its presence in the city is probably a net drain on the economy, as most top-tier professional sports teams are*, and you’d happily support a counter-lobbying organization dedicated to getting the team to leave.

      But you know that if you put a bumper sticker to that effect on your car, the likelihood of it causing you problems would be enormous, so you definitely don’t do that. And, if you were out having some beers with your friends and the bar announced it was giving half the proceeds that night to the “keep the team here” organization, you wouldn’t refuse to spend any money there. None of this makes you a coward. You think, sports teams just aren’t that important anyway.

      Now, if an alien came down and saw your behavior but somehow knew your baseline opinion was that you didn’t really want the team to stay, it might think you’re afflicted with mob mentality.

      *Wait, is this really true? I’ve heard it since forever and assumed it was true but never really checked it out for myself.

      • Matt M says:

        My understanding is that it’s not that sports teams, in and of themselves, are net drains on the economy.

        It’s that the “economic development” promised by stadiums in order to justify massive usage of public funds, tax breaks, etc. never materialize. And as it currently stands, most sports teams benefit from such things, because if their home city doesn’t offer them, they can credibly threaten to move to another city who will (not that they often have to, usually cities don’t hesitate to fork over whatever the team owner demands)

        I have a tough time imagining that a sports team fully funded by private contributions could be a “drain” on the economy in any meaningful way.

        • Well... says:

          OK, gotcha. So, this massive usage of public funds could be called a “drain” since it takes money that might be better spent somewhere else, and in this forking over of whatever the team owner demands in exchange for economic development that never materializes, it’s conceivable that many cities are left much worse off by pro sports teams than they would have been otherwise. Does that sound right?

          • Matt M says:

            Yes – but once again, it’s not the sports team that makes them worse off, it’s the giving of public funds towards a promise of development that is essentially a giant fraud.

            I imagine the same thing often happens with industrial parks, corporate development projects, etc. It’s hardly a unique to sports problem, sports just gets a lot more press than other things.

            Any sort of economic enterprise will provide net benefits if privately financed, and almost certainly net losses if publicly financed.

          • Well... says:

            The difference is, people don’t get tribal over keeping an industrial park in town.

          • Nick says:

            Matt may be relying here on these Atlantic articles about the NFL. From the second one:

            The league’s primary subsidies flow to construction and operation of stadia. All are at least partially publicly funded: some, entirely so. Judith Grant Long, a professor of sports management at the University of Michigan, estimates that taxpayers provide about 70 percent of the cost of building and operating the fields where NFL teams play. Yet the NFL’s owners keep more than 90 percent of revenue generated at their subsidized facilities, while AT&T, CBS, Comcast/NBC, Disney/ESPN, Fox, Verizon, and Yahoo profit through transmission of the copyrighted NFL images produced in publicly subsidized stadia.

            The NFL is on the dole in numerous other respects. Most of the league’s facilities either pay no property taxes (such as Texas’s AT&T Stadium, where the Cowboys perform) or are taxed at a far lower rate than comparable local businesses (such as New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, where the Giants and Jets cavort). Stadium construction deals often involve significant gifts of land from the public for NFL use (such as Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, where the “San Francisco” 49ers play).

            Hidden costs may include city or county government paying electricity, water, and sewer charges for a stadium (such as First Energy Stadium in Cleveland, where the Browns perform), the city paying for a new electronic scoreboard out of “emergency” funds (ditto First Energy) or the issuance of tax-free bonds that divert investors’ money away from school, road, and mass-transit infrastructure (Hamilton County, Ohio, issued tax-free bonds to fund the stadium where the Cincinnati Bengals play, and has chronic deficits for school and infrastructure needs as a result)….

            Documents supporting the Inglewood plan claim that a $1.9 billion NFL stadium, mostly funded by taxpayers, would cause $3.8 billion in local economic expansion. This “magic multiplier” fails the giggle test. Many studies have shown that for any dollar of civic investment, building roads, bridges, mass transit, and other infrastructure has far more multiplier effect than building NFL fields.

            Baseball fields can pass a multiplier test, because they cost so much less than NFL stadia and are used so much more often. Professional football fields are a capital-investment double whammy—the dearest kind of sports facility to build, then used the least. Glendale, Arizona, where the most recent Super Bowl was played, funded most of the stadium in which the Arizona Cardinals perform, after receiving magic-multiplier promises. Today the city has trouble hiring police officers and EMTs because 40 percent of its budget goes to retiring stadium debt. The promised magical economic boom did not occur.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The difference is, people don’t get tribal over keeping an industrial park in town.

            Wait, what? As soon as I read this, I instantly thought of the group of people employed by said park (and their families), vs. the groups that want to replace that park with something else (environmentalists, rival businesspeople, etc.).

            Of course, I don’t think that’s what @Well… meant by tribal. Said park employees aren’t attending park events wearing bodypaint of the park logo or anything like that. So, maybe stadiums provide non-monetary benefits? Namely, a tribe for people to be in? How would we measure the utility of that? People who stay in town and cite team pride as a reason?

          • Nornagest says:

            The difference is, people don’t get tribal over keeping an industrial park in town.

            You’ve never lived in a small town, have you? Development politics can get incredibly tribal.

          • Well... says:

            I’ve lived in a small town but not one that was going through this kind of thing, at least not while I lived there. I can definitely envision a small town getting up in arms about a non-sports organization that’s considering relocating, especially if they employ lots of people from the town.

            However, I currently live in a fairly large city that is going through this kind of thing with a sports team, and that’s more the situation I’m referring to. What’s important is, it’s a situation where the Thing leaving probably wouldn’t be so bad for the city, it’s just people’s loyalty to the Thing that makes them want it to remain there.

            When I said “tribal” that was maybe not the best term. What I meant to point to was, if an office park “leaves”, the people who complain will be just the people who work there. You won’t see ubiquitous bumper stickers, window decals, license plate holders, T-shirts, hats, keychains, billboards, etc. all over City X reading “Save the Office Park” or “Keep the Office Park in City X”.

          • Matt M says:


            I was thinking in the other direction. When a corporation promises to move in if only the town will give them a really sweet deal, things can get pretty contentious pretty fast.

            Famously, they bulldozed Suzette Kelo’s little pink house to make way for some fancy development project that was sure to raise all kinds of awesome tax revenue for the city – but now stands as an empty field, because the development simply never came. I’m willing to bet that got pretty contentious.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Oddly enough, Kelo’s house survived that case.

      • albatross11 says:


        This is a nice example of something that ought to (maybe does) have a name.

        It seems like the most important thing about this situation is that there’s some issue X for which some people have really strong feelings, and others don’t care very much. Maybe that’s using the right pronouns for transpeople, or closing down some libraries and hospitals so we can afford to keep the local football team, or saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays,” or whatever.

        The second thing you need is that the people who care a lot about the issue are willing/able to be very vocal about it, and will give anyone who takes the other side in public some pushback. Maybe that means just being treated rudely by X-supporters, maybe it means an occasional extreme X-supporter punches you out, maybe it means an organized campaign of harrassment by X-supporters.

        And third, you need for the people who don’t care that much to broadly be unwilling (or unable) to push back on the pro-X response. That might happen because the community is 90% pro-X and they’re scary when they’re mad, or because only a tiny minority is pro-X, but the issue doesn’t matter very much to most people and the pro-X people are kind-of annoying and loud, and who needs the extra hassle?

        I also suspect there’s a kind of society-wide coordination that happens here. When the pro-X folks are really vocal and the anti-X (or X-indifferent) people are quiet, it can be hard to know how many people really support X. A widespread pushback against loud pro-X people might cause a lot of anti-X people to realize they can get away with telling the pro-X-ers to go pound sand. A very public exercise of pro-X power clobbering a vocal anti-X-er signals everyone that pushing back on X is a bad idea. (Something like this happens in dictatorships, when everyone suddenly realizes that everyone *else* agrees with them that the dictator is an idiot and suddenly, the secret police are outnumbered 20:1 by rioting citizens.)

  25. Deiseach says:

    Another historical find in the Boyne valley.

    • Aapje says:

      Dr Clíodhna Lionáin, Devenish’s lead archaeologist for the project said:


    • John Schilling says:

      Said Dr. Randolph Carter of Miskatonic University, “Whatever is buried here, these people clearly felt the need to put a ginormous stone slab over the tomb. And there are portentous symbols carved into the stone, but since we haven’t been able to translate any of them we’re just calling them ‘art’. But on with the fun, and let’s break into this crypt! I can’t wait to see what awesome stuff is inside!”

  26. thcloak says:

    I remember having read a parable about a bored barista who stops serving coffee, and expects his regulars to keep coming for the morning chatter. He subsequently feels betrayed when people stop showing up.
    It was part of a lengthy article on a bias of sorts… very possible it’s Scott’s, though it might be one of the old ones at Livejournal. Googling didn’t help. Anyone find it familiar?

    • Charles F says:

      I’m almost completely sure it was Yudkowsky, not Scott. And if it helps jog anybody else’s memory, there was also a rich guy who stopped spending money on his dates, and a professor who stopped their class from being worth credits.

    • blacktrance says:

      It was on Eliezer’s Facebook. Link

      • thcloak says:

        Great! Thank you 🙂

      • carvenvisage says:

        What a nihilisticly depressing way to look at life.

        Also, on an argumentative level it he just sneaks his assumption in when he jumps straight from professional relationships where someone is explicitly paid to give a service to personal ones. Those are obviously different, the first two are by definition transactional. And then to add gall to surreptitious snakelike audacity he makes them sexual ones too.

        It’s presented like a natural gradient, but there is no gradient, the whole purpose of the gradient idea is to disguise this non-sequitur of a leap from transactions are naturally transactional to sex is naturally transactional.

        Well, further evidence he hasn’t outgrown his early heinlein based brain damage.

        • quanta413 says:

          I’m going to ignore the sex part, because that just adds another layer of complications. And because I got tired of reading Yudkowsky’s essay long before he finished that section. It’s like he’ll never use 100 words where 1000 words will do. I suppose I have a similar problem although maybe not quite as bad.

          Are you saying it’s nihilistic to believe that friendships are transactional (in the sense of involving mutual exchange not in the sense of being a business)? How do you prefer to think of friendship? I’d probably sort most relationships into having very strong components of either “socially obligated ties by tradition” or “transactional”, but I wouldn’t say there’s a super clear distinction. And rarely you get really (un)lucky and deal with someone who interacts with people based more upon some sort of rules based system with little regard for exchange. But I’ve met very few people (maybe 0) who I’d put mostly in this last category.

          • LesHapablap says:

            I’m the same way in that I regard my relationships as transactional. For example, if someone does a few favors for me I feel strongly that I owe them, and worry about harming the relationship if I don’t return the favor. I used to think this was normal and healthy, but I have come to realize that it is likely very immature. And if you can stand Mark Manson’s writing style:


            Transactional/rule-based values rob you of the trust, intimacy, and love necessary to remain an emotionally healthy and happy human being. This is because, when you view all relationships and actions as a means to an end, you will suspect an ulterior motive in everything that happens and everything anyone ever does to you.

          • Aapje says:


            I think that it is both true that relationships are actually far more transactional than most people perceive them to be, but also that because people are different, there is no objective ‘fairness.’

            If Bob likes to make dinner and his girlfriend Mary really likes to have dinner made for her, then the benefits of Bob making dinner for Mary is far higher than the benefits of Mary making dinner for Bob. So an optimal quid-pro-quo is then likely to be Bob always making dinner and Mary doing something for Bob that he really likes. This doesn’t necessarily involve (large) sacrifice on her part.

            Due to the impossibility to calculate utils or costs objectively, the usual behavior by couples is a subtle power struggle, where the partners signal their desires and try to get them met, while making sacrifices that they consider fair & reasonable. The best matches couples have partners who are able to meet the desires of the other at low cost to themselves, so the positive sum elements of the relationship are far larger than the zero sum elements.

            It is very common for people to identify and see the value in taking on the zero sum burdens, so they can get the positive sum benefits from the relationships. For example, it is very typical advice that you have to work on a relationship to keep it healthy.

            I disagree with Manson that recognizing the mechanisms at work necessarily results in a cynical outlook that prohibits trust, intimacy and love. A lot of people have low self-esteem. If they recognize that they bring value to their partner’s life and that person is willing to take on burdens for them, this can create a very healthy level of self-confidence. That seems way more healthy than treating the other person as some magical fountain of love and inexplicable behavior.

            A person who truly believes that there is no quid-pro-quo will be very susceptible to either become narcissistic in the relationship or to become victim of narcissistic behavior by their partner.

            I don’t think that Manson truly believes what he says, but that because he is neurotypical, human power struggles come naturally to him. That gives him the luxury of ignoring what he and his partner are doing and believing in the fiction that unconditional love exists.

          • carvenvisage says:

            First a technical thing, I didn’t say “most relationships”, I said personal relationships. -i.e. actual friends, close family, other family you actually like, possibly or possibly not who you hang around with at lunch, etc.

            And rarely you get really (un)lucky and deal with someone who interacts with people based more upon some sort of rules based system with little regard for exchange.

            Maybe I misunderstood something and these people are not so much boyfriend and girlfriend as “fuck-acquaintances”, but it’s really quite simple: if you’re friends with someone, the idea is that you like them and want them to be happy. -That’s the rule, the whole byzantine labyrinth.


            It’s not extremely easy to explain why, but I think it is built into human nature:

            One reason would be because humans have a limited capacity for bonding, so if you act like (what society traditionally recognises as-) someone’s friend, but you (in all good will and innocence) view it as a pleasant mutually beneficial arrangement, where neither of you ever need to see one another again, then maybe they’ll end up expending their capacity to built relationships of reciprocal loyalty in that time without doing so, and additionally at some point suffer some backlash.

            Which reminds me: bear in mind that I’m not the best person to explain basic-wholesome-natural-human things like friendship, -I’m the most introverted person I know by far, and the reason I’m aware of this last thing I mentioned is not because I have ever suffered this backlash, but because I notice how comparatively soft and cuddly other people are, and try to avoid that they mistake me for their friend. So any random 9 year old girl could probably give a far clearer and more direct explanation than I can. Or perhaps reading harry potter. -Consider me like one of the four blind guys with a hand on the elephant.. except that instead I’m the half deaf guy relaying their confused report over a very poor line.

            Anyway, humans do naturally “bond” with one another, -one kid goes up to the other and says I like you, or maybe in a fit of exuberance he punches him on the nose and after an enjoyable scuffle they come to a mutual understanding, -and boom, friends for life. (sometimes).

            -Of course, not everyone has to have the same propensity to form bonds with other people, and it’s perfectly okay to be a solitary person or a social butterfly, but just because that’s perfectly valid too doesn’t make it friendship.

            -And the propensity is generally quite high in the human population.


            tl;dr I suppose what is nihilistic (that is, other than the shell-game snakelike propogandising of one’s sexual mores, as The Immutable Truth, like a cynical predator), is that not even these people’s intergender-wrestling-and-intimate-talks-partners are their friends.

            -And they seem to think they are, -friendship is like being a professor or a barista, right? (Transactional relationships are transactional. translactional relationships are relationships. Therefore all relationships are transactional, Quod erat demonstratum, bow, curtain fall, thank you and goodnight.)

            edit: actually what is probably more depressing is that the atttitude is essentially hostile and jealous of good will. “I do this, now you owe me. I do this so you owe me so I get what I want”. Rather than “I do this because I like you, you do things for me because you like me”, we both get what we want without having to enter this cunning/grasping/conspiring mindset.


            There’s reserving friendship for very few people, -that’s obviously fine, there’s rejecting it altogether -one can respect that too, but this seems like the capacity for ordinary friendship- just liking someone, wanting the best, has died in them altogether, or was never born, and they are trying to raise this lack up as something wise and to be admired. Sorry, it’s probably not your fault, but don’t proselytize your sickness.


            “Life is inevitably transactional!” Well sure, in some bizarre technical sense- If you doing well makes me exorbitantly pleased, then “really all I’m doing is fulfilling my own selfish desires by supporting you”, but that’s a bit fucking different from systematically grasping after higher social status, free meals etc by being a hanger-on of the wealthy and powerful, on the basis that it’s more rational to tie-break thus when things are otherwise even.


            The reason not to do things like tie-break on that basis isn’t so much that it’s cruel or immoral, -though for the record it is free-riding (it’s not too harmful for some people to do, but if everyone did that would suck), -it’s that it’s degrading to go around thinking like that.

            How can I squeeze the most out of this, how can I sell my body (but all things are transactional!) to the highest bidder?

            What Eliezer calls “reaching up towards” is more usually known as grasping, and what’s wrong with it is not primarily that it’s immoral, -though it is a bit, it’s that it’s 1. ugly 2. degrading (to the person doing it) and to a lesser extent 3. free riding.


            did you know that so called “alpha” and “beta” wolves, -the whole source of that dumbass meme, are usually just parent and offspring wolves. -Wolves apparently mate for life and the “packs” they travel around in are usually just families.

            This advocacy strikes me the same way the “everyone is alpha or beta” did way way back when that started to become popular. I can explain something of what is objectively wrong with it,–but what’s fundamentally wrong with it is that it’s blatantly someone’s mental sickness or at best limitation that they’re trying to push on other people for selfish ends. Whether that’s trying to preemptively prevent criticism of behaviour “I’m just alpha, that’s my immutable personality” “Sex is inherently transactional, like coffee shops, why wouldn’t you fuck me because I’m famous? -That’s irrational”, or merely for the speaker to convince themself there is nothing wrong with them/that everyone else is just as bad. (I’m not saying it is intentionally the former- I am serious when I say “heinlein based brain damage”)

          • quanta413 says:


            it’s really quite simple: if you’re friends with someone, the idea is that you like them and want them to be happy. -That’s the rule, the whole byzantine labyrinth.

            I feel like this is sort of true in the sense of how things might feel but doesn’t actually explain how friendship works. It gives no ideas of duty or obligations. It doesn’t help me decide how to balance my friend’s happiness against my moral beliefs etc. Friendship should be roughly symmetric for one thing. If you like someone and want them to be happy, but they don’t like you, then you aren’t friends. And it doesn’t explain how people become friends in the first place either.

            If a friend suddenly stopped doing something important for me that they had been doing for a while and nothing else changed, I’m probably going to like them less. I will then be less likely to do stuff for them. And so on and so forth until the friendship obtains a new equilibrium. So even if there isn’t a literal quid pro quo, human psychology sustains mutual exchange but over a longer time horizon and with much less well specified commitments.

            For example, friendships tend to die when people move away for this reason. It takes a lot more effort to maintain a friendship at a long distance and so it has to be really worth it to expend that effort.

            actually what is probably more depressing is that the atttitude is essentially hostile and jealous of good will. “I do this, now you owe me. I do this so you owe me so I get what I want”. Rather than “I do this because I like you, you do things for me because you like me”, we both get what we want without having to enter this cunning/grasping/conspiring mindset.

            That’s not what I got from it, although I got bored less 1/3 of the way through the last scenario and basically skipped to the last sentence. I see a distinct lack of owing in the story. I agree with beleester’s interpretation that the moral is that you can’t just trade on any specific part of a friendship. So what’s happening is that if you stop doing something with or for someone, they like you less and you probably lose out on some other unrelated thing with them. They’ll find someone who fulfills that need and then they’ll like that person and do things with them. And since a person’s time is finite, you’ll get less time on average. Not always, maybe some other thing will get bumped first if it’s an even worse deal, but that’s not the way to bet.

            I am serious when I say “heinlein based brain damage”

            I’ve never read Heinlein so I have no idea what you’re talking about.

          • “No man is so wealthy that he objects to receiving a gift in exchange for his gift.”

          • carvenvisage says:

            You and beelester are missing the forest for the trees, seizing on the nominal unobjectionable idea (motte) that “it’s okay for friendship to be transactional (to an extent)”. No shit! If you think that’s all he’s saying then it’s no wonder you think he’s wasting a thousand words where a hundred could do.

            The whole point of the essay is its application to sexual relationships. He “builds” straight from definitionally, emblematically, transactional relationships, to [-abrupt transition-] lecturing people about how their misgivings or discomfort with unusually transactional sexual relationships is contrary to reason and nature.

            He does not cover a varied sample of relationship types, like he might if he was interested in transactionality more generally. He goes straight from professional relationships, to dates, to harems, and it’s only in the last two, (-and really the last one), that he says anything new.

            The rest is a preamble, a false crescendo. He presents it like a smooth progression, but that is the opposite of what it is. Like the joke;

            Spell “roast.”
            Spell “coast.”
            Spell “most.”
            What do you put in a toaster?


            -It’s a pure bamboozle, using the appearance of progression to justify a controversial case by cases that are so obvious they’re not even questions.


            Lets take a look at case number 3 (because it’s less controversial)-

            Wall street guy is an exagerated caricature of someone who is disillusioned when he realises that a relationship was more transactional than he thought. What makes him ridiculous is that he keeps wearing this 4000$ business suit to the mcdonald dates, which of course comes across as a “fuck you lol”. If he wore casual clothes to the dates it would not be offensive to be wealthy and go on a low key date.

            It is the fact that the suit announces him to be a guy who likes ostentatious displays of wealth (or appears to) that makes the lack of the ostentatious displays of wealth absurd and even offensive.

            His disillusionment is not ridiculous in itself (unless perhaps in how he failed to notice it before). -But his emotional reaction is perfectly legitimate. He didn’t realise how much it was about his wealth, now he does, and he doesn’t like it so much.

            Where does he go from there? The dichotomy he presents is: Either the guy wears his 4000$ suits to macdonalds and calls all the previous women harpies, or he grows up and realises that all relationships are inherently transactional and he’s a big baby for thinking they could be less transactional or perhaps transactional in terms of his humour persona or personality rather than his wealth.

            When the guy could just take off the suit.

            And the guy’s lamenting that obviously the “women don’t care about him at all” is just Yudkowsky putting words in that position’s mouth. The equivalent of having your opponent’s position represented by a guy with a hitler moustache.

            TL:DR The whole thing is just malicious demagoguery.

            And that’s before we get onto what he’s trying to push by this sophistry and why. -He has a lot of admirers. “women, give up your misgivings, shallow transactional relationships are the only kind that’s real” is a very clear bait set on a very clear hook.


        • beleester says:

          I think I took the opposite moral from you. His argument wasn’t really that sex is transactional, it’s that social interactions come as a package deal and trying to break them down into individual transactions is weird and unacceptable to most people.

          If there is a transaction here, it’s one of those weird Platonic social contracts that we never actually signed but was created by mutual expectations. And society’s expectations can be dumb or shallow, but you still can’t renegotiate a social contract all by yourself.

          Not how I’d choose to model it, but maybe it’s useful for some people.

  27. Joeleee says:

    With the discussion of sleep etc on here, does anyone have any recommendations for good dawn simulators? The things I’m looking for (if it’s possible):

    – The ability to customise the length of the ‘dawn’. I wake up significantly before my SO, so would love to have it start a little when I get up, but be properly bright when she does.
    – No noise or alarm when it reaches brightness. I would still want to use my own separate alarm.

    If anyone has any suggestions that either cover the above, or just work well, that would be awesome!

    • carvenvisage says:

      the windows 10 inbuilt one (“night light”) seems to cover those.

      • Lapsed Pacifist says:

        You have to leave a monitor on in the sleeping room. That might be an issue for me. I find that Win10 sleep/wake functions are spotty anyway, but the convenience of your suggestion might lead to my trying to set it up today for tomorrow.

    • Carey Underwood says:

      Any of the smart bulbs can gradually dim and such on a schedule; leds by their nature require micromanagement of their current consumption or they self destruct, and by the time you’ve put a microprocessor on it, literally no further components are needed to vary the brightness millisecond to millisecond.

  28. Typhoon Jim says:

    I think the problem I have with conflict vs mistake is that there are two sorts of truth with which one is concerned when it comes to understanding the world, and a conflict versus repairing a mistake are responses to each kind of truth. There are truths like mathematical axioms and physical laws that tend to be self executing and are open to experiment. Philosophical concepts can also be this sort of truth (they arise from contemplation.) Then there are truths like “that guy stole my wallet” or “France won the world cup” which are not in themselves open to analysis as stated. These are jump balls that could by their own rules have gone either way before the fact, and very little about stating them helps me in the same way that, say, a mathematical identity does. These truths are unalterable (since they already happened) but come from the interactions of people and reality.

    Any coherent political concept has both these truths in play (remember a document starting with “we hold these truths to be self evident”?) but will use them as their purposes demand (said document didn’t just stop there, but went on to define a huge number of contingent systems.) As such I think mistake vs conflict is valuable but only in regard to each sort of truth, and that they are appropriate to what is being addressed. If you can get everyone to agree that something self evident is in play, then you can work with a mistake. If what you have is contingency, then conflict is in order. Also, if both sides can’t agree on truths, they will find themselves in conflict by default regardless of who is mistaken.

  29. Paul Brinkley says:

    Mike Godwin wrote an opinion piece last month on his eponymous law that I think would appeal to SSCers. I didn’t see it mentioned in any OT since then.


  30. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    NYT has a piece today arguing that charter schools have had clear positive results in post-Katrina New Orleans that, unlike other charter outcomes, aren’t confounded by selection bias.

    Is this for real?

  31. Swami says:

    Honestly, every discussion of the conflict vs mistake dichotomy causes my mind to go numb. It comes across as gibberish. I think it needs to be tossed out completely. It doesn’t need a slight editing, but to be pulled out at the roots and started anew.

    May I suggest the following dichotomy. A zero sum vs positive sum view of the world. I would not divide this into groups of people or political camps, but into ways of thinking which we all lapse in and out of.

    In our zero sum mentality, the key to success is to get a bigger piece of the pie for ourselves and our group. We assume we already know how to make the pie, the key to success is to get a bigger slice. Since others are competing with us for these slices, it is essential that we do anything to weaken them and strengthen ourselves. Indeed, it makes sense to destroy their slices so as to weaken them so they can’t use their vigor to take our slices. Dialogue is a trick, something we use to get a bigger slice, and something they use to rationalize their slices. Fairness is an argument to rationalize more slices for us, and which they use as an argument for their added slices.

    In a zero sum battle, a zero sum mindset is pretty useful.

    The alternative mindset though is a positive sum one. The key for success is to grow the pie, thus creating more and bigger and better slices for all. Easier said than done though. How do we grow the pie in an entropic, Malthusian universe which is working against us? The focus within this mindset is discovery, trial, experimentation, rational discussion, debate, cooperation and constructive competition with positive externalities. Within the positive sum mentality, we recognize that growing the pie, though extremely difficult, is possible, if we can just figure out how.

    Once we set the dichotomy between two ways of thinking (rather than types of people), it becomes clear that within each way of thinking, the other way is a threat. If you are in a zero sum battle, then you really should suspect the positive sum rhetoric of the other group is a trick to rationalize their bigger slice. It probably is.

    But in a positive sum game, the zero sum mindset itself becomes the enemy or in previous terms, the mistake. It takes our sight off growing the pie into endless zero and usually negative sum battles over slices. The first step in creating a positive sum game is to get everyone to quit treating it like a zero sum game.

    I suggest dropping the conflict vs mistake theory completely and rewriting it as a dichotomy between two useful (in the right time and place) ways of thinking.

    I will end by suggesting at a higher meta level, our positive sum mindset needs to win at least over the longer term. If we treat the world as zero sum, we have already lost.

    • Aapje says:

      A zero sum vs positive sum view of the world.

      That’s what I already argued for when the original post came out.

      The complexity is that:
      – Most situations have both zero sum and positive sum elements
      – You can in theory always achieve the best outcome for yourself by going with the zero sum solution, even in a (mostly) positive sum situation, but
      – Going for the zero sum solution usually means that the other side will fight you hard, which often leads to stalemates, unless you are much stronger than the other side, in which case you can oppress the other side.
      – So this means that it is crucial to maintain a decent ability to fight back, even if only to make sure that the other side decides that a positive sum solution coupled with compromises for the zero sum elements results in the best outcome for them, rather than oppressing you.
      – Lots of people are dumb Utopian, tribal people, who are not naturally tolerant and who only recognize that the other side can fight back when the bullets starts flying, so
      – You generally need to keep a constant low level ‘war’ going to keep these people in check
      – Even people who are relatively tolerant and not so tribal are of mediocre intelligence and thus cannot grasp the mistakes, which causes them to (logically) fall back to zero sum solutions.

      • albatross11 says:

        One core idea I got from the original post, though, was that mistake theorists allowed for the idea that their ideas might be wrong, and so they might need to work together with the other side to get to a better picture of reality. Maybe that’s not a required part of the idea, but it seems important–if we’re disagreeing on how to best build rockets to get to Mars, then scorched-Earth tactics to make sure my side wins are probably a pretty bad way to actually get the rocket to work. On the other hand, if we’re in a true zero-sum situation where either my tribe or your tribe gets the goodies and we’re trying to decide where the goodies will end up, then there’s no difference of opinion to be resolved.

        [ETA] I think even when we are in a zero-sum conflict, there are usually non-zero-sum surrounding areas that allow us to have some level of negotiation and coordination and to benefit from accepting some limits on our tactics. The classic example here is the notion that nobody should be able to get the other side put into jail for holding the wrong opinion–with the underlying assumption that this protection may apply to your side at some point in the future. But similarly, when we’re trying to decide how we will split up the goodies between our tribes, we’ve both got an incentive to avoid costly open warfare or conflict at a level that would destroy the goodies we want to win for our tribe. That’s not mistake theory at all–I don’t start thinking I can actually convince your tribe’s side to favor giving my tribe all the goodies using sweet reason–but it’s still not a zero-sum approach to the world.

        Note that there are a lot of examples of opposite sides in some very serious conflicts (including WW2 and the Cold War) recognizing some limits on warfare, presumably because both sides thought it was better for their side to do so.

      • carvenvisage says:

        You can in theory always achieve the best outcome for yourself by going with the zero sum solution, even in a (mostly) positive sum situation, but

        Given perfect acting and subterfuge, never inadvertently revealing this intention, and dodging discoveries by random bad luck. -Presumably not a theory of human beings.

      • LesHapablap says:

        – You can in theory always achieve the best outcome for yourself by going with the zero sum solution, even in a (mostly) positive sum situation, but

        In theory the positive sum solution will always be better. In negotiation, it is vital to understand the opponent’s interests, and to understand your own interests, so that you can look for ways to create value through the trade.

        The example often given in negotiation textbooks is two people arguing over the last orange at the supermarket. They can fairly agree to split the orange (zero sum) or they can agree that one takes the orange and pays a fee to the other (zero sum). But when they communicate their interests, they realize that one party just wants the rind (to make marmalade or something), and the other party wants the meat. So through communication they have doubled the overall value for both parties (compared to splitting, both parties have twice as much of their desired resource for the same overall cost).

        Notice however that there is still room for adversarial negotiation, even though a problem has been solved and value has been created. The guy who wants the rind can claim that rinds are worth less than meat, and so negotiate over how much of the orange he has to pay for. So there are always zero-sum aspects to any negotiation, and almost always positive-sum.

        • Aapje says:

          Given your and carvenvisage’s response, I was probably unclear.

          What I meant is nothing more than that if you ignore the other side AND get away with that, you always get the maximum that you want.

          If two people are arguing over that orange and I simply take the orange for myself, then I have what I want. That I throw away the rind, which the other person actually wanted, is sad for them, but irrelevant to fulfilling my needs.

          Now, in practice the other person often has power, even if only to damage me, so giving them the rind might prevent them from fighting me over that orange and by doing so, damage both the rind and spill the juice, so it becomes worth less to both of us.

          It can be worthwhile to threaten (and if necessary make good on) negative sum behavior, to force another person into positive sum behavior, if they could otherwise get away with zero sum behavior.

          Also see (threatening) worker strikes as an example.

          Of course, all of this is heavily dependent on various factors, like power disparities, what is perceived as fair, the willingness to accept situations perceived as unfair, etc.

        • carvenvisage says:

          Given your and carvenvisage’s response, I was probably unclear.

          What I meant is nothing more than that if you ignore the other side AND get away with that, you always get the maximum that you want.

          What I was getting at is that there are trade offs in human psychology (and signalling if you’re not a perfect 24/7 liar incl”body language”), for doing so at all, and especially for doing so all the time.

          If you don’t try to disguise it in the first place, like in the orange example then I’d say the statement isn’t true in the first place, as the game one cares about in the long run is “life” rather than “do I get this orange”

      • Swami says:

        In a zero sum game, the best action is to win at the expense of your opponent.

        On the broader level, of course, zero sum games are negative sum. The reason is that surviving and thriving take constant work in an entropic universe, and any effort wasted on net zero sum activities is time and energy and materials lost. If we aren’t paddling upstream, the current is taking us downstream. Thus the only sure fire way to stay ahead in a zero sum activity is to be the baddest mofo on the river. Collectively, we will almost all drift downstream, or a least our corpses will.

        The way out of the dilemma is to convert zero sum games into positive sum, constructive games. There can still be zero sum, competitive dimensions to the game (there usually are), but the overall result is to advance the overall condition of the larger group.

        When I hear this conflict vs mistake theory, I read that the conflict theorists are adopting a zero sum framework, and the mistake theorists are adopting a positive sum, let’s stop fighting over it and figure it out together framework. Neither framing is completely wrong or right, depending upon conditions, but the mistake theory (the positive sum possibility framing) is at a higher level of abstraction. It builds upon and goes beyond the zero sum framing.

        • albatross11 says:

          The more I think about it, the less clear I am on Scott’s original distinction. I can think of several mutually-somewhat-contradictory ways of thinking about it, with zero sum/positive sum being only one.

        • yodelyak says:

          I think your entropy-as-a-river post describes theoretical implications of game-theory for zero-sum competitions in no-teams-allowed, no mimetic-contagion settings.

          When big teams are allowed, you can get a big-team/small-team dynamics. The big team has almost everyone on it, but controls few to none of the individually nicest spots in the river. The small team plays defense of the nicest spots, and is targeted by the big team. (It’s a sort of a king-of-the-mountain, all-against-the-king mode.) The unifying element of the big team can be mistake stance (powered by moral realism and/or everyone investing in making everyone else feel guilty about being nasty conflict-types) while the unifying element of the small team–on some views usually a team of one or two, “a master and an apprentice“–is self-interest only. Small-team type teams often have to hide in plain sight, and have to aim to break up the unification of the big team by buying big-team leaders into service of small-team, or making them look bought and feeding them to the rest of big-team, or by hiding in plain sight because big-team people can be so busy feeling guilty they don’t even know how to spot small-team behaviors, or don’t know how to distinguish isolated bad acts by mostly-good big team player (arguably Al Franken) from proven pattern of evil conscience (hopefully uncontroversial example: Bill Cosby) (or, big-team individuals may not feel they can make this distinction without getting eaten themselves). To the extent kings and would-be kings have a unifying stance, it’s an “anti-mistake-theory” belief that conflicts are irreducible and guilt and moral realism maladaptive. IMHO, our current politics in the U.S. fit pretty well onto this mode, but the “big team” is doing much better than in most countries in most of history.

          I’m a moral realist and so, in the abstract, firmly on big team, plus I think life is usually better as a minor leader, or even a not-quite-starving follower, on big team than as a precarious, highly-positioned leader of a small team. Perhaps especially because big-team has good symbiotic cleaner-fish, while small-teams usually have only lead shark, follow shark, parasite, and detritus-feeders. Being afraid and defensive sucks. However I’m not sure how to be effective given all the problems big team has, not least of which is that there are stable equilibriums and an ecology here, so change is extremely hard and trying to change the system from within the system is as ill-advised as trying to literally lift oneself by one’s bootstraps… but we’re all in the system. I also think that social complexity has reached a level that cannot be sustained if big team suffers continued losses, so I’d be pleased to see big team less commonly eating its own, even if that might mean a lowered focus on sharing perks of nice river-spots. I also think big team needs to back off from socialist projects that run mindlessly into fundamental economic laws (e.g. price ceilings cause shortages) or rely on centralized power (because kings) but that bars many of the projects that unify big team, so at least some big teamers would gladly eat me as a would-be king if I were open about my views… which (outside view) may mean that I’m effectively playing for small-team already… Shoot, see how hard this is?

          So far I think the best way to play for big team and enjoy the happiness that can come with that usually smells like religion/humanism, but good luck working out the details of that.

          Oh. At the onset I said “no teams, no mimetic contagion” but didn’t explain why mimetic contagion is a problem. I think usually very small small-teams rely substantially on control of mimetic generation and mimetic contagion… they not only are kings, but it is their divine right to be so, and whole countries come to believe it implicitly. Said mimetic control/contagion is their principle tool for feeding big-team leaders to big team’s rank-and-file. (The King’s competitors can be treasonous or heretical, the King, never.)

          Or look at Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist 1 on how tyrants get power:

          “On the other hand, it will be equally forgotten that the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.”

          Problems of central power and mimetic control/contagion are also why I strongly support *small* churches rooted in *old* slow-moving traditions. Certainly a church with more than 1000 members per pastor, or more than 10,000 members overall rings all kinds of alarum in my mind. I was very glad to see the “yes we’re aware of the skulls” post on this blog, and the effort to create small, local meet-ups, because this community has its own problems in that vein.

          This whole view fits nicely onto the typology of “Staying Classy”: a working class struggling against a gentry, which in turn is struggling against an elite, which is mainly struggling to enjoy the prerogatives of being elite while getting the working class to continue not noticing that there’s an elite somewhere above the gentry who are the ones screwing things up for everyone, because if labor and gentry work together to rein in elite excess, that very well might work.

  32. aphyer says:

    My reservations with the Conflict vs Mistake post dont lend themselves to minor edits, but think it’s worth putting them down:

    I think mistake theory/conflict theory in an argument is isomorphic to cooperating/defecting in a prisoner’s dilemma. You can work together on both getting small payoffs, or you can try to screw over the other guy and get a large payoff for yourself (at the cost of trapping both parties in a Nash equilibrium).

    Given this, when Scott says things along the lines of ‘this blog has previously been focused on mistake theory and has not appreciated conflict theory’, I parse it as ‘this blog has previously cooperated in prisoner’s dilemmas and has not appreciated the big payoff of defecting.’ This worries me.

    • Swami says:

      While I was typing my response below, you seem to have written a similar take on the issue.

    • Guy in TN says:

      I parse it as ‘this blog has previously cooperated in prisoner’s dilemmas and has not appreciated the big payoff of defecting.’ This worries me.

      Why does that worry you? The best strategy in a prisoner’s dilemmas isn’t “always cooperate”, or “always screw the other guy”, it’s “tit-for-tat + forgiveness”. Learning when and how to defect is healthy and good.

      …assuming this analogy is even applicable. In a situation with lopsided rewards/punishments, the whole game changes. (Such as in a system of two groups with unequal power, very common in the real world)

  33. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’ve seen Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and I wasn’t crazy about it.

    However, it does float the idea of military use of dinosaurs, and this seems like a good place to discuss whether it makes any sense for real world fighting. Dinosaurs are fragile compared to modern weapons, but so are humans, so the question is whether (controllable intelligent) dinosaurs give any advantage.

    I don’t have strong opinions on the subject except that the taller dinosaurs are probably excessively easy targets.

    • Relenzo says:

      I think that Jurassic Park has exaggerated the deadliness of dinosaurs by several orders of magnitude, and if they hadn’t this would be completely unrealistic.

      A huge dinosaur is definitely a dangerous animal. So is a hippo, for similar reasons. But as you said–a good military idea? Almost certainly no. Would lose to a tank in seconds, to say nothing of even more modern air-based weapons systems.

      As for smaller dinosaurs–Jurassic Park routinely portrays them as superhuman Seal-Team type killers. But in reality, do you think that was likely the case? What predator alive today gained an advantage in natural selection by running around and shrieking all the time? Rather, the vast majority of predators conserve energy most of the time, engaging in stalking, waiting, and short bursts of activity to efficiently catch prey.

      Much about dinosaurs is still shrouded in mystery. But I would be highly surprised if velociraptors were capable of that kind of frenetic, deadly activity for more than very short bursts, even if mind-controlled. I think the best point of comparison is to imagine the military use of tigers or lions in a modern military setting–which we can immediately see is laughable.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        The deadliness of dinosaurs is also greatly exaggerated by the end of the movie. The ending is depressing and stupid.

        Qvabfnhef ner eryrnfrq ba gur jbeyq, cnegyl orpnhfr vg’f cbffvoyl onq gb jvcr gurz bhg naq cnegyl orpnhfr uhznavgl qrfreirf gb or chavfurq. Ovt qnatrebhf navznyf unir gb or cebgrpgrq sebz hf be gurl trg jvcrq bhg.

        Do people care about spoilers for JW:FK?

      • baconbits9 says:

        Almost certainly no. Would lose to a tank in seconds, to say nothing of even more modern air-based weapons systems.

        The (not very plausible) reason would be that dinosaurs would be cheap to produce vs their difficulty to kill.

        • beleester says:

          Yeah, that’s a very, very implausible reason. Bullets are cheaper than bodies. And velociraptors aren’t going to pop out of the womb ready to go to war for their country, you’re going to need to train them or fit them with mind control implants or whatever it takes to make them an effective weapon instead of a wild animal, so even if Jurassic Park paid for all the R&D costs and the army can just buy ready-made dinosaurs off the market, you’re going to be paying a lot of money for them.

          (A cow in the US apparently costs ~$800, and that’s for a commonly farmed animal that won’t try to disembowel you, so we can’t expect raptors to be cheaper than cows. An M16 costs ~$700.)

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            It occurs to me that one of the reasons governments can afford large armies is that governments don’t have to pay all the costs of raising soldiers to recruitment age.

          • beleester says:

            I think that just puts the army on an equal footing with every other business that needs people. It’s not surprising that, say, Amazon doesn’t need to pay the costs of raising a deliveryperson to adulthood.

          • albatross11 says:

            I imagine the cost of slaves born into slavery in the US must have incorporated the cost of their upbringing (minus the work that could be gotten out of them, but that’s pretty limited until you’re at least 10-12). Cotton plantations still were economically viable.

          • ana53294 says:

            Presumably, other than providing food and clothing, slaveowners did nothing towards the cost of taking care of the children.
            And I would say that feeding and clothing the child is probably the cheapest part of raising the child. Most of parental work is unpaid – as it was in the case of slaves – but if the government had to take care of kids and pay for carers from birth to age 18, that would cost a lot of money. And the first few years would cost most of it (most creches have 1 adult per 4 kids; this decreases with age).

            Even in Weber’s Honorverse series, where slaves are genetically bred and are thus not direct descendants of slaves, slaves are raised by other slaves who adopt them and work for free, instead of having specific slaves for nursing kids.

          • 10240 says:

            velociraptors aren’t going to pop out of the womb

            They usually pop out of an egg.

          • albatross11 says:

            The Army or FedEx wouldn’t have to pay for parental labor, either. Anyway, this is the closest thing I can think of to a real-world version of an employer having to pay the whole upbringing of his employees. Are there any other examples? Maybe collective farms in the Soviet Union?

          • Evan Þ says:

            @ana53294, raising children would still present some opportunity cost to the planter from not being able to have their mothers (or other caretakers) working elsewhere.

          • Anyway, this is the closest thing I can think of to a real-world version of an employer having to pay the whole upbringing of his employees.

            Early economists sometimes argued in terms of the iron law of wages. The wages of the mass of the population would tend towards that level at which the working population just reproduced itself. That meant that the wages was enough to not only support the worker but pay for him to bring up enough children to replace him.

            If you accept that model, there is a sense in which the employer is paying for the upbringing of his employees.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Is the Iron Law of Wages a special case of the Zero Profit theorem, applied to labor?

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        > I think the best point of comparison is to imagine the military use of tigers or lions in a modern military setting–which we can immediately see is laughable.

        Actually, I have to ask–if we assume technobabble for breeding and control, to the point that a) food supply or maybe space is the bottleneck for raising all the warcats you want and b) you can essentially give an order like “patrol this grid square, stealth-kill any enemy soldiers you can, run away if they see you first, and don’t mess with vehicles”–might they have a use in jungle warfare?

        • bean says:

          Even assuming you had perfect control, the problem is lethality. Tigers are dangerous, don’t get me wrong, but so are swimming pools. Big animals (which humans are) are hard to kill quickly. And the guy with the gun might see you as you’re going to attack, or he might be able to get a shot off as he’s attacking you. Not to mention what his buddies are doing, because soldiers travel in packs.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Now I want to see swimming pools as weapons of war, though I grant I’d see the weaponized dinosaurs movie first.

          • toastengineer says:

            I believe historically such a thing was referred to as a “moat.”

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Moats are so second-millennium. A truly weaponized swimming pool would be galumphing around, preferably in packs, so one of them can draw your attention while the rest flank you. What are you gonna do? Shoot it?? It’s a swimming pool.

            Make it happen, Boston Dynamics.

          • Aapje says:

            Colin Furze already made the initial steps, with a mobile swimming pool.

          • albatross11 says:

            ObSF: In _A Deepness In The Sky_, the swimming pool/pond was actually successfully used as a weapon.

      • Watchman says:

        You’d surely use hippos as anti-infantry weapons though. Although it would be interesting to see how much armour a hippo could carry (I doubt it would be enough to stop a tank shell mind you).

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          “Hippos kill more humans in Africa per year than any other animal save man. Together we’ll be unstoppable!”

        • Nornagest says:

          Let’s see. A hippo weighs about 4000 pounds, and an infantryman weighs about 200. If you assume that surface area scales as the 2/3 power of mass, then a hippo twenty times the weight of an infantryman would have about 7.5 times as much area to armor, meaning that proportionally heavy armor for it would be about 2.7 times as thick. Humans aren’t particularly strong animals, so maybe we could bump that up to 4 or 5.

          If infantry armor can stop 5.56×45 rounds with a muzzle energy of 1,800 J, and if armor can stop bullets carrying energy roughly proportional to its thickness, then I’d expect hippo armor to be able to handle full-power rifle rounds like 7.62×51 but to be penetrated by HMG rounds like .50 BMG (which have almost ten times the muzzle energy of intermediate rounds like 5.56×45).

          Tank shells would be right out.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          I’m fairly sure even a hippo would not be as intimidating as an armored rhino.

    • John Schilling says:

      As replacements for human soldiers, for dogs, or for armored fighting vehicles?

      As replacements for human soldiers, they are going to need 100+ IQs and opposable thumbs, or game over. Seriously, if I’m going to war, please give me an enemy that can be stopped in its tracks by a doorknob.

      As replacements for dogs, note that we don’t use very many dogs in war, and when we do it is for their unique sensory capabilities rather than their fearsome combat abilities. Also, thirty thousand or so years of domestication. Hard to imagine dinosaurs are a better package.

      As armored fighting vehicles, no. Just, no.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I saw this movie a few weeks back and I really enjoyed the visuals and the action. I thought it was probably the most suspenseful of the Jurassic movies. My heart was actually pounding at points. So definitely good on the whole “dinosaur survival horror” scale. That said, absolutely everything to do with the plot was pants-on-head stupid, certainly including the military applications of dinosaurs.


      First off, the targeting system employed (point a red laser at the enemy and press the button) is silly. If you already have the person targeted by your gun just…shoot him with a bullet instead of siccing a dinosaur on him.

      Second, the logistics of deploying a dinosaur to a combat zone must be a nightmare. So the army is going to feed, train, and house a dinosaur during peacetime, and then during wartime is going to freight the dinosaur to the front, along with all the goats to keep it fed (I don’t think dinosaurs eat MREs), as well as handlers, veterinarians, etc? An army moves on its stomach. That’s hard enough when the stomachs aren’t inside dinosaurs.

      Third, the very instant a dinosaur weapon hits the field there’s going to be international outrage and calls to classify them as biological weapons forbidden in war. CNN is going to be on the scene to plaster pictures of whatever’s left of some kid in a war zone who got mauled to death by a US Army dinosaur. Even if the dinosaurs are actually effective in combat (or especially if they are), every nation that either doesn’t have combat dinos or doesn’t want to pay to develop combat dinos is going to be right there signing on to the international anti-dino arms accords because it’s The Right Thing To Do.

      Finally, why did they need to bother with the whole “we’re going to capture the dinosaurs and then sell them to rich people for seed money” thing? If you’re developing new, awesome, effective (or simply flashy) weapons, you’re going to want to sell those to the United States government. You don’t need to go murdering people or engaging in illicit dinosaur trading for this. You go to the military and your senator and say “hey I need a billion dollars for military dinosaurs BECAUSE FREEDOM” and they’ll just put in the next appropriations bill.

      Finally finally, the plan was very poorly thought out. The bad guy had already sent the mercs to the island and constructed the dinosaur pens and auction facilities, bizarrely at his benefactor’s house on US soil instead of, I don’t know, a cargo ship in international waters, before the government ruled on what to do about the dinosaurs. What if that senate hearing at the start of the movie had gone a different way? He spends all this money on the pens and the cargo ship and the mercs and the whole plot, and what happens if the government decides “We’re going to save these animals” and your mercs show up at the island and the US military is already there and says “this island is under control of the US military for a humanitarian relief effort, please move along or we will shoot you?” And then he’s already got the dinosaurs by the time he calls up all the rich people and says “hey, wanna drop everything and fly from Singapore to buy some illicit dinosaurs for no particular reason?” What if everyone said “what the hell am I going to do with a dinosaur?” and hung up on him?

      I could probably go on but I think I’ll stop there. The movie was fun for the dinosaurs and Jeff Goldblum but besides that just shut your brain off any time anyone is speaking or doing anything.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        And besides, why is there a large quantity of poison gas in the mansion?

        Why didn’t Maisie just get on the internet as soon as she found out about the plot?

        I’ll grant that a lot of the suspense worked reasonably well. Sometimes most of my awareness would be on my interior monologue about how stupid the movie was, then I’d realize I was tensed up because of the onscreen threats.

        And I did get involved with the movie some of the time.

        The CGI *still* doesn’t work for a well-lit dinosaur near a human. They don’t look like they’re in the same space.

    • Matt M says:

      I think all movies that present animals as some sort of dangerous antagonist inevitably choose to magically endow the animals with human-level intelligence.

      Like, if someone falls in a tiger cage and has to escape, you can bet the tigers will behave like humans whose primary urge in life is to kill all intruders and who posses tiger-like physical abilities.

    • sfoil says:

      Larger dinosaurs probably aren’t much more dangerous than an angry elephant. War elephants seem to have had something of a problem with being easily spooked and/or insufficiently aggressive. I suppose a combination of being a predator, hormones, and training/breeding could fix that. But it would still lose not just to a tank but to a rifleman.

      As for the raptor-like pack hunters (as portrayed in the movies), are packs of wolves a serious military threat? No. There are uses for both attack and scout dogs that might conceivably be filled by dinosaurs, but a lot of work had to be done on wolves to turn them into dogs.

      If you want dinosaurs to be militarily interesting, you need to go back to the pre-gunpowder era, or propose ways you could augment or breed raptors to replace dogs.

    • proyas says:

      If an army uses (semi) intelligent dinosaurs instead of human soldiers, then could the enemy nation make the case that the Geneva Conventions don’t apply to the conflict since it is intended to protect human lives only, and respond with illegal weapons like poison gas and bioweapons that only infected reptiles?

      Imagine the biggest, baddest dinosaur from the Jurassic Park franchise and then picture it keeling over dead after taking a few whiffs of nerve gas.

      And one other thing: As big and as fearsome as dinosaurs may be, I don’t think they could withstand a drawn-out war with a human army. Dinosaurs were probably much like contemporary big animals, meaning they spent most of their time eating or resting, and hunting and fighting were very energy-intensive activities. A velociraptor might be able to quickly kill a man, but it’s probably an energy-sapping task that the animal couldn’t do over and over day after day. It would need long pauses to rest, eat meat, and find water to drink. Combat would be easier for humans thanks to labor-saving devices that make killing easier, like guns and military vehicles.

      Similarly, a triceratops might be big and strong enough to ram a tank and tip it over on its side, but it would be as taxing, painful and disorienting as you doing a running football tackle against a refrigerator. Yes, you could do it once or even twice in a row, but you can’t endlessly take down a bunch of refrigerators in an open field without resting or having to pause because you accidentally hurt yourself.

      • AG says:

        Counterpoint: the Great Emu War of 1932

        • beleester says:

          Despite the memes, the Great Emu War was less a military defeat, and more that the humans couldn’t be arsed to send more than two guys with machine guns.

          (The original example of “just enough troops to lose”!)

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, unless your war-animal is at least bulletproof and immune to any poison that can be quickly cooked up, it’s not going to have a very long military career facing off against humans with guns, maybe armor, gas masks (if needed to keep breathing while the war animals are gassed), etc.

    • theredsheep says:

      I could see them being used as a kind of long-term terror weapon, if you got one that was ornery and prolific enough. Real-life velociraptors were actually quite small, but there were dinosaurs of a similar size and temperament. If you got something that was omnivorous, aggressive, and hard to kill, in addition to being intelligent enough to lay low, and let it loose in the middle of the enemy’s farmland, maybe? Then again, it might just be simpler to modify pigs, since they have most of the traits desired. Pigs are devastating wherever they run wild; just make a pig that enjoys killing people, maybe tweak its genes so it grows up slightly quicker if possible.

      Okay, dinosaurs probably wouldn’t be that good at that. But that’s a (highly unethical) use for animals as weapons.

      • Nornagest says:

        Real-life velociraptors were actually quite small

        Imagine an angry, violent goose with sickle claws. Wait, no, I repeat myself. Imagine a goose with sickle claws.

        • theredsheep says:

          It’s a big heavy rooster with no flight, a long tail and mean toenails. A reasonably fit man with a solid six-foot pole could smack it silly. Which isn’t to say it couldn’t be nasty, but roosters can be incredible jerks and chicken farmers aren’t scared of them. And, as you said, geese. We still keep geese for food.

          • Nornagest says:

            Oh, you could absolutely beat one in a fight, although you might end up needing a few stitches afterward. I was mainly just going for the waterfowl joke.

          • theredsheep says:

            As far as birdlike dinosaurs go, I prefer Anzu, literally known as the chicken from hell.

            EDIT: Or Dakotaraptor. Dakotaraptor was around the sweet spot of big enough to be dangerous while still having half a prayer of finding cover.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            How do you think one of the larger sheep-protecting dogs would do?

          • theredsheep says:

            Against a velociraptor? Not super-well, because they aren’t bred for that kind of rumble, but they’d win eventually, with significant wounds. Anzu would kill a shepherd dog and take damage; dakotaraptor would simply butcher it.

          • Fahundo says:

            So why even bother bringing back species from 65+ million years ago when we can do this with cassowaries and emus?

          • theredsheep says:

            I think you’d need to modify the cassowaries significantly. It might be inconvenient that they’re oviparous, also. Anyway, I recommend modified pigs FTW.

          • Alliumnsk says:

            How would a dog win against velociraptor of same size? A dog can attack only with its jaws.

          • theredsheep says:

            A German shepherd weighs about twice as much as a velociraptor, and a lot of a raptor’s weight was tail. Also, the claws were probably not used for slashing; their purpose was to dig in and hold on while the animal bit at the prey. Given the creature’s balance, it would be awkward to repeatedly kick with its feet, I’d think.

            A more accurate comparison would be “how can a dog win against a cat? A dog can only attack with its mouth.”

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        My idea of modified animal as threat is coyotes with thumbs.

      • proyas says:

        As a terror weapon and as a practical one, I doubt velocirators used in that manner would have much effect. For one, they’d be vastly outnumbered by enemy humans, and the latter would be able to use sheer numbers and simple weapons to purge their country of the dinosaurs. Look at what happened recently in Indonesia:

    • fion says:

      They’d be useless in war, but if you could train them to be guard dinosaurs they’d probably be more intimidating than guard dogs.

    • James C says:

      Like all unexpected weapons I can see dinosaurs working once and then never again. There is something to be said for setting what is essentially a large, carnivorous elephant against infantry as they won’t initially be equipped to do much about it. The plan fails the moment they hit any hard targets, tanks, fortifications or anti-vehicle weapons and you can bet those will be rushed forward to where-ever you deploy your dinos.

      That said, there’s probably space in all-out war for a small, fast breeding and vicious dino to cause havoc behind the lines. Their best target, however, is civilians and that opens a whole kettle of fish most modern planners try and keep as clamped down as possible.

      • Deiseach says:

        Like all unexpected weapons I can see dinosaurs working once and then never again.

        Like this Indian TV serial (English subtitles available), very loosely based on the events leading up to the Battle of Hydaspes. In the prior episode, Porus (Our Hero) has cunningly assembled a small force of elephants to unleash on the Macedonian army (along with prepping the battleground with traps, pitfalls, etc) in a preliminary encounter.

        The Macedonians have never before encountered elephants, their cavalry is useless against them, the elephants run amuck and crush (literally) the soldiers. Disaster!

        Until about five minutes into this episode, when Alexander figures out how to kill elephants (in a ludicrously unrealistic but fantastic move – keep watching up to about the tenth minute). End of advantage!

    • AlphaGamma says:

      I think the most realistic situation is in an SF “biopunk” setting where most power sources for military vehicles are no longer viable due to oil running out/some kind of apocalyptic event, but bioengineered dinosaurs are still viable either because the tech to produce them was maintained and requires less energy, or because they were engineered pre-Collapse and a breeding population exists.

      An example is Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, where there are no dinosaurs but the military use “war megodonts” (megodonts are some kind of engineered species related to elephants, they are also used as a civilian power source for large machinery). They also have tanks, but those are pre-Collapse relics and the scarcity of fuel means that tanks only leave their barracks when the shit has really hit the fan.

      Of course, that universe isn’t particularly realistic- Bacigalupi had to make some odd choices in order to end up with a future Earth where almost all technology relies on human or animal muscle power.

      • John Schilling says:

        If you can feed war elephants/megadonts/dinosaurs/whatever, you can just as well make biodiesel for your tanks and armored cars.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          That’s one of the “odd choices” I mention. Synthetic oil (referred to as “coal diesel”) exists in the Windup Girl universe but is very expensive. Biogas exists, but appears to be used only for cooking. We never see biodiesel- the one car that we see is specifically stated to be running on coal diesel, as are the pumps that stop Bangkok from flooding (the novel is set in Thailand). All of these are, again, implied to be pre-collapse relics, as are the few powerful computers that still exist (there are other computers, but they are powered by the user pedalling)

          In general, it’s a good read but has a whole bunch of realism issues.

          I do wonder whether part of the problem is that there is no more heavy industry capable of manufacturing replacement parts for internal combustion engines, so even if cars and tanks could be fuelled they would eventually stop running. But again, this probably isn’t realistic.

      • sfoil says:

        Finding fodder for horses was, by far, the biggest logistical problem that pre-industrial militaries faced. Eliminating fossil fuels but then replacing internal combustion engines with gigantic animals to do the same thing is just hiding the issue.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      I think obviously T-Rex or Triceratops tanks, while awesome, are impractical in a modern military setting. But one possibility I wonder if previous commentators have missed is the possible use of dinos as area-denial weapons.

      Like, say there’s a city that the Marines really, really need to take, and they for some reason really, really can’t just level it with artillery beforehand but need to go house to house. Let us further suppose that you are a totally unscrupulous actor with no regard for civilian casualties, you just want to slow down the enemy and make him bleed as much as possible. Instead of a minefield, would it be possible to seed an urban area with thousands of ambush predators? The urban environment means a lot of fights will happen at close quarters, minimizing the human advantage in firepower and giving at least some of your dinos a chance to chew on bad guys. The constant possibility of ambush would force him to go slowly and carefully through the city, slowing his offensive, and the psychological toll would be harsh, too.

      Sure, I can think of ways around this – I can’t imagine the predator population would survive more than a few weeks in the city, absent lots of civilians to eat, so a simple siege would clear out a lot of your minefield. But the idea isn’t to stop him, it’s to buy time.

      Of course, there are probably more efficient ways to buy time than resurrecting and breeding thousands of Dakotaraptor and figuring out how to keep them corralled where you want them, but I’m trying to think of any possible military use for dinosaurs. I think biohazard minefield is a way to go.

      • theredsheep says:

        Well, picture the same plan, but with tigers, who are pretty similar to Dakotaraptor for our purposes.

      • bean says:

        That seems like it would only work if the other side didn’t know it was coming, which is unlikely. If I know it’s a possibility, what’s to stop me from building a robot that convincingly simulates prey, and sending one ahead of each platoon? Dakotaraptor jumps out for a meal, and then gets killed by the soldiers. Repeat as necessary. Or if that doesn’t work, send in a herd of the relevant prey animal. Or if that’s going to get PETA all worked up, use tear gas. The Dakotaraptors don’t have masks, after all.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          Damn, I hadn’t considered non-lethal chemical warfare. That might clear out my Dakotaraptor minefield.

          As for the robots, I was sort of hoping that the bad guys wouldn’t see it coming. Not sure how I’d keep my massive breeding and training operation secret, but the hope is that the 1st Marine Division rolls up to the gates of Fallujah and the first couple scouts find out there’s dinosaurs, everywhere. So they have to work out how to deal with it with the tools they have on hand, instead of building specialized prey-bots. But the tear gas would probably work for that – annoying for the Marines, but better than getting a couple of guys mauled.

          • bean says:

            So they have to work out how to deal with it with the tools they have on hand, instead of building specialized prey-bots.

            That’s what emergency appropriation of local livestock is for. Scare them properly, then release them one at a time into the city. Shoot the Dakotaraptors that come out.

    • johan_larson says:

      I think if you want dinosaurs used for war in a fictional setting, it would make sense to use them for cavalry, ridden by a human. Picture a cavalier riding something like a Utahraptor, or maybe something a bit bigger. The human should be as effective with sword or lance as a mundane cavalier, but the dinosaur would be way more dangerous than a horse, since it has a great big set of teeth right up front.

      Personally I reject any reality that doesn’t include Her Majesty’s Tyrannosaur Cavalry, resplendent in gleaming breastplates and purple banners. Such places are simply too drab to bother with.

  34. Nancy Lebovitz says:


    Argues that the Enlightenment is not the source of modern racism.

    There are earlier examples of ideas which are a lot like modern racism– beliefs that you can tell who is better or worse by looking at them, and that good and bad traits are inherited by large groups of people.

    The Arabs ruled a great empire, which possessed a tremendous appetite for slaves. For much of this period the Arabs were both economically more advanced than their neighbors and militarily superior. They enslaved both Europeans and Africans and like later European colonialists in the Americas distinguished between different kinds of slaves based on their skin color and ethnic characteristics. Sweet observes:

    “Wherever there was back-breaking work to be done in the Arab world, black slaves were made to do it. From ninth-century Iraqi land reclamation projects to fourteenth-century Saharan salt and copper mines, black Africans toiled under the worst conditions. (Sweet 1997, 145)”

    It would be surprising if an ideology did not emerge to justify this state of affairs. Given the phenotypical differences between Arabs and sub-Saharan Africans, this ideology of difference centered on skin color; and it was one we would recognize today as racist.

    Islamic racial theorizing may seem of less interest because it was not a direct ancestor of modern racism. According to Sweet, however, this would be a mistake: Iberian racial categories were directly influenced by Islamic practice and thought and these Iberian categories are the direct antecedents of colonial-era racial theorizing.

    Spanish anti-Semitism in the 1400s and 1500s focused on ancestry as well as religion.

    There were pro-racism and anti-racism Enlightenment thinkers.

    “Enlightenment thinkers from Montesquieu to Adam Smith pioneered an approach that was universalist, not relativistic. In Montesquieu, Smith, and others we find attitudes toward the non-European world that are considerably more subtle and sophisticated than one might think based on reading Edward Said’s Orientalism. They were open to the possibility that non-European societies had much to teach them, but willing to condemn anything that fell short of what they considered civilized norms. This is evident in Voltaire’s praise of Qing China, in Smith’s condemnation of infanticide in the classic world, and in Montesquieu’s implied critique of sex mores in the Islamic world.[15]

    Kant marks an exception to this. Kant did not have a full-fledged theory of racial differences, but his hostility to racial mixing and his emphasis on the fixity of race do set him apart from other 18th century writers on race. Recent literature among scholars of racism have highlighted the importance of race in Kant’s anthropology, something that is neglected in most treatments of his political philosophy. The debate on the relationship between Kant’s racial theorizing and his liberal cosmopolitanism is a fascinating one and currently unresolved.[16]”

    I’d never heard of the counter-Enlightenment, though I’d run across a little about it in regards to Tolkien’s effort to develop a national myth for England.

    “This brings us to my third point. Something entirely missing from both Bouie and Mills is the Counter-Enlightenment. The attempt to lay the sins of the modern West on the Enlightenment lets the Counter-Enlightenment off the hook. It was in reaction to the universalizing moral philosophy articulated by Enlightenment thinkers that romantic, nationalist, and indeed ethnocentric ideas sprung: Johann Gottfried Herder, Johann Georg Hamann, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Joseph de Maistre, Thomas Carlyle, and others produced a well-spring of ethnocentric, nationalist, and in some case racialist arguments to bear in opposition to what they conceived to be Enlightenment liberalism.

    Hardened racial boundaries, romanticized ethno-nationalist histories, and the notion of national cultural and national spirit evolved in reaction to the Enlightenment. This is brought out clearly by Jennifer Pitt in her contrast between Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham on the one hand and John Stuart Mill on the other. Mill, though a thorough liberal, believed in and made use of the concept of national culture. Indeed, he believed that this concept was a major advance on the thinking of Bentham’s generation.”

    On Carlyle:

    “As Levy and Peart document, Carlyle’s doctrines contained the seeds of genocide. Addressing West Indian blacks who “refuse to work” he wrote:

    “To each of you I will then say: Here is work for you; strike into it with manlike, soldierlike obedience and heartiness, according to the methods here prescribed,— wages follow for you without difficulty; all manner of just remuneration, and at length emancipation itself follows. Refuse to strike into it; shirk the heavy labour, disobey the rules,—I will admonish and endeavour to incite you; if in vain, I will flog you; if still in vain, I will at last shoot you,—and make God’s Earth, and the forlorn-hope in God’s Battle, free of you.[26]”

    Carlyle’s arguments won him favor with Ruskin and Charles Dickens among others, thinkers today celebrated as critics of unrestrained laissez-faire capitalism.[27] They represent the triumph of Counter-Enlightenment, romanticism, and explicit rejection of the Enlightenment project associated with Smith.”

    “We saw that modern racism had its antecedents in the 15th to 18th century. But if any period saw the birth of modern scientific racism it was the 19th century, not the Enlightenment. My reading of the evidence is consistent with Edward Beasley’s claim that in the 18th century “there was no idea of race as we have come to know it—no widely shared theory of biologically determined, physical, intellectual, and moral differences between human groups” (Beasley 2010, p. 1).”

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Interesting article, definitely going to have to read the whole thing.

      One thing that really jumped out from your summary:

      They were open to the possibility that non-European societies had much to teach them, but willing to condemn anything that fell short of what they considered civilized norms.

      Emphasis mine.

      The implication of this statement highlights one of the fault lines in the modern definition of racism.

      I hope that nobody doubts that e.g. Adam Smith would have condemned an Englishman who committed infanticide, so does that make his condemnation of infanticide in the classical world an example of seeing people as moral equals or of cultural chauvinism? Would it be more or less racist do excuse blatant immorality on the part of foreigners?

      • rlms says:

        I don’t read the latter part of that quote as condemning them, and the previous sentence that calls the authors in question “subtle and sophisticated” suggests that the opposite is implied.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      “This brings us to my third point. Something entirely missing from both Bouie and Mills is the Counter-Enlightenment. The attempt to lay the sins of the modern West on the Enlightenment lets the Counter-Enlightenment off the hook. It was in reaction to the universalizing moral philosophy articulated by Enlightenment thinkers that romantic, nationalist, and indeed ethnocentric ideas sprung: Johann Gottfried Herder, Johann Georg Hamann, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Joseph de Maistre, Thomas Carlyle, and others produced a well-spring of ethnocentric, nationalist, and in some case racialist arguments to bear in opposition to what they conceived to be Enlightenment liberalism.

      I’m going to read the whole thing, but this jumped out at me. I haven’t read any of those Germans except the Grimms, but I know something of Thomas Carlyle and much more of Joseph de Maistre, and Maistre was no nationalist or racialist.
      Enlightenment racists believed in the inferiority of American Indians and that North American tribes couldn’t be the descendants of the Mound Builders. Maistre wrote “A Bolivian Indian who learns his catechism is a better person than the sharpest wit in France” and concocts an almost proto-New Age thesis in his St. Petersberg Dialogues that North American Indians became savages (= hunter-gatherers) because their ancestors the Mound Builders were an advanced civilization that committed a crime as terrible as the French Revolution despite a superior social or moral science (“We probably don’t know enough to be as guilty”).
      Maistre believed that ethnic culture was an important part of each human’s identity, but that it carried insignificant political meaning unless one was required to write a new Constitution for a population. He was an ethnically French Savoyard nobleman/civil servant who believed all legitimate authority over him came from God, His Church, and the King of Piedmont-Sardinia.

  35. Relenzo says:

    I may have to ask this again, since I’m pretty far down now, but: I want expert advice about milk.

    I ate breakfast cereal pretty much every morning of my life until yesterday. After hearing rumors from my college-mates that the supposed health benefits of milk were all a sham advertised by the dairy industry, I thought breakfast cereal might not be the best way to start my day.

    I’m currently trying a system of frozen veggies fried with 3 eggs in the morning. It is a tasty and affordable breakfast. However, the more I try to research the health of breakfast cereal, the more confused I become. There seems to be something of a small war raged over whether milk is healthy.

    Note, I’m not interesting in IF, so this isn’t about the benefits of breakfast in general. I want to know if anyone here can help me understand whether breakfast cereal, and milk, was actually good for me all these years.

    • Freddie deBoer says:

      Keep in mind that the amount of milk most people pour in a cereal bowl is a tiny fraction of your daily calories so that whether good or bad the impact on your overall dietary health will be minimal.

      • Relenzo says:

        Hmm, if that’s true I was wrong to focus so much on the dairy aspect.

        But breakfast is maybe 1/4 of my food consumption so I have to imagine the the different between cereal-milk and eggs-veggies would still be significant.

        • Freddie deBoer says:

          In terms of bang-for-your-buck, I suspect checking the sugar content on your cereal – often very high even in cereals marketed as health food – will go a longer way. Health food stores like Whole Foods usually have sugar-free options.

    • ana53294 says:

      Whether milk is good or bad depends highly on your genes. Dutch people do fine, you know. I personally don’t handle milk well, but I can eat cheese.
      Try eliminating all dairy for a couple of weeks and reintroducing it slowly – butter first, then cheeses and yoghurt, and finally milk. If at any step you notice discomfort, don’t go further.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I have some lactose intolerance which comes and goes. Dairy products don’t usually make my life worse, but occasionally they do. The amount matters, but I’m not sure my life would be better if I gave up dairy completely.

    • bqbturtle says:

      In the grand scheme of things, milk is pretty balanced between Carbs, Proteins, and Fats. So are potatoes.

      It is commonly recommended to bodybuilders as a good way to get VERY EASY calories that are relatively healthy, though dairy-based. Many rumors of hormones and acne problems, but in the end, usually, food is food. Is eating cottage cheese going to help someone a ton more than milk? Marginal differences at best. Maybe if you ate something different, you would be slightly more lean, slightly more energetic, and slightly less acne prone. But probably not to an extent that your life would be dramatically different.

      When compared to other children’s breakfasts – milk is pretty good compared to a Pop Tart, a Toaster Strudel, or nothing. However, it’s probably slightly less good than eating eggs. The sugary cereal itself is pretty bad for kids, but again, food is food and it probably didn’t make much of a difference vs if you ate cheerios instead.

      When I eat cereal today as an adult, it is extremely rare (When I eat a continental breakfast at hotels that don’t have waffle makers. It feels, just like waffles, like eating dessert for breakfast. Which is to say, it’s very pleasurable and yummy and gives me dopamine. I think I was very happy every time I ate cereal as a child. Being happy isn’t a crime. Denying happy things isn’t always the right answer.

      Hope this helps!

    • AG says:

      Can’t say that milk has definite benefits, considering the many cuisines that don’t feature it in breakfast, and the people of those cultures have done fine without it.

      But I’d say it’s more that milk doesn’t have unique benefits. Said milk-less cuisines likely just have the same nutritional value in other ingredients.

    • SaiNushi says:

      The sham is the idea that you absolutely need dairy to have a healthy diet. Dairy doesn’t have anything that you can’t find from other sources. The things that milk is supposed to be powerhouses for are actually higher in other things (broccoli and chicken are both good sources of calcium, for example). If you’re trying to cut fat out of your diet, then dairy is a high-fat thing that can be easy for a lot of people to cut.

      However, dairy isn’t uniquely bad either. And there was a study that showed that diary fat can help a person feel full for a longer period of time. Plus, dairy fat has been shown to help keep pre-diabetes people from developing diabetes.

      The thing about milk is that most people drink it with very sweet things, like cake, cookies, brownies, or they put it in very sugary cereal. If you’re having it with granola, grape nuts, cheerios, shredded wheat, then it’s not doing any harm. If you’re having it with Fruit Loops, Honey Nut Cheerios, Cocoa Puffs, Cookie Crisp, Trix… then you might want to cut that out.

      Basically, I suspect the reason dairy gets a bad rep in the dieting world is because it tends to be paired with carbs (milk with dessert or cereal, cheese with crackers or bread, butter with crackers or bread, yogurt with oats). Carbs are converted straight into sugar, which either gets used or turned into fat. So you need to pair the carbs with fiber so your system will use the carbs.

    • Cheese says:

      I ate breakfast cereal pretty much every morning of my life until yesterday. After hearing rumors from my college-mates that the supposed health benefits of milk were all a sham advertised by the dairy industry, I thought breakfast cereal might not be the best way to start my day.

      Honestly I think the cereal is more of a beneficial cut out. Depending on what it is. That is, high sugar low fibre = bad, high fibre low sugar = good.

      As others have said, milk doesn’t possess any really inherently great properties that mean you must eat it. But no food, beyond vegetables as a broad group, really does – with the caveat that you need to eat a range of foods to get all your essential nutrients. Whole plant foods are pretty much the only thing everyone can agree on being really good for you. The problem is those are kind of naturally unpalatable in terms of making that your entire diet unless you are a bit of a weirdo, or are super expensive.

      Dairy products are a pretty good source of calories without being overly sugary or fatty (we know too far in either direction is probably bad), contain a variety of nutrients that you need but can get from other animal or plant products if you want, and are generally highly palatable if you can tolerate them. Hence milk is a good choice for a lot of people, but not a necessary one for others. Milk is great for me because I struggle to get enough calories in to maintain my desired weight without it, and I tolerate it well.

      In your case, it may be beneficial if you are increasing vegetable intake and reducing refined carbs. Or it may be totally useless if your diet is already ‘good’ enough. Unless you are eating too much refined sugars, too much processed fats, too little fibre, or have a micronutrient deficiency, then food is food and eat what you prefer without being consistently excessive about it.

    • Deiseach says:

      Serendipitously, this study came to my attention (via a diabetes email newsletter which is evangelising for the low-carb/high-fat diet to help control and even reverse diabetes): fats in dairy won’t kill you by heart attack and/or stroke after all!

      The aim of this study was to investigate prospective associations of serial measures of plasma phospholipid fatty acids pentadecanoic (15:0), heptadecanoic (17:0), and trans-palmitoleic (trans-16:1n–7) acids with total mortality, cause-specific mortality, and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk among older adults.

      Long-term exposure to circulating phospholipid pentadecanoic, heptadecanoic, or trans-palmitoleic acids was not significantly associated with total mortality or incident CVD among older adults. High circulating heptadecanoic acid was inversely associated with CVD and stroke mortality and potentially associated with higher risk of non-CVD death.

      From a quick glance, they don’t seem to have received any funding from the dairy industry (though the Haas avocado people did throw them a few bob) so this is probably straightforward enough.

  36. CognitivelyDissonated says:

    What does mistake theory look like in the real world? Maybe the modern day monetary policy debates? Is that a presentism bias from me?

    Really struggling to see how mistake theory explains society better than conflict theory.

    Was very surprised by Scott, given he has written pages about how terrible the US medical / drug system is. Seems like that is much better explained by conflict theory.

    Could just be my understanding of it is wrong though.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Lots of people want the US medical/drug system to work better, but they don’t agree on which policies will best achieve that. Therefore, some of those well-meaning people are mistaken. If we could fix those mistakes, and thus get all good-faith actors on board with whichever medical policy would have the best outcomes, I believe the special interests that benefit from the status quo would be quickly defeated.

      • CognitivelyDissonated says:

        To this specific example, is the mistake theory proposition that:
        1) There is a way of making the system better
        2) The reason we don’t do it is the well-meaning* people don’t yet agree what that is
        3) If all the well meaning people were to agree they would overcome special interests

        *well meaning = good faith actors = people who care about healthcare systems outcomes rather than personal enrichment (whatever form that takes)

        If say that the principal reason for (2) is special interests, or that (3) is not true, is it still a mistake theory issue?

        Look I can’t say for sure because I’m not that close to it, but it certainly appears as though how Obamacare developed was a good example of this. Enough people agreed, got something through, but then first opportunity its been wrecked by special interests.

        • albatross11 says:

          If we think of conflict theory as a description of reality, then we might say “Most people are treating their arguments as soldiers, not trying to find out who’s right, and so we can predict that the people who use effective persuasion tactics (ranging from rhetorical flourishes to Dark Arts to the local Inquisitor showing you the instruments and encouraging you to repent) will usually come out on top.”

          If we think of conflict theory as a way of approaching some disputes, then probably nobody *always* approaches them this way. Even if you spend all your time burning heretics at the stake, you’ll still want to allow a safe area for honest discussion of correct theology within the Church. And even if you’re generally in the mistake theory camp and want rational discussion, there’s a point where the rational discussion of whether or not Germany gets to annex a bunch of Europe has ended and we’re now thinking mainly in terms of bombs and bullets.

          • CognitivelyDissonated says:

            so we can predict that the people who use effective persuasion tactics (ranging from rhetorical flourishes to Dark Arts to the local Inquisitor showing you the instruments and encouraging you to repent) will usually come out on top.

            As opposed to who? Those on the side of eventual truth? What happens when they are on the same side? All well meaning people now think slavery is wrong, but there was certainly no consensus at the time it was abolished. I’m not just talking about the civil war here.

            Conflict theory as a way of approaching some disputes

            If I were trying to achieve something, my attitude view would be to try to establish what is true/best aligns with my values (as far as possible), but after that I’m going to try and action it; that’ll involve persuading some people and coming into “conflict” with others.

            Of course, my view would probably change over the course of this. I think what I’m saying is that while internally (organizationally or individually) mistake theory is probably optimal (although again not necessarily a true description), it’s doesn’t describe how things work.

            EDIT: addendum: re-reading Scott’s original post mistake theory sounds more like an aspiration, like a “this is how we should do things and what we should aim towards”, and would be consistent with his ideal form of government (futarchy?). I probably agree with that, but those pesky elites are getting in the way!

          • albatross11 says:

            I think it’s entirely common that the people who have the truth on their side lose out to the people who have the effective persuasion machinery on their side. IMO, this is a good marker for places where the conventional wisdom is likely to be nonsense–if there’s a lot of persuasion machinery aimed at keeping anyone from disagreeing about X, then it’s more likely that X is at least arguably wrong. (That’s not always true, but it’s a useful marker for possible dumb bits of conventional wisdom.)

          • CognitivelyDissonated says:


            So going back to your prediction, sounds like you’d have 4 states:
            1) People with truth* on side win out through consensus**
            2) People without truth on side win out through consensus
            3) People with truth on side win out without consensus
            4) People without truth on side win out without consensus

            Fair to summarise: if (1) and (2) are more common than (3) and (4) then we’d say mistake theory is a better description of the policy?

            *The action taken best satisfies agreed policy goals ?
            **Some %? There’s never 100%, but 50-60% seems too far from consensus?

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          Your 1), 2) and 3) above are a good statement of the mistake theory position, or at least my version of it. Re: your objections, I’d say that while special interests may be contributing to 2), we’re more likely to fix it by making a collective effort at truth-seeking via healthy debate than by making a collective effort at smashing the special interests.

          I don’t think you can plausibly hold up Obamacare as an example of all the well-meaning people agreeing, unless you think Republicans aren’t well-meaning.

          • CognitivelyDissonated says:

            we’re more likely to fix it by making a collective effort at truth-seeking via healthy debate than by making a collective effort at smashing the special interests.

            I mean just on this, I’d posit that the 2nd part is required for the 1st part. At

            I don’t think you can plausibly hold up Obamacare as an example of all the well-meaning people agreeing, unless you think Republicans aren’t well-meaning.

            That’s fair, I’ll take that. But isn’t the implication that democracy is all conflict theory? I.e. if you really need materially all to agree for a mistake theory consensus, while actually changes come about based on very small legislative majorities.

            Also if someone is against something because they are basically brainwashed (setting aside whether this is true in the case of healthcare), how does that fit into the mistake theory?

  37. ana53294 says:

    The above thread got me thinking about the Great Classics I have read that I would never recommend to anybody – because they are extremely boring, have crazy formatting, or are basically unreadable. Stuff Dead White Men Get Away With But Nobody Else Can.

    An example, if anybody has read it, is Jose Saramago’s Blindness. He’s a Noble Prize winner that is fairly popular in Portugal. The premise of the book is good, and it’s actually interesting. But he doesn’t use dots. You go through pages and pages of neverending comma splices – you feel like the story is going on, and on, and you can’t breathe. Even dialogues are separated by commas instead of quotation marks. So the book is good, but basically unreadable.

    Another example is one of the Spanish Classics, Benito Perez Galdos. He is one of the Realism writers. Now, Realism was great in painting, but when page after page you get elaborate descriptions of a fence, or the bricks used in a house, or whatever, you feel dozing off. The only way to read it, unless you are an anthropologist who wants to study XIX century Spanish traditions, is to skip most of the descriptions.

    Any other books that are Great Classics, that use styles that would never be published nowadays?

    • kaakitwitaasota says:

      There’s Finnegans Wake, but I’m not sure anybody really takes it seriously. The Finnish novel Alastalon Salissa spends ninety pages narrating the thought-process of a man walking to the mantelpiece to fetch his pipe; it’s never been translated into English. Stream-of-consciousness modernism seems to have fallen by the wayside, really–you get short passages of a character’s thought process in most modern novels, but it’s not the primary narrative technique.

      • ana53294 says:

        Is the book popular in Finland? Do they force you to read it in school?

        I couldn’t read Ulysses, but I was fairly young. Is Finnegan’s wake worse than that?

        • Freddie deBoer says:

          Finnegan’s Wake is far more challenging. Ulysses is not nearly as challenging as its reputation.

    • Nick says:

      Now, Realism was great in painting, but when page after page you get elaborate descriptions of a fence, or the bricks used in a house, or whatever, you feel dozing off. The only way to read it, unless you are an anthropologist who wants to study XIX century Spanish traditions, is to skip most of the descriptions.

      This attitude has always baffled me. I’ll gape when a person says they read some nine hundred page epic fantasy book in six hours, and then they’ll tell me they just skip all the description, and then I have to wonder, is that really any way to read the book? Don’t you think the author was doing something with those pages and pages of description? Granted, when writers are paid by the word, those pages and pages don’t necessarily serve much purpose. But I’m still suspicious that these folks are regularly missing important things, especially when I can see their recall of events or understanding of themes, message, etc. has suffered, and I’m consequently wary of saying they’ve really read it.

      • ana53294 says:

        But I’m still suspicious that these folks are regularly missing important things, especially when I can see their recall of events or understanding of themes, message, etc. has suffered, and I’m consequently wary of saying they’ve really read it.

        That assumes that reading a book implies understanding all the messages that are in the book, in your first read. When I was a child, I was somehow obsessed with Robinson Crusoe and the Prince and the Pauper. I re-read them every year between the ages of 6 and 14, and never got bored of them, because I would discover new things every time I read them.
        For example, 6 year old me did not understand the episode about the Baptist ladies. I only understood that somehow those nice ladies got burned while having commited no crime – the way a six year old sees it. Did I read the book? Back to back. Did I understand it? not everything.
        Only when I learnt about the Henry VIII, and the Reformation, and Martin Luther, and the Inquisition, and all those other things did I understand that the burning of the Baptist ladies was an example of religious prosecution.
        Every time I re-read a book I see new things in it. I still think that I can claim to have read it before, even if I didn’t get everything.

        • Nick says:

          I agree there’s almost always something to be gained from rereading, especially when you’re lacking the background or context for some of it. And maybe I’m being unfair saying it’s not really reading the book. All the same, if I were to finish Robinson Crusoe and I couldn’t remember who Friday is or how Crusoe got back to England or what Defoe’s saying about repentance or the significance of Crusoe building a second home*, you’d rightly get suspicious whether I got anything out of that reading beyond being able to say “I’ve read Robinson Crusoe.”

          *I actually haven’t read Robinson Crusoe, so I’m just borrowing these things off sparknotes. Sorry if they’re poor examples!

          • ana53294 says:

            You should; it’s a great book (and an easy read, too). Everything in the book is perfect and to the point, and adds to the plot.

            If the people you are referring to did not get the main plot lines, then you can fairly say that they did not read it. However, a lot of Benito Perez Galdos’ books are centered in the history of Spain. His national stories are like the Spanish version of War and Peace (also about the Napoleonic wars).

            But if you are reading, say, Fortunata y Jacinta, a story about two married women, one of whom has an affair with the husband of the other one, and ends giving her the child and dying. I say you can focus on the loose morality of the husband, on his lack of character and his wife’s patience. Digressions about Spanish history, the life of the people then, don’t add that much to the setting of the story (although you may go into it in a second re-read).
            For me, I frequently like to get the story first, on a first read, and then go deeper, if the book deserves it. Not everything in a good book has to be read and understood immediately.

          • carvenvisage says:

            >I agree there’s almost always something to be gained from rereading, especially when you’re lacking the background or context for some of it. And maybe I’m being unfair saying it’s not really reading the book. All the same, if I were to finish Robinson Crusoe and I couldn’t remember who Friday is or how Crusoe got back to England or what Defoe’s saying about repentance or the significance of Crusoe building a second home*, you’d rightly get suspicious whether I got anything out of that reading beyond being able to say “I’ve read Robinson Crusoe.”

            In normal life it’s generally accepted that a wide range of experience-archiving levels is acceptable. Why would it be different if the experience is (via a novel) a brief stint in an alternate world?

          • Nick says:

            In normal life it’s generally accepted that a wide range of experience-archiving levels is acceptable. Why would it be different if the experience is (via a novel) a brief stint in an alternate world?

            I don’t know what you’re getting at. I’m not saying it’s unacceptable that a person only skim a book. I am saying that that can hardly be called reading.

          • carvenvisage says:

            If your friend says their summer vacation was an awesome blur does that mean they weren’t experiencing it fully at the time?

            The point is that how and even whether you archive your experience doesn’t prove the level of engagement you had of it at the time.

            Or for a personal example, I remember all kinds of irrelevant details, more than other people but I don’t think it says anything about me at a deep level, I view at it as a quirk of my mental archiving.

            Basically if someone had an awesome journey in neverneverland I don’t see why they should have to remember it any more than their summer holiday.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Moby Dick?

      Basically a dry treatise on the practice and custom of 19th century whaling with a short-story interspersed as a framing device. At least that is how I remember it…

      • dodrian says:

        I second this summary, though I’ll add that the little bits of narrative were excellent.

        Les Miserables similarly suffers from random digressions or overlong descriptions of life in 19th century France, though it’s plot-to-content ratio is still much higher than Moby Dick

    • FLWAB says:

      Absalom, Absalom is the most unreadable “classic” I ever managed to finish. The story structure is convoluted, the prose is dense, and the plot is purposely obfuscated throughout most of the book. At the end I felt a strange sense of accomplishment, and for the life of me I cannot tell whether it was a good book or not.

      • Creutzer says:

        I would say that part of the point of the book is precisely to evoke this experience in the reader.

  38. LTK says:

    Hey Scott, are you aware of what goes on at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center? They recently won another lawsuit that lets them continue to use painful electric shocks as part of aversion therapy. Now, I don’t know much about psychiatric care of children with severe learning disabilities, but this seems to me like an explicit failure of humanity by all involved. Any insight?

  39. Robert Jones says:

    My problem with conflict vs mistake is that it’s unempirical. Unless you actually have some data, or at least specific examples, I just have no idea whether you’re even talking about a real thing.

    My guess is that nobody is really conflict theorist or a mistake theorist (nobody actually treats politics as science or as war; we all agree there are some bad actors and some well-intentioned but counterproductive policies). Expressing it as a dichotomy dodges the hard work of identifying which approach is most appropriate in each situation.

    You identify conflict theorists with advancing the interests of the people against the elite, but this isn’t the only way that society can be broken down into groups with conflicting interests. By doing this, you’ve smudged the meta and object level theories.

    • cuke says:

      This captures my problem with the discussion as well. The concepts seemed poorly defined. Without reference to some clear criteria or empirical referents, in much of the discussion that followed people seemed to use the terms differently. And often the discussion sounded like the dichotomy was “mistake theorists” and everyone-else-who-I-think-are-idiots, which seemed not a very rigorous frame.

  40. rubberduck says:

    Does anyone here know of a work of fiction with an otherwise realistic setting in which a major character (preferably the protagonist) is explicitly the only one in the world with superpowers/supernatural abilities, and it’s NOT thanks to technology/genetic modification or extensive training? Maybe I don’t consume enough fiction but I could only think of 2 works that even come close:

    1. Hardcore Henry, in which the villain has gratuitious telepathic powers that are never explained (but the movie never does anything with this and also it’s… not a good film at all, in my opinion)

    2. Death Note, before Misa shows up

    Anyone know anything that would fit?

    • WashedOut says:

      Well there’s Alex Mack, who thanks to accidental contact with a weird chemical goo has a bunch of strange and unrelated powers.

    • Baeraad says:

      Watchmen comes to mind. One actual superhero, many hapless losers in costumes.

      If you want to include video games, Max from Life is Strange is the only character who has any special abilities (she can rewind time), though the prequel kiiiiiind of hints that Rachel had some kind of subconscious pyrokinesis thing going on.

      • Nick says:

        One Punch Man is sort of like Watchmen in that respect. At least in the first season—we may meet more folks like Saitama later.

        • J Mann says:

          I love One Punch Man, but it’s very clearly IMHO not “a work of fiction with an otherwise realistic setting in which a major character (preferably the protagonist) is explicitly the only one in the world with superpowers/supernatural abilities.”

          1. The setting is an anime-style Japan, where the cities and society have specifically been reorganized as a result of the regular appearance of monsters.

          2. The very first scene has One Punch Man facing Vaccine Man, a giant mutant born from pollution and waste to punish the earth, and his origin story involves a fight against Crablante, a villain who developed crab powers from eating too much crab.

          3. While Saitama is at an entirely different level from all the other supers, his universe is already cluttered with supers when he gets there.

          but it’s a great show and an even better manga – everyone should check it out.

          • rubberduck says:

            OPM doesn’t fit my criteria at all but I second that it’s an amazing show. Aside from the clever writing, the animation is really pretty.

            Also, in my opinion ONE’s other work Mob Psycho 100 is even better so if you like OPM I highly recommend it.

          • Nick says:

            Hah, fair enough. It seemed to me that the heroes other than Saitama and perhaps Tornado (since she’s an esper) were basically well-trained mundanes or the result of technology or genetic tampering. But it’s definitely not a realistic setting, and a lot of the monsters seem to have weird powers of their own.

          • J Mann says:

            Murata is also incredible.

        • James C says:

          One Punch Man seems almost the opposite. In a world filled with superheroes, monsters and titanic forces the story is all about a completely banal man.

    • bzium says:

      I can not confirm or deny whether the things below strictly adhere to your definition because that would be spoilers, but they are in the ballpark:

      Steven Gould’s Jumper. An abused kid develops the ability to teleport. No explanation of how that works is given.

      Harlan Ellison’s novella Mefisto in Onyx. Guy’s a telepath.

    • James C says:

      There’s a fan-novel where Supergirl ends up in the real world and everyone freaks out in pretty short order. Very good story and the name completely escapes me. Also has one of my favorite background details, as while Supergirl is from the universe where Superman exists, the ‘real world’ is the universe where Spoiler: Nzryvn Rneuneg existed. Although, the book had a happier ending.

    • b_jonas says:

      The protagonist and title character of Roald Dahl’s children’s book “Matilda” develops powers of telekinesis, that is, moving an object far from herself by just looking at it and concentrating. I can’t confirm that she’s the only one in the world who can do that, but it is quite possible, according to the reactions of Ms Honey. Matilda loses her powers by the end of the book.

    • Jugemu says:

      Anime thriller Boku Dake ga Inai Machi (aka Erased) fits.

      Isaac Asimov’s classic Foundation series fits IIRC.

      In general I think this kind of thing is more common in children’s media since the more coherent world-building expected in adult fiction makes it hard to justify totally unique superpowers.

      • Nick says:

        Isaac Asimov’s classic Foundation series fits IIRC.

        I thought of the same. It’s speculated to be a genetic mutation, but I don’t think we get confirmation of that anywhere in the series.

        • Matt M says:

          And the fact that it is unexplained/unpredictable is, itself, a major and significant plot point.

      • Baeraad says:

        I don’t know, there is one character who’s an extremely powerful telepath for no reason that he or anyone else is aware of, so I assume that’s what you’re thinking of? But there are a number of other telepaths in that series – they aren’t as powerful, but they have what is pretty clearly a lesser version of the same abilities, and they are at least implied to know where they come from.

    • SamChevre says:

      I can’t remember the name, but there is a book where magic is generated/managed using music, and is extremely demanding on its practitioner, in which a trained opera singer ends up there somehow.

      Because she could train without the magical drain until ending up there, she’s orders of magnitude more powerful than anyone else.

      Can’t remember the book’s name.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        It’s a series, IIRC.

        Vaguely French pen-name for the author.

        Got it.

        I think you mean the “The Soprano Sorceress” by L.E. Modesitt.

      • Michael Handy says:

        My first thought was “Black Opera” by Mary Gentle, which I recommend almost as strongly.

        Set in the Bel-Canto era a world where Napoleon managed to stalemate Europe and retired as Emperor of France, with his Brother ruling Naples.

        Although the Church can already do magic here via religious masses, the secret is that our hero can compose (well, write, he’s a librettist) secular music with the same effect, which the church suppresses heavily…until they need him to stop an evil cabal from remaking the world by writing a counter-opera.

    • TracingWoodgrains says:

      Neal Shusterman has a young adult novel that fits, called Bruiser. The title character’s ability is more of an anti-power, though: He suffers pain in place of anyone he cares about who happens to be near him. It’s honestly a fantastic story.

      Actually, now that I wrote that, I recall another of his: The Schwa Was Here. Another anti-power–the titular Schwa has the trait of being almost impossible to notice (raise hand in class, teacher doesn’t see; nobody really knows his name; buys a billboard, the road he buys it on closes for the duration he owns it. That sort of thing).

      He has another that almost fits as well, called Challenger Deep, although it’s made clear throughout the story that the main character’s impressions of having supernatural abilities are manifestations of schizophrenia. Still a thought-provoking, worthwhile book.

      Now that I’m thinking about it, he’s done quite a bit along these lines. One of the best YA authors I know of.

      • FLWAB says:

        +1 for Shusterman, one of best authors most people never heard of. His “MindX” (MindQuake, MindStorm, etc) short stories were some of my favorite books as a kid.

        He does this trope a lot, doesn’t he? In Speeding Bullet the main character has unexplained possibly-in-his head luck based powers: after saving someone from a subway accident every time he flips a coin it comes up heads, and he believes that his luck will protect him as long as he keeps using it to save others. The book never makes it clear whether the powers are real: besides the improbability of his coin flips he never actually does anything that breaks the laws of physics, he just manages to survive dangerous situations.

        • Nornagest says:

          I suppose Ringworld might count, at that.

          • albatross11 says:

            Nah, she just got lucky.

          • engleberg says:

            There are thousands of teelas on Earth- they just got lucky avoiding puppeteer agents. The cynical love story in Ringworld is one of the better things Niven took from James Branch Cabell.

    • Groundhog Day might fit. The protagonist is the only one who has the power (or curse) of time looping in the whole movie, though the movie never explicitly says that he is the only one to ever have looped.

      • Matt M says:

        I don’t count this as a “power” because it seems entirely outside of his control. He doesn’t have any power over time that he can choose to manipulate, he is bound to its whims the same way we are, just with different results.

    • James C says:

      Barking by Tom Holt almost manages this as it seems that while the world is normal, lawyers are all supernatural.

    • Iain says:

      Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota series (Too Like the Lightning, Seven Surrenders, The Will to Battle, and the forthcoming Perhaps the Stars) is arguably in this neighbourhood, although the “otherwise realistic setting” is a deliberately unusual spin on the 25th century and the most central character does not have supernatural abilities.

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      “Otherwise realistic setting” with one character that has superpowers sounds like a trope of the magical realism genre. For example, in The House of the Spirits, one of the protagonists is a woman with clairvoyance and telekinesis.

    • littskad says:

      Aren’t some Stephen King novels like this? Maybe Carrie or The Shining?

      • Nornagest says:

        Carrie counts, also Firestarter. There’s more than one person with psychic powers in The Shining, and a variety of ghosts.

        • the_the says:

          In Firestarter, I recall both the father and daughter have special (but different) powers.

    • the_the says:

      The protagonist in The Invention of Lying might fit the bill. Gervais’ character is the first person in society to be able to lie (and it’s never said to be the result of genetic modification/evolution, although I suppose one could argue the case) which gives him tremendous power.

      As I recall, for most of the movie, he is the only person with this ability (at the end do we see that his children may have inherited it).

    • helloo says:

      Isn’t this a super common trope?

      I mean like half of the superhero comics (that don’t involve tech/mutants say… Superman) before the supervillans show up.

      The “something odd is happening” of not just Twilight Zone variety, but also things like “now I can talk to animals” of Doctor Dolittle, “can suddenly hear people’s thought” – plenty of examples like What Women Want, “receives tomorrow’s newspaper” Early Edition which has been mentioned in a previous OT, etc.

      I think you probably can find a lot of them if you look at things that focus on single person narratives (rather than a grand setting, or book adaption).

      • John Schilling says:

        Isn’t this a super common trope?

        I mean like half of the superhero comics (that don’t involve tech/mutants say… Superman) before the supervillans show up.

        I don’t follow comics very closely, but I think the rule at least through the Silver Age was that each superhero or close team of superheroes got an origin story that made no reference to other superheroes existing, in a world unaltered by the conspicuous presence of numerous costumed superhuman freaks. Then, when people started getting bored and the sales started to drop, the writers would happen to notice that Gotham and Metropolis existed in this universe so Batman and Superman could stop by for a team-up. At which point, comic-book geeks insist that since Batman teamed up with e.g. the Flash, the Flash must exist in the same world as every other superhero Batman or Superman ever teamed up with(*), and pay no attention to how implausible it is that this world looks so much like our own.

        But at least the origin stories for most of the classic superheroes should meet the stated requirement.

        * Also, the detectives from Law and Order should have realized that half their mysterious crimes were being committed by space aliens or MiBs, because Detective Munch and the Lone Gunmen mean they live in that sort of universe. Fortunately, television doesn’t play by comic-book continuity rules.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          I recall someone citing an instance of one television show existing as a show in another show’s continuity (e.g. Chandler on Friends talking about a scene in Three’s Company), and the latter show also appears in the former’s continuity. Unfortunately, this was at least a decade ago, and a cursory search isn’t turning it up.

          And then there was It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, which made glorious fun of the whole notion of continuity itself.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I recall a giant graph showing all the TV show universes that were stated to exist within others or coincident to others, and it was insane. I think I got there from TV Tropes and I need to do some work over the next few days so I’m not inclined to look for it.

  41. Fluffy Buffalo says:

    Inspired by Scott’s article on Melatonin, I gave it a shot. So far, out of five nights with 0.5 mg, I’ve woken up twice with nightmares, which is not something that usually happens to me. If you have tried the stuff, what’s your guess – coincidence or side effect?

    • Nornagest says:

      Never had nightmares with it, but my first few times taking it I had unusually vivid dreams. Seemed to go away after a while.

    • outis says:

      I’m trying to use it now. I took it before going to sleep (as per the box instructions) and it had vivid dreams. Unfortunately, I woke up much earlier than I wanted to, then felt sleepy later (perhaps due to the melatonin, but probably just due to the lack of sleep earlier). I guess I should try Scott’s advice of taking melatonin much earlier than bedtime.

    • Civilis says:

      I’ve spent the past three nights on 1mg (smallest dosage I could find) taken right before bed, coupled with the remnants of a summer cold. The first two I had vivid dreams, not exactly nightmares, but not good, either. I haven’t noticeably slept longer, but I’ve fallen to sleep quicker and the sleep has been less disturbed.

      My take was that since I normally don’t get restful sleep (especially when sick), getting two nights of relatively undisturbed sleep may have given my sleeping brain enough time to enter a dreaming state.

    • Carey Underwood says:

      Someone around here previously mentioned a rebound effect when you start getting enough rem sleep after having been deprived, which sounds similar.

  42. Yaleocon says:

    I am very interested in doing a minimal rewrite of “Conflict vs. Mistake.” Once I’m done, I’ll just email it to your shireroth address? Please let me know if this isn’t the right approach.

    I also have my own thoughts as to what’s going on with “conflict and mistake.” But since expressing them goes beyond the scope of a minimal rewrite, I’ll lay them out here in a reply to this comment, hopefully to receive feedback on.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yes, email to me, although you are not the sort of Marxist who I expect to have a substantially different perspective.

      • Yaleocon says:

        Thanks, will do. I am very close with some seriously committed Marxists, so I hope I can contribute something of value.

  43. nimim.k.m. says:

    In fractional OT 105.75 user johan_larson asked:

    It wasn’t that long ago that going to high school was a bit of a big deal. I think my grandparents in central Finland had grade six educations, gained through the local “folk skola” (folk school, or common school). I’m trying to figure out how much material such institutions would actually have covered.

    In math, I’m picturing a curriculum that covers counting, arithmetic with whole numbers, decimals, fractions, weights and measures, time and money, geometric shapes, and formulas for areas and volumes. And that would pretty much be it. Someone going on to an upper school would first hit integers, algebra, and straight lines.

    Does that sound about right?

    I had the pleasure of finding the official curriculum of the Finnish-speaking 6-grade kansakoulu/folkskola/common school of city of Lahti from 1914, which I assume is about the correct time period and representative of education given in other schools in similar medium/small towns. Attending school was not compulsory until 1921, and before that less common in countryside than in urban areas. (Very rural areas did not have to provide full extent of the school curriculum.)

    The education consisted of religion, native language (divided to “reading” and “grammar”), “education in observations”, geography, history, mathematics, “measurements”, “natural knowledge”, drawing, handwriting, singing, gymnastics and crafts. Kids receive 24 hours of education per week in years I and II, 30-31 hours in later grades. No instruction in any foreign language.

    I’ll refer to the grades / school years as I-VI for simplicity, but if you look at the original document, it has “lower” grades numbered I-II, followed by “upper” grades I-IV. (Total 6 years of schooling.) If the student could pass the entrance exams and the family had the means to afford the fees (or student obtained a scholarship), they could move to the oppikoulu/läröverk (grammar school that prepared for studies in university) after their 4th year.

    Religion: Religion appears to be one of the most important subjects at every grade (judging by the number of hours allocated to it, on par with maths and reading and writing). Grade I: stories from the NT. Grade II: stories from OT. (“No textbooks used” at this stage.) Starting from year III, the students begin a more serious study of the catechism (presumably of the national Lutheran church) and reading the Bible proper.

    Native language, reading: First year is mostly vowel and reading practice. Reading material gets longer and more difficult over the years. In later grades (parts of) some particular books to be read are specified (including a work of historical fiction by the national poet Runeberg). Some poems and stories are required to be memorized.

    Native language, grammar and writing practice: The pupils start the deliberate writing practice on their second year. References to the textbook used. Year VI covers “writing (personal) letters, letters of application, adverts and other practical texts.”

    “Observations” is a grades I-II only subject. Instruction covers natural world and geography as appropriate for small kids. Topics include: household animals, everyday objects (“knife e.t.c.”), stories and fairytales, “discussions on instructional pictures“, clock, “species of important trees”, local streets and the town layout.

    Mathematics instruction starts at grade I, but note that it is not called by the Greek-derived word for “mathematics” (which IIRC was reserved for higher mathematics such as algebra and trigonometry that were subjects in institutions that prepared for university); a more literal translation of the subject name is “numerics” or “calculations”. Topics covered: Addition, subtraction, multiplication, divisions. (Range of numbers and operations gets more difficult year by year). Fractions and calculation with units are introduced in year IV. Year VI covers percent and interest calculation.

    “Study of measurements” (literal translation of an arcane word). Only on the year 6. Curriculum has only a reference to the textbook, but a bit of googling reveals that is subject was mostly geometry and its practical applications. I can’t find any scanned copies and only very scant descriptions of the textbook, so I have no details what kind of geometrical instruction the children received.

    Drawing. While the subject is called “drawing”, it also includes working with clay and paper and some painting. Instructions are surprisingly detailed: topics, techniques and materials are specified, down to the make of the pencils and brushes used.

    Crafts. Grades I-II: Simple use of needle. Clay. Cutting paper to shapes and forms. Instruction diverges by sex starting on the grade III, and subject develops more into make of practical everyday objects and household items than playful creations of little kids: Boys have woodwork and simple metalwork, girls learn to make textiles (from year 5 onwards, with sewing machines.)

    “Natural knowledge” starts at grade III and is what would be called (natural) sciences today, but note that the modern word for “sciences” is not used. (I don’t know if it is a quirk of language from a century ago or indicative of deeper philosophical statement.) . Topics: Human anatomy. Plants. Animals. Year VI has a little(?) bit of physics and chemistry. (Unfortunately, no information on depth of instruction.) Also as possibly a note of interest, “temperance education” gets a specific highlight in the curriculum. (Year V: “influence of alcohol on human body”. Year VI: “the production and chemical composition of alcohol”.)

    Geography. Grade III: local geography, terrestrial globe, Finland. IV: Europe and Russia. V: Asia, Africa, America, Australia. VI: Earth and celestial bodies.

    Handwriting. The text only tells which parts of a particular textbook are covered, so I can’t tell much of the contents.

    History. Only on years V-VI. Both general history, and history of Russia (“as appropriate”). The textbooks are specified, no remarks on their contents.

    Singing. Very detailed instructions are given: which songs (many religious songs from the church hymnal book, also some nationalistic / seasonal songs) are to be sung, what kind of musical theory is covered.

    Gymnastics. The curriculum again lists only the appropriate chapters from a instructional textbook. Also sports, skating, skiing if weather permits.

    addendum. Image search by the name of the geometry textbook brings images that appear to include some work with compass (link to exercise that transcends language barriers I hope) and (unit) computations of area and volume and other geometrical exercises of similar level.

    • johan_larson says:

      Wow. An impressive find. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

      The curriculum you describe is much richer than I expected.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        Thank you for your kind words, but it really was mostly a pleasant way to procrastinate.

        Also, it was a surprise to notice that the education (at least, as per specified by the official curriculum) wasn’t at all that different what I had almost a century later in 90s/00s, except we had 1) less nationalistic and religious stint in the readings, 2) far less singing, 3) the contents of natural sciences and geography classes were probably? hopefully? more up-to-date and “modern”, and 4) history as a separate subject started a couple of years earlier. But (for example) all the advanced mathematics, physics and chemistry did not begin before our 7th year, and while pedagogical exposition in the textbooks was probably different, the contents sound strikingly similar: We also spent our 6th year grinding out percent calculations, and frankly, we didn’t do anything as sophisticated as “finding the midpoint of a line with the compass” until years 7 or 8, and I recall anecdotal evidence from my parents’ generation that in their time the students who transitioned to the grammar school (remember, in their 5th year!) started by studying geometry from textbooks that resembled more Euclid than modern textbooks. So our maths education has partially declined challenge-rating-wise.

    • SamChevre says:

      This list of topics is fairly like those of the Amish-Mennonite schools. Fewer years, but longer days (ours were 20 hours a week all years, for 8 years.)

      We would have called the mathematics/numerics subject arithmetic. For us, that included “study of measurements”–perimeter/area/volume calculations for regular figures, units of measure and how to convert among them, time and rate problems, etc. The subject also included estimation and problem-solving methods (sketches, parallel problems, and so forth.)

      Did not have Observation, Crafts, Gymnastics.

      We had spelling as a separate topic from writing.

      • nimim.k.m. says:


        Thanks, “arithmetic” would certainly have been a more apt translation to modern English … on the other hand, I offer a saving throw: the creators / standardizers of the 19th century (and early 20th) era Finnish language were big on creating “natural sounding” words from “popular” or “non-foreign” roots, avoiding introducing loanwords from Greek or Latin (sometimes also avoiding German, Russian and Swedish if possible). So instead of merely coming up with a Finnish spelling for “arithmetic”, they prefer a construct derived from verb that is usually translated as “to count”. (And while we are at it, the word they use for geography would also be lit. translated as “study of (land|country|ground|Earth)”. The only word of “foreign origin” to make it into the subject list is “history”.)

        • ana53294 says:

          Out of curiosity, did those words stay?
          Late 19th – early 20th century Basque went through a similar process. A guy named Sabino Arana invented a bunch of words, notably the horrible word “urrutizkine” for “telefonoa” because he didn’t like loan words either. He also translated a lot of names to Basque, and invented a bunch of names.
          Some of the words he invented stuck, but most of them didn’t, and we reverted to the loan words. The Basque names he invented did stay, though.

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            Uh, I’m not even a serious hobbyist (let alone a professional scholar) so this is a tough one to answer.

            Sure, the Finnish language has lots of words that were made up or re-purposed in 19th century or before, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t have heard about all the proposed words that didn’t stick.

            As an example of not being aware of words that didn’t stick, apparently “study of measurements” was the ‘accepted’ translation for “geometry”, yet I didn’t even recognize the word. Psychology was called “science of the soul”, which would be now a very archaic choice of word.

            But for the record, our word for “telephone” was invented in the 19th century (“puhelin”, derived from word “to talk”). Likewise the word for electricity (“sähkö”) or the word for “science” (“tiede”). All of these and many others are still common everyday language. Wikipedia informs me that all the words for elementary mathematical operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) were introduced in a certain periodical in 1820s.

          • ana53294 says:

            Yes, I guess it’s hard to know if there are words that dissappeared or not, if you don’t read a lot of old texts and realize “Hey, this doesn’t exist anymore”.

            Interesting about the telephone.

            I mostly know about the invented words because they taught us some of them in Literature class. And the main basque political party is called EAJ/PNV, which is translated into Spanish as “The Basque Nationalist Party”, when it’s actually “The Basque Jeltzale party”, JEL being itself an acronym for “Jauna eta Lege Zaharra”, which means “God and the Old Law”.

            So having an example like this of a completely made up word makes me more aware of it, I guess.

  44. Whelming Wave says:

    I’ve just received one and possibly more job offers in the San Francisco area. Any advice on where to start my search for housing (as I would have to relocate from Dallas), or anybody looking for a roommate?

    • entobat says:

      I recently solved this problem!

      If you are interested in a rationalist group house, try contacting people who are more enmeshed in the rationalist community than I am. They will probably know a group house with an opening.

      Beyond that…apartments.com was what I used, and I was pretty happy with the result. You can filter by town, price range, etc. If you are living in South Bay (i.e. a flat place) and don’t have a car, a nice bike will get you a long way, though you will probably end up wanting to shower when you get in in the mornings (either in-office or at a gym nearby).

      Housing here is stupidly expensive, of course, but once you accept that you will be paying $2000 / mo. for a nice room (or somewhat less, if you are going to live with other people) you have gotten past the painful part of the process.

      Were you looking for something more specific?

      • Whelming Wave says:

        Do you know where I’d look to get more information on rationalists with potential housing space?

        • pontifex says:

          If the company you are going to be working for is located in the South Bay, maybe ask David Friedman. He organizes Rationalist meetups there.

          If the company is in SF, you might be able to live in Berkeley and take the train to work. There is definitely some Rationalist housing there.

      • WashedOut says:

        but once you accept that you will be paying $2000 / mo. for a nice room

        You mean after progressing through anger, denial, bargaining and depression?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      There’s a Rationalist/EA/SSC Housing Coordination Facebook Group you’ll find if you Facebook search that name.

    • veeloxtrox says:

      Craigslist if you want to find a roommate that can be a bit of a wildcard

  45. Freddie deBoer says:

    Here’s a weird, pointless, and random debate some friends and I had this weekend: has the number of total t-shirt designs (so different shirt styles, not individual shirts) made in history reached the billions?

    So we’re talking about incredibly rough estimates but we’re also talking about getting an answer right only to an order of magnitude.

    I say no. A billion is a lot.

    • Nornagest says:

      Well, just to ballpark it, I’d guess that somewhere around ten billion people have lived since T-shirts started being worn as outerwear in the Fifties or Sixties (before that, the number of unique designs would be negligible). So, how many unique T-shirt designs per capita over that period? If it’s less than 0.1, then there are less than a billion T-shirt designs in history.

      I’d guess somewhere around 0.02. Most T-shirt designs are probably one-offs for small companies and kids’ soccer teams and such, which I figure probably means between one in twenty and one in a hundred people in the West design a shirt. And then there’s probably enough T-shirt businesses floating around to inflate that number somewhat, but on the other hand most of the world isn’t the West.

      • BlindKungFuMaster says:

        “… which I figure probably means between one in twenty and one in a hundred people in the West design a shirt.”

        Could be significantly more, I think. Every stag party has custom made t-shirts, kids get these t-shirts on many occasions not just for soccer teams. I had plenty of t-shirts from summer camps, chess tournaments, school events etc.

      • yodelyak says:

        I decided to count how many custom t-shirts I personally have had, and compare that to the number of each of those t-shirts that was printed.

        I’ve had… 12 custom shirts from theater-productions in high school (3 per year for four years, about 40 were printed of each design), 2 custom shirts from high-school sports (50ish prints made of each design), 2 custom shirts from middle-school sports, (15 prints per each), ~5 custom-shirts from summer camp (about 500 per run?), ~5 wildlife t-shirts (massive runs, these were sold in gift shops and some box stores), 3 custom shirts from cafe-press for a college society (~5 sales per design), ~5 other custom ‘free t-shirt’ at something in college (runs between 50 and 1000), at least 5 campaign t-shirts (runs anywhere from 20 to a thousand or so for Senate campaign), and then all the other t-shirts I actually bought in stores at some point, plus the 5 different t-shirts with auto logos on them given me by an Uncle who worked for an auto company. I have team-building exercise / commemorative t-shirts from several workplaces including… 2 where I worked, one where a gal I dated worked, 2 where my mother worked, and 1 where my father worked. I’d say I’ve owned ~ 100 unique designs, and that about half of those designs had print runs of 100 or less–sometimes much less–such that I’m pretty close to having the consumer force of one custom t-shirt design.

        BUT did I put enough effort into this?

        I’ve also owned at least four tie-dye shirts and two screen-press shirts, all of them one-of-a-kind. I also attended a family reunion where *everyone* had a unique shirt, each stating the person’s name and their relation to the central relator at the reunion. So now I think as a consumer of t-shirt designs, my contribution to the market place has driven the creation of ~10 additional t-shirt designs. I just realized I forgot church camp and boy scouts. (Many of those runs were quite large… but many were specific to a particular patrol or troop, so only 50 or 100 per design.)

        I think I’m an outlier, so I still agree that 1b is probably high. but 100m is probably low, at least if things like the tie-dye or family-reunion designs above count as one for each shirt.

        • fion says:

          Wow, you’ve owned a lot of T shirts!

        • Aapje says:

          As a kid, I made a batik shirt, which was a fully bespoke shirt, to I’m definitely above 1, just from that shirt alone.

        • dodrian says:

          Talking about unique t-shirts, off the top of my head I can think of three that I’ve tie-dyed, two that I’ve hand-painted, and four that were a common design but with my name embroidered or printed on top.

          So that’s 9 unique shirts on my part, though I’m not sure how many of them would count as a “unique t-shirt design” by Freddie deBoer’s rules.

        • dodrian says:

          I can think of owning 8 choir shirts for ~50 people, 2 school shirts ~100 people, 4 sports teams of ~20, 7 church shirts of ~100, 3 camp shirts of ~500, and maybe 20 graphic tees I’d estimate having a run of 10,000.

          All of those would definitely count as unique designs, without fudging for hand-made patterns or personal additions, which mean I own ~0.46 unique Ts. I think 0.5 unique, printed-run t-shirts would be a reasonable estimate for an American in their 20s/30s.

      • SaiNushi says:

        My college did a custom t-shirt every year for scholarship weekend (1), another one each year for freshmen arriving (1), a dorm shirt each year for each dorm (6), and each class had a fall-fest shirt (4). Plus there was the one for the whole college each year. That’s 13 custom designs every single year. I started in 2003, and I know for a fact they were doing it for at least four years before that. From 1999 – 2018 is 19 years. So, 19 * 13 = 247 shirts so far (at the very least). How many colleges around the country do something similar, I don’t know, and of course their number of dorm shirts might differ.

        Next, way back in 1992, I was part of the kid’s soccer team over the summer. We got custom t-shirts. Changed every year. Assuming that’s continued, that’s another 26 shirts.

        Lots of grade schools in middle class and higher do custom t’s for each grade.

        Now for my dojo. Every dojo I’ve been a part of had a custom t-shirt. That’s multiple martial arts styles too, but they didn’t change every year. So assume 5 t-shirt designs for dojo’s per city.

        Summer camps. Every one had at least one design, many had 2. Not counting different colors with same design as a different shirt.

        Now we go to stores. Walmart tends to have 20 different designs every year since at least 2008. Spencer’s had 10 different designs, two of which changed each year, dunno for how long, but they sure weren’t the ones Walmart sold. Hot Topic had 10 different designs, two of which changed every year, and 4 of which overlapped with Spencer’s. Right now, 5-below has 20-30 different designs, but I only started going there this year, so I don’t know how often they’ll change.

        So, I can say with confidence that there’s at least 100 new designs every single year, plus one design per sports team, one design per dojo, one design per summer camp, and one design per grade per major US city.

        To bloat it even more, at one of the summer camps, each unit would design their own t-shirt, starting back in 1998. I think there were 20 units. 1 had four sessions per summer, 10 had 8 sessions per summer, and the other 9 had 16 sessions per summer. 238 designs per year. Granted, only one of the four summer camps I went to did that, and I know of two others that didn’t (because they were set up the same way as one of the other ones I went to). I don’t think there would be many like it.

    • Montfort says:

      What counts as a unique design? Is there a minimum for number of shirts actually made with that design?

      • baconbits9 says:

        This is (obviously) the question.

        Take a typical US kid who plays one sport for 3-4 years, and each year has a different team name with their number on the back. If a white T-shirt with “The Titans” on the front is what counts for T-shirt design then the number is lower, but if a white T with “The Titans” with the number 1 on the back is unique from one with the number 2 on the back then every little league team has dozens of unique designs. Every couple of years they change the font, or the size of the font, or add a sponsor or shift the color a little, count all of those as unique and then you are probably looking at close to 10 billion unique T-shirt designs just in US history.

    • fion says:

      My first thought when reading your question was exactly what you said in your final line. A billion is a *lot*.

      To work it out more thoroughly, we need some kind of estimate of the shape of the distribution of how many T shirts there are of each design. Obviously the big brands will produce huge numbers of T shirts of each design, and I expect this accounts for the vast majority of T shirts. Nornagest reckons most T shirt designs are one-offs. I’m not sure about this, but it sounds plausible. So we have a really ugly-shaped distribution with a very, very long tail.

      How many T shirts are there in the world? 10 billion? 100 billion? Let’s assume it’s less than 100 billion. So to be under 1 billion T shirt designs, we need for there to be a mean of >100 T shirts per design. But the mean is really hard to estimate because the distribution is a funny shape.

      Ok, so let’s cut the distribution in half. Assume that the bit of the distribution around 100 shirts per design doesn’t contribute a huge amount to our numbers. Let’s pretend that there are “big brands” with >> 100 shirts/design and “one-offs” with << 100 shirts/design. So relatively small designs like conventions or music bands that print a thousand shirts, they count as "big brands". So what fraction of shirts belong to big brands? Well I own about 20 T shirts and one of them is a one-off so that would suggest taking 95%. I’m not going to do that because I’m a Westerner and I think we probably have more unique shirts than the rest of the world. Let’s say 98%, but I really think it’s higher.*

      So we have <2% of shirts are one-offs out of <100 billion shirts. That's 98% of <100 billion, which is <98 billion. We've also assumed that there's much more than 100 shirts/design. Call it 1000 shirts/design, although I think it's much more than that. This gives us <0.098 billion designs. Call it <0.1 billion.

      This gives us an upper bound of 0.6 billion. To be honest I'm surprised it's that high, but I do think my estimates were mostly on the side that would make this number as big as possible.

      Overall, I reckon it's between 100 million and 1 billion, but I could believe it was in the 10s of millions.

      *re-reading my working, this seems to be the most important estimate. If it was 99%, my final upper-bound goes down to 0.35 billion. If it was 99.9% my final upper-bound is more like 0.15 billion. Or, alternatively, would allow me to relax what I call my "weakest assumption" of 4 designs/shirt in the <<100 designs/shirt category.

    • dodrian says:

      This week’s shirt.woot derby currently has 64 entries, and it’s week 664 of their derby. While older derbies wouldn’t have attracted as much attention, not all of their t-shirt designs come from the derby, I wouldn’t estimate that they have 40,000 shirts in their catalog (though not all of those shirts went to print, but technically you said ‘t-shirt designs’). Then there are sites like CafePress, which will let you print any image onto a t-shirt, and looking at the catalog of “Men’s T-shirts” gives 9,626,074 results, again, with the technical definition of “designs”, as we don’t know how many of those have actually been printed (though I’m pretty sure that number doesn’t include the same design printed on different colors, which CafePress allows, of which there are more than 10, which if we’re being very technical with your definition would bring us 1/10th of the way from one site alone, though that’s still a long long way to go, and other sites are probably smaller than CafePress and overlap in some of their catalog).

      As others have noted, in the US it’s pretty common to print t-shirts for local sports teams, performing arts groups, community events, fun-runs (I don’t know how many race t-shirts my wife has), college clubs, churches, local businesses, etc etc. Plus, making custom shirts is a fairly common activity for children and youth programs, either with painting or tie-die. I would bet we could get at least 300M unique t-shirts this way in US alone.

      It’s definitely US-centric, but how widespread is t-shirt mania? I saw a lot of custom shirts in the UK, though I would doubt as many as in the US, and would bet it’s the same in other English-speaking nations, and lesser but still notable in developed world countries. Can this 4x larger but less shirty population support double the US shirt reserve? How common are custom t-shirt designs in the majority world?

      If we only include t-shirt designs that were done for a run, either by a professional printer or by a silk-screen-setup in somebody’s garage, I would guess that we’re short of a billion designs, though a significant percentage of the way there.

      If we’re expanding the definition of ‘design’ to include one-off tie-dyes, hand painted, stencils, etc etc, then I think we’ve easily smashed a billion unique shirt designs.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Assuming that the T-Shirt design wearing population is dominated by USians of relatively recent birth (which is underselling it by a lot, I think), we might guess 333 million “typical” T-Shirt design wearers.

      3 designs per typical T-shirt wearer would get us to a billion, but those aren’t unique T-shirt designs.

      However what matters is the size of the average unique T-shirt run, which includes everything from Nike apparel through sports-teams of various level of amateurism all the way to bespoke Cafe Press single item runs. If we assume the average size of the run is 30, I think we only need a population of 333 million T-Shirt wearers to have owned 90 such T-shirts in their entire life.

      That includes every single Nike emblem shirt you have had just to run it, etc., and many of those will still be unique designs, with slight variations on a theme.

      I think it’s more likely than not that we have had over 1 billion unique designs.

    • pointenlos says:

      The german writer Kathrin Passig has among her many projects a small website called Zufallsshirt, a random generator for shirt designs which you can buy. Per FAQ the designs are combinations of limited sets, enabling 48,323,750,000,000 possible designs.

  46. Chevalier Mal Fet says:

    This is a book recommendation thread.

    A few days ago, we had a discussion in the comments about David Weber, and I was once again reminded that this forum is mainly populated by huge fucking nerds lots of educated and cultured people. Anyway, what David Weber does better than most other authors I’ve read is great Space Battles. I’ve also read Timothy Zahn, who does them well, and Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet, who does okay. What I’m asking for are other books or series with terrific Space Battles. Anything you enjoyed reading that had lasers, missiles (or missile lasers) in space?

    • John Schilling says:

      Well, since I just finished reshelving my library:

      C.J. Cherryh is vaguely passable on the strategy and tactics of space battles in her Alliance/Union series, but she’s really good at making you understand what it feels like to develop PTSD as a result of your participation of dear god when will this end we’re all gonna die space battles.

      Elizabeth Moon in the Vatta’s War series and Lois Bujold in some of the Dendarii-focused Vorkosigan books also have the knack for getting the human part of the equation right without getting the tactics and techniques completely wrong. Somewhat more upbeat, and the protagonists are more likely to be commanders than victims.

      As always, your go-to team for getting hard SF done right with good storytelling and plot and characters is Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, but I think they’ve only done two full-on space battles; the ending of Footfall and the lost opening of Mote in God’s Eye. The latter isn’t truly lost, of course, it’s been published in an anthology or two at least.

      James Corey’s Expanse series has space battles of sub-Weberian scope but greater hardness and better writing across the board. 80% fewer infodumps but you still know what’s going on, 100% fewer magic treeponies and you won’t miss them a bit. But at this point you may be better off watching it on SyFy, er, Amazon.

      Roger Macbride Allen wrote some pretty good stuff in the 1980s, starting with Torch of Honor. From memory it shouldn’t be too dated, but I haven’t reread it since the 1990s at the latest.

      Speaking of Torches, we’ve talked Karl Gallagher’s Torchship Trilogy here at length; it has its weaknesses including a dose of first-novel syndrome, but it’s got decent hard-ish SF space battles.

      Paul Hamilton would rather write about Han Solo flying the Millenium Falcon than Admiral Ackbar commanding the rebel fleet (figuratively speaking; he’s not actually doing Star Wars). And he wants to make sure you know how many hot women enthusiastically bang Han Solo. But he delivered the space battles adequately, IIRC.

      And an honorable mention for David Brin’s Uplift series, or at least the final section of Startide Rising. This is the “baffle them with wickedly awesome bullshit” school of writing science fiction that the audience won’t notice has the hardness of undercooked flan. It’s too difficult to try to convince a technically literate audience that FTL can work, so spin up half a dozen incompatible types of FTL drive and keep them busy trying to keep track of which one is in use today. More aliens than the Star Wars cantina scene, and you can kind of keep track of those too. Plucky heroes, most of them not even vaguely humanoid, and a space battle against impossible odds for the fate of eleven galaxies, yeah, it’s awesome in a fifty-point all-caps SPACE OPERA! kind of way.

      I’ll probably think of some more later.

      • dick says:

        As always, your go-to team for getting hard SF done right with good storytelling and plot and characters is Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, but I think they’ve only done two full-on space battles; the ending of Footfall and the lost opening of Mote in God’s Eye.

        The sequel to Mote, “The Gripping Hand,” hinges on a lengthy and very detailed space battle that I found quite fulfilling to read. It goes in to a ton of detail on the tactics involved and how the two armadas use the light-speed gap to their relative (hah!) advantages. I also loved that the changing relative positions of astronomical bodies within the solar system was a strategic and, more importantly, political factor in how the war proceeded; one of the aliens described the varying distances between rival space-faring factions using the metaphor of ancient Persian trade routes, which might be fast and safe in one season but slow and dangerous at a different time of year.

        Unfortunately, Niven suffers from a bad case of “all mainstream sci-fi from a generation ago looks sexist now” disease, so take that under advisement. Also, too much exposure to realistic descriptions of kinetic bombardment can make it hard to take the Death Star from Star Wars seriously.

        • albatross11 says:

          I have this theory:

          At any given time/place, there is a dominant set of norms about how to think and talk about the world. Over time, these drift and change. Which means that it is inevitable that over time, books will become less and less in tune with the current norms.

          In some cultures, there’s also a high tolerance for variance from many/most of those norms–most people are okay reading stuff that doesn’t perfectly follow them, even though they may sometimes find stuff so jarring or offensive that they get knocked out of a story. In other cultures, there is a very low tolerance for variance from the current norms–most people are offended by even relatively small deviations from those norms.

          In the high-tolerance cultures, you will see a much greater ability to read and enjoy older works. And so many people will be familiar with the historical works, and that will affect the current literature in various interesting ways. In the low-tolerance cultures, you will see far less ability to read and enjoy those works, and so few readers and writers will be familar with them.

      • J Mann says:

        @John Shilling, @Chevalier Mal Fet – have you read Walter Jon Williams’ Conventions of War trilogy? I liked it a lot.

      • engleberg says:

        Randall Garrett’s Takeoff! covered the ‘then my X-beam struck his Q-shield and his R-beam was deflected by my Y-shield’ stuff. Spinning your wheels with stagy military soap opera and a black velvet curtain with some lightbulbs isn’t good science fiction battle. Good science fiction battle at least starts with two galaxies colliding, which of course means they are passing through each other. It’s a fight inside a red sun system, which of course means it’s inside a red sun. It’s when you use the wonders of astronomy as the of course setting for your plot, and if you do it right and have intelligent characters, it’s great science fiction, and if you do the setting it right and let the gods but annihilate all space and time to make two lovers bathetic and happy, it’s great space opera. Nobody has done great space opera or great science fiction for decades. Just reread Niven and ignore the Hugos now they’ve burned the brand.

        • Deiseach says:

          It’s when you use the wonders of astronomy as the of course setting for your plot, and if you do it right and have intelligent characters, it’s great science fiction, and if you do the setting it right and let the gods but annihilate all space and time to make two lovers bathetic and happy, it’s great space opera.

          Let me quote you some Superluminary: The World Armada:

          The memory of Urvasthrang showed what the defenses were: here was the dead supermagnetic gamma-radiating star called a magnetar, SGR 1806-20; two blue hypergiant stars; a supergiant O-type star; and three mysterious dying giants called Wolf-Rayet stars in the throes of pre-nova convulsions.

          All were sources of high-energy electromagnetic radiation, and all were massive enough to house working long-range armatures, and therefore could deliver the magnetic, gravitic, high-energy, and plasma discharges across interstellar distances. Other of the young, massive stars had been Dysoned and weaponized, that full stellar outputs could be directed at a star system, to vaporize all its planets.

          The magnetar released more energy in one tenth of a second than Sol had released in one hundred thousand years: a duodecillion joules.

          • engleberg says:

            @Let me quote you some Superluminary-

            Looks okay, but busy. I want each wonder delved into and given a vivid sense of scale and beauty and power. ‘It looks like a ribbon around a star. What is it?’ Astronomy porn is like any porn, you want a heavenly body described vividly as it performs personable evolutions towards a climax. Chorus lines just blur together.

    • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

      I’m not sure if you’re looking for realism or not; if not, you might want to consider E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith, particularly the Lensman series.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Iain M. Banks? The Culture novels have some impressive space battles (though as it’s space opera, he doesn’t go into much detail on things like tactics and armament). But perhaps a better choice is The Algebraist, set in a “harder”/lower-tech universe where there is no FTL other than via artificial wormholes, and no inertial compensators so spaceships are filled with liquid to let their crews tolerate high acceleration.

      And then there are the Dwellers, an advanced “slow” (experiencing life much more slowly than humans) civilisation who live in gas giants, have lifespans measured in billions of years, and fight wars among themselves for recreation using huge lighter-than-air “dreadnoughts”.

      Of course, Banks’s superb skill at naming his ships continues- one plot-important warship is the Mannlicher-Carcano

      • albatross11 says:

        The space battles don’t seem especially well described or imagined to me, but the terror-weapon assassination at the end of _Look to Windward_ is pretty lovingly described, and probably was pretty effective at sending the desired Don’t Fuck With the Culture message.

        • Nornagest says:

          Yeah, I’d never been too impressed with the Culture series’ space battles. Banks tends to be too enchanted with the scale of his setting to bother making them relatable, and a lot of them come off as curb-stomps or glorified video-game shootouts. His scenes of ground warfare are pretty good, though — ugly and chaotic, but that’s what makes them work. The early Vatueil scenes in Surface Detail stand out, along with the climax of Consider Phlebas, and there are some good bits in Use of Weapons too.

          The terror weapon scene was… well described, but I got the impression that it was there more to satisfy Banks’ need for one gratuitously nasty scene per book than anything else.

          • albatross11 says:

            It worked in context, though. It was pretty clear that the nature of the assassination (and probably footage of it) would work as a deterrent to the next several powerful sentients who thought that maybe blowing up a Culture Orbital would be a good idea.

          • Watchman says:

            In general though a space battle involving Culture ships would be indescribable other than as a computer game. No organic entity is involved on the Culture side, which is the normal narrator perspective, other than as a passenger. Plus after Consider Pheblas the Culture was not in danger of losing space battles as they had no neighbours with capability and will to defeat them, so battles are basically an AI destroying enemies not a contest of tactics.

          • albatross11 says:

            There are other Involved civilizations at the Culture’s level of technology who could probably give them a serious fight–we see a couple of these in the last few books. (Hydrogen Sonata is about an equivalent-level civilization Subliming; Matter shows us an approximately-equivalent-level civilization trying to protect a shellworld. And so on. )

            One difference is that the Culture actually does fight from time to time, and has a lot of constant intervention going on, so it’s probably more practiced than the other civilizations. But it’s not at all clear that this means it would win in a war with its top-level neighbors. (In the Idirian war, the Homadan ships were more advanced than those of the Culture, and in Excession, a Culture ship worried about skullduggery from other Culture factions hides out in a Homadan fleet base for awhile for protection.)

    • Deiseach says:

      If you’re looking for realistic military space battles, I have nothing for you.

      If you’re looking for WORLD-SHATTERING SPACE ADVENTURE!!!, may I recommend Superluminary by John C. Wright? Three book series (but short books), wherein being decapitated is but a minor inconvenience to the hero of the tale. It’s not deep but it’s good old-fashioned pulp style fun.

      EDIT: Also, the “oh come on that can’t possibly be a real astronomical feature” stuff is, apparently, all real.

    • MartMart says:

      The whole Expanse series by S.A Correy is the best sci fi I’ve every read (the show is ok, but doesn’t begin to measure up). The hard science part is pretty solid, the softer “sciences” are surprisingly solid, the characters are great, their relationships feel realistic, various hot issues are there in such a way that they don’t feel like mandatory inclusions.

      I also enjoyed the Red Rising series, although I really didn’t expect to. It’s very far from hard sci fi, more of space romans/viking/celt adventures, but it entertaining, and its mostly written in first person present tense, which works surprisingly well.

      Edit: Peter F Hamilton does some pretty fantastic action scenes in a future high tech society. His endings sometimes disappoint, especially in his earlier works. But the beginning and middle are always fantastic. Magic tree ponies are there, but appear well hidden by fancy words.

    • Nick says:

      A tangent: since y’all were speaking well of Weber and bean linked On Basilisk Station, I read it this weekend, and I thought it was quite good. Especially toward the end when gur Srneyrff fgnegrq punfvat gur Uniravgr fuvc Fvevhf—everything from there on was really great.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        I went and re-read the ending section again, and oh man, pbzcnerq gb gur fpnyr bs guvatf 10 obbxf naq 20+ lrnef qbja gur yvar, gur Srneyrff – Fvevhf qhry vf nyzbfg dhnvag. Fvatyr zvffvyrf sverq ng n gvzr, zvffvyr qrsrafrf gung pna oneryl unaqyr vg, univat gb pybfr gb raretl enatr gb qrpvqr gur vffhr – zbfg bs gur frevrf vf nobhg gnxvat gung gnpgvpny raivebazrag naq tenqhnyyl eraqrevat nyy bs vg bofbyrgr.

        • Nick says:

          I was hoping you might say that. 😀

          I don’t think I’m pick up any more of the books anytime soon, but it’s definitely on my radar now. I might do a few next year or something.

    • carvenvisage says:

      Book 1 of “night lords trilogy”, I think called soul hunter. Disclaimer: I was greatly dissapointed at how accomodating fate is to them on one particular occasion, -Villains should really have to earn their victories, perhaps especially protagonists. -But the “big gambit in the grand space battle” sequence was pretty frickin awesome.

      It’s also interesting in how it depicts an elite evil crack troops POV with a strong emphasis on it being a martial brotherhood, not something I’ve read elsewhere.

      (To be clear, they’re definitely pretty evil, -not remotely as bad as black company imo, but they are the bad guys, -they slaughter effectively helpless imperial guard, one of the main characters is someone the kidnap, maybe an astropath, I don’t recall, etc.)

      edit: If you like the John C wright thing linked maybe check out his count to a trillion series. I haven’t actually read either one (hear me out), but based on golden transcendence and orphans of chaos he writes grand epic stuff, and I believe that’s his “space is big and epic” series.

      • Nick says:

        I liked the Count to the Eschaton sequence a lot, but I think the final book was weaker than the earlier ones. I haven’t read Golden Transcendence, so I can’t say how the two series compare.

    • aientiaerationum says:

      Readers who don’t mind transposing space-battles into sea-battles, and lasers into cannons, will greatly enjoy Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels (discussed above). Such transpositions are generally satisfactory, except for those rare SF stories whose plots depend crucially upon the detailed technological workings of space-lasers. Example: Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy transposes pretty naturally onto Kipling’s Captains Courageous.

    • AG says:

      Have you ever watched the Legend of the Galactic Heroes anime (either the original classic, the summary movies, or the recent remake)?

  47. Odovacer says:

    Imagine that you’re Jeff Bezos. Trump really grinds your gears. How would you use your vast resources (money, Amazon.com, the Washington Post, etc) to neutralize his influence and prevent him from being reelected?

    • Tenacious D says:

      Maybe get Bloomberg, Shultz, or Zuckerberg on the ticket too (or back a run by one of them). Name recognition goes a long way.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Zuckerberg is so unpopular that he’s probably not even going to run, even though it looks like he was thinking about it. Why should Bezos be any different?

        • Ben Landau-Taylor says:

          Bezos is better at this game than Zuckerberg. Many of the PR attacks on Zuckerberg have stuck, but Bezos has mostly shrugged them off. The most damaging one that I can recall was the NYT hit piece about how Amazon is a horrible place to work, which I don’t think got picked up by other outlets very much, and largely got absorbed into the “Amazon is for really intense people” narrative that Bezos was trying to push before.

          That said, as good as Bezos is at this, I don’t know whether he’s good enough to win a major election.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Any idea why Bezos would be so much better? I don’t expect either one of them to handle their own PR, and I wouldn’t expect a big difference between billionaire-tier PR firms. Is it just the very personal parts of PR that can’t be outsourced?

          • As far as the very personal parts, Bezos is definitely better. His seamless transition from ”harmless book nerd” to ”Lex Luthor” was damned impressive. If you watch videos, you’ll see he hasn’t just changed his look; his manner is different, and his voice is deeper. I don’t think Zuckerberg can control his presentation like this. This matters a lot for elections in particular.

            More speculatively, my guess is that Bezos also probably does handle his own PR, or at least sets the high-level goals. When I looked into him, I got the sense of a man who follows long-term strategies on the scale of decades. (His plan has been “make a ton of money in order to fund space travel” since at least high school.) If this is true, then he’ll be balancing lots of considerations for what his image should be that he’ll have trouble conveying to consultants. I doubt any PR firm could have told him the right time to pivot from “nonthreatening nebbish” to “unassailable mastermind”, because it depends on details of his broader strategic position that Bezos is in a better position to assess. And I doubt that a PR firm would suggest “you should buy the Washington Post”, although maybe billionaire-tier PR firms do think that big, I don’t know.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Where does releasing a metal album called “Democracy Dies in Darkness” fit into his timetable?

          • Deiseach says:

            If you watch videos, you’ll see he hasn’t just changed his look; his manner is different, and his voice is deeper.

            The Maggie Thatcher effect? We should watch out to see if he starts carrying a handbag and using the royal we?

          • Brad says:

            I imagine Zuckerberg must have some face to face charisma or how would he have gotten where he is. But based on videos of speeches he has given, his mass charisma is even worse than HRC. And that’s saying something!

          • Aapje says:

            Ezra Klein argued that HRC’s talent is her ability to truly listen to people, which is a kind of charisma that obviously doesn’t translate into making charismatic speeches that inspire millions.

          • Deiseach says:

            Ezra Klein argued that HRC’s talent is her ability to truly listen to people

            Yeah but I think the trouble there was that she had a tendency towards “Well I’ve listened to Joe and he says we should do this but I’ve listened to Mike and he says we should do that and Sally says the other thing is better” during her campaign – there was some frankly ridiculous number of slogans being tested, trotted out, dropped, etc even in the last days.

            Then she ended up having listened to so many conflicting opinions that she just took a decision and rammed it through because she’s the smart experienced one in the room, regardless if it was a good one or not.

          • Nornagest says:

            @Deiseach — Is that link supposed to go to the front page of the Post?

          • AG says:

            So HRC ran up against the Peter Principle, then. She climbed to where her charisma couldn’t take her further. And with just how much of a policy wonk she is, I kind of wonder if “cabinet member” was that +1 level of incompetence, where Senator or lower is where her optimized maximum is?

          • Aapje says:


            I think that she exceeded her ability already with her Secretary of State job. She excels in advocacy roles, especially when working behind the scenes, but is poor at decision making and inspiring the masses.

            PS. I assume that Deiseach meant to link to this

          • AG says:

            Yeah, it’s interesting that this characterization means HRC isn’t suited to executive branch positions. I was thinking “maybe then she should stay the shadow power, chief of staff type,” but that would actually mean more decision making. Whereas in the legislature, since it’s all nebulous negotiations, single representatives/senators have little direct decision making power, and so that’s where she works best, quibbling at the details but ultimately passing the buck.

            But does that have implications for an alternate world where she went the judicial path instead? There’s a lot of listening there, but also some strong decision making.

          • CatCube says:

            I was thinking “maybe then she should stay the shadow power, chief of staff type,” but that would actually mean more decision making.

            I don’t know if the lack of charisma being discussed means that she wouldn’t be effective in a power-behind-the-throne role. She might very well be charismatic in a one-on-one type of role. However, when she’s speaking to a mass audience, she gives a speech like space aliens hollowed her out and are drunk-driving her.

            “Ramming a decision through” can be done in both the one-on-one or mass audience type of situation, but you need to have the charisma appropriate to the situation. Successful politicians (which is what cabinet secretaries are) need the second type. Chiefs of staff need the first type.

          • Randy M says:

            Excelling in advocacy roles–behind the scenes. Is that like having a face for radio?

          • engleberg says:

            Hillary’s great talent is as a bagman: 1.5 billion slush fundation. When the Clintons took a half-billion dollar bribe from Microsoft’s competitors to sic the Justice Department on Microsoft and oops, break the dot-com boom, that was really impressive. Appointing the guys who covered for her to the FBI, sending them after Trump, that’s kind of impressive too. So far Trump hasn’t taken that kind of bribe, or caused that kind of damage, or put enough loyalists in place to impeach the next guy in 2024, but Trump has time to grow. New York real estate background might help.

      • Deiseach says:

        Oh my God, sorry, but I’m rolling on the floor laughing at this. Why not throw in Elon Musk too, so we could have the full Billionaire Cartoon Supervillain List?

        “Bezos/Zuckerberg 2020: Vote for these guys, they already own you body and soul, may as well make it official!”

        I think the better bet is to buy a personable-looking congresscritter, then pump money and resources into the campaign that your grinning, glad-handing puppet runs (by strictly following the algorithms which are for sure going to work out better this time). If you want your First Female President, sure, go for it as well, but pick one that has a snowball in hell’s chance of getting elected.

        • Tenacious D says:

          I’m working on the theory that in 2018 all publicity is good publicity (as long as you never apologize or show weakness). President Trump already set the precedent for a billionaire trying such an approach, after all.

          • Watchman says:

            Yes, but the candidate has to have policies attractive to that proportion of the population who would accept the no apology approach. Trump already has that section of the electorate, other than perhaps an indeterminate number of “no liberal act is wrong” types who still support Roman Polanski…

            I don’t think the US left-wing coalition really has much space for a leader without introspection or respect for others to be honest.

    • BBA says:

      My first instinct is that the most important thing is to not get caught, because the massive scandal from a billionaire’s nefarious plot to rig the election will redound strongly to Trump’s favor. My second instinct is that no matter whether Bezos gets caught or not or even does anything Trump will insist he’s nefariously plotting to rig the election. So the logical tactic is to do nothing and make Trump look foolish by insisting you’re doing something… except, of course, that has never worked against Trump either.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        And here I thought Putin was the only judo champion world leader.

        • BBA says:

          I think Trump has more of a Ballmer Peak thing going on. Political figures with similar traits, like Anthony Weiner and Sarah Palin, have self-destructed spectacularly, but Trump naturally occupies a particular sweet spot that makes him inexplicably good at winning elections and impervious to the standard rules of politics.

          I mean, today the entire media and national security establishment and pretty much every retired Republican pol are aghast at today’s joint press conference with Putin, but what are the odds we’ll even remember it by this time next week?

          So in other words, he’s almost certain to win in 2020 and there’s nothing you or I or Bezos can do about it. I don’t like it but it is what it is.

          • Matt M says:

            I’ve had this rough idea for a comedy sketch where someone falls into a coma, and when they are awakened, they are ranting about Russian collusion or some such thing. The doctors inform them that they’ve been in a coma, and actually, nobody really is talking about Russian collusion anymore – the truly outrageous Trump scandal is how he’s separating families at the border.

            Coma victim says “Wow, I must have been out for a really long time!” But the doctors reveal nope, just two days.

          • Nick says:

            Then he sleeps for eight hours and when he wakes up, it’s all Stormy Daniels.

          • albatross11 says:

            The outrage media only has space for one top story at a time, so it is 100% capable of shifting from “Government reports it’s missing half a dozen nukes” outrage to “B-list celebrity caught on video in racist rant” outrage, with everyone apparently forgetting the missing nukes.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            If I was a supervillain, I would use my powers to steal a nuke after putting a national-level politician under hypnosis to speak a racist rant when given the trigger, then time the trigger to get the media to drop the stolen nuke outrage ASAP.

          • bean says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            The nuclear security people are not as easily distracted as the general public, and they’re the ones you really need to worry about.

          • Deiseach says:

            Anthony Weiner is his own special kind of disaster, though.

    • yodelyak says:

      The Dem bench is, IMHO, sadly thin.

      I think Gillibrand could win in ’20, and the main thing she needs from Bezos is competence among the rest of the folks running in ’20, and the sense that the race dynamic will be unforgiving to candidates that use scorched-earth tactics. It’d probably help if the Dems have retaken the House in ’18, so they can make sure to fund relevant projects like election protection. There’s truth in the line that “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line.” When Dem primaries get ugly, Rs win. So agenda item one is to get Dems to see it as in their interest to be nice to each other.

      After that, Bezos should a) make a 2020 map and pick a few states where he can ensure a state-level run by a libertarian or other Republican-adjacent (an evangelical party?) who can split votes off from Trump
      b) double-down on work to build Dem party cohesion in states where the Bernie/Clinton split is especially deep. (Maybe just pick 2018 candidates with no ties to either Bernie or Clinton and signal boost them)
      c) start researching what kind of messaging works to suppress turnout among Trump’s base. Will they not vote if they’re sure Trump’ll win? If they’re sure he’ll lose? If they’ve recently seen footage of him apologizing to a woman? If they’ve recently had a nice woman come to their door to raise money for rape and battered women shelters? Find something that works to make Trump voters stay home even half as well as negative campaigning turns off Dems, and then keep that knowledge under your hat (because other Dems and/or the media will throw it away by overusing it) until it’s time to deploy it. And then deploy aggressively.

      Oh, and ffs, do whatever you can to keep Mueller’s investigation going, and in the news.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think Gillibrand could win in ’20

        Just looked her up on Wikipedia and if I were an opposition campaign, I’d hammer home “Hillary Clinton Version II: blonde white woman, succeeded to Hillary’s Senate seat, what is she going to do for the ordinary guy/minorities?” Plus the work for the tobacco company – keep her tangled up in “okay, yeah, Big Tobacco is Evil but by the same token the huge sums it paid me permitted me to do Good Works for the less fortunate” – “oh, so you profited off the deaths of millions of cancer sufferers and tried washing your hands by taking a few pro bono cases, Pontius Pilate?” Find family members of people who died from lung cancer due to smoking and get them to make statements whenever Ms Gillibrand is touting her legal work on “multiple pro bono cases defending abused women and their children, as well as other cases defending tenants seeking safe housing after lead paint and unsafe conditions were found in their homes”.

        I’d hammer on the Clinton connections (with vague murmurings about what else is Gillibrand beholden to them for, and what murkiness might she be entangled in) and the tobacco company work.

        Yes, that’s dirty pool. It’s a presidential election, not a vicarage tea party, and any vulnerability any candidate has is going to be attacked mercilessly.

        (Though it does amuse me that her granny was involved in supporting a classic machine politician – the Irish background coming through there!)

        • BBA says:

          Gillibrand has the advantage of having at least a milligram of actual charisma that works outside Hillary’s narrow-but-intense fan base. (Which is real, and includes more than just DNC staffers, and is going to jump on me screaming that “uncharismatic” is a misogynistic slur and Hillary only lost because shitty men like me privately doubted her… if they ever find out I said this.)

          Last fall during the height of #MeToo Gillibrand broke from the party line and said that Bill Clinton should’ve resigned over the Lewinsky affair. There’s clearly room for her to distance herself from Hillary and burnish her feminist cred.

          The problem is, I don’t know if it’s possible for a Democrat to win without the Pantsuit Nation’s support. But Trump is going to continue harping on “Crooked Hillary” and leading “LOCK HER UP” chants until the day he dies, and defending her is a sure path to a repeat of 2016. Maybe there’s a candidate out there who can thread that needle, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

          • albatross11 says:

            It seems really unlikely to me that Hillary will run again, and even more unlikely she will win the nomination.

          • engleberg says:

            @Hillary’s narrow-but-intense fan base-

            The Hillary voters I’ve met were D party hacks. Not narrow-but-intense, voting for the D party candidate who topped out. Like a guy explaining why he still paid to fix his ex-wife’s roof even though he knew she was, long story.

            Say you go to the union hall and the secretary say ‘I’m voting for Hillary and asking you to join me. And yes, I know-‘
            And he calls on the token R party guy and lets him talk until everyone gets bored and he says ‘Thanks, R party token, I respect you and you made good points, here’s why I say vote Hillary and now the notes of the last meeting-‘
            The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pantsuit stuff was real enough. And It’s Her Turn struck me as Buggin’s Turn repeating farce as flatulence, but I’m not a good party member. Good party members strongly support the candidate who did their time and now it’s Their Turn.

          • Matt M says:

            It seems really unlikely to me that Hillary will run again, and even more unlikely she will win the nomination.

            Strong disagree.

            I believe I’ve already made a friendly wager with someone else here on this topic. I am firmly convinced that Hillary will not only run, but will win the DNC nomination in 2020.

          • Deiseach says:

            It seems really unlikely to me that Hillary will run again

            So I firmly believe, and yet somehow there are whispers about the possibility. I can’t believe the Democrats would go for her a second fourth time, and surely she has burned through all the influence, favours and support she had for the last run so it would be impossible to get yet another campaign team together and off the ground.

            But then again, never discount vanity and ambition.

          • Matt M says:

            I can’t believe the Democrats would go for her a second fourth time, and surely she has burned through all the influence, favours and support she had for the last run so it would be impossible to get yet another campaign team together and off the ground.

            I think I’ve said this before, but I will repeat anyway. The basis for my theory that she will run (and win) is that all of the Russia hysteria has painted the DNC into a corner. They’ll have spent the better part of four years loudly screaming that the only reason Trump won the election is because Putin rigged it for him.

            They’re being careful not to say it explicitly, but the logical implication of this is that Hillary should have been President – that the election was illegitimately stolen from her by illegal and unjust collusion between the evil Trump and his puppetmaster, Putin.

            So if Hillary chooses to run, the first words out of her mouth are “I am the rightful President – everyone knows that I was cheated out of a well deserved victory,” who, exactly, among mainstream Democrats, is going to argue that point? They will have no valid response. Any attempt to dispute that will be a concession to Trump, which is the absolute #1 thing nobody is willing to do. They’d rather lose again with Hillary than say or do anything that might grant even the slightest bit of legitimacy or approval to Trump. Their only hope is that she decides she simply doesn’t want to run (and come on, this is Hillary Clinton we’re talking about here!)

          • theredsheep says:

            That assumes only two choices: run Hillary, or allow that Trump won fairly. There is a fairly straightforward third option of saying that we need a stronger candidate without history and baggage, etc., without explicitly admitting that Trump had a legitimate win. I think the Russia thing is a convoluted way of denying the election too, but I think it’s more about denying the general situation (yes, America really did prefer the moron, or near enough; Your Fellow Americans really are deplorable or deplorable-compatible) than about salvaging Hillary herself.

            She’s been beaten so many bloody times, and Trump shouldn’t have even been remotely competitive. I think Bernie could have beaten Trump. Hell, almost anyone but Hillary could have. All they needed was somebody who seemed like s/he might have been sincere or likeable, or even had a new idea. They went with Hillary, mistakes were made, they paid. There’s no need to follow the logic of the Russia investigations. There isn’t much logic there anyways.

          • yodelyak says:

            @Matt M

            There are healthy number of people in D party circles who preface any remark about their philosophy of choosing who to support with “I don’t pick losers…” and who’ll double- and triple-down on that, because Republicans are worse. We can’t run Hillary because she can’t win, and she can’t win because we all know enough other people who think she can’t, so even if we privately think she as-a-person could win, we know this is not that timeline–a winning candidate needs backing, and she doesn’t have it.

          • Matt M says:

            There is a fairly straightforward third option of saying that we need a stronger candidate without history and baggage, etc., without explicitly admitting that Trump had a legitimate win.

            People keep saying this, but I just don’t think it’s true. Maybe in the immediate aftermath of the election there was some willingness to question Hillary’s fitness as a candidate – but as the Russia thing builds and builds it continues to decrease.

            Hell, the slightest hint of uncertainty over Russian meddling is now dismissed with cries of “But Hillary’s e-mails!” intended to be a mocking derision upon any insinuation that Hillary had any problems as a candidate that may have influenced the outcome.

            And that’s just from random people on social media. I haven’t heard any mainstream/left media pundits talk about what a flawed candidate she was lately. Or any high-profile Democratic politicians.

            And even if they did, it’s one thing to calmly discuss it now when she’s mostly in the background. Another beast entirely to face her, on a national stage, and have to look her in the eye and say “You lost because you were a bad candidate, not because of Putin.” Does any mainstream Democrat have the balls to do that? I don’t consider it likely.

          • Jaskologist says:

            We’re talking about millions of voters; there’s no particular person who would get painted into a corner and feel like a hypocrite. It’s not like Al Gore got renominated in 2004 after he had Florida stolen from him in 2000.

          • Matt M says:


            That’s an admitted possibility. That the big money behind the scenes doesn’t support her and therefore she won’t go anywhere. That said, I think the way that plays out is that she either knows it already and chooses not to run, or they convince her not to run.

            I actually think her odds of not running are higher than her odds of running and not winning.

            While there are many merits to your argument, a part of me just refuses to believe that Hillary would lose the battle in the behind-the-scenes influence-peddling stages of the contest. That’s 100% her specialty!

          • Matt M says:

            We’re talking about millions of voters; there’s no particular person who would get painted into a corner and feel like a hypocrite. It’s not like Al Gore got renominated in 2004 after he had Florida stolen from him in 2000.

            Al Gore chose to fade away and not run again. Hillary might as well, but she strikes me as more ambitious than Gore. She is kind of old though, and seemingly not in great health, maybe her doctors and family will convince her not to.

            But IF Al Gore had chosen to run in 2004 under a platform of “The election was stolen from me and you all know it,” then yeah, it would have been awkward as hell for John Kerry, or anyone else, to deal with that, would it not?

          • Iain says:

            I actually think her odds of not running are higher than her odds of running and not winning.

            This is because she would not run unless she thought there was a very good chance of her winning. There is not a good chance of her winning. (Unlike Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg, and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, she doesn’t even crack the top 15 on PredictIt.)

            She is not going to run.

          • theredsheep says:

            Hillary lost for a whole bunch of reasons, some of which I think haven’t been adequately covered–I suspect Obergefell and its aftermath played a part by convincing white Evangelicals that Trump was their only lifeboat. But part of the reason was that, rightly or wrongly, a lot of Americans reaaaaaalllly hate her. With a borderline-crazy passion. Like, my parents are lifelong hardcore Democrats, and my mother couldn’t bring herself to vote for Hillary. That’s the issue IMO, not any one particular scandal.

            Yeah, most of the scandals appear to be hooey. That’s what “but the e-mails” means. But that’s just it–people make mountains out of molehills like that because they are predisposed, for whatever reason, to think the worst of her. I suppose it’s possible that she could get the nomination again, I don’t know the mentality that well, but after the legitimacy questions with Bernie I really don’t think the energy is there. OTOH, 2020 is still some ways off. Who knows.

          • Matt M says:

            Trust me, I’ve been monitoring that PredictIt closely, and plan to put some money down as soon as they add her.

            I already have a few hundred shares of whether or not she’ll run – but I think there will be more value in scooping up shares of her to win for pennies on the dollar.

            To booster my credibility somewhat, I bought a decent amount of “Trump to win the Presidency” shares at like 20 cents too. I’ve been doing pretty well for myself on PredictIt. I’ve more than doubled my deposit base so far!

          • Matt M says:

            But part of the reason was that, rightly or wrongly, a lot of Americans reaaaaaalllly hate her.

            You know it’s true. I know it’s true. Hillary knows it’s true. Most of America knows it’s true. Most Democratic politicians know it’s true.

            The question I have is, who on the DNC debate stage is going to stand up and say it? This isn’t a question about what is true – it’s a question about what Democrats are allowed to say without appearing to be defending or excusing Trump.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I don’t believe the Democrats will support Hillary in any campaign again. The stink of defeat is mighty powerful in the political realm. But if they do, I sure hope the DNC emails leak again, because the messages from the anti-Hillary faction will be a hoot to read.

          • theredsheep says:

            Is saying so on the stage really necessary? Can’t their primary voters just quietly cough and vote for either A. a transgendered latinx space pirate or B. a white man in a suit who totally gets their subculture and stuff, depending on preference?

          • Matt M says:

            Can’t their primary voters just quietly cough and vote for either

            In theory, sure.

            But in reality, there will be multiple debates held before a single primary vote happens. And the on-stage imagery of Hillary saying “I’m the legitimate President” and everyone else refusing to argue the point will be powerful. And will be fully in line with the last four years of media shrieking about Russian meddling and interference.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            … or C. a straight person who totally gets Latino culture instead of ordering them to change their demonym to “latinx”?

          • Nornagest says:

            Even if Trump gets ousted, the Presidency will fall to someone in the line of succession, which doesn’t include Hillary. She can’t run until 2020. In 2020, she’ll be 74, five years older than Ronald Reagan (still our oldest president) was when he entered office. By then, another scandal will be in the news. She won’t have any more political experience to trade on. And she’ll still have her defeats behind her.

            Those are serious disadvantages, and, as we’ve seen, she hasn’t got the most stage presence even when you stack the deck in her favor. I do think she could say “I’m the rightful president” and D party diehards would believe her, but there’s more to getting elected than playing to the diehards, and everyone knows it. On the other hand, I’d expect her endorsement to carry a lot of weight.

          • Iain says:

            @Matt M:

            When none of this fever-dream comes to pass, I hope you take a moment to recalibrate your mental model of the left.

          • John Schilling says:

            Al Gore chose to fade away and not run again. Hillary might as well…

            Hillary has already chosen to fade away. She is doing approximately nothing to remain in the public eye, which is pretty much a prerequisite for any serious presidential bid.

          • the_the says:

            @ Matt M

            You seem to make two claims:

            (1) Most D-party politicians and voters believe that Hillary cannot win in 2020.
            (2) Hillary will obtain the 2020 nomination because no D-party politician wants to incur the political risk of explicitly airing (1).

            This seems to be modeling the D-party as an inflexible adversary, one that is so monolithic that it would rather lose than openly state that the emperor is naked.*

            So, why do you favor the above scenario more than these other possibilities?:

            (1) A group of D-party politicians announce publicly “Hillary is a losing bet as evidenced by the events of 2008 and 2016. The first case is evidence that our voters prefer a fresh face. As for the second, even though we all know the Russians meddled, it should never have been that close to begin with. Instead, we support [other candidate(s)].” This avoids (1) by diffusing the political impact over a group of politicians; it also positions them as favorites of any new nominee.

            (2) Hillary wishes to remain relevant because she seeks a vice-presidential position alongside a more palatable presidential nominee (who is more charismatic and preferably of a minority/protected group, but still an experienced politician so as to avoid accusations of being a puppet). Or maybe, less ambitiously, Hillary seeks to trade her endorsement for a high-level position in the next administration.

            (3) A young-ish D-party politician calculates (perhaps incorrectly) that the Clinton name has waned sufficiently that she can adopt a “left eats its own” approach. She borrows some of the same “Hillary is crooked/corrupt”/drain the swamp rhetoric of the last election, but still retains the D-party positions on core issues of healthcare, immigration, abortion, gun control, feminism/diversity, etc.

            What I’m getting at: in addition to avoiding a near-certain defeat, there seem to be some decent incentives for D-party actors (including Hillary herself) to dismiss the idea of Hillary as the 2020 nominee.

            * Imagery not intended.

          • BBA says:

            Weird that this whole thread arose out of my post, when I never even suggested that Hillary would run again. What I said is that Trump will run against Hillary regardless of who is on the ballot. (Indeed, I think he’ll keep holding “LOCK HER UP” rallies when he’s 90 and she’s dead and nobody but the basest of his base cares anymore, because it’s the thing that he enjoys most in life.)

            Now, if feminism really is as strong a force as people here claim it to be, a hypothetical Democratic candidate could plausibly denounce Hillary as a fraud to the cause. Her husband is a serial sexual abuser, and not only has she failed to call him out, she’s actively encouraged his behavior by relentlessly slut-shaming his victims. The party and the country need someone who cares about all women and won’t give abusers a pass, and Hillary just isn’t that person.

            I haven’t the foggiest clue of whether this can work. The Vox left has been slowly coalescing around the idea that Bill should’ve resigned back in ’98 but the Pantsuiters haven’t budged and likely never will. And of course if it works in the primary it might backfire in the general.

            I doubt Hillary herself runs again, mainly because the younger generation of Democratic pols have already started their backroom campaigns for 2020 and can convincingly rebuff her with “you’ve had your turn, it’s our turn now.” But she will continue to be a presence in the race because Trump can’t help himself, and the way the Dems respond to him will be… interesting.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Indeed, I think he’ll keep holding “LOCK HER UP” rallies when he’s 90 and she’s dead and nobody but the basest of his base cares anymore, because it’s the thing that he enjoys most in life.

            “Donald! What is best in life?”
            “To crush your enemy, see her driven before you, and hear the lamentations of her women.”

          • Dan L says:

            @ Matt M

            I think I’ve said this before, but I will repeat anyway. The basis for my theory that she will run (and win) is that all of the Russia hysteria has painted the DNC into a corner. They’ll have spent the better part of four years loudly screaming that the only reason Trump won the election is because Putin rigged it for him.

            I believe you have dramatically misread the political situation, and am interested in wagering a nontrivial amount on a point of sharp, falsifiable disagreement.

            I am firmly convinced that Hillary will not only run, but will win the DNC nomination in 2020.

            I actually think her odds of not running are higher than her odds of running and not winning.

            There is an inconsistency here, but I’ll leave it to you to reconcile. What odds do you place on the specific scenario where Hillary runs in a majority of Democratic state primaries prior to the 2020 election, culminating in her being named the candidate at the convention? (Brokered or otherwise, but after her mounting a concerted run)

            I think we have dramatically different predictions, and it should not be hard to agree on a number where we both think we’re getting a very good deal.

          • Deiseach says:

            Indeed, I think he’ll keep holding “LOCK HER UP” rallies when he’s 90 and she’s dead and nobody but the basest of his base cares anymore, because it’s the thing that he enjoys most in life.

            Is he doing that right now, though? I haven’t heard anything (though that may be because I’m mostly ignoring the news; I can’t avoid the whole Trump-Putin meeting and the yelling about this proves he is actual real treason-committing traitor why he doesn’t believe his own intelligence agencies) and the only reason I can see him doing that if he goes again in 2020 is if Hillary herself goes again (dear Azathoth, no) or, more likely, her hand-picked or endorsed candidate gets the nod. Attacking Hillary as the puppet mistress with her hand up the puppet’s backside would make sense in that context.

          • dick says:

            Is he doing that right now, though?

            Yeah, he still holds campaign rallies regularly and bashing Hillary is one of the recurring features. Most recent one would appear to be the anti-Jon Tester rally in Montana two weeks ago.

          • BBA says:

            Is he doing that right now, though?

            Yes, he is. He held his first reelection rally in February or March of 2017, and he’s been taking his usual shtick wherever he holds a rally nominally to support a local candidate. Several times, the crowd has started chanting “LOCK HER UP” unprompted, before he even took the stage.

            At yesterday’s Helsinki press conference he launched into a non sequitur about the (mythical) missing DNC email server, which I guess isn’t technically about Hillary but is close enough.

            We’re going to be relitigating 2016 forever… I guess it’s not as bad as relitigating 1916 forever.

          • quanta413 says:


            The Vox left has been slowly coalescing around the idea that Bill should’ve resigned back in ’98 but the Pantsuiters haven’t budged and likely never will.

            So what? This is totally meaningless and possibly a some people saying it even realize they are lying (not managing to even deceive themselves). Now that Bill and Hillary look politically dead, it’s convenient to pretend to have principles beyond winning, but we know how this turns out.

            When a party wins the presidency, all moral requirements are stuffed in a deep, dark hole, lit on fire, and then the hole is sealed with concrete. Only their opponents have a strong incentive to try to hold them to the fire, but considering you know that you’re likely voting for lying sociopaths regardless of who you vote for it’s hard to care.

            I think the fact that some Democrats are publicly willing to say “maybe 20 years ago what Bill Clinton did was kind of sort of wrong” just for vaporous social credit is a good sign that Matt M is really wrong though.

          • mdet says:

            As a millennial, most posts I see that mention the 2016 election seem to feature an obligatory #BernieWouldHaveWon, so I don’t see any appetite for Still More Hillary. The only people I know personally who were enthusiastic Hillary supporters were women over 50, every other left-of-center person I know treated her nomination with a sense of resignation. But that’s just what I can see.

            Hillary has already chosen to fade away. She is doing approximately nothing to remain in the public eye, which is pretty much a prerequisite for any serious presidential bid.

            She occasionally slips into the headlines for giving some kind of talk somewhere, but you’d be forgiven for missing it. Doesn’t seem to have been covered very well, neither in terms of the amount nor the tone of the coverage. Google found me two samples.

      • Deiseach says:

        If they’ve recently had a nice woman come to their door to raise money for rape and battered women shelters?

        Only works if you believe his voters believe he rapes and beats women. What’s the current sex scandal – that he was fucking a porn star* and paid her off to keep the affair secret? Whatever your feelings about adultery**, there’s nothing about “raping and beating” there; probably helps his image as successful guy who can get the hot chicks, and if getting an intern in your work place to give you a blow job whilst you yourself are president isn’t disqualifying, why would a consensual affair (at least within the understood parameters of “trading sex for money as a mistress”) with someone not an employee or under his authority before ever he was elected be such?

        *Or two; another purveyor of adult entertainment seems to have made a similar accusation, but I’m not interested enough in the story to follow it

        **Only prudes like me care about sex outside marriage, and aren’t we all agreed the Religious Right should rightfully lose their influence in politics, yeah?

        • albatross11 says:

          I’ll admit that a scandal involving paying off a porn star to not disclose the existence of his bastard child with her is *exactly* the kind of scandal I would have expected out of Trump.

          • Matt M says:

            And yet, the media still can’t help themselves from constantly making gay jokes about him anyway…

          • yodelyak says:

            @Matt M

            Yeah, the gay memes are a mistake–I don’t know why I didn’t notice that sooner. Better are the ones that just treat Trump as a toddler and Putin as daddy. That makes the same point without either villainizing gay relationships (which do not necessarily involve a power imbalance!) and it also uses a lens that is much more salient an insult in the minds of Trump’s base.

        • David Speyer says:

          This would only be a small part of Bezos’ wealth, and a minor part of the strategy, but get Summer Zervos a lawyer who is as good a PR hound as Stormy Daniels’ attorney. It is absurd that the woman who claims Trump assaulted her is forgotten and the woman he claims he had a consensual affair is in constant headlines. (I imagine Bill Clinton haters felt the same way about Monica Lewinsky vs Juanita Broddrick.)

        • yodelyak says:

          It just has to make 10% of them sufficiently less excited to vote for him that 2% do other things first enough on election day that they never get around to voting. I’m not sure if battered women is the issue–the point is more that if the person at their door is a nonchalant young woman making simple and effective steps toward addressing gender violence… anyway, it was just an example.

          If I were to guess at what kind of canvasser would be effective, I tend to think a canvasser who seems at first to be a Mormon missionary but turns out to be a very thoroughly prepared conservative/Republican advocate for a small (say, 1/10th of a percent of a particular property assessment) decrease in certain taxes, where half of the decrease is just a straight refund to taxpayers and the other half is made up for by an increase somewhere else, because reasons. As an afterthought, said canvasser signals that they’re not one of the crazy Republicans who doesn’t see the lies our President says, but that won’t stop them from going door to door talking to Republicans about the issues all good Republicans should be thinking about.

          • Deiseach says:

            if the person at their door is a nonchalant young woman making simple and effective steps toward addressing gender violence…

            …they’ll think she’s from the local rape crisis centre and yeah, isn’t it awful and yeah, sure, we’ll donate but they won’t think it has anything to do with the election or the candidate who is running.

            I mean, would Democratic Voter think the nice young woman talking about domestic violence was (a) canvassing for Jim Jimson, local Dem Party representative in the forthcoming election for dog-catcher, vote the party ticket for Jimson all the way! or (b) oh crap, got caught by a chugger and it’s too late to shut the door, just nod and smile?

          • yodelyak says:

            Hm. Deiseach, we may have different views on the effectiveness of door-to-door and other person-to-person conversations/canvassing that might be worth exploring sometime. At the moment I feel that I’m obviously pretty partisan about canvassing/people-to-people comms as effective, to the point that I’ve noticed and am not sure I want to advocate for it until I’ve reflected on whether I believe everything I think.

            If I did feel like believing what I’m thinking…
            I think canvassing can very effectively move people from using their threat-response thinking, which is very conservative (think zombie survival mode) to using other modes (e.g. the mode they use to encourage their kids to cooperate) that are not, and back again. These modes work wildly different political outcomes–and while people don’t that often switch which mode they use to decide who to vote for, *if they have already decided to show up to vote* they do sometimes switch, and more importantly, they do sometimes neglect to bother to vote at all if they’re mostly working from a mode that isn’t the one that normally motivates them to vote. The predominance of a religious mode that insulates against Fox-viewer-scared-mode is, I think, a good way to understand why Utah doesn’t vote the way other R-states vote.

            I believe Penn can be a swing state, Florida can be a swing state, Michigan can be a swing state–all of them have communities and demographics that can probably see turnout go up or down dramatically because people’s “scared mode” is being deactivated, or not. All of those communities probably need different types of communication programs to be effective in activating other modes. I do not know what would work for most of them, and am not claiming that the young woman in my example is the right answer. I’m merely claiming that answers exist, and a good way to find them is with focus-group-style well-trained canvassers who try out different messages. Somebody with deep pockets who wants to affect 2020 should be hiring locals in each place to do the work to figure out what works. (A distinguished-seeming veteran coming to your door and talking about the need to support disabled veterans, who pivots to being pro-honesty and anti-corruption and then pivoting to be anti-Trump? A chess club member who points at the comedy of errors at achieving minimal competence in Trump’s cabinet who wants effective governance? How do female Pennsylvanians who live alone react to Quakers coming to their doors to talk about forgiveness? How would older Michiganders react to having young men quoting former Gov. Romney at them, in opposition to Trump? How much does simply hearing an earnest young man say, “well, Trump is obviously losing” and double- and triple-down on that if challenged affect how much people bother to turn out? I think the answer is “well, we’ve tested things like this in low-saturation elections with double-blind randomized controlled experiments and gotten surprisingly strong results. In high saturation years, the effect of the marginal additional communication is probably smaller, but not zero, unless sufficiently targeted/high-saturation/high-effectiveness.

          • Deiseach says:

            How much does simply hearing an earnest young man say, “well, Trump is obviously losing” and double- and triple-down on that if challenged affect how much people bother to turn out?

            Really does depend; if some guy twenty to thirty years younger than me pitches up on my doorstep lecturing me in a thinly-veiled “well obviously you old people are stupid, let me tell you what is wrong with the way you voted last time” manner, I’d be moved to “get out of here, whipper-snapper, and let me head straight to the polling booth to vote first, last and in between for the candidate you were just telling me couldn’t tie his own shoelaces”.

            Canvassing is a delicate art; if you are going to send in obvious door-steppers who are plainly Not From Round These Parts, you’re not going to have much luck – people tend not to like headquarters parachuting in people to direct the little people how to vote. You have to have someone who can at least pass for “vaguely in the locality”, even if that is “from the big town”. But not “from the capital” because that strikes all kinds of “coming down here telling us what to do because they think we’re all knuckle-draggers” notes.

            Some people have built up great canvassing machines, and advice from them would be useful. Myself, if I had someone on the doorstep who started talking about veterans, domestic violence, or getting cats out of trees who then segued into “by the way, isn’t Candidate Jones just awful?” it would ring so many alarm bells with me, the fire brigade and ambulance would show up on the street. I would find it very hard to believe this was Person From The Same Party, which is going to kill the whole effort stone-dead (of course you expect Person From Other Party to lie about Your Guy) and if I did believe it was Person From Same Party, I’d think this was just more of the usual in-fighting and throat-cutting which renders local politics ridiculous and trying to get a unified party message out ineffectual (the turf wars round here at election time over ‘you crossed the wrong side of the street to put up posters for your candidate when this is our candidate’s patch so we tore them down’ when they’re all from the same party and are supposed to be getting elected to serve the public interest and not their own self-interest is stupid and all too common).

          • Deiseach says:

            Okay, yodelyak, I think I’ve worked out what is bugging me with this suggestion.

            If it’s a Bezos wants to take out Trump effort, then it’s a false flag operation: it’s an enemy pretending to be one of yours. And I think the falsity will be detected by some voters, maybe not in a sophisticated way, more in a little niggling voice in the back of the head that something seems a bit off about this young man in a suit/distinguished older gentleman/pleasant young lady telling you “Hello, fellow Republican voter! I too am a Republican! Let me immediately start ripping into the Republican president who is running for a second term!”

            If it’s a genuine Republicans want to run a candidate other than Trump effort, trying to get Trump voters to switch or not bother turning out by attacking Trump is going to look very odd if it’s done while Trump is the incumbent going for a second term and has been nominated. They need to convince people not to support him but support the other candidate for nomination, so attacks then make sense. But not on the doorstep canvassing, which is the general/presidential election? Too late then?

            And I honestly don’t know how convincing “the last four years when we were in power were so awful, vote for us again” is going to work out. So as an enemy action trying to get a spoiler candidate nominated (as Hillary’s campaign allegedly did with Trump) – sure. As a supposedly genuine Republican effort? Going to look very odd. Even Hillary didn’t try “Obama’s last four years were so terrible, put me in to fix his messes”.

        • dick says:

          Only works if you believe his voters believe he rapes and beats women…

          Only tangentially related, but when that whole “Grab ’em by the pussy’ tape came out, am I the only one who was most bothered by the furniture part?

          Here’s the bit I mean:

          I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it. I did try and fuck her. She was married. And I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said, “I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.” I took her out furniture—I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there.

          I’m not impressed by a guy who chases bimbos and cheats on his wife and brags about how much pussy he gets to strangers, but I can at least empathize. I mean, I’ve known guys like that who were not awful people. I wouldn’t vote for them, but it’s not alien to my experience.

          But the furniture part, man, that’s kind of fucked up. Not just doing it, I mean admitting it, and to a stranger. Imagine for a second: you’re at work, chatting with someone you see there occasionally, maybe the copier machine repairman or something, and you’re shooting the breeze and he tells you, apropos of nothing, that he tried and failed to seduce a married woman by buying her furniture. I cannot imagine anyone I have ever known saying something like that. Am I alone on this?

          • theredsheep says:

            Well, I wouldn’t call it disturbing; I don’t say, “You monster! You took her to Ethan Allen just for sex!” or anything. It’s more like, “You were expecting to get somewhere by buying her furniture? On what planet is that sexy?” Is she going to be filled with lust by teak, or what?

            One counterexample would be the ludicrous furniture-fetish story from Cryptonomicon, but that’s Neal Stephenson, if you’re depending on him for realistic scenarios you left the right path some time ago.

          • Matt M says:

            1. You have to adjust for class/status. Trump’s buying a woman furniture might be his equivalent of a guy complaining that he bought a woman a few drinks at a bar and got nothing.

            2. Admitting failure is a form of self-deprecation, which can be a great bonding ritual among someone you want to get on your side, particularly someone lower-status than you.

            I’ve definitely had friends tell me stories of the like of “I tried to pick up this woman, here are some things I did specifically to try to convince her, and it didn’t work, haha, oh well for me!”

          • dick says:

            You have to adjust for class/status. Trump’s buying a woman furniture might be his equivalent of a guy complaining that he bought a woman a few drinks at a bar and got nothing.

            I get that you’re a fan, but no it really isn’t. Buying someone a drink is a way to introduce yourself to them and have a conversation with them. The monetary value of the drink is not supposed to be what impressed her. Buying a woman something expensive in exchange for sex is… well, the name for that doesn’t change depending on how rich the guy is.

            Also keep in mind, Trump was referring to the guy’s co-host, a woman he had worked alongside for several years. One presumes he’d met her husband and family. If you put on your “what if it was someone from the other side” filter, this doesn’t skeeve you out? Really imagine this. You’re at work and some rich guy, let’s say the owner of the company on the next floor, who you’ve met and chatted with a couple times, tells you that he tried and failed to seduce your married coworker, and says he did his best, he even took her out to buy furniture. That doesn’t lower your opinion of him? He’s still a decent chap? Diff’rent strokes, I guess…

          • Randy M says:

            That doesn’t lower your opinion of him?

            I don’t think Trump was talking about rape in that tape. But he was talking about adultery, and in a “it was bad because I failed” sort of way, not a “it was bad that I tried” sort of way.
            Which is scummy. Shitty. Whatever we’re calling bad-but-not-illegal these days.
            Not sure it’s exactly unpresidential, which is a shame.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I really don’t think demoralization propaganda is going to bring down Trump in 2020. That was the game plan in 2016, and it’s continuing non-stop to this day, with something like 90% of media reporting on Trump being negative. I think Trump supporters are well inoculated against the media screaming at them that Trump is bad.

        To be honest, I don’t know what the Democrats can do. The correct answer is “run 1992 Bill Clinton” and I think that’s mostly what Trump did. He hammer[s|ed] on the dinner table issues voters care about. Jobs, economy, trade, immigration, military, terrorism. About the only issue voters care about that Trump doesn’t really have his finger on the pulse of is healthcare. But I don’t think the Dems have a good or simple answer for that largely because I don’t think there are good or simple answers to healthcare. Instead they’ve got Tom Perez calling Ocasio-Cortez “the future of the Democratic party” but the whole “abolish ICE” thing does not play well with the flyover states.

        In politics 2020 is a lifetime away so anything could happen, but I don’t see a path for them right now. They get really worked up about minority issues or the treatment of foreigners, but for the actual voters it’s still “the economy, stupid.”

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          Eh, you are over-complicating the healthcare issue – The US has an uniquely inefficient healthcare system. Truly optimal healthcare provision might be hard, but a massive improvement on the status quo is not a difficult achievement, just adopting any of the half-dozen proven-to-be-better systems would do it.

          Medicare for all is pithy, and would work, so would adopting Swiss style rules that standardize private health insurance into fungibility.
          (The extra costs the us incurs is in large part down to every insurance company insisting on being a special snowflake in what it covers, what percentage it pays and how it is billed.. which burden health-care providers with enormous work loads for no good reason. If all insurance companies cover the same list of things, and use the same standardized form, hospitals could, and would, fire 80, 90 percent of their billing staff)
          The issue is that you have to be willing to go scorched earth on a lot of the participants in the current system. For example, the aforementioned billing staff?That was several hundred thousand people you just let go as surplus to requirements.

          And you have to fire them, in order for any reform to work, because their wages are a very large chunk of the excess costs.

          And a Medicare-for-all platform is a declaration of war on the health insurance industry. Politically solid once you have done it, because firms that you bankrupted cannot fund lobbying efforts against you, but.. they better not see it coming.

          Heck, that goes for a Swiss style reform too – Because the firms would have to go through their staff with a barrel of pink ink to survive under such conditions. Not much chance of getting super rich in a field regulated that tightly.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, it was interesting to see how Obamacare was shaped. This was a popular president with little experience but both houses of congress behind him (at least nominally), which seems kinda familiar somehow. And health care reform was absolutely the hill he was prepared to die on. And they still got Obamacare, which is (as best I can tell) a complete mess optimized to make sure the existing insurance industry and medical industry didn’t lose anything, which could only be passed using a questionable gimmick that left it open to court challenge, and which was born financially unstable and required executive-order-provided external subsidies that were predictably withdrawn when his party lost the white house.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Obamacare is the only reasonable option available at the time. Obama wasn’t a dictator and there were, are, and will continue to be large number of conservative Democrats that aren’t going to back aggressive reform, and a bunch more that will get quite skittish when rubber hits the road and they can’t just pose by Bernie Sanders for a picture.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          ‘it’s the economy stupid’

          IIRC Polling of R, Is, and DS puts ‘immigration’ as the #1, #1, and #2 issue respectively. #1 being healthcare for Ds. This is why, I believe, Trump’s immigration rhetoric has gotten edgier over time as polling data reveals that the general electorate is closer to the dubbed ‘far right’ position on this issue then the center left position on this issue. I should stress that ‘how far’ is difficult to determine b/c of the wording of polling questions.

          I don’t think it’s just that ‘Abolish ICE’ is unpopular, it’s that aggressive immigration enforcement is *more* popular than doing nothing (which in turn is more popular than abolishing ICE and immigration enforcement generally)

          Rs and Ds are, by my estimation, both biting their nails most over the same issue; “What will the US look like 10-20 years from now” — obviously each side rooting for the opposite outcome of the other.

          But otherwise I agree that the negative reporting has lost most of its impact; it has become the new normal and if approval ratings are anything to go by, the public has adjusted. If reporting became more neutral, justified or not, I can imagine approval ratings going even higher. Ironic.

          The economy affects general satisfaction and voter turnout (both pro and con)

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I googled around for polls on issues that are important to voters and the first result from HuffPo pretty much confirms my prejudices. The #1 issue for dems is healthcare, then guns, and immigration is far down the list with only 10% rating it in their top 2 issues. And yet, the most passion I’ve seen out of the Dem leadership lately has been about the treatment of illegal foreigners at the border. I do not think this is a good way to energize the base. Dems should be hammering on healthcare because that’s where 34% of their voters, 30% of Is and 26% of Rs are paying attention.

            If the Dems want to make the midterm elections about immigration I think this is a losing proposition for them, as this is a top 2 issue for 43% of Republicans and 25% of Is. Focusing on policies that your base is lacklaster about but your opposition feels very strongly about in the opposite direction is not a winning formula.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          And the economy ties into the Culture War, stupid.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Yeah, demoralization is entirely the wrong way to go. Instead of trying to come up with ways to suppress half of the population, maybe try to give them a stake in the country instead?

          Stop telling everybody how bad Trump is; they know that already. Instead, show them some reason to think that you are good. This was what the Republican establishment failed to do, and why they failed to stop Trump.

          I’d say get the SJWs under control and call for a truce (from the left) in the culture wars. (I’d like to say expel the actual socialists too, but honestly I’m not sure that bothers most people like it should.)

          • albatross11 says:

            There’s not a Pope of Leftism who can excommunicate the SJWs.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I don’t think that’s possible. I think the identity politics have the Dems painted into a corner. Some white guy is going to come along and say “hey, we need to cool down on the racial politics for a bit and focus on economics to get more people voting for us” and the BLM crowd is going to say “sure, that makes sense?” No, they’re going to cast him into the outer darkness because their rhetoric is that black people are dying on the streets to racist cops every day and boohoo that a bunch of rednecks don’t have jobs. His focus on economic issues supports a system of white supremacy, and probably the Patriarchy, too.

          • Matt M says:

            The SJWs are the ones running the show on the left, and they’re really well practiced at expelling people. If someone is getting expelled, they’re the ones doing the expelling.

            You’re more likely to get run out of the left for being insufficiently SJW than for being too SJW (if such a thing even exists?)

          • Jaskologist says:

            But Bezos could do more than most.

            Use the Post to build a media campaign against them. Start with a series of exposes of the different male feminists who have been revealed by #metoo to be abusers. As it goes on, highlight more and more their connections to the social justice movement, so that you tie the abuse and the movement together in people’s minds.

            I’m sure somewhere in Amazon there’s an SJW with a sordid past that the company can-with great reluctance of course, but really they have no choice given all the recent public outcry-make an example of to encourage the rest. No doubt the move will be lauded by the Washington Post. If you can get one or two other large corporations to follow suit, you should be all set from there.

          • Aapje says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            The solution to that is to have a woman or black person give that message.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Internalized racism / sexism, Uncle Tom sellout to white supremacy and the Patriarchy.

          • theredsheep says:

            The thing is, the SJWs aren’t terribly constructive AFAICT. They’re very big on denouncing, but if they have a detailed policy plan involving things other than the purging of reactionary elements, I haven’t heard it. What are they going to do if they win, besides conduct endless purges for more or less arbitrarily defined offenses? The energy is bound to run out sooner or later.

            (Of course SJW is poorly defined; I’m taking the typical internet specimen as the type species here, which may be a mistake. I don’t know where the overlap is between such critters and social democrats, who do have constructive ideas even if I don’t believe they’ll ever achieve them)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Honestly as a right-winger, I think social democrats have achievable ideas. They’re not going to collectivize agriculture or do something else that makes not being optimally capitalist a matter of life and death rather than inside baseball.
            The huge thing they get wrong is immigration.Be firm that social democracy is only for people like us and you’ve got something.

          • theredsheep says:

            I don’t think anybody’s ideas are all that achievable at this point, we’re so politically dysfunctional. The more achievable ones would be extremely modest ones you can get bipartisan support for. Or goals which can be achieved at the local level. The DemSos want too much.

          • Deiseach says:

            I think the identity politics have the Dems painted into a corner.

            Which is why I think the seizing upon Ocasio-Cortez as a possible presidential candidate down the line (certainly not in 2020, she’d only be thirty by then and has no real big-time experience): she’s female! and Latina! Two “firsts” for the price of one! Better than a white guy or woman, anyway!

            I think the problem is that right now, the most electable candidate is still going to be a white guy, but the Democrats have positioned themselves so hard as the party of progressive firsts (first African-American president and tried hard for first woman president) that the bloc of college-educated voters they rely on are going to want “more than just another white guy” as candidate. Good luck squaring that circle.

          • Matt M says:

            The huge thing they get wrong is immigration.Be firm that social democracy is only for people like us and you’ve got something.

            Wasn’t this Bernie’s position at first? Until the media/Hillary campaign called him racist and he started to walk it back?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Matt M: Could be; not sure. I remember something to the effect of him trying to talk about flourishing vis-a-vis class issues and getting shut down by a couple of BLM women to the extent that he submissively gave up his podium when they’d tried that with Hillary and got smacked down.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Bernie Sanders interviewed by Ezra Klein calling open borders a “right-wing” “Koch brothers” proposal.

            “Open borders? No, that’s a Koch brothers proposal. That’s a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States.”

            “It would make everybody in America poorer — you’re doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don’t think there’s any country in the world that believes in that. If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or (the United Kingdom) or Denmark or any other country, you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people.”

          • Iain says:

            There’s no need to speculate about Bernie’s immigration policy. He published a lengthy position paper. The summary:

            Senator Sanders will fight to implement a humane and secure immigration policy that will:
            — Dismantle inhumane deportation programs and detention centers;
            — Pave the way for a swift and fair legislative roadmap to citizenship for the eleven million undocumented immigrants;
            — Ensure our border remains secure while respecting local communities;
            — Regulate the future flow of immigrants by modernizing the visa system and rewriting bad trade agreements;
            — Enhance access to justice and reverse the criminalization of immigrants;
            — Establish parameters for independent oversight of key U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies.

          • Aapje says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            It’s not necessary to convince the SJWs, the key is to make the other 95% of Democrats tired of them.

            I don’t think that the ‘bounty‘ accusation worked very well against Obama.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Bernie is “old left” and also “socialist left” (FYI, not Marxist or Communist).

            That means he has a ton of allegiance to Labor left, and I don’t mean the current party in the UK. I mean unions. Unions were not traditionally in favor of immigration or international trade. Unions weren’t much in favor of cheap “Southern” labor, either.

            Bernie favors a class-based interpretation of structural inequity. He doesn’t really like including other forms of inequities, or at least it doesn’t flow naturally from him.

            Bernie-bro was a meme for a reason.

      • outis says:

        Clinton/Garland 2020. Make things right.

    • James Miller says:

      Identify and hire the best talent at Fox News to have them work on projects that won’t help Republicans.

    • AG says:

      Influence all of the pertinent lower level elections to control the gerrymandering.

      • John Schilling says:

        Gerrymandering has basically no effect on Presidential elections. That’s strictly a House of Representatives thing.

        • AG says:

          But it eventually trickles back up into Electoral College shenanigans. Gatekeeping Congress also influences the presidential candidate pool, or opens up congressional-approval actions like impeachment.

          I’ll add the additional action that Bezos should lobby to change election day logistics (move it to a weekend, mandate that all employees be given a number of election day/hours pay, etc.) to re-enfranchise the necessary demographics.

          • Nornagest says:

            I can’t see how. Most of the states use winner-take-all electoral systems; no amount of creativity in drawing district borders would help you there. Maine and Nebraska use districting systems, but they only have a handful of electoral votes between them, and neither one’s a common swing state.

          • John Schilling says:

            Aside from Maine and Nebraska, there is the possibility that no candidate wins a majority in the EC and the (gerrymandered) House gets to pick the next president. But that’s an extreme long shot.

            AG, what do you mean by Electoral College “shenanigans”? Have these shenanigans actually occurred in previous elections, and if not what is your basis for assuming that they will or could in 2020?

          • AG says:

            Not any “we found an exploit in the law” type shenanigans. I meant a broader incentive gradient. When tribe A get effectively disenfranchised by Tribe B’s gerrymandering, they tend to move to another place where tribe A actually has power. We have more and more Democrat-aligned people moving to the cities to get away from non-city cultural norms, but that’s abandoning more and more states to the Republicans. Hence popular vote overturned by Electoral College, due to increased self-sorting.

            Or do you think we’ll soon reach the point in which Texas’s State Legislature and House Congressmen are still Republican dominated, but they somehow go for the Democratic candidate for executive branch positions and federal senators?

          • John Schilling says:

            When tribe A get effectively disenfranchised by Tribe B’s gerrymandering, they tend to move to another place where tribe A actually has power.

            I’m fairly certain that this is untrue, but would be interested in e.g. the accounts of anyone who says that they moved for the sake of being in a more representative legislative district.

            People frequently move because they become detached from the local culture, possibly because the culture moved away from them. Blue-ish people move out of small towns into cities, because they don’t like the culture of small towns, not because their particular town is always represented by Rednecks in Congress.

            We should see clear evidence if this were otherwise. Gerrymandering works by e.g. shifting some, but not all, cosmopolitan suburbs and college towns, into predominantly rural/Red districts. That way, some suburban or college-town Blues are effectively disenfranchised, and the inevitable Blue districts centered on cosmopolitan cities only count a fraction of their associated suburban populations. If you shifted all of the suburbs into the Red districts, they wouldn’t be Red any more. But we don’t see people moving out of the Red-gerrymandered suburbs into the Blue-ungerrymandered ones, because they are still cosmopolitan suburbs populated by fellow Blues and griping is way easier than moving.

            Gerrymandering works precisely because people don’t move to get away from it. They do move for other reasons, and the gerrymanderers can redraw the lines to compensate for that.

          • AG says:

            Control over the local government plays a role in the local culture. For example, gerrymandering so that the city council is primarily NIMBY/pro-immigration, leading to the entire area getting gentrified/flooded by immigrants, changing the local culture against population that was neutralized by the gerrymandering.
            Losing control of local government can lead to punishing local ordinances that further disadvantage a particular group, such as access to abortion, anti-business regulations, environmental racism, or a shoddy school system.

    • tayfie says:

      Bezos, if your goal is purely to hurt Trump personally and prevent him from being re-elected, the obvious goal is to split his base.

      Run as or promote a candidate as similar to him as possible, but younger and better looking.

      Do everything possible to dampen the rabid media attacks on Trump. They did more to make him look sympathetic and genuine than he could have possibly accomplished on his own. Have them attack your guy instead and use this as evidence that Trump has sold out to the swamp but your guy is still pure.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        And then everyone’s going to call Bezos a nazi for supporting Hitler 3.0. I’m not sure he wants that kind of heat.

        • tayfie says:

          Yes. The most effective routes to destroying Trump will absolutely have collateral damage, and the easiest person to sacrifice is oneself.

          I don’t think Bezos is the type to go for all-out vengeance at any cost, but I think it is the likeliest strategy to work.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Unless you’re promising 72 virgins in the afterlife, suicide attacks are a tough sell.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Also you have to be _credible_ about the 72 virgins. And then there’s the wiseguy negotiator

            “Look, 72 virgins. Sounds great, but it’s either way too much or way too little. I mean, if I gotta handle ’em all at once, it’s way too much; there’s only so much of me to go around. But if I get to spread them out, well, the afterlife is forever, right? 72 virgins ain’t going to last more than a blink of an eye. So forget this 72 stuff… we need be talking infinite virgins; how about three a day?”

          • John Schilling says:

            At least according to some hadiths, IIRC, the houris get re-virginized every night. And the men get divine ultra-Viagra; if your erection lasts more than four hours, don’t worry, be happy, it’s supposed to work that way.

            They’ve got this covered, man. Or at least they aren’t afraid to pander to their target audience (which varies from hadith to hadith).

    • Civilis says:

      *Note: commenter is a Republican that voted for Trump as better than Hillary*

      Buy a couple of really nice golf courses far away from Washington / Florida, hire some attractive hostesses, and make nice with Trump in an attempt to convince him that he’s won; he doesn’t need another term in office. Besides, if he’s spending time golfing, he’s probably not messing anything else up. You don’t need to go full conservative for this, just centrist, and centrist is probably more believable than having a come-to-Jesus moment anyways.

      The only viable dirty tricks are probably the most subtle. If you try to force Trump into a compromising position, you’re more likely to only end up yourself looking bad, but if you give him the opportunity and he bites, you win. (Just keep some of the more… amorous Democrats away lest this backfire. This means no Bill Clinton!) The best dirty trick might be to make sure the food is as good… and unhealthy… as possible.

  48. 10240 says:

    Recently figured it out why text in the comment sections occasionally jumps up and down: if the comment box is narrow, an edit countdown may break into two lines. And whether it does may depend on the remaining time: it may fit in one line when there is no seconds counter for one second or, more rarely, when the seconds counter is single digit. If I’m looking at comments, and somewhere far above there is an edit counter, the comments may occasionally jump up and down for no apparent reason.

  49. Sniffnoy says:

    So, let me restate one of the problems I had with “Conflict vs Mistake”, that I’ve stated in various places.

    In your post you talk about these two different points of view and treat them as if they are two different descriptive theories. But that’s not the real difference. They’re different ways of thinking (“conflict stance vs mistake stance”?); the difference doesn’t ultimately stem from some factual disagreement, as you present it.

    That is to say, we might identify “narrow conflict theory”, the actual idea that apparent disagreements are mostly due to conflicts; and “broad conflict theory” (or “broad conflict stance”), the more general cluster of ideas that you’re talking about. The thing to note is that the former does not imply the latter! You can hold the idea that apparent disagreements are mostly due to conflicts and not therefore conclude that you should act like “conflict theorists” actually do, because it, well, really doesn’t follow. (And like, it seems to be unambiguously true that certain apparent disagreements really are due to conflicts. But again I would not advise acting like “conflict theorists” actually do in those cases, because that’s not actually the correct path to take in case of a conflict.) So like I said, I think you’re wrong to identify a factual disagreement as the root of it; it’s down to different styles of thinking, more like.

    In particular one of the problems with “broad conflict stance” is the not worrying about mistakes, like, at all. They don’t seem to consider it important to put systems in place to keep one aligned with reality; they seem to think that if they win the conflict the right things will happen automatically, and that doesn’t work.

    I could probably identify other issues but I think that’s the biggest one.

    • fion says:

      Bit of a nitpick, probably doesn’t detract from your overall point:

      You say acting like a conflict theorist isn’t the correct path to take in case of a conflict. I’m not 100% sure what you mean by “acting like a conflict theorist”, but I understand it as trying to defeat the other side rather than negotiate with them. I think that if something is an actual conflict then this is the correct thing to do. If the Paperclip Maximisers from Outer Space have sent a paperclip factory ship to Earth, saying “oh goody, a planet we can turn into paperclips” then you nuke the bastards before they can land. You don’t say “I wonder if we can find some common ground here.”

      WWII was a genuine conflict. The correct thing to do was to win; negotiations failed a long time ago. Many conflicts are not like this, and there are options for working something out (correcting the mistakes), and that’s why I think the world could use a good deal more Mistake Theory, but I really do think that in the few cases of actual, genuine conflict, the correct thing to do is to “act like a conflict theorist” and fight to win.

      • Aapje says:

        I’m not 100% sure what you mean by “acting like a conflict theorist”, but I understand it as trying to defeat the other side rather than negotiate with them.

        I think that it is a mistake (hah) to equate a stance with a certain strategy to resolve the issue.

        A mistake theorist can choose to debate the other side to find agreement or he can decide that the other side is completely wrong and needs to be ignored/oppressed/annihilated/etc.

        A conflict theorist can decide to compromise or to ignore/oppress/annihilate/etc the other side so they can have everything that they want.

        WWII was a genuine conflict. The correct thing to do was to win; negotiations failed a long time ago. Many conflicts are not like this, and there are options for working something out (correcting the mistakes), and that’s why I think the world could use a good deal more Mistake Theory

        You are using the words conflict and mistake theory completely incorrectly here. People can go to war for both conflict theory and mistake theory reasons & they can negotiate based on both stances.

        For example, let’s say that we are neighbors and that you like to play the piano in your house, while I hate piano playing.

        Mistake theory would be to believe that one of us or both of us are wrong in our desires and that we can, if both of us are reasonable/perfect, align our desires perfectly. Based on this theory, I could then try to convince you that the sound of a piano is horrible. Or I could conclude that you are mistaken, but not capable of reason and shoot you.

        Conflict theory would be to believe that we have inherently different desires that can’t be both be met. To solve this issue, we can come to an agreement where you play the piano only during some periods of the day, or I can shoot you.

        Anyway, “Conflict vs Mistake” might be Scott’s most misunderstood post, which is quite ironic.

        • fion says:

          Thanks for your comment. Perhaps my emphasis should have been on “what do you (Sniffnoy) mean by ‘acting like a conflict theorist’?” rather than “here’s what I think you mean and my explanation of why you’re wrong based on that.”

          Since you mention it, though, I don’t make the mistake of thinking that conflict vs mistake theory is the same as kill vs compromise. I’m aware that a conflict-theory resolution to a conflict could be to compromise and I’m aware that a mistake-theory resolution to a mistake could (in very contrived circumstances) be to kill the mistaken person.

          I guess I’m of the opinion that if something is definitely a conflict you should use conflict-y tactics to solve it (which could include war, assassination, slander, statistics that back up your side, sitting around a negotiating table trying to come up with a mutually-agreeable compromise etc.). And if something is definitely a mistake you should use mistake-y tactics to solve it (which could include listening, debating, good-faith use of statistics, adversarial collaboration, putting very dangerously mistaken people in places where they can’t hurt others etc.). But I understand Conflict vs Mistake Theory as being about whether you interpret the ambiguous situations as being fundamentally built on conflict or fundamentally built on a mistake.

          • Aapje says:

            And if something is definitely a mistake you should use mistake-y tactics to solve it (which could include listening, debating, good-faith use of statistics, adversarial collaboration, putting very dangerously mistaken people in places where they can’t hurt others etc.).

            Most of those tactics put high burdens on both sides. What do you do if the other side doesn’t want to debate or (according to you/me) listen to reason? Who decides who is right when both sides believe that the others are dangerously mistaken people who need to be put in the gulag places where they can’t hurt others?

            At a certain point of mutual inability to recognize each others points of view as legitimate, it may be better to use the conflict-y tactics of tolerance and compromise, rather than desperately trying to reconcile the irreconcilable.

          • fion says:


            At a certain point of mutual inability to recognize each others points of view as legitimate, it may be better to use the conflict-y tactics of tolerance and compromise

            One could reach a similar conclusion as a mistake theorist. After failing to figure out which one of us is mistaken, we try to figure out a solution that fails as gracefully as possible under the outcome that one or both of us is mistaken. This will look like a conflict theory compromise in most situations.

            As for your first paragraph, if neither side is willing to contemplate that they might be the mistaken one then mistake approaches sadly break down and conflict will probably ensue. Even if only one side refuses to engage virtuously, that can force the other’s hand as well.

          • Aapje says:

            One could reach a similar conclusion as a mistake theorist. After failing to figure out which one of us is mistaken, we try to figure out a solution that fails as gracefully as possible under the outcome that one or both of us is mistaken. This will look like a conflict theory compromise in most situations.

            I didn’t think of that, but that’s a very good point!

      • Sniffnoy says:

        No, see, that’s the sort of thing that, like, actually plausibly follows. Remember, I’m not talking about a descriptive theory, I’m talking about an empirical cluster, and my point is that many features of it don’t follow from the descriptive theory that Scott uses to define it.

        I gave an example above, but I think I should try to make it more specific. We’re talking about politics here, right? And the thing that these “conflict theorists” do when it comes to politics is to ignore the possibility that the policies that they have run on and intend to implement, will not actually help their side once implemented. That is to say, the existence of conflicts does not obviate the need to avoid mistakes, yet “conflict theorists” act as though it does.

        • fion says:

          the thing that these “conflict theorists” do when it comes to politics is to ignore the possibility that the policies that they have run on and intend to implement, will not actually help their side once implemented

          I think this is a really key point that I had missed. Does this imply that the biggest difference between conflict and mistake theorists is that mistake theorists question themselves and conflict theorists don’t? That doesn’t seem quite right to me either, so I’ve probably misunderstood.

          “How much you question whether your actions will actually help your side” sounds like a continuous variable that you can take too far in either direction.

  50. 10240 says:

    On a tangent from David Friedman’s comment in the last OT about the public discourse on tariffs being conducted in terms of 18th century economics:
    Is someone aware of any country where economics is taught as a high school subject? Does it have any benefit?

    • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

      Economics was one of our optional subjects when I was in high school (in New Zealand, in the 1980s).

      But I don’t think it is in my son’s high school curriculum. They do business studies, but not theoretical economics.

      • smwls says:

        When I was in high school in NZ 8 years ago, there was definitely a “theoretical” economics course (NCEA Level 3). I sat in on a class once; it was a discussion of diminishing marginal utility, more or less at Econ 101 level.

      • Matt M says:

        This was also true in my high school (US) as well. Economics was available as a very high-level intro elective course, basically for one semester, covering only the most basic concepts. Very few students chose to take it.

        • albatross11 says:

          Yeah, my high school also had an economics class, taught by a one-year-from-retirement teacher who DGAF and who played films and slept through class pretty much every day. I probably learned *something* from that class, but I don’t recall anything. (But I studied a lot more economics in college, so maybe I’m forgetting it!)

          By contrast, I also had a high school statistics class, and it was really nice–I learned a lot of stuff that made my college-level stats class much easier.