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OT108: Opangolin Thread

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. Comments of the week are everything by sclmlw on cancer research (see eg this thread) and Cerastes on why we should make humans cold-blooded.

2. Since the Meetup Times And Places thread was posted, meetups have been added in Moscow, Columbus, Sacramento, Berkeley, San Jose (CA), and Portland (OR). Details have been changed for Boston, St. Louis and Wellington. If you’re in any of those cities and interested in attending, please go back and check the new information.

3. I’m interested in reports from meetups that have already happened. In fact, if you organized a meetup, please keep track of how many people attended, since I might survey people on that later.

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1,196 Responses to OT108: Opangolin Thread

  1. fustruly says:

    Kansas City meetup was, as far as I’m concerned, fantastic. The initial call to action post indicated 14 Kansas City people wanted a meetup; 2 people RSVPd; and 7 people, including myself, showed up. Personally I thought the venue was a little cramped – I had not anticipated the pleasant surprise of so many attendees – but worked well. Someone kindly volunteered to get something set up on meetup.com or facebook for followup meetups, and I will be checking in with them next week.

    Contact me if you want to be put in touch with them or directed to whatever page gets set up.

    I sent out a survey so hopefully will be able to speak to how well it went for everyone else as well.

  2. WafflesWaffles says:

    San Antonio meetup had 0 attendees (excluding myself). One person did email me that they were interested in attending but couldn’t make it. I may meet up with them at an anime festival soon. Cosplay currently undecided. Maybe Saiki K.

    I will probably start our LW group back up and declare it to be a SSC group. That will likely lead to a regular meetup.

  3. LadyJane says:

    After some thinking on that Value Differences article, I was wondering: Are there ever cases where Endorsed Values can work better than Explicit Models?

    I remember an article about an African tribe whose warriors believed they could become bulletproof by drinking a potion. Supposedly, this actually worked, insofar as it let to the tribe winning battles and suffering lower casualty rates. I imagine the actual cause (assuming there’s any validity to this story at all) is that the warriors will fight more bravely as a result of believing themselves resistant to harm, which equates to fighting more effectively in a way that increases their odds of survival. However, if they actually knew that the potion didn’t make them bulletproof and just had beneficial effects because they believed it did, then those beneficial effects would no longer apply. Even if they consciously decided “I should fight as bravely as possible to increase everyone’s odds of survival,” their subconscious instincts would still compel them to fight less bravely and to focus more on their own individual survival, and since everyone would be doing that, everyone’s individual odds of survival would go down.

    To put it to numbers, let’s say there are ten warriors, and each of them has a 50% chance of surviving if they fight as bravely as possible. If one person ‘defects’ (which, again, isn’t necessarily a conscious choice) and prioritizes his individual safety over fighting effectively, his individual odds go up by 25%, but everyone else’s odds go down by 5%. If all ten warriors defect, then each of their individual odds will go down to 25%, because their individual gain doesn’t make up for the losses incurred by everyone else defecting. If nine warriors defect, then their chances of survival are 30% (still considerably lower than they’d be if no one had defected), and the poor sap who doesn’t defect has only a 5% chance of survival (which sounds about right for a lone berserker charging at an enemy encampment while everyone else hangs back). Of course, if only one warrior defects, then his chances of survival are 75% while everyone else’s are 45%, so it’s a good deal for him, assuming that no one else acts the same way.* It’s a particularly brutal form of Prisoner’s Dilemma.

    This seems to be a case where an Endorsed Value (“fight as bravely as you can, because you have magical protection and the other side doesn’t”) works better than the Explicit Model (“everyone, including me, should fight as bravely as possible because it will increase our collective and individual odds of survival”), although the fact that it’s largely a result of subconscious impulses is something of a confounding factor. It also makes me wonder whether there might actually be something to religion, positive thinking, and the Platonic idea of the Noble Lie. If having a society of naive altruistic optimists is more likely to lead to utopia than having a society of calculating self-interested cynics, then it’s better to encourage the optimists. In a sense, they’re actually more correct in the long term, even if the cynics are more correct in their assessment of the present day.

    *I have to wonder if this might be why sociopaths exist, and seem to continually comprise about 1-3% of the population. If an entire tribe of people lacks empathy and courage, that tribe will quickly go extinct. But if one person in a tribe lacks those qualities, it can actually be an evolutionary advantage in some ways. The alleles for sociopathy are likely to get passed on, so long as there aren’t too many sociopaths in the population already; there’s a kind of equilibrium here.

    • quanta413 says:

      I don’t think there is much reason to expect a priori that explicit models will do better than endorsed values in many situations.

      For one things, humans suck at explicit modeling. It’s really hard to get right. Endorsed values are in some sense hard to get right too and may be suboptimal in some sense, but they tend to evolve rather than be explicitly modeled. Unfortunately, they don’t pass a really brutal evolutionary test so it would be surprising if they were as great as say, your circulatory system.

      For another thing, to get an “ought” any system of explicit modeling has some sort of endorsed values or axioms. Obviously, not applicable to your bullet potion hypothetical, but applicable in many other cases.

      If you’re interested in models of defectors in tribal bands, you should look into the evolutionary game theory literature. The idea you mention has been studied before. However, my understanding is that as far as humans go, this doesn’t quite work as an explanation of how altruistic behaviors stick around. Humans don’t have the right metapopulation dynamics. We don’t see sociopathy spreading across entire tribes followed by these tribes vanishing.

      If you want some sort of evolutionary story, a steady low level of sociopathy instead suggests something like frequency dependent selection. For some reason, the more sociopaths there are in a single population; the less it pays to be a sociopath.

      • Viliam says:

        For some reason, the more sociopaths there are in a single population; the less it pays to be a sociopath.

        My guess would be that various sociopaths use similar strategies to exploit normies. When a normie meets their first sociopath, there is the element of surprise; the sociopath will abuse them in ways they didn’t even think were possible. But when the normie later meets their second or third sociopath, there is a chance they will go “oh wait, this reminds of the terrible person X.Y.” and the strategy will not work again.

        And not only may the strategy not work on the “inoculated” normie, but using the power of gossip, the normie may protect other normies. (This could actually be one of the evolutionary reasons why gossip exists and is so popular.) Depending on the culture, the sociopath may get killed; but even if not, they will be less efficient at exploiting normies.

    • marshwiggle says:

      I agree that even under ideal circumstances people aren’t always very good at explicit modeling. Plus, circumstances aren’t always ideal.

      For one, most people don’t calculate quickly. Plus, most don’t do calculation for odd hypotheticals that are unlikely to come up. So any explicit model involving lots of calculation, where you can’t do that ahead of time and need to decide quickly, will be worse off for most people. That covers the morals/values for lots of dangerous, chaotic, or quickly changing environments.

      Also, most people don’t do large scale in number of people or in time very well. If the explicit calculation is going to involve that, it’s going to come out wrong for most people.

      So far as I can tell, these things have always been an issue, but their impact has gotten way higher now that our society keeps pushing people to exercise moral autonomy from both past and present sources of guidance.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      Isn’t this basically the idea behind growth mindset – that the explicit model “working as hard as you can will pay dividends” is less effective (if the growth mindset people are correct, which they may not be) than the crystalisation “success is largely determined by effort, not talent”.

    • a reader says:

      @LadyJane:

      I remember an article about an African tribe whose warriors believed they could become bulletproof by drinking a potion. Supposedly, this actually worked, insofar as it let to the tribe winning battles and suffering lower casualty rates. I imagine the actual cause (assuming there’s any validity to this story at all) is that the warriors will fight more bravely as a result of believing themselves resistant to harm, which equates to fighting more effectively in a way that increases their odds of survival.

      You probably read that article on another rationalist blog:

      https://samzdat.com/2017/06/19/the-use-and-abuse-of-witchdoctors-for-life/

      I copy here the comment I wrote there:

      That magic isn’t really that efficient (psychologically). Che Guevara, who fought in Congo in 1965, described it (then it was named dawa):

      Still another unpleasant surprise for Che was the discovery of the rebels’ faith in witchcraft, or dawa. They believed that a magic potion protected them from harm. Che learned about this magic in his very first meeting with the Congolese command. A pleasant-seeming officer introduced himself as Lieutenant Colonel Lambert and explained, cheerfully, “that for them, the [enemy] airplanes were not very important because they possessed the dawa medicine that makes them invulnerable to bullets.” Lambert assured Che that he had been hit by bullets several times, but because of the dawa, they had fallen harmlessly to the ground. “He explained it between smiles,” wrote Che, “and I felt obliged to go along with the joke, which I believed was his attempt to demonstrate the little importance he conceded to the enemy’s armaments. After a little while, I realized the thing was serious, and that the magical protector was one of the great weapons of the Congolese Army.”

      Dawa gave soldiers courage before the battle, but in the battle all that courage disappeared:

      The attack, which begun on July 29, was a catastrophe. The assault leader, Víctor Dreke, reported that at the first outbreak of combat, many of the Tutsi fled, abandoning their weapons, while many of the Congolese simply refused to fight at all. Over a third of the men had deserted before the fighting even began. […]

      The Africans attributed their defeat to bad dawa, and said that the witch doctor who had applied it to the fighters had been inadequate. “[The witch doctor] tried to defend himself, blaming it on women and on fear, but there were no women there … and not all the men were prepared to confess their weaknesses,” Che wrote. “It didn’t look good for the witch doctor and he was demoted.”

      (source: “Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life” by Jon Lee Anderson, who quotes from Che Guevara’s memoir)

      • AlphaGamma says:

        I believe dawa is a general Swahili word for medicine.

        A friend who lives in Kenya has told me that there, it refers to a drink made from vodka, ginger, honey and lime juice.

      • albatross11 says:

        It’s clearly possible to have untrue beliefs that work out better for you than the true ones would. But it’s not at all clear how to get to such beliefs, except by evolutionary processes, and those tend to be slow and not adapted to fast-moving changes in technology and culture and such.

        Suppose every pikeman in the King’s army believes with all his heart that, should he throw down his pike and run away from the enemy, the gods will strike him dead[1]. Then the King’s pikemen will stand against every charge and the probability of each pikeman coming home after the battle will increase as long as they’re mainly facing charging knights. But the day they face an opponent with good artillery or machine guns, they’re screwed, and their beliefs will make them less likely to survive.

        [1] Really, it will be a knight’s sword lopping his head off from behind that strikes him down.

        • a reader says:

          I think believes about an afterlife / another world are more efficient than those about this life / this world, because those are harder to falsify. In your example, if some soldiers run and are not stroke dead, the others will find that it’s not true.

          In the case of “dawa”, probably, when they saw one of them wounded by a bullet, the Congolese realized that their “dawa” didn’t protect them and run, but their conclusion wasn’t “dawa doesn’t work generally”, but “our incompetent witch doctor made the dawa badly”. And it’s not that surprising, considering their worldview – a modern man, if his child catches a disease he was vaccinated against, wouldn’t think “vaccines don’t work generally”, but “something was wrong with that vaccine”.

    • AG says:

      Sports seems to follow a “por que no los dos” approach. There’s more and more analysis to get at the specifics of how athletes can improve (explicit model), but they all still have their superstitions, luck tokens and rituals (endorsed model).

      “I have to sink 5 three-pointers to make up this 15 point deficit, don’t forget to roll it off the finger like in practice” and “also I didn’t wash the lucky socks” are not mutually exclusive. Self-aware placebo.

  4. Le Maistre Chat says:

    So, is anyone else opposed to tipping in cities that have a minimum wage in the $15 an hour range? I try to avoid eating out because it’s so expensive in Portland, but my best friend got my unenthusiastic consent to drive us to meet a group of casual acquaintances at a restaurant and they hit us with a 20% gratuity for being in a group of six, even though the high prices for casual dining obviously already reflects that Oregon and Washington (and California?) Servers must be paid the local minimum wage. The hipster sitting next to us smugly said that servers should still be tipped 20% at $12, even $15 an hour because “that’s still not a living wage.” … I really wanted to start a debate about the irrational assumptions behind the “living wage” doctrine (the numbers I’ve seen for the doctrine are calculated around a single worker being able to afford a two-bedroom apartment – for days when they have their children – which shows how dubious it is compared to the earlier, abandoned because patriarchal, “family wage” social justice teaching of Holy Mother Church) and the reasons why even left-leaning economists generally don’t support high minimum wage laws… But sigh, why bother?

    • quanta413 says:

      My possibly mistaken belief was that the way pay for waiting usually worked was that if tips push the wage past the minimum for the month, the restaurant didn’t have to pay the minimum. Just enough for wages + tip to meet the minimum. Maybe different states are different? I even vaguely remember a story about some servers in Maine (?) lobbying against a minimum wage bill that they were afraid would undercut their tips somehow. It was something strange.

      IIRC, a friend in Austin who was a waiter I talked too a while back said a good shift made >=20 an hour. Slow shifts might make close to minimum.

      If it really irritates you, try getting your friends to go to cheaper restaurants. Does Portland not have any restaurants with no waiters? Most cities I’ve lived in have Mexican or Chinese or Thai restaurants where you pay up front and there’s no tip, and are very cheap. You can get a pretty large meal for 6 or 7 dollars plus tax. Although if you hate those cuisines you’re SOL. I’ve never seen a diner serving American food in that style.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Portland definitely has restaurants with no waiters. I told her that we need to talk to the casual acquaintances who meet at this place about meeting at a cheap restaurant. I’m just worried about being a lower-class person (not that Im poor, but I come from a Red family where my dad wouldn’t let me take him to a restaurant for his birthday because it was too expensive – this experience brought up a lot of negative thoughts about class) who won’t be able to change the group’s minds because all she can use is rationalism, while guys like him can signal their class and political doctrines.

        • quanta413 says:

          Well, if you pick a Mexican restaurant maybe you can attempt to signal your superior virtue by your desire to patronize hard working first-generation Americans?

          I dunno the situation well enough to figure out how to bullshit your way past it. Personally, I try not to hang out with large groups, because it’s way easier to bargain with one person than 3-5 people.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Well, if you pick a Mexican restaurant maybe you can attempt to signal your superior virtue by your desire to patronize hard working first-generation Americans?

            Oooh, good call!

          • quanta413 says:

            Also, if you manage to pick the really fun Mexican restaurants you can attempt to torture any nemeses who don’t like spicy food.

            “You have try to try this Carolina Reaper hot sauce, it’s to die for! You know the plebes really hate food with a little kick, but I appreciate the craft people put into making such fine hot sauces.”

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            “Really dude, don’t fear the Reaper.”

          • quanta413 says:

            Although as a kindness, before persuading someone to try a really, really hot hot sauce (ghost pepper or reaper or something like that), it’s nice to have some sort of milk based product on hand so they can alleviate some of the suffering.

            Then you seem like not a total jerk, and everyone has a laugh.

            Depending on your own spice tolerance, there is the (hilarious) danger that someone turns out to be a monstrous chili fiend, and for honor’s sake you must eat some yourself.

            I’m impressed some people like the hottest things though even if it’s just masochism. I can eat little bites of thai bird chilies but that’s close to the limit of what I want to eat. And that’s orders of magnitude below a reaper. I’ve eaten a supposedly reaper/habanero based bbq sauce I liked, but I think it was 99% habanero.

        • FLWAB says:

          I know what you mean about the class issue, at least a bit. During college I took my girlfriend out on a date at a nice sushi restaurant, and halfway through I was struck with this strange yet powerful guilt. Why? Because I knew my family would have considered the restaurant too expensive to consider going to. It was not at all the kind of place we grew up with, or the kind of place my parents would have gone to when they were my age. I didn’t feel guilty because I was there: I felt guilty because I had gotten used to places like this. On a level, it felt like a betrayal of my roots that I had gotten so accustomed to luxury, and at the same time I didn’t want to say anything about it because that would feel like betrayal as well: that those around me would think of my family as culture-less hicks or something.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        That how minimum wage works in federal law and most states, but not OR or CA (or SF), where the standard minimum applies pre-tip.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          This. Waiting tables is a cushy job in all three west coast states (maybe not all localities) because the law says you get you get up to $15 (Seattle/Tacoma, not Washington-wide) pre-tips. At least under Oregon state law, management withholding tips and using toward calculating wages would bring down the State’s iron fist* on a business.

          *The velvet glove is either rainbow-colored or PDX carpet patterned.

      • AG says:

        Huh, I’ve been told in Cali that you’ll get the stink-eye if you don’t tip even in the no-waiter restaurants, or like for stands/trucks. Just about the only place I’ve not felt pressure to tip was fast food, but even fast casual has some pressure.

        • quanta413 says:

          That wasn’t true when and where I grew up in CA, but CA has been getting notably more crazy and dysfunctional over the years so I guess it’s possible? Seems unlikely outside of specific social circles like maybe singles and DINKs in the bay area or something.

        • bean says:

          I don’t remember this being normal in the parts of LA I frequented.

    • LadyJane says:

      So, is anyone else opposed to tipping in cities that have a minimum wage in the $15 an hour range?

      No, because that’s just a particularly mean-spirited form of virtue signaling (and I say that as a staunch opponent of minimum wage laws in general). You’re basically saying “let me show how strongly opposed I am to the idea of a $15 minimum wage” with your wallet, in a way that doesn’t actually affect the policy and only serves to make the server’s life slightly harder. A better form of protest would be to simply stop attending restaurants that have become more expensive due to minimum wage increases. If enough people do that, it’ll show that minimum wage increases are bad for business overall, which will create political pressure to change the policy in question.

      If you’re receiving service at a restaurant then it’s rude not to tip, period. Though it’s also rude to browbeat someone into going to a restaurant when they’d prefer to eat at home or get cheap takeout, so maybe you could set clearer boundaries with your friends about what you can reasonably afford right now?

      • Ninety-Three says:

        A frequent argument in favour of tipping is “Servers aren’t paid enough without tips, or they’re paid a rate which assumes tips”. The reason not to tip under $15 wage is not that you despise minimum wage laws, it’s that the server should no longer need the tips, and assuming this isn’t the kind of fancy place that would have paid $15/hour before the minimum wage laws, the server’s wage isn’t being set with the expectation that tips will add on to it.

        It hardly needs to be mean-spirited virtue signaling.

        • ana53294 says:

          The kind of fancy place that pays decent salaries to their waiters probably has plenty of customers who would give decent tips anyway, to appear generous/rich.

          It’s the middle range restaurants that will get affected.

        • LadyJane says:

          @Ninety-Three: It’s not like the servers would’ve been making $5/hour before the laws changed. In most cities that have a $15/hour minimum wage, it was already something like $10-12 before the increase. Not tipping servers will almost certainly result in them making less than they would’ve without the increase. Not to mention, as @sandoratthezoo mentioned, most servers are expecting a tip and it should be seen as part of the implicit contract involved in going to a restaurant. That might not be a good system, but it’s the system we have in this country, and short of a major cultural and economic shift, I don’t see it changing anytime soon. (The only time I’ll refuse to tip is if the service was exceptionally bad, though I’m a fairly cheap tipper and only leave 15% unless the service was exceptionally good.)

          My larger point is that if you’re going to make someone bear the negative consequences of this policy change – whether as a form of protest or simply because it makes you unable to afford the restaurants you used to frequent – it shouldn’t be the servers. Especially since they’re already bearing negative consequences from it, in the form of having a more difficult time finding and keeping work; no need to doubly punish them.

          @ana53294: Yes, the middle range restaurants will likely be hit the hardest. When most of the affordable but decent-quality restaurants start shutting down, leaving middle class buyers with no options but very cheap and very expensive food, perhaps they’ll finally start realizing the problem with this policy.

          • gbdub says:

            “In most cities that have a $15/hour minimum wage, it was already something like $10-12 before the increase.”

            Portland is probably weird here. In most of the rest of the country, tipped workers are paid substantially less than minimum wage, with the expectation that tips make up the difference.

            I was a fine dining waiter in Michigan and only got paid $3.50 an hour. But most nights I was taking home $18-20 an hour in tips. Nicer restaurants didn’t pay more than cheaper ones – you just made more because the food was more expensive and most people tip a percentage.

            If wage is calculated NOT expecting tips, then I’m fine with saying “only tip for exceptional / extra mile service”

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Seconding gbdub. Minimum wage laws in many states explicitly exclude tipped positions where average tips equal or exceed the hourly minimum wage in that state. I.E. if you’re reporting that tips and tokes for your employees average $7.25 an hour or more and the state min. wage is $7.25, you are not required to pay them minimum wage. Depending on the state there may be an alternative minimum (I’ve seen $3.50 multiple places).

          • CatCube says:

            I generally tip about 20%, and go up with great service, but the underlying assumption there is that it’s necessary to make up for the sub-minimum-wage normal salary. If the second part is no longer true than I question whether the first part is necessary.

            It’s not terribly compelling to say that we can’t change the underlying culture because it’s going to negatively affect the waiters. It’s even less so to say that we can’t because they have an expectation. For the former, no matter what you do, you’re going to put somebody in a bind when you’re affecting large numbers of people. If the change is the right thing to do, they’re going to have to bite the bullet. Environmental regulations have had a huge impact on mining and threw a bunch of miners out of work, crushing their towns. Does that mean that we can’t impose those regulations?

            For the latter, as a thought experiment consider raising the minimum wage for servers to $100/hr. I’d think you’d agree that they’d be on thin ice to claim that they should still get tips because they had an “implicit contract” where tips are paid. The implications run both ways; as I said above, the implication on the diners’ side is that of low regular salary.

            Now, I chose $100/hr as obviously on the other side of the “don’t need tips” line, and you can argue that $15 an hour is still on this side of that line. However, I note that my gross pay as a structural engineer in Portland is $36.35/hr*. I’m definitely getting to the point of starting to question tipping here.

            * It’s not quite comparable, as my fully-burdened rate is $95, including leave, the government’s half of SS and health insurance. Overhead is also in there, but I don’t know exactly how that breaks down for direct compensation to me vs. keeping the lights on.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Catcube:

            Now, I chose $100/hr as obviously on the other side of the “don’t need tips” line, and you can argue that $15 an hour is still on this side of that line. However, I note that my gross pay as a structural engineer in Portland is $36.35/hr*. I’m definitely getting to the point of starting to question tipping here.

            And that’s a job that calls for a terminal Master’s, right? Whereas you can start waiting tables at 18, avoiding a minimum 6 years expensive tertiary education + 6 years opportunity cost.

          • Nornagest says:

            I imagine it’s hard to get a job waiting tables at 18 in Portland, which is a city where waiters and bartenders settle to serve brunch and drinks to other waiters and bartenders.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Well played, Nornagest. 🙂
            Yes, it’s unskilled manual labor that anyone could technically do at 18, but local market forces change things.

          • gbdub says:

            Keep in mind is that it’s relatively hard to work “full time” hours as a waiter. Usually we’d have a lunch shift and a dinner shift, both roughly 4-5 hours. Some people worked both, and worked most days, but out of a dozen or so waiters we had only maybe 3 who were actually working 40 hour weeks. I only worked dinner, maybe 20 hours a week. Your employer is incentivized to NOT give you more hours, lest you become “full time” and trigger a bunch of mandatory fees / taxes / bennies.

            So even though I was pulling ~$20 an hour, if that were my only job I’d be making ~$20k a year. Great for a summer job for a college kid, but rough as an only source of income. You can get a second job but your life becomes scheduling hell.

            One other thing that comes up though is that restaurant pay tends to be (arguably unfairly) heavily biased toward tipped staff because of tips. We had a mandatory share with our bussers, but the cooks and dishwashers were making half or less what the waitstaff did per hour (although they usually worked more hours). One of the arguments for ending tipping is that it would make it easier for managers to balance that out (some places have the waitstaff share with the back of the house, but it’s not the norm, and even when it is it usually only applies to charged tips (although nice waiters will split cash too)).

    • fion says:

      This is a bit tangential, but I tend to lean away from tipping because I view it as essentially charity, and if I’m donating to charity, there are far more deserving causes than a waiter in a first-world country. But it depends who I’m with. If I’m with people who are tipping and would look down on my decision not to and whose opinions I care about, then I’ll probably just tip to fool them into thinking I’m a good person.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        tipping because I view it as essentially charity

        This is demonstrably not the case in the US, at least for at the table service.

        Most serving jobs in the US are worked with the expectation of tips being the compensation. We have a tipping culture. Europe does not, and the wages paid by the employer are the set in that way.

        Trying to get the US to change from one culture to another would be quite a bit if work (and probably would require some restaurants to find it advantageous to refuse tips on principle).

        • fion says:

          Admittedly I’m speaking from a place of ignorance; perhaps I just don’t understand tipping culture.

          Having said that, let’s run with it. I’m not talking about changing the culture; I’m just talking about my hypothetical actions. If I eat out, presumably I’m allowed to choose not to tip? It might be rude, it might be seen as unfair, it might mean that the waiter struggles to pay their bills, but I am allowed to not tip, right? If so, then how is tipping not charity? I have a choice between giving somebody some money to help them or not doing so. How is the world a better place by my going along with the culture and tipping as opposed to being stingy with my tips and then donating to AMF?

          • rlms says:

            You are allowed to give the money you would’ve spent on Christmas presents for your kids to the AMF, but I don’t think that makes presents charity.

          • Randy M says:

            It’s definitely charity, in the same sense that putting some money into the donation box at the museum is charity; the entry/entree (ohh, I like that incidental alliteration) fee is lowered by voluntary subsidy of the cost by satisfied users.
            If nobody tipped, the cost would eventually go up (as if the wages are truly abysmal otherwise, service will quit if they don’t start making more). However, in the meantime the wait staff suffers until they can make the management adjust to the new norm.
            If a minimum wage law increases the price of the meal, I don’t see why you shouldn’t see it as greatly reducing your need to tip; if it doesn’t (somehow increase the cost of the meal), you can tip if you want to reward service but the need is less. (That is, in the ratio of server need to your cost, at least one and probably both are changing, so it makes sense for anyone to reevaluate their practice, tipping culture or not).

            That doesn’t necessarily mean the wait staff won’t see your adjustment as defection, though.

            You are allowed to give the money you would’ve spent on Christmas presents for your kids to the AMF, but I don’t think that makes presents charity.

            I hear the Human Fund has nice cards.

          • fion says:

            @rlms

            No, that’s not the same. The difference is that I buy Christmas presents for people with whom I have a relationship that I care about. The Christmas presents are helping to maintain a mutually enjoyable relationship.

            Tipping does three things: it helps a poor waiter make ends meet, it signals to any friends you might be with that you’re not a stingy bugger, and it signals to the waiter that you’re not a stingy bugger.

            The second and third of these things are not charity, and they’re the reasons I do tip when I tip. (In fact the third one is a very British trait – “gosh, I wouldn’t want to be rude – better do what’s expected of me.”)

            But the first of the three things *is* charity. There is somebody who’s not earning very much (because their job assumes tips, but that’s beside the point) and I can choose to donate some money to them.

            I realise that my argument reads a bit like a fallacy that I’m sure has a name around here but I can’t quite remember it… the one where you compare something to the very best example just so you can conclude that it’s not that great. But I’m not doing that. The fact that I mentioned AMF is coincidence. My argument applies even if you keep the tip, or spend it on Christmas presents for your loved ones, or donate it to the National Union of Waiters or whatever.

            @Randy M

            I basically agree with all of that. Incidentally, I never put money in the donation box at a museum either.

            Not really a reply to either of you, but kind of relevant. I used to have a girlfriend who worked in retail earning minimum wage. The norm there is not to tip, so she never tipped waiters. Why should one minimum wage worker expect a tip and another not? (I accept this argument may not apply in America. Are retail workers better paid there?)

          • Randy M says:

            it signals to the waiter that you’re not a stingy bugger

            To expand on this, it is probably akin to paying for preferential treatment in advance if you become a regular and develop a reputation as a solid tipper.

          • gbdub says:

            I mean, you could fill your pocket from the take-a-penny plate, or stuff your purse with breadsticks at the buffet, or go through the soup kitchen line for a free meal when you aren’t actually broke, or whatever, but you’re defecting from the norm and free-riding on others.

            If an expectation of tipping is baked into the base service price, tipping isn’t charity… NOT tipping is giving charity to yourself.

          • fion says:

            @gbdub

            It sounds like what you’re doing is arguing that choosing not to give a tip is better framed as “stealing part of the waiter’s wages” than “choosing not to give something to the waiter”?

            By the way, I would steal food from a buffet if I thought I could get away with it and if I thought I’d enjoy the food later. I don’t know what a “take-a-penny plate” is. I wouldn’t visit a soup kitchen because the time and effort spent would probably be greater than the money saved.

            Defecting from the norm and free-riding on others sure sounds bad, but what if (a) there’s no reason to expect my actions to influence others to defect and (b) I use the gains from my defection to have a greater impact elsewhere (e.g. AMF)? Amn’t I then making the world a better place?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @fion:
            Look, when you say “I’m defecting” you should expect that people will treat you as a defector. Being regarded as such, a no good, low down, dirty rotten, money grubbing skin flint, for refusing to tip is part of the (US) social contract.

          • John Schilling says:

            (b) I use the gains from my defection to have a greater impact elsewhere (e.g. AMF)?

            Almost nobody actually believes in ethical offsets. The tip/no-tip decision will be evaluated as an isolated transaction, where the only question is whether a particular bit of surplus will manifest as a gain for the waitress, as required by social norms, or by you in a defection for social norms. You’ll be regarded as a low-grade asshole if you claim the gain for yourself, particularly if you are seen as already being richer than the average waitress, and an asshole who donated to charity yesterday and might donate to charity again tomorrow is still an asshole today.

          • fion says:

            @HeelBearClub

            Yes, they will, and I’m making the case that that’s misguided of them. They’re shunning me* for wanting to be slightly more effective in my altruism.

            *the hypothetical me this is. I’ve never actually been to the US and if I did I’d probably be compelled to tip by my inbuilt British politeness. But I’m sticking with the hypothetical here.

          • fion says:

            @John Schilling

            Are you trying to make the case that the waiter/onlookers would be right to think me an asshole for directing my tip money to more impactful causes or are you just informing me of the sad truth that that’s what’ll happen?

            Because I’m interested in making the world a better place. I kind of get the impression that most of the people disagreeing with me in this thread care more about obeying unwritten rules. Is this just consequentialism and deontology butting heads?

            (Edit: probably beside the point, but I don’t think I am richer than the average waiter. Certainly not by much if at all. But they are certainly a lot richer than the average person helped by AMF.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Are you trying to make the case that the waiter/onlookers would be right to think me an asshole for directing my tip money to more impactful causes or are you just informing me of the sad truth that that’s what’ll happen?

            You’re eating a restaurant meal instead of rice and beans, so your desire to make the world a better place by way of AMF donations is clearly limited to the money left over after your personal luxury consumption spending. And that’s OK; nobody will hold it against you that you don’t eat rice and beans for every meal so that you can maximize AMF donations.

            But the social contract is that, whatever money you do chose to spend on the fine-dining subset of luxury consumption, gets split roughly 85% nice-food-for-fion and 15% income-for-waitress. That’s an integral part of the balance society has decided on for improving the lives of waitresses. You want to say the extra 15% is too much, it would come out of your AMF-donation fund and you’re not willing to do that, then maybe eat out five nights a week instead of six. That transfers the surplus from you to the AMF, not from the waitress to the AMF.

            Donating your own money to charity is generally considered virtuous. Donating someone else’s money, not so much.

            The rules are pretty clear. Tip 15% for average restaurant table service in the United States.

            That rule becomes an implied contract if you order a restaurant meal in the normal fashion without a disclaimer up front.

            And consequentialism, if it is to be used at all, requires careful attention to the higher-order terms in the math, not handwaving them away with “there’s no reason to expect my actions to influence others to defect” when of course there is.

            By pretty much every ethical framework known to man, you’re an asshole for not tipping when you do it like this. Get yourself a hat or shirt that says “I don’t tip except for extraordinary service, trust me, the money goes to starving Africans”, and we can reevaluate.

            Or, leave a 15% tip with a note saying “I’d really appreciate it if you donated this to charity, but it’s up to you”. Let her have a chance to be virtuous, when she otherwise couldn’t afford to be.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            They’re shunning me for wanting to be slightly more effective in my altruism.

            They probably don’t have any way of knowing that you’re skipping the tip in order to be more effective; the null hypothesis is that you are defecting from the norm and free-riding.

            You’re free to argue that that should not be the case. It’s still the case currently, though, AFAIK. It might be less and less the case as time passes, if that practice spreads. If so, then we could expect more people on the margins to believe that non-tippers are doing so in order to donate more effectively.

            I suspect that difference will be minor, however. I think you’d have a lot of ground to cover before the majority belief shifted from “defector” to “conscientious objector”, say, let alone “EA”.

            And even if EA were the norm belief, people can disagree on what’s E. Some might say your money is better spent on that tip, and if so, they’ll shun you not because you’re defecting, but because you’re not being E in their opinion.

          • Brad says:

            Again, I think ending the tip credit is a significant change in circumstances that should reopen the conversation. Maybe it won’t but I don’t think social pressure ought to be applied against people that quite reasonably think radically changed circumstances warrant reopening the social compact.

          • fion says:

            @John Schilling

            Are you saying that obeying the social contract is more important than doing the right thing (if those two so happen to diverge)? Or are you making the case that my proposal is not the right thing to do? You mention the higher-order effects. Do you think they’re sufficient to make the expected-donation-to-the-waiter a better use of money than the donation to a proper charity? If so, then that’s really the only argument I’m interested in. I don’t think social contracts have value in and of themselves; i think they’re useful rules of thumb that are sometimes wrong. I don’t think “the frowns and mutterings behind my back” or even “the insults from an angry waiter” cause significant damage to me.

            “Donating your own money to charity is generally considered virtuous. Donating someone else’s money, not so much.”

            I dunno. That’s basically what Robin Hood does. Also progressive taxation.
            But anyway “generally considered virtuous” isn’t the point. The point is whether it makes the world a better place. If I do good and everybody thinks I’m virtuous, that’s great, but if I do good and everybody thinks I’m an asshole, that still sounds better than not doing good. If anything it just makes my altruism all the more selfless.

            @Paul Brinkley

            “the null hypothesis is that you are defecting from the norm and free-riding. \\You’re free to argue that that should not be the case.”

            I’m not arguing it should not be the case, in fact I think their assumption is perfectly reasonable. I’m saying even if it is the case, might the defection be the moral course of action?

          • John Schilling says:

            Are you saying that obeying the social contract is more important than doing the right thing (if those two so happen to diverge)? Or are you making the case that my proposal is not the right thing to do?

            I’ve tried to show that obeying the social contract is the right thing to do, here as in almost every other case. And I’ve given you several alternatives for channeling your tip money to the AMF without violating the social contract. If, instead, you chose to send that money to the AMF in the way that does violate the social contract, then yes, you’re an asshole.

            “Right thing to do” is ambiguous. People legitimately disagree about what the right thing to do is. And about how to determine what the right thing to do is. So, who decides? In this case, we’ve got a contract that says, you decide whether Alice the Waitress has delivered the normally acceptable level of service for a $5 tip, and Alice decides what the right thing to do with that tip is. And you implicitly agreed to that contract when you sat down at Alice’s table without wearing your “Make Africa Great Again – No Tips Ever!” hat.

            If you’re going to say that you can take that $5 home with you and do what you think is the right thing with it, where do you draw the line? Why not just stiff the restaurant on the entire tab and donate it to the AMF? And rob the bank across the street while you’re at it?

            The rules are somewhat flexible on this. If you rob the bank because you think you know better than the bank’s owners and customers what the right thing to do with their money is, you’re a felon and you go to prison. If you stiff the restaurant on the tab, that’s a misdemeanor and you’ll probably wind up paying a fine and doing community service. If you stiff the waitress on her tip, you’re just an asshole and we’ll call you an asshole.

            And you deserve it. Because “I can do consequentialist math!”, is never sufficient cause to take money that is rightfully someone else’s, not $5 from a waitress or $50,000 from a bank. And yes, the second-order consequences of that will dwarf any good you can do with an AMF donation.

            I dunno. That’s basically what Robin Hood does. Also progressive taxation.

            Last time I checked, Robin Hood’s claim to virtue was based on his taking money away from tax collectors and giving it back to the taxed. If he’d gone about robbing waitresses, he’d have been regarded as the biggest asshole in Sherwood even if he did send the proceeds back to Africa with the token black guy every modern version of the story seems to include.

            But anyway “generally considered virtuous” isn’t the point.

            It is if you’re a virtue ethiciist. By virtue ethics, your an asshole. And by deontological ethics, you’re an asshole. And by social contract ethics, you’re an asshole. And by consequentialist ethics, you’re also an asshole, for damaging social trust for small benefit, for invoking ethical offsets and the perverse incentives that come with them, and for not doing the math properly. By pretty much every ethical theory known to man, you’re being an asshole. Please stop that.

          • fion says:

            @John Schilling

            With regard to the bank robbing etc., I actually do think it would be possible to make the world a better place by stealing money and redistributing it. I lack the ability and bravery to try. But however important you think social contracts are, they’re still not legally binding, and you’re not a criminal for not tipping. This distinction seems relevant to me.

            People legitimately disagree about what the right thing to do is. And about how to determine what the right thing to do is. So, who decides?

            Everybody does. We all do our best. Sometimes we disagree and I do something that I think is good and you think makes me an asshole. Sometimes the opposite happens. I’m not trying to say I have access to the One True Objective Morality, I’m just saying maybe the good done by a bednet or two is greater than the evil done by a waiter not being able to have a second pint on their weekly trip to the pub with their friends plus the evil done by the waiter feeling betrayed and offended at my cruelty.

            money that is rightfully someone else’s

            Well that’s a massive can of worms that I don’t really want to open. Some people say tax is illegitimate because it takes money that is rightfully someone else’s. Other people say owning capital and employing workers is illegitimate because you’re taking surplus value that is rightfully someone else’s. I suspect both sides are wrong, and I don’t really think someone has a “right” to whatever money they happen to control. At least not in some cosmic moral sense. I believe it would be bad to live in a society where we didn’t pretend that people had a right to the money they control, so I go along with everybody else in pretending such, but ceasing to pretend isn’t automatically bad just because it betrays someone’s rights.

            Robin Hood’s claim to virtue was based on his taking money away from tax collectors and giving it back to the taxed.

            I was going for “steal from the rich; give to the poor”. The waiter is rich; the children with malaria are poor.

            By virtue ethics, your an asshole. And by deontological ethics, you’re an asshole. And by social contract ethics, you’re an asshole.

            I’ve already said I don’t care about any of that.

            by consequentialist ethics, you’re also an asshole…for not doing the math properly.

            This is basically the only point that matters. But while you’ve alluded to it a couple of times, I’m not sure I’ve understood your argument. My estimation is that:
            (a) the waiter having slightly less money,
            (b) the waiter feeling betrayed at not getting the expected tip
            (c) onlookers feeling superior about me having bad morality
            (d) the waiter having slightly lower confidence in future customers tipping
            (e) the small chance of onlookers thinking “that guy didn’t pay a tip – that’s never occurred to me before and now I’m going to stop giving tips”
            (f) my feelings of guilt and shame at all the above
            all combine to be less important than some of the other things that tip could buy (for example bednets).

            (As has been pointed out, “less important than bednets” could be said of just about everything I could spend my money on, including the meal in the first place. So why do I do other things? Why do I have the meal in the first place? Because I’m selfish and I have a habit of throwing the moral calculus out the window in order to have nice things.

            (Incidentally, I also often tip, despite not living in a tipping culture like the US, and if I came to the US I would tip. (I think I’ve mentioned this already.) Why do I do this? Exactly the same reason. Because I’m selfish and I throw the moral calculus out the window in order to give (f) much more attention than it deserves.))

            But I’m abstracting here and talking about ethics rather than my own psychology. The question I would like to know the answer to is: have I missed something in (a-f) or do you just think one or more of (a-f) is more important than bednets? You can forget about ethical systems other than consequentialism, because I agree with you that my proposal is immoral by those systems. I’m interested in the “not doing the math properly” assertion.

            (Also, if you could make your point while calling me an asshole as few times as possible, I’m probably more likely to be able to engage with it on the unemotional level required of mind-changing.)

          • John Schilling says:

            But however important you think social contracts are, they’re still not legally binding, and you’re not a criminal for not tipping. This distinction seems relevant to me.

            Nobody ever said you were. We said you were something else, something you are legally entitled to be, for not tipping. And we’ll keep on saying that, as we are legally entitled to, in the belief that we are thus making the world a better place.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            I’m signing on to pretty much everything you are saying here.

            A small clarification on the following:

            for improving the lives of waitresses wait staff.

            The current compensation scheme for wait staff isn’t for “making the lives of wait staff better” unless we are including “making lives better” under the umbrella of economic activity in general.

            The compensation scheme is what is required to make wait staff (of the desired competency) available at all. In most jurisdictions tips comprise the vast bulk of what wait staff make.

            I think that failing to make this point is a mistake when you are arguing with someone from a country that has a “no tipping” culture. If I give a tip to a waiter in Europe, it is “charity” of a sort. The same can’t be said in the US.

          • John Schilling says:

            Yes, I should have been clear about this being limited to cultures where there is a social contract of tipping, as in e.g. the United States.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      The social contract in America is that you tip restaurant servers who give average to good service 15% plus, even if you would prefer that payment happened some other way.

      • Brad says:

        While that’s been true up until now, it’s always been in the context of those tips being substantially servers’ only pay.

        Lobbying to remove the tip rule from minimum wage rules changes the deal substantially. It remains to be seen if the social contract will abide servers having their cakes and eating them too. Personally I hope the consensus shifts.

        • AG says:

          There have been restaurants who have adopted a “no tips because we pay our servers more” policy in the US. I don’t know if they’ve stayed in business.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        While that’s been true up until now, it’s always been in the context of those tips being substantially servers’ only pay.

        I think that’s overstating it somewhat since people are generally still willing to tip in areas where servers get a min. wage that isn’t $15+, but yes, I think that social contract is predicated upon the idea that the tip comprises the majority of their income.

        I can’t speak for anyone else, but while I tend to be a generous tipper by local standards (17-20% for good service when a lot of people consider 10% “generous”) I would not and will not tip in areas where the minimum wage is $15 or above. Hell, that’s more than I make an hour at my salaried, 50-60 hours a week semi white-collar job it took 4-5 years of ladder climbing to get.

        • Plumber says:

          “….I would not and will not tip tip in areas where the minimum wage is $15 or above. Hell, that’s more than I make an hour at my salaried, 50-60 hours a week semi white-collar job it took 4-5 years of ladder climbing to get”

          @Trofim_Lysenko,

          Wow. 

          Um… you said you were “white collar”, and while it’s proper for clericals to be paid less than crafts, that’s really low after four years in a trade, here’s a list of apprentice programs in Californiaai to apply for to increase your pay 

          I don’t know about Portland, but where I live if your frugal and save, $15 an hour can get you a choice of living in a Chevy or a Ford, until then there’s the ever increasing tents along the highways.

          I earned $15 an hour as a first year apprentice plumber in San Jose back during Clinton administration, and it was a struggle paying for transportation back then, I don’t know how it can be done now short of living in a van (which I eventually did while keeping paying rent on a rent controlled apartment in Oakland).

          A 95 mile drive (typically a seven hour commute, five if you can drive in the carpool lane) can get you to Hollister where you may be able to make rent on $15 an hour, but if the commute is too much (or you can’t afford the fix your car anymore) good luck finding a job that pays that there though.

          I knew a lot of guys  who tried to have a house for their families by buying in Stockton, and after their 200 mile commutes most of them had marriages ended in divorce.

          In 2007 gas prices spiked and it become too expensive to go to work for many and then they stopped paying their mortgage or rent.

          Then the foreclosures came.

          Then the markets crashed in 2008.

          In 2009 many jobs ended.

          Even more lost their homes.

          The cycle continued for a couple more years.

          Then the jobs started coming back. 

          People bid up houses again. 

          Landlords raised rents.

          And now I see even more people sleeping on the sidewalks, and vacant lots then I ever have before (and I’m old enough to remember the 1970’s when “the homeless” wasn’t a phrase that I heard).

          The cycle continues.

          The ever increasing price of housing is why municipalities have been forced to raise minimum wages.

    • Plumber says:

      is anyone else opposed to tipping in cities that have a minimum wage in the $15 an hour range?….
      …..they hit us with a 20% gratuity for being in a group of six….


      I’d be a little upset at having to pay an involuntary 20% “tip” if it wasn’t disclosed that it was a requirement beforehand, what the minimum wage is in that locality doesn’t enter into it.

      …the hipster sitting next to us smugly said…..

      I’m curious, why and when did “hipster” become a slur?

      When I was a kid a “hipster’ was something thar my grandmother used as a term of approval (“That Cap Calloway is a real hipster!”).

      “I’m hip to it” is what my dad would sometimes say to indicate that he understood something (though more commonly he’d say “I dig it”).

      What happened?

      • Aapje says:

        What happened is that hipsters were once people who emulated the lifestyle of largely black jazz musicians of the day.

        Then in the 90’s, the same term was used for a different and/or changed subculture, consisting of a progressive sort of nostalgia. Conservative nostalgia tends to revolve around (religious) traditionalism, low crime, strict norms and such. The hipster nostalgia sets itself apart from this by adopting old-fashioned things in an ironic or pastiche manner.

        I would argue that a major reason why so many people dislike the modern hipsters is because there is so little to love about them. As their subculture is cobbled together from other subcultures, there is little authentic or truly unique about them. Furthermore, their irony makes them a walking insult to many. For example, the working class affectations combined with an upper-middle class sense of entitlement, feel like a mockery to many in the working class.

        • Matt M says:

          The modern hipster is one who generally acts and behaves as if there is an inverse relationship between something being cool and something being popular. The hipster will seek out things that are very unpopular, seemingly not out of legitimate enjoyment, but because such things are status symbols.

          I’m not sure to what extent this sort of attitude may or may not have existed in the past, but that’s how it manifests itself today, and that’s sort of why it’s an insult. The modern hipster is passing himself off as a unique individual, but in reality, it is the choices of the majority that guide and influence his every behavior (only, in an opposite manner).

          • LadyJane says:

            @Matt M: So would you say that hipsters are the modern-day equivalent of the “fashionable non-conformists” who Rand derided?

            I think people dislike hipsters for a few reasons. As @Aapje mentioned, they adopt the style and mannerisms of other cultural and subcultural groups – the working class, racial minorities, foreigners, computer nerds, video game/comic book/anime geeks, music fans – without actually being a part of those (sub)cultures or understanding what they’re about in any meaningful way, and without putting in the investment of time or energy or risk that the actual members of those (sub)cultures do. (Social justice advocates will frequently call them out for this when it’s the culture of racial minorities or foreigners being mimicked, but they’ll only rarely complain when it’s white working-class traits being imitated, and I’ve never seen them care when a recreational subculture/fandom is the target.) They also profess to like obscure works of music and film and literature simply for being obscure, and the only time they’ll ever show any fondness for something popular is if it’s filtered through a lens of irony or nostalgia.

            In short, hipsters are MOPs and posers and free-riders who bank on social capital that they haven’t earned, which is why people regard them with disdain. Of course, they’re also an inevitable product of an over-culture that actively discourages sincerity and earnestness, leaving irony and nostalgia and shallow appeals to style as the only acceptable forms of engaging with anything. Part of me wonders if this itself is some sort of cultural autoimmune reaction to the sheer abundance of advertising that our society is accustomed to, but that’s getting into the realm of abstract speculation.

          • Aapje says:

            @LadyJane

            The hipster fondness for producing things themselves and ‘curating’ also might be a reaction against advertising and mass-production. “I am not a mass consumer, I am an individual.”

            However, from a distance this looks very hypocritical because there is so much conformity, with the actual diversity being rather minimal. Hipster A might drink craft beer A and Hipster B craft beer B, but they both drink hoppy craft beers. Hipster A may have a waxed mustache and hipster B a full beard, but they all make sure not to look like the Duck Dynasty guys.

            Because hipsters often are quite shallow, they are also an easy target for commercial exploitation. Present a mass-produced item as an artisanal product and you can sell it to hipsters. This was parodied here.

        • Plumber says:

          …..the working class affectations combined with an upper-middle class sense of entitlement, feel like a mockery to many in the working class..”

          Well I’m working class (a union plumber) and middle-aged (50) and the way I mostly see “hipster” used is as “young people who bid up the rent”, which seems closer to what were called “yuppies” back in the ’80’s, and otherwise the term as it’s now used just seems to mean “20-somethings”, judging be who I see described as ones.

          • gbdub says:

            Many hipsters are in fact yuppies in the original sense of the term (young urban professionals), but instead of dressing in “preppy” style they wear flannel, beards, thick rimmed glasses, and arm tats. They listen to not-pop on vinyl. They ride fixies.

            You say you are from the Bay Area so I have a hard time believing you’re actually that ignorant of hipsters? You’ve definitely encountered them if you’ve ever been to a fancy non-chain coffee shop (the barista there will definitely be a hipster).

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Many hipsters are in fact yuppies in the original sense of the term (young urban professionals), but instead of dressing in “preppy” style they wear flannel, beards, thick rimmed glasses, and arm tats. They listen to not-pop on vinyl. They ride fixies.

            Exactly. The majority are yuppies who choose to be ugly.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I’d be a little upset at having to pay an involuntary 20% “tip” if it wasn’t disclosed that it was a requirement beforehand, what the minimum wage is in that locality doesn’t enter into it.

        An undisclosed surcharge for sitting at a table of 6+, yes.

        I’m curious, why and when did “hipster” become a slur?

        When I was a kid a “hipster’ was something thar my grandmother used as a term of approval (“That Cap Calloway is a real hipster!”).

        I think it’s a “straw that broke the camel’s back” thing. Being hip to indie music got stacked with a bunch of obnoxious class/lifestyle things like being upper middle class yet wearing vintage T-shirts and selvage jeans instead of a white shirt and tie with wool trousers, prioritizing having obscure interests over liking good things that happen to be popular, paying a premium to have your foofed milk espresso drinks made from woman-owned fair trade coffee beans, drinking triple-hopped Imperial Pale Ale instead of literally any other alcohol, men growing ironic beards instead of being clean-shaven or, uh… sincere-bearded? Etc. etc.

    • Matt M says:

      Why are you still in Portland?

      Leave.

      • Plumber says:

        Why are you still in Portland?

        Leave

        What’s wrong with Portland?

        I visited Portland in the late 1990’s and it seemed to be a beautiful city that was almost as clean looking as Ottawa, Canada (which I visited in the 1980’s).

        I just did a quick web search and found that housing there is cheaper than all but in-land hellscapes compared to other big west coast American cities, if you have a job and roots in Portland why would you want to leave?

        • Matt M says:

          To me, there’s absolutely no logical reason to live in Portland (and I say that as someone who grew up in OR and has a lot of friends and family still in that area.)

          If you’re willing to put up with high cost of living and local politics dominated by SJW nonsense, the economic opportunities are significantly better in Seattle or SF. If you want to optimize for weather instead, you’d go to LA or San Diego. Cost of living in Portland is better than those places, but not by much, and it has a lot of the same problems those places do but with far less in terms of economic opportunity. Cost of living up there is still absurdly high compared to Texas, or any other part of flyover country. And you won’t have to live a closeted life where you’re terrified of expressing an authentic opinion which may cause your entire social circle to declare you a traitor and an enemy of the people.

          • AG says:

            LA weather is not…(and I don’t see San Diego weather being better unless you’re, like, right on the coast)

          • Matt M says:

            I lived in Ventura County for a few years… not quite LA but pretty close, and the weather was amazing. Warmer than Oregon in the winter, and cooler in the summer, with a little less rain overall.

            LA (inland) is a bit hotter in the summer sure, but you’ll never have to deal with snow.

            I’ve spent a few months in San Diego, never lived there, but the weather overall seemed amazing.

          • quanta413 says:

            San Diego weather is amazing even a little inland. It’s pretty good (read: still phenomenal compared to most of the world) in many areas even tens of miles from the coast. I grew up in the area.

            Portland’s weather sucks unless you really love the rain judging by the yearly weather reports where it’s typically raining 1/3 to 1/2 the time for half the months of the year.

          • dick says:

            Yes, the weather here is terrible, houses are overpriced, and the people here are very mean to Matt M, so no one should move here.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I got an inheritance while working in real estate and chose to go all-cash on a Portland house over a cheaper, congenial city in flyover country because I knew the area well enough that I ended up making a 100% profit, capital gains-free, after 2 1/2 years. I have to cycle out of the current house I own to leave.

        • Matt M says:

          Good excuse as any.

          I moved out of Oregon about six months after buying a house there. Selling it now. About to take the capital gains hit, which is a bit of an oof, but I’m never coming back, so there’s not much else to do and I need the cash to make a down payment on a similarly priced but twice as big and 15 years newer house here in Texas 🙂

    • ana53294 says:

      Most European countries where waiters are just normal employees (that means at least minimum wage, overtime, health insurance, Social Security and unemployment; I am not sure what is and isn’t paid to American waiters) have mostly symbolic tips (except for the UK, where they may charge you a service fee for big groups).

      In Spain, for example, if you are happy with the service, you round up the change to the nearest euro (20 cent tips for a 1.80 coffe, or 1.80 euros for an 18.20 meals). Plenty of people don’t give any tips, and it’s OK (tips in Spain are mostly given exceptionally, and not every time). But I have never, ever seen a compulsory service fee in Spain.

      I think that if they have a service fee, they should just include it in the price. So if a tuna salad costs 17 dollars without the fee, and the fee is 20%, they should just state the price of 20.40$ in their menu. You will pay 20.40$ for the 17$ tuna salad, so why not state that from the beginning? This way, I can see the price from the beginning. And a lot of people would not be able to estimate the service fee, so for them, the bill they get at the end may be something that requires using the credit card instead of using the 20 $ in cash you have allocated for the night.

      I think tipping on top of the food prices that you pay is a hidden way to fool customers who are bad at math. I don’t begrudge waiters a living wage; I just think they should already be getting a decent salary, or at the very least, the tips should be clear and easy to understand.

      • engleberg says:

        Yes, I hate ‘hey sucker, I’m jacking the price 20%’. I’m fine with slipping a few bills under the plate for whoever busses the table to hide from their boss.

        • gbdub says:

          The justification for service fees is only there in “tip expected” cultures – we did it for large groups when I was a waiter basically as insurance. Working a large group monopolized your time as a waiter often for a couple hours (particularly if you needed to split checks). Getting a stingy head of the party could blow your pay for the whole shift.

          We also made the service fee at the high end of “expected” tip (18-20%) to incentivize waiters to put up with the extra crap that always comes with big parties.

    • dick says:

      Sounds like the problem is 90% your friends, 9% the custom of tipping being kind of dumb, and 1% minimum wage laws. What restaurant was it? Portland has a good number of non-shitty restaurants where you order at a counter and bus your own table (which I’d say is synonymous with “no one will blame you for not tipping”).

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Pacific Pie Company on SE 7th Ave, an indie casual dining restaurant where the menu advertises milkshakes made with pie and a shot of liquor for the same high price as the mundane cocktails ($10.80 if they hit you with a mandatory tip) yet haven’t had them for 3 months because they supposedly can’t afford to replace a mixer, and entrees start at $13 before mandatory tip.
        I haaates it and can’t understand why the rest of the group likes it. The bait-and-switch drinks menu is my last straw on top of the load of hipster imitation of working-class restaurant vibe when I know darn well PNW working people with a responsible mortgage in a cheap suburb like my parents had in WA couldn’t afford it.

        • quanta413 says:

          I think you’re focusing on the wrong thing and should have been angrier about the lack of pie-based milkshakes first than the overpriced pot pies and mandatory tip.

          A lack of promised key lime pie shakes with vodka should be a crime.

        • dick says:

          Cutesy dessert place, recently opened, high foot traffic neighborhood… for that place, $13 for an entree doesn’t sound that bad actually. You can avoid the cutesiness and hipsterness by going down the street to the Lucky Lab and ordering the cheeseburger (and decidedly mediocre beer) but I don’t think you’ll save any money.

  5. dick says:

    Any opinions on whether therapy (meaning, seeing a therapist) is useful for a 4-year-old? The issue is excessive moodiness/tantrums, and does not include violence or developmental issues.

    The response to every search I’ve tried is websites for therapists who work with children, who unsurprisingly feel that they are effective, but my prior is that the main effectiveness of therapy (other than prescription drugs) is talking, and a 4-year-old lacks the ability to talk about their feelings in a meaningful way – e.g. you’re not going to get a useful answer to questions like “why did you get upset yesterday morning?”.

    I know this is a long shot. Interested in hearing opinions or anecdotes, but especially hoping for “a lot of people in the industry seem to think the ABC approach has promise but XYZ is ineffective”.

    • Well... says:

      Feel free to disregard if you’ve already heard this, but excessive tantrums and moodiness are probably normal for 4 year-olds in many circumstances.

      • dick says:

        Sure, you probably won’t be surprised to know that figuring out whether this is normal “grow out of it” behavior or not is part of the goal here.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I can’t help with the therapy stuff, personal opinion based on anecdotal evidence below.

      Bad moods in 3-5 year olds tend to be either poor sleep habits or lack of smooth free time. A lot of parents don’t realize that their kids are basically being shuttled between highly static and highly dynamic environments. Morning routines are often sitting at the breakfast table, then in a car seat, then a room full of toys and or other kids, then car again, then screen time then dinner. Low activity play (like sitting on a carpet moving a fire truck back and forth or just fiddling with something for 10 mins) is (I think) pretty important for processing and learning to balance emotional states. I notice my kids doing this for hours longer than usual after a particularly busy weekend.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I can’t help with the therapy stuff, personal opinion based on anecdotal evidence below.

      Bad moods in 3-5 year olds tend to be either poor sleep habits or lack of smooth free time. A lot of parents don’t realize that their kids are basically being shuttled between highly static and highly dynamic environments. Morning routines are often sitting at the breakfast table, then in a car seat, then a room full of toys and or other kids, then car again, then screen time then dinner. Low activity play (like sitting on a carpet moving a fire truck back and forth or just fiddling with something for 10 mins) is (I think) pretty important for processing and learning to balance emotional states. I notice my kids doing this for hours longer than usual after a particularly busy weekend.

    • March says:

      There’s play therapy.

      (Never done it, don’t know anyone personally who has done it, heard good results about it from internet friends.)

    • IrishDude says:

      The issue is excessive moodiness/tantrums, and does not include violence or developmental issues.

      Don’t know more specifics, but I got this book on spirited children to help with handling my 4-year old, which may be applicable to your situation. I’d describe him as having excessive moodiness and tantrums as well.

      From Amazon blurb: “The spirited child—often called “difficult” or “strong-willed”—possesses traits we value in adults yet find challenging in children. Research shows that spirited kids are wired to be “more”—by temperament, they are more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent, and uncomfortable with change than the average child.”

      My 4-year old is a handful, but the book – which I’m part-way in on – has been helpful in identifying what might be driving his behavior and suggesting techniques that address those issues. For example, my kid will flip out when play time is done and it’s time to take a bath. This is driven by his difficulties with transitions, and so an effective (though not perfect) technique is to prime him by giving him 5-minute and 1-minute warning before changing activities, making the transition to bath time easier for him to process.

      • Randy M says:

        The spirited child—often called “difficult” or “strong-willed”—possesses traits we value in adults yet find challenging in children.

        Sometimes when complimented on our children I have to admit that a lot of it is probably genetic, and furthermore that we as a society don’t want to raise a generation without a portion of rebels.

        • IrishDude says:

          The book contends that temperament is strongly influenced by genes. My role is in guiding how that temperament gets expressed, which certainly isn’t easy, but is rewarding. And while my older son is a little rebel, I hope to at least help him be a polite rebel 🙂

  6. taogaming says:

    I went to the San Antonio meetup at 2pm, but nobody was there. (I waited 10-15 minutes). To be fair, I did not RSVP (since I was not sure if I would be able to make it, as I had an out of town errand scheduled to go until….sometime).

  7. proyas says:

    Long ago, I read about what may have been a type of logical fallacy, wherein the person advocating for X strengthens his case by name-dropping, and demonstrating his superior knowledge (for example, by quoting Shakespeare or the names of obscure experts), in the hopes that listeners will be instinctively swayed by his IQ signaling, even if the substance of his argument is weak and he doesn’t really prove his point.

    For instance, if I were arguing during a debate that vaccines cause autism, I would impress the audience by demonstrating a photographic memory of the scientific literature (e.g. – names of authors, findings, statistical data, dates papers were published), even if the contents of those studies didn’t actually support my position. To the audience, my opponent would look “dumber” or less credible thanks to his inability to match my knowledge of highly specific details, even if the essence of his argument were stronger.

    Does anyone know what the name of this logical fallacy is? Is it in fact a logical fallacy, or is it something different?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      It sounds like appeal to authority.

    • AG says:

      do you mean: essays for English class

      Isn’t this just “appeal to authority”?

      • Matt M says:

        I think what he’s talking about here is slightly different from appeal to authority. Appeal to authority is part of what he’s saying, but not exclusively.

        Appeal to authority can be as simple as “X position is correct because authority Y says so.” But what’s being described here is more obfuscation. It’s an attempt to overwhelm an opponent/audience with so much information that they assume you must be well informed, and either won’t bother to verify the accuracy of your claims at all, or simply will be unable to keep up, respond to them all, etc.

        I’d also say that I’m not sure this is a fallacy necessarily. I mean, a legitimately well informed person might also sound/appear that way. My understanding of logical fallacies is that the method is fallacious even if correct. That is to say, “appeal to authority” is wrong, even if the authority is a legitimate, knowledgeable, respected authority.

        But citing a large number of facts, studies, etc. is only wrong if those studies are actually wrong (or do not actually support your position). It’s not a fallacious tactic, it’s just an improper result.

        • beleester says:

          Demonstrating that you’re well-informed and trying to look credible is an example of ethos, one of the three modes of persuasion. As you mention, this can be used by people who legitimately are well-informed and credible too.

          However, deliberately flooding out so much information that your opponent can’t address all of it at once is a Gish Gallop, which is a bad debate tactic.

          • Well... says:

            The emphasis seemed to be on the ability (and perhaps compulsion) to conjure up at least enough authoritative details to seem well-informed. Proyas didn’t mention the tactic of flooding out so much information that an opponent couldn’t respond, though that wasn’t precluded.

          • proyas says:

            Well…

            Exactly. “Gish Gallop” comes closer to the mark, but it still doesn’t precisely describe the debating tactic I’m describing (and which I’ve witnessed). While a “Gish Gallop” is “a technique used during debating that focuses on overwhelming one’s opponent with as many arguments as possible, without regard for accuracy or strength of the arguments,” I’m describing a tactic in which someone gives the appearance to the audience of overwhelming his opponent by doing a lot of name-dropping and displaying strong ethos (thanks, beleester) in the form of “mastery of the terminology of the field.” This is difference from the Gish Gallop since few, actual “arguments” need be put forth.

            The opponent then gives his response, which invariably seems slower-witted and much more bland, and the contrast between the two biases the audience in favor of the first debater.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’ve seen this phenomenon, too, but I don’t know a name for it.

          • Matt M says:

            It might also be worth distinguishing between using this tactic intentionally (the person knows that they don’t know anything, but deliberately implies that they do) and accidentally (the person thinks they know all this stuff, they’re just misinformed or using poor logic)

        • HeelBearCub says:

          It’s an attempt to overwhelm an opponent/audience with so much information

          That’s (roughly) a Gish Gallop.

          ETA: oops, beleester beat me to it.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I think there’s a difference between “I’m right because I’m getting my opinions from a high status person” and “I’m right because I’m giving off many high status signals”.

          Is there a fallacy of “I’m right because I’m *not* being high status, I’m being authentic”?

          • Matt M says:

            The Trump?

          • AG says:

            I’ve called it the Cult of Authenticity before.

            Others have referenced it as over-prioritizing the negation of privilege, though not in those exact terms.

            I guess “from the mouths of babes” might be a similar concept.

          • albatross11 says:

            In terms of logic, who is speaking doesn’t matter for the truth value of the argument made. But in terms of how convincing claims of fact are, who is speaking may affect how you assess the probability that those claims of fact are true. Something published in the New York Times is taken as more likely to be true than something said by Alex Jones on his show.

            Further, assessing complicated arguments is work, and it doesn’t come easily for most people, especially if there’s math or statistics involved. So it’s common to give more weight to complicated-sounding argument from what you consider credible sources.

            Both of these are heuristics, and they are regularly exploited by conmen and politicians and advertisers and such. And both these heuristics also create an incentive for high-prestige people and sources of information to lie or shade the truth or push unproven theories as certainties–that may ultimately diminish those peoples’/institutions’ credibility, but that’s far in the future–they can be effective in their current arguments right now.

    • J Mann says:

      It’s an appeal to authority or something like it, and while it might be a “fallacy” as a matter of formal logic, I’d argue it’s a relevant consideration from a normal intuitive or Bayesian approach.

      All other things being equal, if one person seems very familiar with the literature on a complex subject and another person doesn’t, I think that makes the familiar person’s conclusion somewhat more likely to be true. (Notwithstanding that the familiar person could be tricking me).

  8. Thegnskald says:

    Random mathematical nonsense:

    Want to calculate how long your well-trimmed beard (or hair) could get?

    Shave it off, keeping the shavings. Weigh the longest hair in an accurate scale, then measure it, and calculate length per weight unit. Now cut that hair in half and measure that.

    Multiply your total weight of hair by your length per weight unit; this is your total length. Divid your total weight by the half-hair; this is the approximate number of hairs. Divide total length by number of hairs; this is your average.

    Now:
    maxLength / (2 – (2 * Average / maxLength))

    This formula calculates the most likely maximum value of a set of evenly-distributed numbers with a ceiling. This is likely your maximum beard length.

    Divide by 2, because you want at least 50% fullness to avoid the beard being scraggly.

    (If someone can figure out a non-destructive mechanism of getting these measurements, that would be an improvement!)

    • Well... says:

      Now cut that hair in half and measure that.

      Which half? The half with the cut end will be presumably heavier than the half with the natural end. Or did you mean we should literally “split hairs” (down the middle)?

      If someone can figure out a non-destructive mechanism of getting these measurements, that would be an improvement!

      Allow one hair near the bottom of your chin* to continue to grow while you trip the rest of the beard as usual. Measure that one long hair regularly. You can keep this hair tucked up under your chain amongst the trimmed hairs when you’re not measuring it. When your measurements stop increasing, you have discovered how long your beard hair will grow (at least in the place on your face where you care about it).

      *If you want to know how long you could grow sideburns, choose a hair on your cheek, though this one will be harder to conceal when it’s not being measured.

      • Thegnskald says:

        I think that compressed diameter would also work for sufficiently long hair; if your hair loses 5% of it’s cross section every inch, your maximum length is around twenty inches.

        The problem with the single hair method is that if it has ever been trimmed, you don’t get accurate results. Also, sample size of one.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to grow your beard to the greatest length biologically possible…

      😛

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      This method doesn’t allow for improving your hair maintenance. Cream rinse, combing carefully, not giving it a chance to tangle, etc.

  9. AlexanderTheGrand says:

    Open question: what are the opinions on US sanctions on Turkey, as a response to a potentially wrongly-convicted prisoner?

    On one hand, it strikes me as a little too similar to Starship-Troopers philosophy. And, that one could find an infraction of that size in the tension between the US and any country, which makes me not trust the motives.

    On the other hand, it has use as a signaling mechansim. Both forcing people to choose a side, and as a display of economic superiority in that Turkey will hurt much more than the US.

    I’m hoping for an answer more thought out than my own.

    • Aapje says:

      Turkey/Erdogan has a policy of picking fights because his rhetoric requires enemies. He tends to kiss and make up when he has made too many enemies.

      There is relatively little point in giving in to a person with such a strategy, as they will just take the entire hand if you give them a finger.

    • broblawsky says:

      The main reason Brunson – and a dozen other Americans – were arrested was to force the US to extradite Fehthullah Gulen, Erdogan’s Emmanuel Goldstein-figure. On the one hand, retaliating makes sense – you can’t let this kind of thing go unpunished. On the other hand, I kinda expect Turkey to leave NATO within a month because of this, which is a serious blow to the US.

      • albatross11 says:

        Does this actually seem likely?

        Has anyone ever left NATO before? (France kinda-sorta did, but they’re still sort-of involved, too.) I’d like a base rate.

        My immediate assumption is that leaving NATO would cost Turkey access to a lot of advanced weapons systems, and that this would be a pretty big disincentive.

        • broblawsky says:

          Well, it’s an unprecedented event, so I can’t really set Bayesian priors. I can say that Erdogan seems happy to cozy up to the Russia/Iran/Qatar alliance right now. Solidifying that bond would logically involve distancing Turkey from NATO or leaving altogether. Also, Erdogan seems to genuinely believe that foreigners are responsible for Turkey’s economic problems, rather than it just being the backlash from their 2008-style construction bubble finally deflating.

      • ana53294 says:

        Greece would be happy though. That would mean that if they do go on a war, the US would have to side with Greece.

        And I don’t get the point of them staying with NATO. There was a discussion some time ago where most commenters here convinced me that the US could ignore an attack on the Baltic countries. And Turkey is not a very sympathetic ally; none of the European partners are likely to ever defend Turkey.

        Access to weapons could be a reason to remain in NATO, though.

        • Lambert says:

          Turkey’s a valuable ally because of the Dardanelles and Bosporus.
          It stands between Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and the rest of the world.
          This has been a strategically important place since the Trojan War.

          • John Schilling says:

            Other way around. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is absolutely no threat to “the rest of the world”; if Turkey opened the doors and stood aside, the Greek navy alone would likely stop them in the Aegean. But Russia’s defense is critically compromised if the rest of the world can land troops at will on their southern coast, and the Russian Black Sea fleet can’t stop that.

          • Nornagest says:

            But Russia’s defense is critically compromised if the rest of the world can land troops at will on their southern coast, and the Russian Black Sea fleet can’t stop that.

            Do you mean it can stop that, or am I missing something?

          • John Schilling says:

            Russia’s Black Sea Fleet cannot stop the rest of the world from invading southern Russia at will. It’s got three modern frigates and some Cold War leftovers, a total of four embarked helicopters, a single long-range air defense missile system, and by most accounts poorly-trained crews. One squadron of modern and one of antiquated strike fighters. The six new diesel-electric submarines are the only part that would pose a significant threat, but they could only delay things a bit. And even at the height of the Cold War, it was no match for NATO’s combined Mediterranean fleets.

            Turkey, can stop the rest of the world from invading Southern Russia. The Black Sea Fleet just needs to stop Turkey from invading Southern Russia. If Turkey is part of an anti-Russian alliance, Russia’s south coast is critically exposed and the Mediterranean is secure. If Turkey is part of a pro-Russian alliance, or at least faithfully neutral, Russia’s south coast is secure, and the Mediterranean is still secure.

          • Nornagest says:

            I see. I was focusing too much on the Black Sea Fleet and not enough on Turkey; if the fleet’s completely ineffective both defensively and offensively, then Turkey becomes strategically essential in a Russian conflict because it controls the Dardanelles and the Bosporus.

            That makes sense, thanks.

      • Matt M says:

        Turkey to leave NATO within a month because of this, which is a serious blow to the US.

        I think we’ll do just fine without one more country we’re supposed to be obligated to defend.

        • ana53294 says:

          I don’t think the rest of Europe would mind, either. Nobody is willing to go to war to defend Turkey.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Dunno. If Russia explicitly invaded and occupied it? I mean, I can see the “pox on both your houses” attitude in that case, but I can also see “Holy cow, there goes the Middle East!”

            If course, proponents of the latter perspective wouldn’t need NATO membership as an excuse to react — but it might be handy, and continued NATO membership might be enough of a deterrent to keep it from happening in the first place. Still, I would think this would loom larger in the minds of Turkey’s leaders than ours.

          • DeWitt says:

            We’ve had a war on that, haven’t we? We could go for a do-over if the Russians really want to insist on repeating the 19th century.

          • ana53294 says:

            If Russia explicitly invaded and occupied it?

            I think you are overstating Russian capabilities. It may have a big army, but they don’t spend that much effort training draftees (a guy told me that in the year he served, he shot a gun twice, because they were economising on bullets). A lot of their weapons are old.

            I think that Russia trying to invade Turkey would become a second Afghanistan, but without the Soviet Union’s resources to back it up. And Russians are much less willing to send their boys to die than they were then.

            I think that Russia may have the ability to conquer and occupy the Baltic countries; Turkey is a completely different target.

          • Aapje says:

            @ana53294

            In a way, it would be amusing if it would happen and the Kurds and Turks would work together against the Russians. The former are quite experienced in guerrilla warfare.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I think you are overstating Russian capabilities

            Probably, but not really my point, which is to suggest circumstances in which we really might decide it’s important to defend Turkey. Russian adventurism was always the raison d’être for NATO. (Totally agree that if Iran or Iraq invaded, Turkey’s membership in NATO would probably not be enough to get our attention — though in that scenario I’m not at all sure that Turkey would even try to invoke it.)

          • broblawsky says:

            The problem isn’t Russia invading Turkey. The problem is Russia allying with Turkey.

      • 10240 says:

        One response to this should be to strongly advise US citizens not to travel to Turkey, and leave if they are there, as their personal safety and freedom is not guaranteed. If you are of a less libertarian bent, ban US citizens from traveling to Turkey.

  10. Plumber says:

    albatross11 says:
    August 13, 2018 at 8:56 pm

    Connor Friedersdorf writes for the Atlantic, and seems to me to be a critic of the SJW movement……

    I first encountered the initials “SJW” on-line at of all things a Dungeons & Dragons forum that bans political topics, and a quick web search told me that it stood for “social justice warrior” and was a slur that originally was used previously “warrior for social justice” had typically been used in eulogies (for recently deceased labor and civil rights activists who were very old).

    This caused me some confusion and when I asked for clarification, as far as I can tell what is meant by “SJW” is a vaguely leftist scold, and when I asked for examples I was sent YouTube videos of mumbling young people chanting who-knows-what at college campuses.

    A little more research revealed that except for some on-line voices (and in a big world almost every idea has been said by someone on-line) the only things that I can find that resembles a “SJW movement” is some college students that pester other college students.

    Why should I care about this?

    The closest to a left wing scold person that I can recall that I’ve actually spoken to face to face in the last 20 years is the former Vice-President (an honorary position with no real power) of my old union local in San Jose, and he was born in 1933.

    The only college students that I’ve spoken to in the last 10 years for long enough for me to know that they were students have been a couple of interns for the Port of San Francisco (when I was a plumber there) and we didn’t discuss politics.

    As far as I can tell worry about “SJW’s” is mostly former collegians bemoaning current collegians.

    I understand that in the 1920’s it was a fad among college students to swallow live goldfish, which other than maybe increasing goldfish sales effected the majority of Americans not at all.

    Speaking as one of the majority of Americans without a college diploma, why should we care?

    How has any “SJW movement” effected us?

    • MartMart says:

      While SJW means someone who is vocal and on the left, how far on the left qualifies depends on the distance from the speaker.
      There is a significant portion of the right for whom the author of this blog, with his pro trigger warnings, and especially being friendly towards trans issues, would qualify as SJW.

      • Randy M says:

        I doubt it, but that would make an interesting survey question.

      • Bugmaster says:

        You may or may not be correct; personally, I don’t even know what the terms “right” and “left” mean anymore, so it’s hard to tell. That said, I associate the term SJW not merely with being vocal, but with being aggressively proactive. SJWs do not merely talk about social issues at length (though they do a lot of that as well, of course); they attempt to correct them through heavy social and political pressure, usually targeted at specific individuals who are perceived to be especially problematic.

      • rlms says:

        Unlikely; the central part of SJWness is feminism and on that issue Scott is opposed in terms of how he positions himself.

    • J Mann says:

      Online fora (and cons) are places where you’re likely to meet SJ and SJWs. Twitter is insufferably leftist from my perspective, but it’s mostly people expressing their insufferable opinions, not preventing other people from expressing theirs, so it’s more SJ than SJW. (In the course of a Blackkklansmans review, the BaldMove podcasters just decided that all racists should leave their community, and that all Trump supporters are racist, but I don’t know if that’s just a culture shift).

      IMHO, they’ve done gaming a fair amount of good by making the community more welcoming to women, cutting down on people creeping cosplayers at cons, and sensitizing players and GMs that campaigns with sexual violence etc are going to be really uncomfortable for some players. On the other hand, they can be mean to traditional nerds when they’re not careful.

      Every so often a con has a meltdown over whether a particular purported creep was punished too much or not enough. If you don’t behave off color at a convention, you’ll probably never notice.

    • Civilis says:

      There will always be differences in categorization when dealing with a subjective subject like ‘what constitutes a Social Justice Warrior’?

      Coming from an observer on the right, ‘Social Justice’ is a variety of left-wing political thought centered around identity group politics, as opposed to the more traditional economic class based leftist politics. An old school working class labor organizer could be far left without falling into social justice categorization. However, most of the vocal political activist types on all sides come from the young and college educated, so those have a disproportionate influence on what gets attention from the political parties and the media.

      If you’re working in a blue-collar trade, it’s possible that this has mostly passed you by. About the only byproduct from the social justice activism I can think of that would impact you is the ‘hostile workplace’ line of thought, where things that would have been jokes twenty years ago that touch on race or sex are now fireable offenses, and any racial (though not gender) disparity in hiring or promotion is grounds for a costly lawsuit.

      The other way this might effect you is in your hobbies. I don’t know what hobbies you have, but every hobby I have has been negatively affected by ‘social justice’ type activism. One ready example is in the realm of professional sports; to someone on the right, the rules seem to be written to allow social justice activism by players and sports journalists; athletes are promoted for their membership in social justice favored groups or open support for social justice causes instead of athletic ability. Pay attention to whatever hobbies you have: are the people getting the most attention the best in the hobby, or are they less-talented people that happen to fall into a protected class?

      If you haven’t noticed social justice activism affecting you, congratulations.

      • Plumber says:

        “….If you’re working in a blue-collar trade, it’s possible that this has mostly passed you by. About the only byproduct from the social justice activism I can think of that would impact you is the ‘hostile workplace’ line of thought…”

        Oh, that did happen.

        It was fun.

        Instead of having us working management has us gather and watch a “sensitivity” video, during which we made as many rude comments about each others ancestry as we could think of, the highlight was an extended discussion of whether those of us with Irish or those of us with Russian ancestry consume more alcohol.

        It was a nice break.

        • Bugmaster says:

          The same thing happened at our workplace once; only instead of a happy fun Irish time, we got a stern talking-to by HR, letting us know that we’re one loose joke away from unemployment. Fun times !

          • Plumber says:

            “The same thing happened at our workplace once; only instead of a happy fun Irish time, we got a stern talking-to by HR, letting us know that we’re one loose joke away from unemployment. Fun times !”

            @Bugmaster,
            This is among the reasons why I’m strongly pro-union, because in the words of the 19th century Knights of Labor one may “Meet the boss with a manly bearing”.

            I was a union construction worker for more than a decade (now I mostly do repair work), and attempts by management to inflict that kind of petty tyranny and sado-masochistic games would be laughed at and ignored.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Plumber:
            Illinois? There aren’t many union construction jobs left, except there and a little in a few adjoining states, AFAIK.

          • Plumber says:

            “Illinois? There aren’t many union construction jobs left, except there and a little in a few adjoining states, AFAIK.”

            @HeelBearCub,

            I don’t know about Illinois, but it’s booming in San Francisco (I’ve never seen so many cranes!)

            Here’s a list of apprenticeship programs to join in California.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I first encountered the initials “SJW” on-line at of all things a Dungeons & Dragons forum that bans political topics, and a quick web search told me that it stood for “social justice warrior” and was a slur that originally was used previously “warrior for social justice” had typically been used in eulogies (for recently deceased labor and civil rights activists who were very old).

      The current use of Social Justice Warrior or SJW is not directly descended from that earlier meaning.

      Speaking as one of the majority of Americans without a college diploma, why should we care?

      A majority (almost 70%) of Americans who graduate high school go on to college.

      • Plumber says:

        “A majority (almost 70%) of Americans who graduate high school go on to college”

        I specified “college diploma”, and

        “Just over a third of American adults have a four-year college degree, the highest level ever measured by the U.S. Census Bureau. In a report released Monday, the Census Bureau said 33.4 percent of Americans 25 or older said they had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher”

        which is the “highest ever”

        According to the census.(as of 2015) about 42.3% of Americans 25 years old and older have an “Assiociates” (two years) degree “and higher”, but now (unlike my youth) most (58.9%) adults 25 years old and older do have “some college”.

        I have had “some college” myself, which I mostly spent in the welding booth at a “community college”, practicing welding.

        One day of one class is “some college”, and even now which has the “highest ever” percentage of Americans having spent time in college most Americans don’t get even a two year college diploma.

        I suppose that iif you go to Reed college (judging by all the reports) you may encounter some but *news flash* most Americans will never step foot on that campus, or a school like it, and these “roving bands of SJW’s” that so much ink (and even more pixels) are just not something that most people encounter.

        All the hand-wringing that I’ve read recently about “SJW’s” (a newly invented term that bugs me) really seems just seems like a sibling squabble to me

        As for the term itself, it seems to either be “ironic” which really irritates me, or the users of the slur just don’t like justice, which is like saying “I like evil”.

        I happen to work at The Hall of Justice in San Francisco, and I take my job seriously, and I really don’t like to see the word “justice” mangled.

        I’m reminded of that when I was a youth being “hip” to things (knowledge of art and culture) was something to aspire to, but now in the 21st century “hipster” now seems to be a slur.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I think you’re focusing too much on the collegiate thing, which overlaps SJWism but is not necessary for SJWism.

          You’ll notice SJWism when you make a joke you thought was innocuous on FaceBook and someone forms a twitter mob to get you fired from you job. College doesn’t have anything to do with it.

          • Plumber says:

            “….You’ll notice SJWism when you make a joke you thought was innocuous on FaceBook and someone forms a twitter mob to get you fired from you job….”

            I’ve never been on Facebook, and what the Hell is a “Twitter mob”?

          • Randy M says:

            This is the go-to example.
            Typically attracting the attention of a twitter mob requires involving oneself in twitter and saying something, although doing something that gets caught on smart-phone video and posted by someone else is also possible.
            The end goal of a twitter mob is to convince the target’s employer or potential customers that they are a liability because of bad thoughts, usually of the ist variety, and have them fired.
            Occasionally this backfires into a counter mob buycott. Yes, it’s a weird world.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Okay, fine then. You’ll be at conference, and you’ll make a joke to one of your friends, someone will overhear it (and mishear/understand part of it at that), they’ll take your picture, tweet it calling you out for your x-ism, and everyone will get fired.

          • Brad says:

            when you make a joke you thought was innocuous on FaceBook and someone forms a twitter mob to get you fired from you job.

            Out of the three hundred some odd million Americans, how many would you estimate have had this experience?

          • Thegnskald says:

            Brad –

            It isn’t the number that is important, it is the chilling effect it has on society in general.

          • Brad says:

            @Thegnskald
            The comment I quoted said:

            You’ll notice SJWism when …

            Since this happens about as often as being killed by a meteor, it follows from Conrad Honcho’s argument that virtually no one should be noticing “SJWism”.

            If you want to make a completely different, impossible to quantity or substantiate, argument about “chilling effects” you are free to do so but it has nothing to do with this exchange.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Brad –

            Your argument has nothing to do with the debate taking place.

            If a black man, annoyed somebody isn’t taking lynching seriously, tells somebody they’ll notice it if they get lynched, the appropriate response isn’t to ask how many black men actually get lynched, because that isn’t actually what he is arguing – he is pointing out that if you wait to do something about it until it happens to you, it is too late to do anything about it.

            The point at which you are the target of a Twitter mob is too late to do anything about the problem of Twitter mobs.

            And “chilling” isn’t a nebulous argument, it is the point of the tactic in the first place. The goal isn’t “Punish this person”, it is “Eradicate this behavior”. We can argue over whether or not it is an effective tactic, but the moral implication vis a vis chilling is in full effect, since that is the damned point. If you don’t realize that, you should think a lot harder about this before getting involved in these discussions – and if you do realize that, then you are just being disingenuous here. Either way, it is not a flattering picture of either you or the position you represent.

          • Brad says:

            @Thegnskald
            Thanks for your input. I’ll give your opinions of me, my motives, and my arguments exactly the consideration they deserves.

          • Plumber says:

            “I think you’re focusing too much on the collegiate thing, which overlaps SJWism but is not necessary for SJWism…..”

            @Conrad Honcho,

            I’m focusing on “the collegiate thing” because when I initially came across the term “SJW” and asked what that was and then examples of people doing it all the examples were of collegiate shenanigans.

            From the descriptions from the people that complain about “SJW’s” an SJW seems to be young people that scold other young people that they must be true to cultural changes that were hashed out and made when I was a child in the 1970’s, which seems like advocating for and against “Free Silver” in the 20th century.

            What is the purpose of fights over things that are over and done with?

            “…this happens about as often as being killed by a meteor, it follows from Conrad Honcho’s argument that virtually no one should be noticing “SJWism”…”

            @Brad,

            Until I saw the initials SJW on-line a year ago, I was unaware of it, and I still have never encountered it face-to-face, unless you mean what I was told in elementary school in the 1970’s, by the 1980’s when I was in high school no one bothered anymore, these things (feminism, gay acceptance, et cetera) just were, and the main “political” topic was how in Hell were we going to avoid homelessness in the crap economy the baby boomers voted for.

          • Brad says:

            @Plumber

            Until I saw the initials SJW on-line a year ago, I was unaware of it, and I still have never encountered it face-to-face,

            I was unaware of it until I started participating here, and likewise have never met anyone that would qualify. I consider the term somewhere between a weakman and boogieman and think of it primarily as a negative signal about the person using it.

        • Civilis says:

          It also could be that as someone living in San Fransisco, you’re so steeped in the positive and negative effects of social justice that you can’t see the forest for the trees, given that San Fransisco and environs are basically ground zero for the modern incarnation of social justice. Without trying to play motte and bailey games as to what exactly can be blamed on social justice (or, charitably, what beneficial effects its had), you can compare the situation in San Fransisco to older left-leaning urban areas to have some idea as to what effects social justice politics has had.

          • Plumber says:

            “It also could be that as someone living in San Fransisco, you’re so steeped in the positive and negative effects of social justice that you can’t see the forest for the trees…”

            That may very well be, as except for a couple of months in Seattle in the late 1990’s, and three months that I worked in Hollister, I’ve never soent more than a week outside of the San Francisco bay area (unless San Jose doesn’t count as “bay area” which is a contention I’ll gladly entertain!).

            I’m very curious if you can expand on this idea.

          • Civilis says:

            “That may very well be, as except for a couple of months in Seattle in the late 1990’s, and three months that I worked in Hollister, I’ve never spent more than a week outside of the San Francisco bay area (unless San Jose doesn’t count as “bay area” which is a contention I’ll gladly entertain!).”

            If I was going to talk about the positive and negative effects of Mormonism, it would be hard to explain them to someone that had spent all their life in Salt Lake City. I’ve lived almost all my life in the Washington DC suburbs, and as such, my perspective on national politics and the running of the federal government is very different than what most Americans experience.

            I have relatives in and around the bay area. By the standards of the rest of the US, San Fransisco is not normal (and the same could be equally said for Salt Lake City and Washington DC). One of the flaws associated with modern leftist politics (of the versions identified with ‘progressive’ and ‘social justice’) is an attempt to apply values typical of San Fransisco to the rest of the United States.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          As for the term itself, it seems to either be “ironic” which really irritates me, or the users of the slur just don’t like justice, which is like saying “I like evil”.

          I happen to work at The Hall of Justice in San Francisco, and I take my job seriously, and I really don’t like to see the word “justice” mangled.

          This overlooks the S and the W. This is like saying people complaining about a “Pineapple Pizza Mafia” just don’t like pizza.

          The modifier and role are important. The noun is mostly a rhetorical boo light, “these people are bad”, but when employed responsibly can serve to zero in on the more aggressive adherents. The modifier, in light of the negative presentation, suggests that they agree with you that the central concept being mangled is a bad thing – and the mangling is being done by the very people they are complaining about.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I happen to work at The Hall of Justice in San Francisco, and I take my job seriously, and I really don’t like to see the word “justice” mangled.

          I’m reminded of that when I was a youth being “hip” to things (knowledge of art and culture) was something to aspire to, but now in the 21st century “hipster” now seems to be a slur.

          I’m feeling a distinct tugging in the region of my lower extremities.

          • Plumber says:

            I’m absolutely serious.

            I’m 50 years old and I really do remember when “hipster” was a term of praise.

            I also had a father who used to hang out at Greenwich Village clubs, and still said “Ya dig?” to ask if he was understood.

        • lvlln says:

          I happen to work at The Hall of Justice in San Francisco, and I take my job seriously, and I really don’t like to see the word “justice” mangled.

          Unfortunately, the mangling of the word “justice” has little to do with the term “Social Justice Warrior,” because use of the term “Social Justice” to describe the intersectional/3rd wave/postmodern feminsim that the people called SJWs follow predates the use of the term “Social Justice Warrior.” I understand that “social justice” used to mean something very different in the past, but it seems to have been co-opted as a label for one specific ideology & worldview.

          • AG says:

            Yep, I’m constantly reminded of this when I see community buildings and churches that list soup kitchen or toy drive or whatnot volunteer sign-ups/ads under a “social justice” section of their bulletin boards.

            I’ve also seen some cringe-inducing workshops promoting all sorts of abusable concepts, but since, in meatspace practice, they seemed to be aimed at helping domestic abuse victims get the strength to leave, I filed them under “All debates are bravery debates/competing access needs.”
            (It’s like the few times I’ve been dragged to adult Bible study, and the people involved are pulling out milquetoast self-improvement interpretations from the verses while my brain is supplying all of the Abuse-Justifications that said verses have been used for, and I STFU about voicing those, because the people in that group have boots-on-the-ground done way more altruism than I have, due to believing in their milquetoast interpretations.)

    • Bugmaster says:

      How has any “SJW movement” effected us?

      Well, that depends on who “us” are. Still, here are a few examples; note that I am not making any kind of a moral judgement here, merely listing SJW accomplishments.

      * The #metoo movement. Removal of several prominent individuals from power and/or employment (primarily, in the movie/TV industry).
      * The push (in some places, a requirement) for an increased proportion of women (and, to a lesser extent, minorities) to be hired at prominent job positions.
      * A shift in the corporate culture due to the two points above, toward increased segregation between men and women in the workplace.
      * Increased centralization and control of user-generated content on all major social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
      * The shifting of focus in several nerdy online and offline communities (including open source coding, science fiction fandom, etc.) toward promoting diversity and inclusion, and away from their original sub-cultures.
      * The same kind of focus shift in several popular entertainment franchises (e.g. certain comics, video games, movies, hobby games, etc.); which occasionally leads to significant reduction of the fanbase population.
      * All-gender bathrooms becoming the norm, and in fact a legal requirement in some places.

      You might still argue that these effects are trivial fads, but, at the very least, I think it’s clear that they are not limited to college students.

      • Well... says:

        Also:

        * The removal of Confederate memorials (done in the rudest, most heritage-denying way possible — that is my chief objection).
        * Campaigns to replace on US currency the Founding Fathers and former presidents with likenesses of people like Harriet Tubman.
        * (Possible) legitimization of socialism in mainstream American politics. (Effectively moving the Moderate Left further Left, weakening the Center and deepening the Cultural Divide.)

        • Bugmaster says:

          These are all valid points, but I’m not sure to which extent they have been accomplished. The Confederate memorials, maybe, but the other two appear to still be a work in progress.

        • rlms says:

          Campaigns to replace on US currency the Founding Fathers and former presidents with likenesses of people like Harriet Tubman.

          Why is that at all important to anything?

          • Well... says:

            I too have trouble seeing how anyone could get very up in arms about it, but clearly some people do. Symbolism can often be important. Who’s on our money becomes part of the cultural background.

          • Matt M says:

            Because it’s a tribal power struggle.

            It doesn’t really matter what tribal power struggles are actually about. But once they exist, neither side can simply surrender. Winning matters because showing that you have more power than the enemy tribe matters.

          • quanta413 says:

            @rlms

            The problem is that your question flows in both directions. Why should anyone go to the work of changing the bills either? Why not rotate the picture every 5 years? Why not just have an intricate geometric design full of pyramids and eyes…?

            Matt M’s answer is correct though. Symbolism does matter, because winning even a totally meaningless struggle is a sign of strength. It’s not like people spend many real resources arguing about what should go on a bill either. It’s mostly campaigns of words, and words are cheap.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I don’t think there was much of anyone else like Harriet Tubman, though I’d be pleased to find if there is.

          Why shouldn’t she be commemorated?

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, who goes on the currency seems like an entirely symbolic issue. It’s kinda hard to get worked up about, to my mind.

          • Christophe Biocca says:

            I don’t think it’s so much who gets added as much who gets removed to make room (or, like we did in Canada, who gets shrunk to fit 3 people alongside them on the same bill) that ends up being the issue.

            IIRC Europe has the best fix for this: Use multiple versions of each denomination that each have different people/things. Once you commit to that adding more people is not a problem.

            Still I’m personally torn between “remove Andrew Jackson because he was an incredible asshole” and “keep Andrew Jackson on the $20 forever, because it is the ultimate show of disrespect for a man who spent so much effort to kill the Federal Reserve’s predecessor”.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            All of the portraits used on dollar bills have been prominent politicians, with a majority of them having been president.

            Tubman was neither. She wasn’t even a particularly influential activist, from what I can tell. Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass were a lot more influential. AFAIK, Tubman is preferred because she ticks more ‘oppression boxes’, not because her accomplishments make her outshine Anthony and Douglass.

            @Christophe Biocca

            The Euro notes are actually generic and feature windows or gateways on one side and bridges on the other. The bridges are semi-fictional, to not offend, as there are fewer bank notes than countries, so not all countries could be represented by a bridge.

            Amusingly, a Dutch artist decided to turn fiction into reality by building all of the euro note bridges.

            The coins are different on one side for each country. My country has the monarch on there. Countries can also create two commemorative €2 coins a year, although the other countries have to approve. In 2015, Belgium wanted to create a €2 coin that commemorates the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s defeat in the Battle of Waterloo, but this was blocked by France.

            Belgium resorted to making a €2.5 coin, that is not legal tender outside of Belgium (countries can make irregular coins that are not legal tender throughout the euro zone).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            ticks more ‘oppression boxes’

            No, Tubman is the Black person most recognizable as working to end slavery for at least some individuals. She is an iconic American figure. She has a good story, and people like good stories. The actual accomplishments may have been small and symbolic, but myths are frequently made of the small and symbolic.

            What is Frederick Douglas known for iconically? His hair?

            Tubman and “Underground Railroad” go together hand and glove.

            Now, mind you, I’d love to have Douglas on currency as well. Maybe, put him with Lincoln on the $5.

          • Matt M says:

            No, Tubman is the Black person most recognizable as working to end slavery for at least some individuals. She is an iconic American figure. She has a good story, and people like good stories.

            Most recognizable and most iconic are not things that are simply states of nature. They come about intentionally, through great effort, mainly from the organized education and media systems.

            It would not be unreasonable to speculate that “checks the right oppression olympics boxes” is one of the reasons why the establishment chose to make her recognizable and iconic, rather than highlighting someone else.

          • AG says:

            Just as Andrew Jackson was lionized, intentionally, through great effort, mainly from the organized education and media systems, such that he was revered enough to be put on the $20?

          • Matt M says:

            Indeed.

            Jackson has somehow gone from lionized for representing the best of American ideals to being vilified as a homicidal monster.

            And he accomplished that transition all while being dead.

            And it happened without anyone really uncovering any “new” historical evidence about his life and times.

          • Aapje says:

            @HeelBearCub

            I wasn’t alive at the time, but judging by his wikipedia page, Douglass was highly respected and influential at the time:

            he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, gaining note for his oratory[6] and incisive antislavery writings. In his time, he was described by abolitionists as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.[7][8] Northerners at the time found it hard to believe that such a great orator had once been a slave.[9]

            Douglass wrote several autobiographies. He described his experiences as a slave in his 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which became a bestseller

            He also held several political positions (relatively minor, but of course one can make a good argument that he wasn’t able to get better ones due to his race).

            Tubman doesn’t seem to have been much of a leader or politician, but more of a hard worker. Again, the existing dollar portraits heavily favor leaders.

            Her job for the underground railroad was people smuggling, apparently smuggling about 70 people, out of many thousands who were smuggled in total. So there were many more smugglers, as well as some very important helpers like Levi Coffin, who provided shelter, food, money and transportation for thousands. Of course, Coffin is white, so his race disqualifies his as a symbol for the underground railroad, for most modern progressives.

            It seems to me that Tubman is less a symbol because she was a truly exceptional person (rather than one of many), but her life fits a narrative, similar to how Rosa Parks and Aurelia Browder fit a narrative better than the other people who were arrested and became plaintiffs for not sitting at the back of the bus.

            Now, of course one can argue that the portraits on dollars should stop being the most influential leaders and instead should be symbols*, but the people who want Tubman never seem to explicitly argue for that. Instead, they generally seem to argue for making race, gender and such a major factor in deciding who to pick, which I reject.

            * Of course, in that case, why Tubman and not MLK, who is a much, much, much, much bigger symbol?

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Why shouldn’t she be commemorated?

            she should and is

            let me echo other commenters in saying that who’s on the money doesn’t matter very much, but it seems pretty clear that the other people on the money follow a certain theme: they were very important leaders who made significant policy and country-wide changes (and, admittedly, were all men.) Tubman is just a person who was heroic; more “Davy Crockett” than “Abraham Lincoln”. From a neutral perspective, this doesn’t really line up with the other representatives on the money, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Tubman is here just because she’s a twofer (black woman) and because We Need Diversity !!!. Someone like Frederick Douglass would probably be a better choice, and MLK doubly so – not just for being male, but because they made a big difference in America’s history. Of course, maybe that’s a bad metric for the money in general, but that’s a separate discussion…and since this doesn’t matter much, one probably not worth having.

            as a side note: because of various oppressions, minorities had trouble making a big impact on history, regardless of their qualifications. and I get that, but in my eyes the better way is to let these things come gradually as those oppressions subside and more minorities have these opportunities. But I do understand the issue with this standard in the eyes of many.

          • rlms says:

            If you look at the Wikipedia page for the $20 bill, pre-Federal Reserve it portrayed a lot of people who seem more obscure to me than Harriet Tubman (Stephen Decatur, Daniel Manning, John Marshall, and Hugh McCulloch). Also, from 1865 to 1869 it had Pocahontas.

          • quanta413 says:

            What if we got Douglass instead of Tubman and as a throwback to the ancient bills Sitting Bull instead of Pocahontas? I dunno if Sitting Bull would have approved though. Or Douglass for that matter.

            MLK can rotate in on the centennial of the civil rights act. Although once again… approved?

            Then again, as mentioned upthread, no one asked Jackson either, and he would have hated the modern Federal Reserve.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            There is nothing that says the current practice of who is in the currency needs to be retained exactly as it is. It’s “whoever or whatever we please”. There is no need to keep it presidents only. They aren’t royalty.

            @Aapje:
            Yes Douglas was quite accomplished. But Tubman is the one kids learn about in grade school in the US. Or at least the one the kids remember, because the phrase “Underground Railroad” is extremely evocative. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

          • AnonYEmous says:

            There is nothing that says the current practice of who is in the currency needs to be retained exactly as it is. It’s “whoever or whatever we please”. There is no need to keep it presidents only. They aren’t royalty.

            fine, but the point is that this is a significant departure from the existing policy (for at least like 100 years), which warrants an actual reason; so far it does seem like the reason for most people is just, well, diversity or whatever. There are plenty of heroes of all races, so again this has to be about diversity or whatever, and there are legitimate reasons to oppose it.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @HeelBearCub: “My report is on Harriet Tubman, who resisted slavery before the Civil War by inventing the subway.”

          • Aapje says:

            @HeelBearCub

            I haven’t been too school in the US, but I presume that they also tend to teach MLK, John Adams, FDR, Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, etc.

            I get why Tubman is a better choice than a random American, what I don’t get is why she is a better choice than so many others, that are quite well known. The only reason that I can come up with to prefer her is identity politics and/or white male guilt. The advocates of Tubman tend to reinforce that notion with their poor arguments and frequent invocation of identity politics as the reason to have her on the dollar.

            @Le Maistre Chat

            Tubman invented the footlongs???

          • Plumber says:

            “I haven’t been too school in the US, but I presume that they also tend to teach MLK, John Adams, FDR, Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, etc…..”

            @Aapje,

            Not much that I remember, as except for  a MLK speech that one teacher had us listen to in one English class I learned those names from library books.

            The main lessons “taught” that I remember were how to dodge, duck, run, what it feels like to be sucker punched and knocked unconscious, and the teacher saying “That’s what you get for walking alone”, until I dropped out in 1986.

            Maybe those names were taught in the senior year of high school, which I missed.

      • rlms says:

        All-gender bathrooms becoming the norm, and in fact a legal requirement in some places.

        Really? Do you mean actually gender-neutral, or trans people being allowed in the toilet of the gender they identify with?

        • James says:

          I can’t speak for them being a legal requirement anywhere, but lots of campuses now have mixed-gender bathrooms. I’ve been in one.

          • Iain says:

            Culture wars aside, it actually makes a ton of sense for single-occupant bathrooms to be gender neutral. There’s no sense in having people hop up and down waiting for the “men’s” bathroom at the coffee shop to be free while the identical “women’s” bathroom right next to it sits unused.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, single-occupant bathrooms should be unisex. Multiple-occupant bathrooms are a tradeoff. Saying “all genders allowed” means that a lot of people will be less comfortable using them for awkwardness/modesty reasons, as well as occasionally for creepy voyeur reasons. But it also sidesteps the whole trans bathroom issue, nonbinary issue, etc.

            I don’t know how many people are made uncomfortable one way vs the other, but my strong impression is that a combination of which groups are most organized/vocal and which groups get favorable/unfavorable media coverage has overridden any notion of, say, trying to weigh whether a change in bathroom access rules is ultimately a good or bad policy via balancing the impacts.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Culture wars aside, it actually makes a ton of sense for single-occupant bathrooms to be gender neutral. There’s no sense in having people hop up and down waiting for the “men’s” bathroom at the coffee shop to be free while the identical “women’s” bathroom right next to it sits unused.

            yeah, this

            i can definitely recall a few annoying situations like this one that had no reason to happen; I guess it’s sort of a subsidy to the sex that use the bathroom less often, since they have it free anytime, but screw them, they can wait in line just like I can

          • ana53294 says:

            There’s no sense in having people hop up and down waiting for the “men’s” bathroom at the coffee shop to be free while the identical “women’s” bathroom right next to it sits unused.

            I don’t know what kind of coffee shop you go to, but this has never happened in my experience. The queue is always longer at the female bathroom (women need to take undress and dress, men have it easier, men’s queues move faster).

          • The Nybbler says:

            The queue is always longer at the female bathroom (women need to take undress and dress, men have it easier, men’s queues move faster).

            True everywhere but where tech is, as the highly-unbalanced male-female ratio reverses the situation.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nybbler: Are you forgetting or accounting for the male-bodied lesbians in tech?

          • ana53294 says:

            True everywhere but where tech is, as the highly-unbalanced male-female ratio reverses the situation.

            OK, that makes sense. But then the argument that separated bathrooms are a hidden subsidy for women is nonsense. If anything, it is a hidden subsidy for men.

            The tech is located in such a tiny speck of the planet, that if we changed the bathroom queues to be co-ed, the average waiting time for men would increase, and would decrease for women in 99% of the cases.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @ana53294
            Yes, usually separated bathrooms work out better for men. Sports stadiums and tech being the main exceptions.

            @Le Maistre Chat
            There has long been guarded* speculation that the prevalence of transgender in tech is a result of the overlong lines for the men’s room, or even a biological response like frogs or Jurassic Park dinosaurs to the lack of women. However, there still aren’t enough transwomen to make a difference and no one really believes those theories anyway. I don’t think.

            * because open speculation is likely to get you fired

          • Matt M says:

            True everywhere but where tech is, as the highly-unbalanced male-female ratio reverses the situation.

            Also sporting events. I once unironically saw a bunch of criticism directed at stadium design for the crime of having fewer female bathrooms than male ones…

          • dick says:

            There has long been guarded* speculation that the prevalence of transgender in tech is a result of the overlong lines for the men’s room, or even a biological response like frogs or Jurassic Park dinosaurs to the lack of women.

            Er… This is a joke that didn’t land, right?

            On a separate note, I think the #1 bathroom problem facing office workers today is the “stall-to-employee ratio designed for a pre-smartphone world” situation.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Er… This is a joke that didn’t land, right?

            That sort of speculation actually occurs, but I’m pretty sure it is in jest.

            On a separate note, I think the #1 bathroom problem facing office workers today is the “stall-to-employee ratio designed for a pre-smartphone world” situation.

            More like “stall to employee ratio not designed for space-filling open office plans”. Smartphones are a scapegoat. For instance, Google Mountain View once had an OSHA violation successfully filed against it, because they had too few mens toilets. No smartphones when those regs were written.

          • ana53294 says:

            More like “stall to employee ratio not designed for space-filling open office plans”.

            For people with ASD (which the tech world is filled with), open plan offices are much worse than for neurotypicals. And open plan offices are terrible for everybody. I share an office, but I am thankful every day that we have a door, I have a wall behind me, and nobody can look at my screen.

            If a toilet stall is the only place where you can get some kind of privacy, then people will spend more time than necessary.

          • dick says:

            If someone really told you that they thought people in the tech industry were transitioning their gender because the line for the mens’ room was too long, I think it may be safe to assume they were joking, yes.

        • Lambert says:

          ‘Lockable room with one toilet, a sink and some kind of hand-drying apparatus’ is pretty common where space and throughput are not critical.

        • rlms says:

          Single occupancy rooms, sure, but like Iain says I don’t think that’s necessarily SJWs gorn mad rather than simple practicality. Multiple occupancy I’ve seen about once, in the most SJWy part of my university. That doesn’t seem like a norm; certainly I’ve not heard anything about legal requirements.

          • Nornagest says:

            My university’s dorms had multi-occupant unisex bathrooms, but I graduated a few years before Social Justice started taking off, so it was probably not an SJ thing (though I did see a fair amount of proto-SJ stuff on campus while I was there). It’s conceivably gotten more common since, but I haven’t seen much evidence of it.

            I have seen a lot of places designate all their existing one-occupant bathrooms as all-gender, or designate a broom closet or something as a third gender changing room, but that’s about as cheap as cheap signaling gets.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, both cheap signaling and also probably doing some good, in the case that there’s someone around who genuinely isn’t comfortable with the mens or womens room (or thinks they’ll get hassled if they use either one).

          • ana53294 says:

            I know some women who feel uncomfortable disrobing even in front of other women (presumably, there are men who are shy too). This is why, even in gender-segregated changing rooms you will have cabins for showering and changing.

            The public swimming pool I go to has a common changing room with private stalls for everybody. I don’t think it has anything to do with SJW. Personally, I don’t have any issue with it (I just usually use the family ones, because the others are too small; in a women’s changing room, I would have more space).

        • Lillian says:

          All gender bathroom have existed in even deeply conservative areas for a long time. It’s just that the traditional label on them is “Family Bathrooms”. They can be quite useful even for people not travelling with children, and i’m personally fond of them at airports since they’re an easy place to change clothes when travelling between different climates. In fact, i find myself moderately annoyed by the trend in more left wing areas of relabelling “Family Bathrooms” to “Gender Free/Neutral” bathrooms. Because whereas using the former felt like availing myself of a convenience that has been made available to the public, using the latter feels like participating in a political act, and i despise having my normal behaviour be politicized even when i don’t much disagree with the politics in question.

      • Plumber says:

        All-gender bathrooms becoming the norm, and in fact a legal requirement in some places

        I know that the single occupancy restrooms at the San Francisco Public Defenders building have been re-labeled “All Gender” (including the ones with Urinals), but at The Hall of Justice (where courts, cops, DA’s, and a jail are) the restroomd are still labelled “Men’s” and “Women’s”

      • Chalid says:

        A shift in the corporate culture due to the two points above, toward increased segregation between men and women in the workplace.

        What specifically are you thinking about here?

        • Bugmaster says:

          Some studies came out recently, indicating that managers are increasingly reluctant to put men and women on the same team. Senior male employees are likewise reluctant to mentor junior female employees. Senior managers are instituting a policy of never being alone in the room with a female employee. In general, increasing numbers of male employees are starting to stay away from female ones as much as possible.

  11. timujin says:

    If there’s a second guy named Yudkowsky, and he decides to become an AI safety researcher, would that count as nominative determinism?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Not unless every AI researcher came to be know as “a Yudowsky”.

      “Those Yudowskies have made an incredibly savvy AGI” would need to be a sentence that parses correctly.

      • timujin says:

        “Every AI researcher to be known as a Yudkowsky” is way too strict a criterion.

        Wikipedia article on nominative determinism lists examples such as an author of a book on polar exploration named Daniel Snowman, even though not every author of a snow-related book is known as a snowman. A name only has to be somewhat related for it to count, apparently.

        • Well... says:

          Snowman is nominative determinism because there’s already a lot of snow at the poles. A better example would be if a bunch of people completely unrelated to Jacques and to each other, but all coincidentally with the last name Cousteau, accomplished notable feats of deep-sea exploration.

    • rahien.din says:

      I think nominative determinism has to be more evocative than that.

      If a guy named Steve Bohr becomes an atomic physicist, it’s probably a coincidence.
      If a guy named Adam Splitt becomes an atomic physicist, it may be nominative determinism.

      If a guy named Mike Yudkowsky becomes an AI researcher, it’s probably a coincidence.
      If a guy named William “Bill” D. Ai becomes an AI researcher, it may be nominative determinism.

  12. Taymon A. Beal says:

    As people may have noticed, there’s now a new section of the sidebar advertising upcoming SSC meetups. If you schedule a meetup on LessWrong and tag it SSC, it will automatically appear there.

    I’m the author of the code for this feature. Many thanks to Scott for hosting it, to the LessWrong dev team for technical assistance, and to Claire Wang for doing the coordination to actually get the thing deployed.

    Feedback and suggestions for how to make it more useful are appreciated.

    • Well... says:

      Thanks for making that! I think it’s a helpful feature.

      Instead of calling it “Upcoming Meetups” maybe make it explicit like “Next 5 Meetups” or something? That way if I schedule a meetup and the sidebar section is already pretty full I don’t have to wonder why it isn’t showing up. Not a huge deal though, plus I don’t know whether the section is designed to expand. (Is it?)

      Mainly I’m curious to know how this works for meetups that weren’t arranged through Lesswrong.com.

      • Taymon A. Beal says:

        The sidebar currently is not expandable. Making it expandable would be a bit of work but definitely possible. There is also a configuration option allowing Scott to simply change the maximum number of meetups shown at once.

        Meetups that aren’t in the LessWrong meetup database do not appear in the sidebar, as it has no way of knowing about them; the data is fetched from the LessWrong API. For this particular round of Meetups Everywhere, Claire went through the comments by hand and created an event on LessWrong for each of them if there wasn’t one already there. (I actually started work on this long before Scott announced Meetups Everywhere; the timing was coincidental.)

        Going forward, the intention is for LessWrong to be the canonical source of truth for which SSC meetups (as well as LW, EA, and MIRIx meetups) are happening where. If you want your meetups to be advertised, be sure to put them there. (Right now this is unfortunately a bit tedious for frequently recurring events, but the LW dev team plans to add an option to make meetups recur automatically, and hopefully also to automatically import them from Facebook, if we can make that part work.)

        • Well... says:

          Going forward, the intention is for LessWrong to be the canonical source of truth […] If you want your meetups to be advertised, be sure to put them there.

          I wonder how many people will decide not to organize a meetup because it requires them to sign up at LW when they don’t want to.

          • Taymon A. Beal says:

            I think the EA Forum intends to have a separate login that people can use, that shares the LW database under the hood. If there were a need for it, we could do the same thing here.

            There’d still have to be some kind of login (as indeed there is today to post comments). Letting people use their WordPress.com accounts would be simpler than letting them use SSC-specific accounts, but both could be done.

      • A1987dM says:

        Myself I’d just add a new tab at the t…oh, it looks like there already is one.

  13. sclmlw says:

    I’m curious about what the general perception is about cancer research progress. Do you think:
    1. Cancer research progress over the last 30 years was beneficial?
    2. Cancer treatment in 30 years will be similar to what it is today?
    3. If you got diagnosed with cancer tomorrow you would have a good chance of survival (i.e. you’d eventually die of something not related to the cancer or the cancer treatment)?
    4. Cancer research consists mainly of building upon previous research (crescendo) or switching from one failed theory to the next (wild goose chase)?

    List your biology/cancer background, if you’d be so kind. I’m interested in seeing where people lie relative to their distance from the research. (Very interested in seeing what cancer survivors/patients think. Some of the most involved clinical research patients are cancer patients.)

    • albatross11 says:

      [My background: Non-biologist, interested amateur, read books and listen to podcasts. Most of my detailed information is either from the excellent _Emperor of All Maladies_ book, or from Vincent Racceniello’s wonderful microbiology podcasts. Watched my dad die of cancer, but despite a couple scares, haven’t ever had it (or at least been diagnosed–no telling what’s lurking somewhere) myself.]

      1. Clearly there’s been a lot of progress over the last 30 years, but the progress tends to be pretty narrow. There’s radiation and general chemo and surgery, and all those work pretty broadly. And then there are specific kinds of cancer where you can make a targeted antibody or suppress some growth factor and send it into remission. But those are very specific–usually not even “breast cancer” specific, but rather “breast cancer with this specific set of receptors/genes” specific. ISTM that a bunch of the clever ideas that seemed like they might pay off big (immune therapy, oncolytic viruses, targeted antibodies, suppressing growth of blood vessels to feed new tumors) tend to either work great for a small subset of cancers but not for most of them, or to work for awhile and then the cancer evolves around them and kills you.

      2. I expect that the patient’s experience will be pretty similar, but probably with less immediate pain/nausea/malaise (as you get away from surgery or radiation or general chemo) and a higher survival rate. That’s partly from better targeted treatments, partly from better technology (endoscopic surgery is a hell of a lot easier on you than the old slice-em-open kind).

      3. I think this depends heavily on the kind of cancer and to a lesser extent on the stage. Pancreatic cancer = I’m doomed, early stage Colon cancer = probably I’ll be okay after the surgery. OTOH, my dad died of a kind of skin cancer that is rarely fatal, so sometimes you just fail your saving throw. In general, if I just find out I’ve got cancer, I’ve probably got a good chance of surviving it–I’d guess around 70%, but I don’t have much confidence in that number.

      4. My sense is that cancer research builds on a lot of research in basic biology/immunology. But I think it’s also a long stream of plausible-sounding ideas that each turned out to work only in like 5% of the cases, after a hell of a lot of work.

    • Well... says:

      Last formal exposure to biology was in 9th grade, and I paid moderately good attention. I know how science works up close mainly because of my family background (scientists in the family), my job, and my reading interests.

      Haven’t had cancer but some people in my family have (melanoma, breast cancer, anal); all survived so far.

      1. Seems like it
      2. I expect it will accelerate as doctors/researchers are able to build on previous advances and as demand for healthcare increases, creating incentives to try new methods.
      3. Yes but I’m usually optimistic about my own health, possibly to a fault. BTW, I would write that “i.e.” part as “you’d eventually live long enough to die of something not related to the cancer or the cancer treatment”. I think that’s an important addition because it means you didn’t just die because you got hit by a bus on your way home from chemo or something.
      4. Mostly crescendo, some wild goose chase.

      • sclmlw says:

        Yeah, I guess I figured most people would infer the “live long enough to” part. The alternative would be to believe, “if I got cancer, even though the treatment and the cancer did not directly cause me to get hit by a bus, my overall probability of dying from random, non-cancer-related bus accidents would inexplicably increase.”

        Plus I did use the word ‘eventually’! That should count for something, right?

      • A1987dM says:

        you got hit by a bus on your way home from chemo

        That would hardly count as “not related to the cancer or the cancer treatment” 😉

        • A1987dM says:

          OT, but if after posting a comment I go to a different browser tab while keeping this one open, when I come back to this one the counter for the time left for me to edit the comment doesn’t immediately skip to the new value but runs tens of times faster than normal until it catches up.

        • Well... says:

          Good point. On your way home from grocery shopping, then.

    • Randy M says:

      My wife survived a rare form of cancer after an experimental treatment with remarkably few side-effects given how extensive the treatment was and how late it was noticed given the aggressive nature of the tumor.

    • Frangible Waterbird says:

      Biology/Cancer background.
      Biology- kind of sciencey undergrad, but by the time I took the intro bio course(s), I was really tired and not striving to learn stuff. (And I feel like I need to make an apology here for being lazy?)
      Cancer- Diagnosed w/ breast cancer about 4 yrs ago, rather young. Invasive, and there was lymph node action. Had multiple lumpectomies, and chemo, radiation. Mammograms since then – so far, so good.

      Q #2: What is my perception RE whether cancer treatment in 30 yrs will be similar to what it is today?

      Not very similar; I think it will make a lot of strides and look very different.
      I don’t particularly actively look up info about cancer research… but I “bump into” stories… like a nurse in my family told me how there’s the new neulasta thing to automatically give the patient the shot when they are at home and it’s been 24 hrs (or however long it’s timed for) after chemo.
      Not having to go back into a hospital or healthcare environment to get your shot when, after all, you’re trying to avoid infection?
      Having one less trip out of the house each time you get chemo?
      That is AWESOME!

      The motivation is high; cancer affects a lot of people.
      So those are other reasons I think the resources will be there and people will work on stuff like crazy…
      (But you don’t necessarily notice how many people it affects; there’s some of “you only see what you’re expecting to see” thing when it comes to peoples’ illnesses. Before I had cancer, I had no idea how prevalent having to deal with cancer was… then when I started telling people about my diagnosis, all the cancer survivors “came out of the woodwork”; older people started telling me which people I knew had already had cancer, some in the last 2 years, and I’d had no idea.)

      And I also got stories about how cancer treatments were for a family member, and for others “back in the day” and yeah… I think I ended up hearing a lot of comparison, (though sometimes for different types of cancer).
      So I guess I can say YEAH, I see cancer research progress over the last 30 years as quite beneficial.
      (Q #1)

      And I think most of the stuff I heard about progress in cancer research (a lot of it from nurses, comparing “2 years ago, you couldn’t’ve gotten this!” / “5 years ago, this was a lot harder!”) fit into a mostly crescendo narrative.
      (Q #4)

      [EDIT: mis-labelled a number. fixed that. also, threw in an antecedent for clarity or somethin’.]

  14. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Someone recently linked about which kind of fish oil pills are best for depression. What’s the compound we’re looking for?

  15. hls2003 says:

    I’m apparently something of an outlier here in having never played D&D of any variety. None of my friends have either. Given the heavy discussion in the last couple of threads, which was mostly Greek to me, two questions to those who are regular players: (1) How would you describe the appeal succinctly to a non-player? and (2) What would be the approximate time/effort to get a game together where nobody (including the potential DM) had ever played? And as a follow-up to (2), I guess, how many people do you need to get together, and how often, to make it worthwhile?

    For reference, I have done some miniatures war gaming, tabletop games (e.g. Pandemic, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Risk 2210), a little Magic: TG, and played a text-based MUD for several years while in school. But never D&D, or (I think) any equivalents.

    • johan_larson says:

      The right place to start is probably a starter set, like this:
      http://dnd.wizards.com/products/tabletop-games/rpg-products/rpg_starterset

      The DM needs to read this thoroughly and figure out how things work. That could easily take a day.

      You also need players. I find that a DM plus three players is a good size, but one or two more players is OK too. The game has a classic trio of character classes (fighter/cleric/magic-user) that complement each other and together can resolve most problems. With fewer players, that dynamic gets lost. The larger the group the more games tend to devolve into chat sessions, and the more discipline the DM needs to keep things moving forward.

      You then need to get together to play. Set aside a long evening or afternoon for the first session, because the DM will need to explain to the players how everything works. It would make sense to give the players handouts of select parts of the how-to-play booklet.

      Subsequent play sessions will get faster, but I find you need a good three hours for a decent play session. Try to play at least every two weeks, with cancellations being rare. You need to get in a good rhythm so players can plan on the game being on, and the spans between sessions aren’t so long that people start forgetting what happened.

      Once you have played through the intro scenario in the starter set, you’ll need the proper books. Typically, the DM needs the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the Monster Manual; players need just the Player’s Handbook. And you’ll need adventure modules to play, of course.

      • J Mann says:

        The starter set comes with an excellent basic adventure, The Mines of Phandelver, that is the plurality recommendation for a first scenario.

        • DeWitt says:

          Will echo Lost Mine of Phandelver being an excellent adventure – I get that starting kits and such can have a bad rap for being basic or simplistic or what have you, but Lost Mine is excellently-made and something I’d recommend even to veterans of years looking to start at level 1.

    • Nornagest says:

      D&D is basically a socially acceptable way for adults to play make-believe about being Aragorn or Xena or Guts. If that appeals to you, you’ll probably have fun.

      You’re not going to have a good time designing an adventure if you don’t have any experience DMing; that means you need a published adventure to run. The most readily available editions these days are 5E and Pathfinder (which is based on the 3.5 rules); you should be able to find a starter set for either one that has a basic adventure and the basic gameplay rules, plus pregenerated characters, some dice, and a few miniatures (you don’t strictly need the minis unless you’re playing 4E, but they’re helpful for tracking positioning in combat). I haven’t played 5E myself, but I hear it’s better for new players. In any case, you should familiarize yourself thoroughly with the adventure you’re running before anyone starts playing; that can take a few hours or longer, depending on its size.

      It’s probably a good idea to stick with that for your first time, but you’ll grow out of it pretty quickly. To generate your own characters, you’ll need the Player’s Handbook; to write your own adventures, you’ll need the Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Monstrous Manual. That’s a significant investment, but if you’re serious about this, you’ll benefit from at least skimming the PHB and the DMG (players will only need the former). The MM is more of a reference.

      D&D works best with at least four people (three players and a DM); five is better. For experienced players, there’s no real lower limit on the number of times you can get together before it’s worthwhile — I’ve played many one-off games — but if nobody in your group has experience, I think you’d want to plan at least a few sessions so you can get the hang of it.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        D&D is basically a socially acceptable way for adults to play make-believe about being Aragorn or Xena or Guts.

        … darn, right, Xena and Guts. Your friends don’t even have to read books to be familiar with playing make-believe in a magical pre-modern setting.

    • Jon S says:

      I wonder whether Gloomhaven may be a good bridge for you into that world? I have no experience at either D&D or Gloomhaven, but my impression of the latter is that it is the boardgame equivalent of D&D.

      • Machine Interface says:

        Gloomhaven is a *huge* investment. If one wants to try dungeon-crawling through the board-gaming route, there are more accessible games like Descent, Zombicide Black Plague, Massive Darkness, or Sword & Sorcery – although these games are all big boxes packed full of (pre-assembled) miniatures, so they’re all fairly expensive – just nowhere near as expensive as Gloomhaven. Unless you really know what you want, the best solution is to find someone who has one of these games and try it with them.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Do the friends you’d invite read epic poetry, fairy tales, pulp fantasy or fantasy novels? The appeal is “You play can play Perseus, Conan and Gandalf going on quests of your own choosing together.”
      Prep time is always going to be high for a first-time DM, but you can minimize it if you buy a module. 5E modules are hardcovers that start at $19.64 on Amazon and go up from there. You’ll need to buy a Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual to run a full campaign, and it’s common for each player to buy a Player’s Handbook. You can get away with passing one copy around if spell-caster players keep spell cards in front of themselves. These books are $28-31 each new on Amazon. There is also an online System Reference Document that covers everything non-proprietary (character generation, “how do I level up?” and trademarked monsters) for both 3.5 Edition and 5E.

      The Old School way to start DMing would be to find the long-out-of-print modules B1-B9 such as the famous Keep on the Borderlands for Basic D&D (i.e. Google will turn up pirate PDFs), which are village/dungeon adventures canonically set in the Known World/Mystara setting on a map of a country called the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, which produces official rules for walking between the module locations with the Wilderness Travel rules you can find in legally-free “retroclones” like Dark Dungeons.

    • smocc says:

      This isn’t a succinct description, but a good way to show the appeal is to convince friends to listen to or watch some of the many excellent RPG podcasts that exist now. Acquisitions Inc. and its spinoffs, Critical Role, The Adventure Zone, The Glass Cannon Podcast, and so on. Saying “it’s a way to play make-believe without devolving into ‘I shot you!’ ‘No you didn’t!'” is accurate, but some people might need to see an example of how fun adult make-believe can be.

      My wife started playing after we played “Aye, Dark Overlord!” with some friends. It’s a party game that rewards silly fantasy role-playing. We had a lot of fun and it inspired one of our friends to try GMing for the first time.

    • DeWitt says:

      Are you looking to play with people you already know but also haven’t yet played, or are you wanting to learn the game and don’t mind the idea of playing with more veteran players?

      • hls2003 says:

        Basically, the first one – I already have a set of friends who will get together periodically for “game nights” of the type I described. None of them have played, that I’m aware of. I’m not likely to play with other veteran players, not because I’d be disinclined to be a rookie (that happens regularly), but just because I don’t know any now and it’s already as much or more than my schedule can handle to get together with my current group a couple of random times per year. In fact, based on the excellent responses above, I’m not at all certain my circle of gaming friends (or I) will have the “play pretty regularly for several months” flexibility to really dive into it properly.

        It does sound like fun though.

        • DeWitt says:

          Oh, yeah, nah. I don’t know that I’d play D&D at all if I could only really play a couple times a year, though that’s because I like character and story progression a whole lot. You could do oneshots, but regular D&D, over the span of literal months? I’m not sure it’d be the game for you, you might want to stick with something else.

        • xXxanonxXx says:

          There’s a lot to be said for oneshots before you get a proper campaign going, so I wouldn’t be put off if that’s all you can do. Before I even knew about the core rulebooks that’s how I got my start. A box set will have stripped down rules making it easy to run a game even as a beginner and a set of pre-generated adventures. Between games you just say your heroes are resting up in town.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      What city do you live in? You may be able to go to a game night at a game store or to a local con and figure out if the experience is one you enjoy, and gather some tribal knowledge of how it works, at a much lower buy-in than “buy all the books, read online about how it’s supposed to play, and then try to build the craft from the ground up.”

      Or you could probably use Roll20.

      • hls2003 says:

        I’m around Chicago. The Roll20 thing looks pretty cool. Some of my group have discussed online game meetups as an alternative to include some out of towners. Roll20 might be good for it, if everyone else agreed to put in the time to learn the games. Thanks!

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          I can’t speak to the quality of these game stores, but they do run gaming events and you might use them to stick your toe in:

          https://cat-n-mouse.com
          https://www.chicagolandgames.com

        • MrApophenia says:

          I ran a Roll20 game for about a year and it really does make getting a session together a lot easier if everyone can do it without needing to all gather at someone’s house.

          Roll20 is really well made and also has official support for D&D 5th edition – including a searchable rulebook.

    • WashedOut says:

      I’m in the same boat as you, hls2003. Never so much as seen a D&D set, but played a fair bit of Warhammer 40k in the past and am generally interested in RPG games.

      My question is more about the general experience of playing D&D: is there anything about it that you can’t get by playing a really, really good video game? Like, how effective is 4 people standing around in meatspace rolling dice at creating an immersive, compelling experience? Is a big part of a DM’s job to vet the players on the basis of personality and enthusiasm, or is that a problem that solves itself?

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        RPGs definitely provide things that video games do not. Video games also definitely provide things that RPGs can not.

        RPGs will never be immersive in the same way that a good video game is (but they can be more immersive in different ways), and their combat mechanics are necessarily less complex and much slower for the same level of complexity as a video game.

        RPGs will however:

        1. Allow you to freeform problem-solve. There is (with a decent GM) never a time when you’re like, “What? That’s bullshit, this should work but I can’t even try it because the designers forgot to program it in.”

        2. Allow you to freeform roleplay. You never have to say, “Well, I hate all of the pre-canned dialog choices here, they don’t at all capture how I feel,” and when you do describe how you feel, the other characters respond to that.

        3. Create a custom crafted narrative around your character. Not the character that someone else created and you make some choices for.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I was gonna come in and basically say this. Have you ever had the experience in a video game RPG of “this is bullshit – why can’t I do/say X? Why is this obvious course of action not in the game? Where is Sulik’s sister?“? If you have, a roleplaying game with a good GM will solve those problems. Player choice is enabled, again, with a good GM.

          That’s why I like it, at least. As a GM, enabling player choice means the game surprises me, too!

          • Bugmaster says:

            Yes, I gotta agree — dealing with the weird crap the players pull is definitely the most fun for me as the GM 🙂

      • Bugmaster says:

        It depends entirely on your GM. Some GMs prefer to run a combat-intensive campaign, where game mechanics take the front stage. In this case, playing D&D is similar to playing 40K, or some other tactical boardgame. It’s still fun, but not substantially different from playing a video game.

        Other GMs prefer to develop a compelling story. In this case, game mechanics still play a large role in the game, but they no longer take center stage. Instead, the game focuses on creative problem solving and character development. This is where RPGs diverge from computer games, because players can come up with completely unexpected actions, and because they can act in character according to the characters the PCs themselves have devised.

        For example, in one of our games, we encountered a pair of Giants clearly up to no good. In a computer game, this would trigger a miniboss fight, and this is clearly what the GM intended. However, our PCs instead managed to intimidate the Giants into submission merely by talking to them and playing on their insecurities; in the process, we were able to resolve the beef those Giants had with our city, and convert them into allies. On the other hand, at one point we were clearly supposed to make a deal-with-the-devil type of bargain with a Shadow Dragon. Instead, we spent about 3 or 4 hours in intense discussion and preparation, scouring the city for every scrap of power-up we could get our hands on by hook or by crook. After which point our main damage dealer 2-shot the Dragon. This took the resources of the entire party, and put us out of commission for a while… but it was worth it.

        Experiences like these are not something you can find in a video game, because video games are pre-scripted. I should stress that you also cannot find such experiences in e.g. official Pathfinder scenarios, because those scenarios are also pre-scripted. IMO RPGs are best played in a small group of friends, with a competent GM, running a custom story with custom characters — and without some sort of official corporate machinery looking over your shoulder.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Not all scenarios are made equally. Far as I’m concerned, the best a written scenario (adventure or campaign) can get is probably Masks of Nyarlathotep for Call of Cthulhu. Manages to be as far from pre-scripted as possible, while still having a story that doesn’t just exist in retrospect (as is the case in a true sandbox).

          However, most adventures and campaigns that attempt to have a story really have a plot, and are railroads.

          • Bugmaster says:

            This might be true of adventures as written, but no one is forcing you to run them as written.

            For example, our GM really likes the Irissen setting (and so do we), but the story is a total railroad. So, he took the basics and remixed them on his own. Now, all our characters are of noble birth (and thus Evil), Baba Yaga is coming, and none of us knows what to do. It’s a lot more fun than following formal encounters from point A to point B.

            Personally, I’m not that good of a GM, so I tend to set up incentives rather than plots. My bad guys have a goal in mind, and they have access to specific resources. In the absence of player interference, they will proceed steadily toward that goal; but once the players start mucking things up, I try to make the bad guys react in a realistic fashion. I also try to throw out as many hints as possible, to clue in the players that something bad will go down unless they act.

          • Randy M says:

            Personally, I’m not that good of a GM

            The rest of your paragraph belies this 🙂
            You describe the right kind of plots to prepare–plots where villains are driving the action. Yes, the PC’s are the star of the game, but you need to know what will happen in the event of PC inaction, or confusion. The trick, of course, is to not get too attached to the villain and allow the players to interfere with the default plot as much as they are able to through grit, chance, and cleverness.

            For bonus points, run two at once so they can have victories even as a bigger threat grows in the background.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Well, unfortunately I’m better at having ideas than at implementing them.

            One consistent failing I have (one that I keep trying to improve upon) is my delivery of clues; I try to keep them reasonably vague (for fear of railroading), but usually end up overshooting, to the point where the players can’t figure out which way to turn. Naturally, I can deliver a reasonably compelling experience as long as the PCs do something I somewhat expect — but how often does that happen ?

            Another major problem I’ve got is my total lack of talent for voice acting. Every good GM that I’ve seen is able to give each of his NPCs a compelling voice, but I basically suck at it.

          • Randy M says:

            Naturally, I can deliver a reasonably compelling experience as long as the PCs do something I somewhat expect — but how often does that happen ?

            Indeed. My second most recent campaign, first session I thought it would be cool to have the players come upon a siege of a fort by a (small) army of undead. I foolishly started them en route to a nearby town and described the trail of blood from the oasis north towards a fort–bodies of merchants killed and utilized in the army of the villain.
            PC response? “Let’s take the merchants goods into town to sell them!”

            One consistent failing I have (one that I keep trying to improve upon) is my delivery of clues; I try to keep them reasonably vague (for fear of railroading), but usually end up overshooting, to the point where the players can’t figure out which way to turn.

            Try thinking that railroading comes from your response to what they want to do, not from how you present information. In the above scenario, I let them go and winged something else–but they knew darn well they were passing up a plot hook. And I think they will understand that if they want more flowering description and compelling scenarios, they should go with the obvious clues, and if they want to excise their agency* to the fullest, they get improv DM which might not (in fact will almost never, for anyone) be as good.

            *I think finding creative solutions to the problems presented is enough for most, but you do may want to allow for complete freedom if the whole group so decides.

            Another major problem I’ve got is my total lack of talent for voice acting. Every good GM that I’ve seen is able to give each of his NPCs a compelling voice, but I basically suck at it.

            Perhaps physical mannerisms instead, then. Rubin hands together, hands on hips, running fingers through hair, adjusting clothes, etc. And not every bit part needs this attention, don’t stress.

          • Plumber says:

            “….My second most recent campaign, first session I thought it would be cool to have the players come upon a siege of a fort by a (small) army of undead. I foolishly started them en route to a nearby town and described the trail of blood from the oasis north towards a fort–bodies of merchants killed and utilized in the army of the villain.
            PC response? “Let’s take the merchants goods into town to sell them!”…”

            @Randy M,

            Your players sound AWESOME!

            There playing properly instead of in the modern anime/Marvel’s Avengers claptrap style that’s fashionable now.

            I’d love to play good ‘ol’ Conan, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser style Swords & Sorcery adventures again instead of what passes now.

            Too often my co-players rush into melee (not even thinking to use stealth and bows!) in an endless conga-line of combat for ill-defined reasons while I’m wondering “Why are we risking our necks to save the villagers from the Hobgoblins again? Gorobei Katayama expected to at least be paid!”

            I really miss playing Dungeons & Dragons when it was about looting and running away from monsters instead of all this tedious save the world stuff.

          • Randy M says:

            Oh, it was probably a smart move, and the campaign I came up with while they were getting beat up by negotiating with the merchant cartel was better anyway.

            (FYI, excise in the prior post should have been exercise. I love typos that invert the meaning… :/)

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Bugmaster

            I’ve gotten to the point where it’s annoying to have to change the core of an adventure/campaign – which is usually what needs to be changed with a railroad. A railroaded campaign usually has stuff that has to happen, or can’t be allowed to happen. If a campaign builds the final act around the bad guys stealing the McGuffin, with a showdown in which the PCs fight the Big Bad to get the McGuffin back… Well, the thing has to get stolen in the first place, and the PCs can’t be allowed to get it back without a showdown. Changing this is going to be a fair bit of work, usually.

            If you have trouble getting the PCs to follow the clues, put in more clues. If you’re having trouble getting them to follow story hooks (which is what it sounds like, more than clues in an investigation) make the story hooks more blatant. “In the tavern, you overhear a drunk peasant saying his brother-in-law swears he saw the dead walk up near Woodsburyshire.”

          • Bugmaster says:

            @dndnrsn:
            I usually have no trouble with the core of the campaign, since the bad guys are always off to a huge head start. Not (necessarily) because I’m cheating, but because, realistically speaking, the PCs would only get called in if someone notices some scary things happening, which means that the bad guys’ strategy is in full swing. However, my players have complained that my games feel too much like a mystery, and not enough like an adventure. It can be a subtle distinction, I know, but still…

            “In the tavern, you overhear a drunk peasant saying his brother-in-law swears he saw the dead walk up near Woodsburyshire.”

            This sounds too much like fourth-wall-breaking to me; as a player, if I heard that, I’d say, “ok, cool, not going anywhere near Woodsburyshire then”. In fact, getting the PCs to engage with the campaign is easy; you just need to offer financial incentives (“there’s a reward for the capture of Splodo the Mad Alchemist !”), personal incentives (“a man matching the description of your father’s killer was spotted near Ambushville”), or something else to that extent (“remember how you blew up the mayor’s mansion a few games ago ? Well, he says he can be persuaded to look the other way if you to this one little favor for him”).

            But I find it more difficult to guide the action once the PCs actually get on the scene. In part, it’s a personal failing; I don’t often use straightforward plots such as “you’re on the hunt for Splodo; you get to his lab; the place looks blown up but there’s a trail of sulphur leading to the the wood pile…”. Instead, I prefer multi-layered plots, e.g. “you’ve been hired to persuade a remote village to allow the installation of a Voicelight tower on their land; now go do it”. In this scenario, the PCs have to persuade the villagers; which means they need to find out the reason for their recalcitrance (or straight up intimidate them, which may not always work); which means they need to discover the third party who is manipulating the villagers, and what their nefarious goals are, etc. This type of story can get bogged down quickly, though… Maybe I should stick to the “secret tunnel behind the woodpile” plots :-/

          • Randy M says:

            Maybe I should stick to the “secret tunnel behind the woodpile” plots :-/

            my players have complained that my games feel too much like a mystery, and not enough like an adventure.

            It does sound like maybe you are presenting mysteries that they don’t want (unless these are different players). It’s okay (although possibly boring for you?) to have adventures where everything is as it seems. Think Robin Hood. You could try making the adventures like that, but with an overarching mystery campaign structure that has periodic and straightforward reveals.

          • Thegnskald says:

            If you want more complex mysterious, hide the mysteries behind the straightforward.

            For example, in one of my games, the straightforward adventure was “Evil lich rules the world, kill him and free everybody.” The secret subplot is that a multiplanar organization combating existential extraplanar threats had hired the lich to be the evil ruler of the world, explicitly to train and hire heroes to deal with far more significant threats, and the NPC who was guiding the players to the major plot points was working for the lich the entire time.

            Additional subplot, she got pissed at how insane the players were (through the course of the adventure, through extremely poor planning on everything, but for example, how large an explosive they would need to destroy a gate, they accidentally killed 99% of the population of the city), decided the entire scheme was ridiculous, and turned the plan into “Let’s really kill the bastard and see how the organization likes it”.

            Simple adventure from the players’ points of view, with sufficient plot twists and background events taking place to keep the DM (me) entertained.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Bugmaster

            Honestly, a little fourth-wall-breaking isn’t that bad. I’m running a sandbox game, and sandbox games are fundamentally about player agency. It helps player agency for the players to have a little bit of information about what the scenario hook or whatever means to them as players rather than as PCs.

            Obviously, nothing that would spoil it, but if I’ve put 3 major options (as in, going to take more than one or two sessions to resolve) on the table – one is an expedition to an unexplored land (and is thus going to be a logistics-heavy wilderness adventure), one is a classic mega dungeon, and one is going to be the PCs acting as special forces type guys for one army against each other – I’ll both have the rumours available (“you buy a miller a flagon of ale and he tells you his brother, the porter, has been hired by a member of the Navigator’s Guild, who seems really eager for manpower”/“Nedwick claims he found an entrance to some old ruins, maybe a fortress basement, out in the woods, and he’ll draw up a map for a few gold coins. He’s a layabout, but he’s never been known to tell a lie”/Duke Odo of Rumsburythorpehamptonshire-upon-Rampleyborough has put a call out for mercenaries of… unusual abilities”) and I’ll tell the players the general sort of gameplay each will involve.

            That way, no player is going to choose one thinking it’s a different kind of adventure, and end up not having fun for several sessions. PCs getting surprised by things they did not know, making bad assumptions and getting screwed, etc, is great and leads to fun play, players making meta game decisions like “what kind of game do we want to play?” under mistaken assumptions and sitting there bored because they do not care about wilderness exploration is not fun. And if they don’t want to do any of those things and say so, I can prep something else.

    • ing says:

      I agree with sandoratthezoo that a key element here is “freeform problem solving”. Being able to create your own solution is a fundamentally different experience than board games.

      (Freeform roleplaying is also a thing, but honestly most roleplayers are pretty bad at it and tend to annoy rather than entertain, so I don’t necessarily view it as a benefit.)

      I agree with smocc that you should try listening to a D&D podcast.

      But I’d also like to suggest trying storygames — my favorites are Microscope-without-roleplaying and The Quiet Year, and many people like Fiasco. These are sort of a bridge, in that you can be creative and have your own narrative, but it’s played in a single session and doesn’t require complex rules.

    • dndnrsn says:

      1. sandoratthezoo is right, and a few of us have added our thoughts on that. I like playing games because, when it’s done right, my agency is paramount. I like running games because when I let player agency be paramount, I get surprised by the twists and turns the game takes.

      (People who are serious about running games should read this, and this, and also this)

      2. Depends on the game. Are you wedded to it being D&D(tm)? Because there are simpler games, and cheaper games (there are older versions of D&D where you don’t need to buy 3 $50 rulebooks, and there are intro sets for the editions where that’s the case – but the complete game is still gonna run you $150).

      You could always download the free version of the Labyrinth Lord rules – it’s a clone of the 1981 Basic/Expert D&D rules – and acquire a .pdf copy of B2: Keep on the Borderlands, and that will do the trick.

      3. Fewer than 3 players plus GM is usually not that great unless it’s a two-person side mission type deal to the main game. More than 5 or 6 players plus GM gets unmanageable. I’d shoot to game 3-6 hours every week or two.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Ok, first: If at all possible, be a player before you are a DM. You want that experience, to know what makes playing fun for players, so you can make it fun for yours.

      As a DM, I delight in giving players useless items and abilities, and seeing what they come up with to turn these to their advantage. It is fun seeing ingenuinity applied to a puzzle created without a solution.

      As a player, I enjoy the reverse: Turning something useless into a game-breaking mechanic. An army of guards is supposed to overwhelm the party to railroad us into a jail scene? Dumping a few dozen bags of ball bearings on the ground stymies that right
      up. Or just putting things to uses that baffle the DM; after a few games of this, I love the wary expression the DM gets when I buy a handwagon and a statue of a goblin and drag it around forever afterwards, as if it is the key element of an absurd plan that will break the DM’s next carefully constructed encounter.

      I enjoy the absurdity you can impose, basically. As a DM, I have had players “Nope” out of climbing a tower full of enemies, and just knock it down with a pair of cleverly-applied spells. Or, another time, they used a gravity spell to propel a wagon at absurd speeds down a road to get well ahead of a planned timed mission – I did try to stymies them by having the wheels start on fire, but they had fire control spells to counteract that. Then they grew vines to hold it together when I tried having it shake apart from the combination of wooden wheels and cobblestones, at which point I let them have their victory.

      As far as I can tell, that is the key to what makes it fun.

    • Anonymous says:

      (1) How would you describe the appeal succinctly to a non-player?

      “It’s like a video game, except instead of stupid AI and straightjacket scripts, you have a real human being in charge of what’s happening, so your options are limited only by your imagination.”

      (2) What would be the approximate time/effort to get a game together where nobody (including the potential DM) had ever played?

      About two weeks for the GM to read the requisite rules texts and come up with some basic plot.

      And as a follow-up to (2), I guess, how many people do you need to get together, and how often, to make it worthwhile?

      3-5 people. Less than 3 is not very fun. More than 5 is too many to handle.

      1/week games are classic, though you can probably come up with a different schedule.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Agreed, 5 people is about the upper limit of what a single GM can handle. That said, if you can get multiple GMs, games with 8..10 people can also be quite fun.

        • AnarchyDice says:

          How would you run a game with multiple GM’s? They trade-off game sessions or would they tag-team?

          Now I’m imagining an adversarial collaboration tabletop campaign with a sort of good-cop, bad-cop GM’ing tag-team with one trying to screw the players over with tactical monsters and devious traps while the other is working to help them with well placed clues and useful terrain features.

          • Randy M says:

            Ha!
            “Listen, party, just go to the king, take the quest, fight the good fight, or I’m going to step out and get some coffee and let my partner here increase a few CR’s, if you know what I mean.”

          • Bugmaster says:

            Nothing so devious (although it’s not a bad idea). Instead, multiple GMs allow you to split the party; this creates an opportunity for some very nice dramatic tension when the party is reunited once again — usually for some climactic battle and/or disaster.

          • AnarchyDice says:

            @Randy =D

            @Bugmaster “don’t split the party” is so ingrained that I didn’t even think about that way of using multiple GM’s. I’ve done a little of this sparingly by taking players aside to give them secret information (a memory themed tower with some antimemetic traps) but could see this being really cool for a larger group. Especially if their actions affected one another without knowing that they were causing trouble for each other.

  16. helloo says:

    Countering placebo effect-

    Medical clinical trails are one area where placebo effects are somewhat of an issue as not only do new medication and treatments have to face off against the sugar pills and such, but there’s been signs that indicate that the placebo effect has been growing in strength.
    One risk of this is that this is making it harder for them to detect benefits or side effects.
    So perhaps it is a good idea to look into reducing or neutralizing the placebo effect (on particular entities, it’s a different scenario to try and change it overall).

    One easy way might be to just give the item negative and off-putting name. Like calling the test medication ScratchNails, Vomit, Phlegix, NotPoison. This would – Oh JustBabies, sorry having too much fun creating these – only last til the trial is over and then they could give them all those placebo inducing calm/feel good names when they are public to reap the benefits of both the placebo and the medication. Plus possibly allowing them to recycle/reuse the old ones for new trials.

    There might be some failure modes where companies would get TOO good at doing this and make the trial medicines nocebos hurting the clients, hurting the general PR and reducing placebo effects overall, or lead to a dystopia where all the names are just strings of insults and slurs.

    … This post turned out to be basically a SMBC comic.

    • Machine Interface says:

      “there’s been signs that indicate that the placebo effect has been growing in strength”

      Have there been, actually?

      I recall on the contrary a growing amount of evidence that the placebo effect is actually much weaker than previously thought (for pain reduction) or outright non-existent (for most other effects), and that what was actually thought to be placebo in the past is now increasingly thought of as regression to the mean – turns out the normal course of things for a sick person is to get better, even in the absence of any medication whatsoever (real or placebo).

      This also goes a great length into adressing the most controversial aspects of placebo theory (how can a placebo work on infants, or on animals).

  17. SteveReilly says:

    The Charleston meetup went well. When I set it up I figured there was a decent chance nobody would come. But two people showed up, so if you live in a small city and haven’t organized anything just because you think there won’t be any interest, my advice is give it a try.

    We met up in a park and then walked over to a coffee shop. If I were doing it again I think I would have skipped the park and we could just have met in the coffee shop. But it was definitely a good time and we talked about doing it again in a month or so.

  18. rahien.din says:

    I finally read Borges’ The Garden of Forking Paths, having been prompted by Very Bad Wizards. I think I have drawn the opposite conclusion of, well, everyone else.

    Spoilers follow.

    Most interpretations of the story seem to take Ts’ui Pên’s novel as an allegory for (or demonstration of) many worlds. Certainly that is natural – the novel is described as being structured as multiple parallel narratives that branch off from every important human decision. Moreso, Borges’ slant-allusions to real-life texts and events are delightful temptations into that line of thought.

    But, I came away with the opposite impression. Consider when Yu Tsun says “‘In all of them,’ I enunciated, with a tremor in my voice. ‘I deeply appreciate and am grateful to you for the restoration of Ts’ui Pên’s garden.'” By the most common interpretations (including Stephen Albert’s) he’s terribly mistaken, but I think he’s correct.

    Consider the passage that Albert reads from Ts’ui Pên’s novel, wherein a marching army is subjected to very different pre-battle visions in two different “paths,” but despite this fights and prevails the same in each version :

    With slow precision, he read two versions of the same epic chapter. In the first, an army marches into battle over a desolate mountain pass. The bleak and somber aspect of the rocky landscape made the soldiers feel that life itself was of little value, and so they won the battle easily. In the second, the same army passes through a palace where a banquet is in progress. The splendor of the feast remained a memory throughout the glorious battle, and so victory followed… I remember the final words, repeated at the end of each version like a secret command: “Thus the heroes fought, with tranquil heart and bloody sword. They were resigned to killing and to dying.”

    Consider how Albert misidentifies Yu Tsun as Hsi P’eng, but despite this, the interaction between them proceeds identically :

    “I see that the worthy Hsi P’eng has troubled himself to see to relieving my solitude. No doubt you want to see the garden?”
    Recognizing the name of one of our consuls, I replied, somewhat taken aback.
    “The garden?”
    “The garden of forking paths.”
    Something stirred in my memory and I said, with incomprehensible assurance:
    “The garden of my ancestor, Ts’ui Pên.”
    “Your ancestor? Your illustrious ancestor? Come in.”

    Furthermore, consider how Albert repeats that in some possibilities, Yu Tsun is his enemy, but in others he is his friend. Just before Yu Tsun shoots him, he declares that he is Albert’s friend. As he repeatedly describes his actions as “heinous” and confesses his “infinite penitence and sickness of the heart” subsequent to the murder, we can trust this declaration. Yu Tsun is both enemy and friend to Stephen Albert.

    Then consider that all the important characters are chimerae. Yu Tsun is a Chinese man in the German spy corps. Madden is an Irishman working for the English spy corps. Albert is an English man embracing a Chinese way of life. The labyrinth is both a maze, and a novel. Like the minotaur, they are all syntheses.

    The Garden of Forking Paths is not about the many worlds that arise when choices cause universes to bifurcate, for Borges describes an essentially deterministic world. All the important events are absolutely determined : regardless of the ancillary events, the army triumphs, and Albert admits a Chinese man to discuss Ts’ui Pên’s labyrinthine novel. The story is about the illusion of bifurcation – one path bifurcating into two, one person synthesized from two nations, one man being either enemy or friend.

    The very idea of bifurcation is the illusion that forms the basis of the labyrinth. The entrance to the maze for those in Yu Tsun’s world is when Ts’ui Pên writes “I leave to various future times, but not to all, my garden of forking paths” and implies that the paths in the garden bifurcate irretrievably. The entrance to the maze for us who read Borges’ story is the very title “The Garden of Forking Paths,” which performs the same suggestion. The real garden exists not in a physical sense as multiple coexisting timelines, but in a mental sense as a multiplicity of coexisting interpretations of the same timeline.

    We can then understand Yu Tsun’s decision to carry out the murder of Stephen Albert. At first glance this seems unnecessary or self-serving, as though he assassinated Albert merely to fulfill a duty to his employer. (This would cast his narrative in a very strange light, as though his race to send a message was to add excitement while yet proving ancillary to the overall meaning of the story.)

    Borges hints that there is a puzzle within The Garden of Forking Paths :

    “In a guessing game to which the answer is chess, which word is the only one prohibited?” I thought for a moment and then replied:
    “The word is chess.”
    “Precisely,” said Albert. “The Garden of Forking Paths is an enormous guessing game, or parable, in which the subject is time. The rules of the game forbid the use of the word itself. To eliminate a word completely, to refer to it by means of inept phrases and obvious paraphrases, is perhaps the best way of drawing attention to it.”

    For one, Borges can’t have intended for his Garden to have time as his subject, because his own rules disqualify “time” for having been used in the text. For two, given that the entire story is focused on dualities/bifurcations/syntheses, the answer to guessing game must be a duality. And we know that Yu Tsun must have correctly guessed the answer to the riddle in order to act so decisively.

    One part of the duality is destiny. In a very basic sense, to kill Stephen Albert is Yu Tsun’s destiny – “the culmination” of “[his] race, of [his] uncountable forebears” – and just as the triumph of the army in Ts’ui Pên’s novel, the successful pursuit by Madden, and the Germans’ ultimate defeat, it is determined. Yu Tsun alludes to this very precisely when he says “Whosoever would undertake some atrocious enterprise should act as if it were already accomplished, should impose upon himself a future as irrevocable as the past.” And in an important sense, it satisfies a narrative arc that spans centuries. Both the death of Ts’ui Pên and the death of Stephen Albert are adequately described as “An elderly man living in solitude and devoted to a labyrinth are killed for their name by a stranger.” Meet Ts’ui Pên / Stephen, kill Ts’ui Pên / Stephen.

    The other part of the duality is choice, or will. Every important event is presented as a choice. The choice to take all of his meager coins, the choice to board the train, the choice to call out to the children, the choice to announce himself at the gate, the choice to ask to see the letter again. Each of these is completely essential to the execution of his plan and Borges’ execution of his narrative. And to each of these, Yu Tsun’s decision and timing are so essential that the outcome of these choices appears excitingly coincidental.

    When Yu Tsun says “The future exists now,” he has realized that his destiny being predetermined does not mean that this choices are meaningless, even though they are both incomprehensible. He has solved the tension within the duality between choice and destiny, and the only natural action is to commence with his plan.

    The central allegory, then, is neither the spy chase nor the labyrinth nor the timeline itself. It is Yu Tsun’s moonlit and meditative walk through the countryside. This set of forking paths is also an illusory maze, as it is navigated by simply turning left at each opportunity. And yet there are endless perceived opportunities to deviate from the path. This is the world that Borges so aptly describes as “at once infinite and intimate.” The Garden of Forking Paths is thus transfigured from an unnavigable thicket of multiplying pathways into the other sense of “labyrinth” : a meditative journey between determined points.

    Whenever Borges was asked about the meaning of “The Garden of Forking Paths,” he demurred and claimed that it was just a story. I don’t think he was being cagey. I think he was stating the exact and honest truth.

    • Alejandro says:

      Beautiful! This is the kind of content I want to see more of on SSC.

      Going by your analysis, there is a neat parallel between “The Garden of Forking Paths” and Borges’s landmark essay “A New Refutation of Time”. In both cases the overt meaning of the central portion of the text (“the universe forks”; “time and the self are unreal”, respectively) is belied at the end as no more than a playful philosophical game and replaced by a harsher reality (“the universe is deterministic”; “the self and passage of time are real and inescapable”).

      (Note: I posted a version of this comment linking to a pdf version of the essay, but the comment did not appear. If it is in the spam filter, it can be just deleted. The essay is on gwern’s website.)

  19. bgaesop says:

    I’m working on a new translation of the Enchiridion, Epictetus’s 2nd century manual of Stoic philosophy, into modern, conversational English, with the intention of making it more readily accessible for the modern reader.

    My translation of lesson 40 in the Enchiridion is really different from the prior ones, and I think is a good representation of why a new translation can be important. I think my translation is not only more suited to being understood by modern ears, but also is actually significantly more faithful to the original word choice. I recognize that of course my translation is going to be colored by my current historical biases, but I honestly believe they’re less than the previous ones, at least in this instance.

    ————
    Previously: Women from fourteen years old are flattered by men with the title of mistresses. Therefore, perceiving that they are regarded only as qualified to give men pleasure, they begin to adorn themselves, and in that to place all their hopes. It is worth while, therefore, to try that they may perceive themselves honored only so far as they appear beautiful in their demeanor, and modestly virtuous.

    Mine: Women as young as fourteen are catcalled by men. This can give them the impression that the only thing they’re good for is sex, and so they put all their hopes in making themselves look good. Instead, you should compliment women on their behavior and virtue.
    ———–

    I think this is a significantly better translation for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that “καλοῦνται” is clearly “call” in the sense that one calls a dog, and “flatter” is a rather ridiculous translation of it. I think “catcall” gets across the original intention much better. Also, “give men pleasure” is a weird translation of “συγκοιμῶνται” which pretty definitely means “have sex”, and I think is basically an artefact of the most recent public domain translation being made in the 19th century. Even Walton’s 1997 translation translates it as “relationships with men”, which is, well, better? But he combines the first two sentences and leaves out the specific aspect of “calling” (replacing it with “taught to believe that everything they’ll ever get will come from relationships with men”), which I think avoids a very relevant lesson for the modern reader. I also think the fact that catcalling has been around since at least the 2nd century is really interesting and of value for the modern reader to learn

    • Bugmaster says:

      I can’t read Greek, so my opinion is probably worthless, but still:

      The original translation says, “It is worth while, therefore, to try that they may perceive themselves…”, whereas your translation says, “Instead, you should compliment women…”. The original translation sounds more general in scope; it lays out the desired state of affairs, i.e. “It would be better if women were X (by implication, men can help accomplish this by doing Y)”. Your translation, on the other hand, is purely prescriptive; it says “men, you should do Y”. I’m not sure which translation is closer to the original, though.

      I also like the play on words in the original phrase, “beautiful in their demeanour” — presumably, by contrast with being merely visually appealing. Your translation loses that, as well (though, once again, perhaps this turn of phrase is absent from the Greek original, as well).

    • arlie says:

      From where I sit, catcalling is a negative experience. (= Rude remarks and harassment.) Flattery is positive. I think the distinction matters.

      What are the connotations of the Greek term?

    • fluorocarbon says:

      I like your translation better than the old one and I think it’s defensible. The 19th century translations are so stiff and weird.

      That said, I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the choice of “catcall” (or, for that matter, “flatter”). I assume you’re taking “kuriai kalountai” as a euphemism for complimenting/catcalling/flattering? I’m not a specialist, but I would argue that it makes more sense to take it literally: they are called mistresses of the house.

      This works with “ouden/monon prosesti autais”: the only property they have is through marriage (being a kuria), so they make themselves sexy to convince men to marry them. The “monon” is kind of weird, but I think it can work as a sort of accusative of respect.

      I would translate it (clumsily) as something like:

      — — —
      Women, as soon as they are fourteen years old, are called stay at home wives [kuriai, mistresses of the house] by men. And so, seeing that they have nothing, but [have] only that with respect to which they sleep with men [literal translation, not sure how to make it better], they begin to make themselves beautiful [literally “beautify the face,” possibly “put on makeup”] and in this alone hold all their hopes. Therefore it is worthwhile to put to them, so that they learn, that they are honored by nothing except by being [I think phainesthai here means “to appear to be and also actually be”] well-behaved and modest.
      — — —

      • Bugmaster says:

        As I said above, I don’t know any Greek, but I could prettify your proposed translation as something like this:
        —-
        Women as young as fourteen years old are constantly getting hit on by men, who see them as future housewives. As the result, women believe that their only worth resides in their sex appeal, and they begin to dress accordingly. Therefore, we should try and explain to them that their true beauty lies not in their sexuality, but in their modest and virtuous acts.
        —-

        • Randy M says:

          future housewives

          Based on the discussion this would not work in modern context; seeing a woman as a future housewife implies you want her as the mother of your children, or at least life-partner.
          If you aren’t worried about being crude, I think “fuckbuddy” is something kids these days say that carries the same connotations as the original.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Good point; though you could maybe use something like “a steady lay” to avoid the word “fuck”… not sure if people still use that phrase nowadays, though.

            Edit: or just replace “housewife” with “girlfriend”. It’s a much milder term, which might be closer to the original usage.

          • fluorocarbon says:

            I think the author is implying that a man would want the woman to be the mother of his children. (Although probably not an equal life-partner, since the Greeks were awfully sexist.)

            The Greek text says “hupo tōn andrōn kuriai kalountai” which literally means “by the men mistresses they-are-called” or “they are called mistresses by men.” Here “kuria,” the word for mistress, means a “mistress of a the house.” It doesn’t mean someone you have an extra-marital with, like it does English.

            I think the general gist of the whole thing is: “Young women of marriageable age are seen as homemakers by men. Since the only way for them have anything is by sleeping with a man [and then getting married, implied], they put all their hopes in attracting a man by acting vain and painting their faces. Therefore we [men] should tell them that their real virtues are in modesty and self-control [the Greek verb implies that the the virtue isn’t only being modest and self-controlled privately, but also having the public reputation of modesty and self-control].”

          • Randy M says:

            Here “kuria,” the word for mistress, means a “mistress of a the house.” It doesn’t mean someone you have an extra marital [sexual relations] with, like it does English.

            Very well, I drew the wrong impression from the conversation between you, bgaesop, and Bugmaster above.

            In which case the English word would either be “Wife” or “Concubine”. I believe the intent when taking a mistress is to avoid giving her children, though that is a common failure state. (Actually, mistress has two meanings, “the female head of household” and, more contemporary, “a woman that a married man has regular affairs with.” Clearly here the first meaning is intended but it is ambiguous at best in contemporary speech)

            Generally I’d expect men who are thinking of marriage and fatherhood (though I may be projecting here) are going to be concerned with virtue rather than just beauty vs men who are looking for a mistress fling will prize the latter. But perhaps it’s speaking to a milieu where men use pick-up lines based on superficial features to initiate courtship. Perhaps that’s the case currently; I can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone say “Hey baby, heaven must be missing an angel, because damn you sure are honest and humble.”

            In any event, in case the similarity did not occur to anyone else, his is pretty similar to 1 Peter 3:3

            3Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

            By the way, I would be interested in this translation when it is complete.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Ok, so I may have misunderstood the intent of the original. Is the author saying,

            “Men are just looking for sex, so women are sexing it up instead of developing virtue”

            or is he saying,

            “Men are looking for good wives, but give the impression of just looking for sex, so women are sexing it up instead of developing virtue and end up being bad wives”

            ?

          • Philipp says:

            The 1890 translation by Higginson that you quote, bgaesop, is a little bit delicate (“give men pleasure” rather than the literal “lie with”), but fundamentally accurate. The language, maybe, needs to be updated, but not the sentiments expressed, which are pretty nearly Epictetus’ own.

            I think “hit on” and “catcall” are quite missing the point. κυρίαι doesn’t mean “mistress” in our euphemistic sense; it means “madams” (again not in a euphemistic sense! English is terrible for this–see LSJ s.v. κύριος B. 2, citing exactly this passage; basically, I’m saying what fluorocarbon is saying.) καλοῦνται is in no way a belittling word; it is, in fact, the ordinary Greek word for calling someone, calling someone by name, or calling someone something. “Flatter” is a paraphrastic, but not unreasonable translation for it: as always, context is king. (Isn’t it just a little flattering to call a fourteen-year-old “madam”? But Higginson might be importing a modern sensibility that sees a teenage girl as not quite a lady in fact.) The literal translation, in any case, is “call them madam.”

            Likewise, “as young as fourteen” puts, for the modern reader, a moral quality on the age that is foreign to this passage and to most ancient writing in general: age plays a much bigger role for us than it did for ancient people in establishing the propriety or morality of sexual relations. εὐθὺς ἀπὸ τεσσαρεσκαίδεκα ἐτῶν actually means “straightway from fourteen years”, that is, from a time that a girl could reasonably be considered a woman. Epictetus is, in any case, clearly thinking of these girls as wanting to impress the men, and there is no hint that the attention is unwelcome to them.

            I fear, bgaesop, that your translation risks making Epictetus belittle the desire of the women to be wanted by men, which he doesn’t do. Instead, he is pointing out that women are respected for “seeming orderly and modest.” The contrast, at which Randy M hits with his Petrine passage (the work of a rough contemporary of Epictetus, of course), is between obsession with (physical) beauty, which brings at best sexual relations, and the pursuit of the virtue that actually wins honor, which is what a woman really needs and wants (of course–who in the ancient world doesn’t want honor?) Honor from whom? From you, the philosopher, but I presume from other men in general: after all, ancient people respected feminine modesty greatly, as indeed many men seem to now.

            This is not a recommendation to Epictetus’ male students to compliment women on anything (a peculiarly modern reduction of “honor,” with all its great social weight, to saying a few nice things now and then)–rather, to help them (in the first instance, probably the men’s sweethearts, wives, daughters, and sisters) to put their focus on their behavior and not their appearance. Although Epictetus is usually said to have a lower view of women, it coheres pretty well with the reported views of his teacher Musonius Rufus, who thought women should pursue virtue through philosophy in order to be good housewives.

            Here’s my translation into modern language:

            From the moment they turn fourteen, women are called “madam” by men. Seeing accordingly that nothing else benefits them, except to lie with men, they begin to pretty themselves and to put all their hopes in this. It is, then, fitting to take heed, that they might perceive that they are honored for nothing else than appearing well-behaved and modest.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Philipp:
            Your analysis is very compelling, and leaves me wishing I could learn more — which an especially impressive achievement, seeing as I normally have no particular interest history. That said, though… your proposed translation sounds stuffy and stilted. It is a good translation of the original into English, but not into modern conversational language.

          • Philipp says:

            Oh, but Epictetus isn’t writing in conversational language. That is, he is writing in Koine, but there’s nothing especially colloquial about the passage. Modern English, which for many speakers seems largely to have lost its formal registers (what remains is a kind of vaguely bureaucratic business-speak–‘utilize’ for use, ‘individuals’ for persons, and all that), is especially unsuited for rendering this kind of thing well.

            Perhaps, a little less stiltedly:

            From the moment they turn fourteen, women are called “ma’am” by men. When they see that their only benefit in life comes from sleeping with men, they start to primp, and to stake all their hopes on their appearance. We ought, then, to do our best to help them understand that they actually get respect by looking well-behaved and modest.

            A little loose, but I think it preserves the basic sense, while being a little more readable.

            P.S. Thanks for the compliment! A doctorate in Classics has to be good for something…. The best way to learn about the ancient world is just to read the texts. Epictetus himself, yes, for this (the Loeb Classical Library is always a start); also Cora Lutz’s translation of Musonius Rufus in the 1947 volume of Yale Classical Studies (if you’re near a university library, they might have it).

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Philipp:
            Yes, I like your second translation a lot better; I think it’s closer to what fluorocarbon was trying to achieve. I understand that Epictetus wasn’t writing in conversational language, but I thought the goal was to make the translation a bit more conversational. If the goal were to remain maximally faithful to the original, then yes, your first translation would’ve been better.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m confused, because the modern meaning of “Madam” is, well, highly contextual. “Ma’am” is simply a sign of respect given to a women perceived to be old enough to be both an adult and assumed worthy of respect in some way.

            I have no idea how that connects to being only valued for sex, as even the other meaning of “Madam” doesn’t imply someone with whom you wish to have sex or wishes to have sex with you.

            Are the perhaps using a word that would have meant something like “wife”, implying that they wish to have such a relationship with the girl?

          • Philipp says:

            It doesn’t really mean “wife.” κυρίαι is a plural feminine form of the same word used, for example, to call Jesus “lord” or “master” in the Gospels–it is a term of respectful address. I wouldn’t be surprised if a man in a formal setting used it to address his wife (for example, in front of servants or children), though it might be a bit deferential for that. “Lady,” “ma’am,” or “madam” all approximate the sense in different contexts.

            Now, the Enchiridion is a handbook, very literally, of Epictetus’ teaching; it is a summary, therefore, and not the totality of what Epictetus believed (and not all of Arrian’s publication of his Discourses survives intact, either–we have more fragments in e.g. the anthology by the late Roman writer John of Stobi). It isn’t surprising, therefore, to find the logic a little compressed.

            My guess, HealBearCub, is that Higginson’s “flattered” gets some of the right force across here. Girls find themselves addressed as grown ladies by men already from a young age, and this shapes their behavior. Here, I now see that I mistranslated πρόσεστι: it doesn’t mean “benefit” but “belong to” (I must have been thinking of the Latin prodesse). We thus have, “when they see, therefore, that they can do nothing/have no other lot in life but to lie with men, they pretty themselves” [I supply ἵνα or a similar conjunction before συγκοιμῶνται, fluorocarbon, but maybe that’s just my Latin getting in the way again.]

            I would take that roughly as follows: girls realize, because they are now women socially and physically, that a relationship with a man (described, in crassly frank terms, with sole reference to sex) is their destiny in life. Thus, they try to win men over by making themselves look as pretty as possible; but the philosopher’s duty is to encourage them toward the good behavior and modesty that win them respect, instead.

            It’s possible that Epictetus is simple and solely encouraging women to virtue for its own sake. However, the mention of “honor” suggests that he is thinking also of the social implications of different kinds of behavior. The thought might be something like this: girls who just look sexy get used for sex, but don’t receive honor (which might mean that they are discarded through divorce or abandonment prior to marriage). Girls, on the other hand, who are modest can expect respect from men, and thus to be treated as “wife-material.” If he is thinking about suitability for marriage, the thought is largely implicit, but the contrast between beauty and honor suggests, I think, that the merely beautiful are likely to be dishonored (possibly sexually, possibly in the eyes of the philosophical, right-thinking man).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Well, there has to be something in the original word you are treating as “Ma’am” that implies “a woman who has sex with men”, other wise the statement falls apart. I don’t understand how you think one follows from the other, in terms of the implications in Greek.

            Wife or mother (in the modern parlance) would suffice. Of course, we don’t call girls “wife” or “mother”, and thus this translation wouldn’t parse for modern sensibilities, but there has to have been some implication like that.

            Do you see what my question is?

          • Philipp says:

            HeelBearCub:

            I think calling a girl “lady” or “ma’am” definitely implies that she is a grown woman, even if it doesn’t mean she is some particular man’s woman yet. For an ancient Greek or Roman pagan, who did not exalt or expect long-term virginity except in certain unusual cases (Vestals and so forth), a grown woman is a woman who will have sex sometime. No longer a little girl, she is an object of sexual interest and in some sense sexually “available,” at least after some formalities of courtship and marriage (and any pubescent young woman could marry, so long as she was free, etc.–see Title V here from the legal expert Ulpian). She might become a man’s lawful wife; she might become a quasi-formal concubine; she might become a servile mistress (in the euphemistic sense) of her master or a contubernalis (literally, “shacker-up/tentmate”) of a fellow-slave. Of course, any girl likely to be called such a respectful term is probably at least free.

            Does that make sense? I don’t think that Epictetus is saying that all girls, from fourteen, are actually right now the wives or girlfriends of men, but that men start to address and treat them as grown women, that the girls then start to recognize that they must inevitably sleep with men because that is what women do (ideally as wives, but Epictetus focuses on the act itself), and so start to focus on makeup, fine clothes, etc. to win themselves a man; but the philosopher’s duty is to turn them toward feminine virtues (good order, modesty), which is what earns them respect. He’s a later Stoic, so I really doubt he expected women to abandon marriage for philosophy, as the Neoplatonist Hypatia or (mutatis mutandis) Christian ascetic women did. I think by “honor” he is thus most likely referring to the honorable position of the matron (or of the good maiden who will become one), who is typified by modesty, sobriety, etc.

            (Of course, Epictetus had been a slave himself and seemed to have a low view of women in general, so we can’t be quite sure of what station the girls are that he is thinking of. I have assumed the counterparts of his largely well-to-do students).

          • Bugmaster says:

            You could replace “ma’am” with “my lady”, but that might be a bit on the nose 🙂

          • Bugmaster says:

            BTW, I tried reporting Philipp, and in fact this entire thread (sans my own posts, naturally) as a quality contribution… but failed 🙁 Someone in charge of this website should fix it one of these days.

          • Aapje says:

            @Bugmaster

            Reporting quality contributions is a reddit feature that is not available here.

  20. honoredb says:

    I’ve been skeptical for a while about the actual case for banning insider trading, seeing as how the whole point of the market is to aggregate information. The argument against insider trading seems to be mainly that it turns the stock market into a Market For Lemons–anybody buying in without insider knowledge should assume they’re being conned and price their bid accordingly, which means the market is only attractive to sellers who know their stocks are likely to tank, which creates a feedback loop and ends up reducing liquidity. But I’d argue that there’s already a huge information mismatch between individual and institutional traders, due to access to private analyses, and the ban just creates a false sense of transparency. I don’t really know what the consequences would be of removing all restrictions, though–it might dramatically increase volatility with people interpreting every movement as an insider signal.

    Annoyingly, I’m now seeing econ people I follow talk about this, but they’re divided along partisan lines because the current high-profile case of insider trading is an American politician. So in the interests of Healing The Divide, I semi-seriously propose a randomized controlled trial–legalize insider trading for 20 stocks for a year, and see what it does to volatility, trading volume, and so on.

    • Deiseach says:

      I don’t really know what the consequences would be of removing all restrictions, though–it might dramatically increase volatility with people interpreting every movement as an insider signal.

      I’m probably totally off the beam here, but my vague understanding from some scandals prior to the ban was that the risk is that people will rig the market for their own profit, either booming shares to artificially inflate the price so they can sell to the suckers, or artificially lowering the price so they can hoover up shares cheaply. A small clique of insiders manipulating companies to raise or lower shares so the market valuation is not the true state of affairs.

      The Marconi shares scandal seemed to be more about “politicians using insider info about fat government contracts so they could buy shares at a knock-down price and then make a killing off them later, all aggravated by the guy making the shares available being not alone the managing director but also the brother of one of the politicians and the implication of doing favours later for the businessmen/brokers who gave them the favourable treatment”. That’s another danger – that insider trading can be used as bribery.

      • ana53294 says:

        But isn’t market manipulation different from insider trading?

        My vague idea is that what Elon Musk did with that tweet about going private was not insider trading, but was still market manipulation (and there is a lot of talk about suing him).

        Insider trading is just personally benefitting from something that is going to happen anyway (if you know your company is going to be bought, and that will increase the share price, you buy lots of shares).

        The bribing risk is real. But, since both activities are illegal (insider trading and bribing), and people still do it, would it make a difference in bribing behaviour? Even if insider trading is legal, bribing will still be illegal.

        • bean says:

          I think the logic there is that it’s easier to prove insider trading than market manipulation/bribery. My takeaway from my company’s insider trading training is “insider information is a particularly nasty mimetic virus, which will get you if at all possible”, so I plan to never buy their stock. That makes it relatively easy to prosecute. If you leak something to a journalist right before a big hit on the company’s stock to boost the price so you can sell out, that’s both market manipulation and insider trading. But it can be hard to prove you were the source of the leak if you were careful. It’s easy to see that you were doing insider trading, and nail you for that.

        • Deiseach says:

          My vague idea is that what Elon Musk did with that tweet about going private was not insider trading, but was still market manipulation (and there is a lot of talk about suing him).

          I don’t think it was insider trading but Lord above knows what it was, apart from “Somebody take Mr Musk away from the keyboard now, please”.

          I have a vague idea that in the old days there was the idea that since the shareholders were the owners of the company and you had a duty to the owners as your employers, using insider knowledge to trade shares was enriching yourself at their expense and so in a way on a par with stealing from them. But don’t mind me, I could be as full of feathers as Elon’s next tweet.

    • Jon S says:

      IANAL, but: in the United States, the legal basis for insider trading prosecutions is that insider trading is information theft – it’s not about fairness or information symmetry (though Regulation FD is somewhat related and is about fairness).

      If you work for company XYZ, come across material non-public information in the course of your work, and then make a profit using that information, you have stolen information that rightfully belongs to your employer. I’m not sure whether any companies have tried compensated their employees by allowing them to insider trade in their stock, or whether such a plan would be legal.

      Matt Levine is probably the best writer on the subject for a lay audience.

      • As your final comment suggests, that line of argument leads to freedom of contract–a company may require employees not to trade on inside information as a condition of employment but doesn’t have to. As I understand current law that is not a legal option.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’ll second Jon S (no relation) in recommending Matt Levine on this.

      Also, in this case, Megan McArdle. It’s hard to make a case for insider trading causing tangible harm to anyone who isn’t already a sucker who needs to be kept away from equities markets for their own good. But the legally actionable sort of insider trading necessarily involves a breach of trust by people with a fiduciary duty to the shareholders, and that damages institutional trust. Looking at the differences between high-trust and low-trust societies, noting that the US is at best a medium-trust society and that it’s easier to move down that ladder than up, I’d say this is a breach of trust that we want to discourage.

      Whether it constitutes actual fraud is borderline, but it’s hard to see how someone takes a position involving that sort of fiduciary responsibility without at least implicitly promising not to use it for private gain in a manner that damages trust in the collective institution.

      • Jon S says:

        I’m also a fan of Megan McArdle, but I think she misses the mark here:

        if he hadn’t sold, those interested buyers would have bought shares from someone else. And here’s the kicker: Since share prices tend to decrease as the supply of shares increases, the buyers might have actually paid a higher price if Cameron Collins’s weren’t on the market, and thereby would have lost more money.

        Trading in the stock over the time frame in question was a zero-sum game – the insiders’ gains (or the losses they avoid) were somebody else’s losses. To the extent that the insider sales depressed the stock price, some marginal buyer only bought the stock because of that depressed price.

        Depending on the time scales involved, I believe that usually when insiders cheat, many of the losses get stuck on market makers of the stocks involved. These losses force market makers to widen their spreads slightly in general, and very slightly reduce liquidity for the rest of the world. Of course, this part is all true of informed trading in general, not just illegally-advantaged trading. In most contexts we consider this tradeoff to be a net positive for the market, but to say that there are no losers to insider trading seems baffling to me – there are obviously winners, and it’s zero-sum, so there are losers!

        • Controls Freak says:

          there are obviously winners, and it’s zero-sum, so there are losers!

          I don’t think your assumption that it’s zero-sum is necessarily true. One mechanism I’ve heard for how insider trading could improve results is bringing information to the market more quickly. The example here would be that if insiders in Enron were able to go and massively short their stock, perhaps they couldn’t have kept the ruse going for as long as they did. I don’t know whether these effects actually are net-positive, but I don’t think the situation is zero-sum by definition.

          As a little aside that is insider-adjacent, recently, there was a story of security researchers who found a flaw in a medical company’s product. This company didn’t have a bug bounty program, so they simply shorted the stock, went public with the flaw, and got “paid” via this mechanism. I’m curious to hear what people think of this.

          • beleester says:

            This feels unethical to me, because of perverse incentives. Standard practice is to notify the company about the vulnerability before disclosing it publicly, so that they can fix it before the black hats can exploit it. If you intend to make money from their stock crashing, that gives you an incentive to instead make your disclosure cause as much damage as possible.

            In short, you can’t cause security breaches just because you want to get paid.

            However, thinking about this leads me to another thought experiment: Suppose that they had gone through responsible disclosure, but shorted the stock anyway, knowing that the company would probably have to announce “We suffered a security breach on X/X/2018 and all your data got stolen.” Is this ethical of them? I’m not sure.

    • broblawsky says:

      Other people have already made excellent points here, but I’d also like to note that institutional investors actually don’t have much of an advantage over individual investors any more – most hedge funds tend to underperform, especially on a risk-vs-reward scale, the kinds of index funds that most regular people use. Insider trading imperils that symmetry, allowing people with access to the halls of power to screw people without that access in ways they really can’t today.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      East Asian markets don’t have laws against insider trading and they seem to have the predicted negative effects, although it’s not the end of the world. It’s not as good as randomization, but I think it’s as good as we’re going to get.

      • pontifex says:

        That’s really interesting. What negative effects do you think it has? Higher volatility?

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Correction: East Asian markets didn’t have enforcement against insider trading. They did have laws against it, unlike America. And my information is out of date: they seem to have stepped up enforcement in the 21st century. It would be interesting to see if that had an effect, particularly in markets that were already mature, like Hong Kong and Japan.

    • Anon. says:

      The best case against insider trading laws comes from futures/FX markets where no such laws exist, and the markets function perfectly fine. Of course there’s also a smaller info disparity in those markets, so it’s not a perfect comparison…

      • add_lhr says:

        I don’t think there are any “insiders” in FX markets, other than a *very* small handful of central bankers in major economies, and they are only insiders for the one or two hours every (month/quarter/etc) that they are meeting about changing monetary policy. And, you know, they are literally all in a room then and you can just take their phones for the duration. There are “insiders” at banks with respect to major FX trade requests from big customers, but trading on that is called front-running (not insider trading), and I think is banned through other means.

        And insider trading in futures of stocks is definitely illegal – that’s how the SEC catches you in the first place. Not sure about commodities, although again just like FX, this is only relevant if there are actual “insiders”, i.e. in certain metals where a single mining company meaningfully affects total supply. The concept would not seem to be relevant for, like, corn or something I don’t think.

  21. ana53294 says:

    What unusual perks are given to employees in your country?

    This mostly applies to permanent workers; some of these perks are not legal requirements, but are very extended:

    In Spain, most workers get their annual pay in 13 or 14 payments per year (an extra at Christmas, and another extra for the summer). Maternity leave is 16 weeks and paternity leave is 5 weeks (this applies even when the child was adopted). You get 3 days off for grieving when a close relative dies. Two weeks off after you marry for honeymoon leave. Half a day off on election day*, and the full day if you happen to be called to the electoral table**.

    *This is why elections almost always fall on Sundays; if the whole country got a half day off, that would be bad for the economy, and you could just make it a national holiday and be done with it.

    **The electoral table is made by a lottery where every citizen who is registered as resident and has the adecuate level of education participates. There are three members, plus three extras who have to come to the electoral table before the vote, and, if the members are present, the extras can leave. The members get a per diem for food, and they have to be there from the opening of the election to the counting of the votes (elections are by paper ballot in Spain; no electronics).

    • AlphaGamma says:

      The UK deals with the day-off-on-election-day issue by having voting run from 7 am to 10 pm. Elections are on Thursdays to be as late as possible after Sunday (so priests can’t influence voters from the pulpit) without being on a Friday or Saturday with the inherent risk of people voting after drinking their paycheque…

    • toastengineer says:

      In my country we have this weird system where my employer gives some fraction of my income to this third party, and then whenever I want to buy certain kinds of goods and services, I can’t pay for it myself – I have to show them my membership card, and then they’ll negotiate with that third-party. Luckily there there was a recent push to reform this system by making there be a fine for not participating in it, but it doesn’t seem to have improved things much.

      j o k e s aside though, FSA cards are nice; you pick a percentage of your paycheck to go on to this special debit card, and then that money is exempt from income tax, the catch being that the card only works for medicine-related purchases.

      I’m sure there’s retailers who help people cheat just like with food stamps, but…

      • gbdub says:

        I hate FSAs, because they are use-or-lose. As a relatively young, healthy individual, I have very few expected medical expenses, and mostly care about making catastrophic expenses small. So FSA is basically useless – my only sure-thing expense is eyeglasses and twice yearly dentistry, so I’d put away enough to cover the after insurance costs of those services (a couple hundred bucks or less). Even a minor miscalculation would result in some chunk of the FSA turning “lose it” and wipe out the tax savings.

        Much better for someone in my position is the current trend of high deductible plans with HSAs, the main difference being that HSAs carry over indefinitely. So I can put away enough pre-tax money to cover my yearly out of pocket maximum… once I’ve built up that amount I can let it sit and only replenish what I use yearly (not very much).

      • BBA says:

        In much of the non-English-speaking world “universal” healthcare is tied to employment. As I understand it (probably wrong, somebody who knows something please correct me), the German and Swiss systems have private “sickness funds” that employers pay into as well as public funds for the unemployed and retired. In France all of these funds are government-run but still separately administered.

        Also, in Canada things that aren’t covered by the public healthcare system (for instance, dental care) are often employment perks.

  22. Peter says:

    The trouble with the “making humans cold-blooded” thing is that although it purports to be really about turning humans into reptiles (deeply cool), there are in fact cold-blooded mammals that are highly cancer-resistant – naked mole rats, and turning humans into them is likely to have fewer unexpected snags. And although those critters have a certain nerdy charm, they’re not nearly as cool as reptiles, in fact looked at in a certain light they’re kinda embarrassing.

    That said, if there’s some dystopian future with vast overpopulation and people being crammed into masses of underground tunnels, then naked mole rat adaptations might be handy. While we’re at it, let’s engineer eusociality into the tunnel-dwelling masses because what could possibly go wrong?

  23. WashedOut says:

    Last open thread lithp started a cryptocurrency Q&A topic that got a fair amount of interest but, I suggest, was at the wrong end of the OT cycle to get the questions answered. Following on from this I have two requests:

    1. Does lithp or anyone else want to pick up the baton?
    2. Can anyone recommend good website sources of news, analysis and speculation w.r.t cryptocurrency markets? By good I mean well-presented, thoughtful/insightful, and as reliable as can reasonably be expected for such a dynamic/unpredictable environment.

    • dick says:

      I’ll re-ask my questions:

      1) How does ETH deal with the oracle problem? For example, suppose Alice wants to write a smart contract that pays Bob some ETH if the price of GOOG is above a certain threshold on a certain date, how does the contract find out the price of GOOG?

      2) My gloss on BTC is that it’s more or less failed to deliver on the promise of anonymously buying a cup of coffee, because a) on-chain transaction costs are too high to use BTC for small purchases, and b) off-chain transactions will require trusting a large financial company, which implies no anonymity. Is this essentially correct?

      • albatross11 says:

        dick: [Not a blockchain expert, but I know a bit about it.]

        For #1, it’s a hard problem. In general, for stuff that’s happening off-chain, you have to find a way to get that information onto the chain in a way that you believe is trustworthy. The two ways I’ve seen proposed are:

        a. Define some kind of trusted third party who is the source of the information and who will send it into the contract. (A variant is to have a set of N trusted third parties, and accept it if enough of them agree on the information. But this works on the chain–the trusted source of information sends a message to the contract with his claim about the correct value of the external information, and is rewarded for it.)

        b. Use a “Schelling auction.”This article explains the idea in some depth. But the quick summary is that we get lots of people to effectively place a bet on what the majority of bettors (perhaps scaled by size of bet) will say is the closing price of Google. As long as there’s not some kind of massive collusion, the best bet to make is the correct closing price.

        If you are willing to have trust blockchain (a blockchain run by somewhat-trusted nodes, so that any K/N nodes are assumed to be doing the right thing), you could also have the trusted nodes incorporate externally-available information.

        Also, if there is an authoritative source for the information, and that authoritative source issues signed messages containing the information, then your contract could just require that someone provide the signed statement from the authoritative source to get the contract to accept it. But then we’re back to the trusted third party problem, just with an intermediate step.

        2. Those are both problems. A more fundamental one with the “anonymous” part of your question is that every transaction in Bitcoin is written in public on the chain, and that’s a fundamental part of how the system works. A given Bitcoin address is at best a pseudonym. If you want anonymity, you have to go through a mix–N addresses send money to the mix, which transfers money back into N new addresses. Assuming your identity is linked to one of the addresses that transferred money in (and everyone got the same money in/out of the mix), an attacker is left knowing you own one or more of the outgoing addresses, but not which one(s).

        There are other cryptocurrencies (notably Zcash) that use some clever crypto to get anonymity. But the whole idea of a blockchain is that stuff is happening out in the open, so anonymity isn’t easy to get. (Similarly, Ethereum contracts can’t have any secrets–their state must be known by all miners, and is available by reading the blockchain.)

        • dick says:

          1) I should’ve been clearer, I’m familiar with how trust works in a decentralized setting, I just don’t get how ethereum contracts access data that isn’t already on the blockchain. Once I’ve picked my trusted third party or group of parties or whatever, how do they provide the answer? If my smart contract says, “pay $1 to joe if GOOG is below a certain amount at market close on Sept. 13,” do I need to know about and specify the identifier of some party who (I hope) will be publishing a new smart contract on Sept 14 that says, “If anyone asks what price GOOG closed at yesterday, tell them $1235”?

          I ask because one of the features Ethereum was hyping at launch was the idea of smart contracts that allow traders to hedge by simulating options, and it seems like no one uses it for that and maybe like that’s not pragmatic. (And because searching for “how do ethereum contracts get stock prices” just gets me 18 million websites that are keen to tell me what price ETH is trading at)

          2) You’re very right that BTC anonymity isn’t perfect, but that’s not what I’m referring to. My understanding of the lightning network and other proposals to fix BTC’s fundamental scalability problem is that they involve bidirectional trust with a third party, presumably a financial services company, which presumably means no more anonymous than a VISA purchase. But I could be misunderstanding how the off-chain proposals work.

          • albatross11 says:

            The information has to get into the memory that the program (contract) can read. The normal way for that to happen is for someone to send a message to the contract (including gas to process the message) containing the relevant information. If that information is either from an address trusted by the contract to provide this information, or includes a signature from some trusted entity that the contract can verify, then this gets the information into memory that the contract can use to make decisions.

            I don’t know enough about the plans for scaling up Bitcoin to answer your questions there, but my understanding is that none of the currently widely considered solutions can possibly scale Bitcoin up to the point of being the main way everyone does transactions.

  24. Levantine says:

    I used to nod, agree and say “great” about Judith Rich Harris’ metastudy of developmental psychology. These I nod, agree, and say “great” to what is being said here and here… and then I surprisedly realise that it ignores & sometimes directly contradicts Judith Rich Harris’ conclusions.

    In all these cases I probably correctly recognise some truthfulness that is simply of different kinds in each. But there is also almost certainly a discord between JRH and the latter two that is of practical importance. I’m reminded of what Minsky said in “Society of Mind,” that thoughts as such are “ambiguous,” being just a part of ongoing natural processes.

  25. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Our next D&D discussion:

    How do you get players to enter a dungeon stocked using an Old School random table (original DMG example)?
    3.5 completely destroys this play style. XP comes from killing monsters, or double for getting past them non-violently. There’s no incentive for them to not go hunting normal animals for XP, sleep after each encounter with watches in case they get an overnight random encounter, repeat until leveling up, then insinuate that if their DM doesn’t make their Wealth By Level appear by the time they level up she’s a bad DM.
    5E doesn’t have the evil WBL rule, so I can try to tempt them with rumors that the dungeon has treasure they can’t get anywhere else, but they still say an underground settlement of hostile sapient beings is too dangerous a way to get XP.
    SOOO, it sounds like this play style requires the BECMI/AD&D1 XP rules (1 GP = 1 XP, murder XP should be no more than 25%) to incentivize it. But once you’ve incentivized it, how do you keep players from quitting because it’s too deadly?

    • dndnrsn says:

      1.Reaction rolls. Why are the sapient beings underground automatically hostile? By the B/X rules, as I understand them, without a good reason to attack, there’s only a 2-on-2d6 (so, 1/36) chance of a monster automatically attacking. If the PCs are smart, they can play one faction off against each other. It helps if you ignore the “chaos: evil” morality of some versions, the “always CE” of others, etc. Call me a pinko, but my orcs are morally on par with humans (which is not a compliment).

      2. I just give out more XP. It doesn’t have to be XP for killing stuff; getting enemies to run away or negotiating with them or whatever can get you XP too. I don’t bother dividing by number of PCs; that way XP gain is faster, so if a PC bites it, the new guy will catch up more quickly. Yeah, it’s not old school, but whatever; it’s not like gaining levels makes the game less fun. (I find that in general, players are willing to accept something more punishing than games now tend, but old-school 3d6-in-order, roll HP at first level, slow XP progression is a bit much for anyone who wasn’t there the first time)

      3. ACKS has a rule I like, where a PC can spend money to no in-game benefit (carousing and so forth is the standard) and this is banked. When they die, the new PC gets 90% of that amount as XP. This simultaneously gives people who would be aghast at starting with a new level 1 PC a way to avoid that, and forces PCs to keep adventuring in a get-money-and-spend-it cycle.

      Regarding wealth by level: wasn’t that just supposed to be a rough benchmark and a tool for making PCs above first level? If players aren’t going out and earning that gold, it’s not the GM’s job to have it fall in their laps.

      EDIT: Also, there’s other things you can do to get that play style going. Enforcing bookkeeping is one: most games nowadays involve some way to hand wave travel time, ration consumption, hiring NPCs, encumbrance, etc. Forcing players to do that stuff gets them into a certain mindset that I find is conducive to getting them to behave like “professional adventurers” instead of just heroes waiting to be told where the story is happening next.

      EDIT 2: What do you want from the game? I’m running something where I bet a lot of the OSR crew would call me a sissy, but what I want is randomization-heavy sandbox play where nobody (including me, the GM) knows what’s going to happen as the game unfolds, there’s no “mandatory story” and there sure isn’t a plot, and the PCs aren’t guaranteed success.

      • Nornagest says:

        That GP-to-new-character-XP rule is really clever. I’ve read the ACKS sourcebook, but I need to find a group that’s actually willing to play it.

        • dndnrsn says:

          A lot of the stuff in ACKS past the core mechanics is easy to port. That rule, the rule for assigning XP for gold gotten through other ways than adventuring… Some really clever ideas in there.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        1.Reaction rolls. Why are the sapient beings underground automatically hostile? By the B/X rules, as I understand them, without a good reason to attack, there’s only a 2-on-2d6 (so, 1/36) chance of a monster automatically attacking. If the PCs are smart, they can play one faction off against each other.

        The “good reason” was that they had looted a treasure room, and the orcs* inhabiting this underground village all recognized what they were carrying because small kin-based society, Dunbar’s Number etc.

        *This was a test campaign where orcs existed… the various “humanoid” stat blocks up to ogre representing one race, at different stages of growth, that would later be called “orco” in Italian and “ogre” in French.

        If the PCs are smart, they can play one faction off against each other.

        They didn’t clue into the existence of any. Their perception was a hostile underground village where the humanoids segregated their rooms by level (“ogres” and bugbears were too tall for the smaller folk’s ceilings and so didn’t reinforce them), with realistic animals (although I use sapient animals) and the mindless skeletons of humans who predated them.

        It helps if you ignore the “chaos: evil” morality of some versions, the “always CE” of others, etc.

        This I was already doing early in my long-running 3.5 campaign. The big encounter of a flooded stone structure in Graia, Greece was the barrow wight of an antediluvian chief, who rolled “Uncertain, confused” as his reaction and they role-played such a good discussion with the confused man-out-of-time that he became one of the most popular recurring NPCs of the entire 22-level campaign. Always evil, bah!

        (I find that in general, players are willing to accept something more punishing than games now tend, but old-school 3d6-in-order, roll HP at first level, slow XP progression is a bit much for anyone who wasn’t there the first time)

        I wouldn’t think of doing 3d6 in order or rolling HP at first level.

        3. ACKS has a rule I like, where a PC can spend money to no in-game benefit (carousing and so forth is the standard) and this is banked. When they die, the new PC gets 90% of that amount as XP. This simultaneously gives people who would be aghast at starting with a new level 1 PC a way to avoid that, and forces PCs to keep adventuring in a get-money-and-spend-it cycle.

        That’s a really cool rule (I’d even go 100%), the problem is getting players to accept death at all. I encourage them to take a henchman so they don’t miss a single round of the fun, try to guide them toward the editions with fastest chargen (if I ever played GURPS, I’d expect the PC I slaved over for so long to have plot armor against all personal weapons)…

        Regarding wealth by level: wasn’t that just supposed to be a rough benchmark and a tool for making PCs above first level? If players aren’t going out and earning that gold, it’s not the GM’s job to have it fall in their laps.

        The way they put it is that the CR math assumes you always have your WBL, so CR-appropriate encounters become overpowered if PCs ever don’t.
        (I don’t much like CR!)

        EDIT: Also, there’s other things you can do to get that play style going. Enforcing bookkeeping is one: most games nowadays involve some way to hand wave travel time, ration consumption, hiring NPCs, encumbrance, etc. Forcing players to do that stuff gets them into a certain mindset that I find is conducive to getting them to behave like “professional adventurers” instead of just heroes waiting to be told where the story is happening next.

        Yeah, I try not to handwave that. Of course rations became somewhat trivial in 3.5 as soon as they got their WBL, because even if you convert “gp” to something like “silver shekel, a laborer’s daily wage”, each PC can afford 99 of them with pocket change and the ox cart to carry them around Level 3.

        EDIT 2: What do you want from the game? I’m running something where I bet a lot of the OSR crew would call me a sissy, but what I want is randomization-heavy sandbox play where nobody (including me, the GM) knows what’s going to happen as the game unfolds, there’s no “mandatory story” and there sure isn’t a plot, and the PCs aren’t guaranteed success.

        I’d already doing sandbox play that’s a mix of double-blind content (“nobody including me, the GM knows what’s going to happen”) and carefully-crafted hex contents, with no mandatory story. What more I want is “the PCs aren’t guaranteed success” and to plop a good dungeon crawl into at least one of the hexes.

        • Nornagest says:

          The big encounter of a flooded stone structure in Graia, Greece was the barrow wight of an antediluvian chief, who rolled “Uncertain, confused” as his reaction and they role-played such a good discussion with the confused man-out-of-time that he became one of the most popular recurring NPCs of the entire 22-level campaign. Always evil, bah!

          Much earlier in development, far and away the most popular NPC concept for the MUD I work on was a thousand-year-old draugr — this was before Skyrim came out, and our take is different, but he still dwells in a barrow and looks kind of like anthropomorphic beef jerky — who likes telling stories and hitting on the living. Unfortunately we didn’t have undead support when the time came to implement NPCs for his region, and he kind of fell by the wayside.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Unfortunately we didn’t have undead support when the time came to implement NPCs for his region, and he kind of fell by the wayside.

            As Hamlet would say, poor ghost! Or as Amleth would more accurately say, poor draugr!

        • dndnrsn says:

          1. When I told my players to think of it as being like a “no death run” in a video game, sorta – that trying to keep their guy alive was part of the fun – I think most of them bought it.

          2. If success isn’t guaranteed, failure has to be interesting. A problem with much post-80s adventure/campaign design (going from published stuff) is that it’s story-based, and the story is something the players only get to participate in (or, worse, only get to passively see) if they succeed. This creates an incentive to nudge things in the direction of PC success.

          3. Sure, they’ve got tons of rations and an oxcart, but the oxcart is an easy target: when a random encounter dragon takes a dislike to them, they can scamper into the brush; the oxcart can’t.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Sure, they’ve got tons of rations and an oxcart, but the oxcart is an easy target: when a random encounter dragon takes a dislike to them, they can scamper into the brush; the oxcart can’t.

            Yeah, I need to remember this.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Now I want an oxcart which is smart enough to run away, and probably powered enough to run away fast.

            Do we really need oxen? I like Baba Yaga-style chicken feet.

            Or Book of the New Sun destriers….. that’s horses with fangs and built-in armor. At this point, we need enough intelligence for attacking, which is probably more complex than running away.

            An oxcart which can protect itself from fire.

            An oxcart which can get its own supplies.

            How much intelligence can we add while avoiding the risk of fooming?

          • Nornagest says:

            Yes, but how are we going to afford all that sapient pearwood?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nancy:

            Now I want an oxcart which is smart enough to run away, and probably powered enough to run away fast.

            Do we really need oxen? I like Baba Yaga-style chicken feet.

            There are mundane bipeds in D&D that can move 120 feet on their turn. Unless its Intelligence score is 1, you should be able to teach it to charge in self-defense if there’s a lance mounted to the front.

            An oxcart which can protect itself from fire.

            Protection From Fire, Permanent enchantment.

            An oxcart which can get its own supplies.

            How much intelligence can we add while avoiding the risk of fooming?

            Average human INT is 10. That’s probably what you’d need to keep sellers from exploiting the poor sapient cart. Fooming isn’t possible unless your uplifted monster works its way up to Level 15 as a mage.

            So yeah, fireproof wooden cart walking on Megaraptor legs, IQ of 100, with a lance attached.
            Possible names: Yaga, Dino, Shopping Cart, Carthorn Leghorn.

          • WafflesWaffles says:

            “If success isn’t guaranteed, failure has to be interesting. A problem with much post-80s adventure/campaign design (going from published stuff) is that it’s story-based, and the story is something the players only get to participate in (or, worse, only get to passively see) if they succeed. This creates an incentive to nudge things in the direction of PC success.”

            This is very true. It can turn into an issue throughout adventures where the DM wants to show the players all the interesting optional stuff in the campaign and intentionally nudges them in the direction of it. Otherwise the players see only 2/3rds or even 1/2 of what they could have otherwise.

            I think this may have only gotten worse in 5e, but I’m not completely sure

      • beleester says:

        Regarding wealth by level: wasn’t that just supposed to be a rough benchmark and a tool for making PCs above first level? If players aren’t going out and earning that gold, it’s not the GM’s job to have it fall in their laps.

        The issue is that for non-magical classes – fighters, rogues, etc. – magic items are a pretty big part of their power at high levels. You need ways to counter magical threats, protect yourself from save-or-sucks, reach enemies you can’t reach or strike by mundane means, etc. A hero who’s not at their wealth-by-level is going to end up struggling against “level-appropriate” encounters.

        Of course, by the same token that you shouldn’t hand out gold and magic items for free just because they’ve been terrorizing the local wildlife, you shouldn’t throw out CR 16 monsters as random encounters just because they happen to be at that level.

        What I’m getting at is, if your players have decided to not go on your dungeon crawl and are trying to hunt dire bears instead, you have a campaign planning problem, not a wealth-by-level problem.

        • Bugmaster says:

          What I’m getting at is, if your players have decided to not go on your dungeon crawl and are trying to hunt dire bears instead, you have a campaign planning problem, not a wealth-by-level problem.

          Agreed wholeheartedly.

        • John Schilling says:

          Treating magic items as fungible with wealth, cheapens magic and is IMO a mistake. Magic should be Literally Priceless. Obtaining it should require delving into deep and haunted crypts in pursuit of rumors that e.g. the only +3 sword in the realm was buried with old King Thragmill centuries past, and if you want/need it, that’s where you have to get one.

          This also solves the “how do you get the characters to go into the dungeon?” problem of the OP, because the fighter who wants to be competitive at high levels really does need that sword. Of which there can be only one.

          WPL is a reasonable abstraction for generating high-level characters at the outset. But if you’ve got players saying, “I’ve killed 50,000 XP worth of dire bears in your campaign, so I’m 7th level so I should have a WPL of 27,000 gp and a +3 sword is 18,000 gp so you better say one of the dire bears dropped a +3 sword or you’re a meanie cheating DM!”, that’s just wrong. So long as one of the villagers being menaced by the dire bears dropped a hint as to where King Thragmill was buried, the DM has done his part.

          In hindsight, I’d have preferred that there never, ever, have been a list of prices for magic items. Give them an XP equivalent, perhaps scaled to the XP used in creating them, for use in high-level character generation, and encourage player and DM alike to think that magic items are of such priceless rarity that they are basically never, ever, bought or sold except under the most extraordinary circumstances. There is no merchant anywhere who has a +3 sword to sell, or can afford to buy one. A king can’t afford to buy one, but he might give you his daughter’s hand in marriage for one.

          This does require a bit more effort on the DM’s part, but most of it would overlap with work the DM should be doing anyway, and the rest is just e.g. making sure random minor magic item drops aren’t so utterly useless that the characters would predictably just look for someone to sell them to.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Meh, that depends on whether you’re running a High Magic or Low Magic setting (or something in between). In a medium-to-high Magic setting, magic items are basically integral parts of your character, along with base stats, Skills, Feats, etc. You plan your build accordingly, and that’s pretty much it. For example, it might be actually worthwhile to take an Item Crafting Feat — assuming that your build depends heavily on some specific type of magic item, because this way you can get it for half price.

          • John Schilling says:

            I agree that for an initial character build, this makes sense. But once you start playing the character, gameplay and campaign objectives should be about more than just optimal career development. We’ve got real life for that.

            Builds that depend heavily on some specific type of magic item that the character will need to acquire in the future, should be undertaken only on consultation with the DM. Taking Weapon Focus: Glaive-Guisarme-Voulge at 1st level and complaining about the shortage of +5 Flaming Glaive-Guisarme-Voulges at 15th should not be a winning strategy in any proper RPG.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Taking Weapon Focus: Glaive-Guisarme-Voulge at 1st level and complaining about the shortage of +5 Flaming Glaive-Guisarme-Voulges at 15th should not be a winning strategy in any proper RPG.

            Absolutely. You can even take a step back and say the existence of a Glaive-Guisarme-Voulge as a distinct weapon to focus in was stupid.
            (I will however accept a Glaive Goose Army, Volga.)

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m just glad Gary Gygax never read Oakeshott, or we’d have ended up with twelve different types of sword with slightly different blade geometry and hilt design, each with its own proficiency, labeled X through XXII in Roman numerals.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: That’s terrifying.

          • beleester says:

            It’s not just a problem for the guy who decided to specialize in Glaive-Guisarme-Voulge, it’s a problem for everyone. If, say, an incorporeal monster shows up, a fighter has exactly two options: Pack a magic sword, or sit there and look pretty while the mage does all the work.

            Similar problems exist for regenerators, monsters with DR… etc. etc. Either you beg the DM to not let you encounter any of these monsters, or you beg them to give you an item that will let you be on equal footing.

            EDIT: Although it appears that LMC’s game isn’t that high level, so I don’t think this is really relevant for him.

          • DeWitt says:

            That’s still a problem for fighters more than anyone else: a wizard doesn’t need his +4 shocking burst frost brand, he just needs the DM not to be a stingy bastard about letting him scribe spells, and then he can shrug along, prepare the right spells, and be always useful. A fighter needs his goodies or his ‘good at fighting’ shtick fails in the face of enemies with DR 15/+3 or what have you.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            It’s not just a problem for the guy who decided to specialize in Glaive-Guisarme-Voulge, it’s a problem for everyone. If, say, an incorporeal monster shows up, a fighter has exactly two options: Pack a magic sword, or sit there and look pretty while the mage does all the work.

            This isn’t as much of a problem when there are threats that the mage has to rely on the others for. Then the DM just needs to mix them appropriately. Preferably in the same encounter, to avoid taking turns on the sidelines. Discouraging splitting the party is an added bonus.

          • John Schilling says:

            …a fighter has exactly two options: Pack a magic sword, or sit there and look pretty while the mage does all the work.

            I’m pretty sure magic spears also work against noncorporeal opponents.

            Seriously, there’s a world of difference between “a fighter needs a magic weapon”, and “build carefully planned around a specific magic item”. Unless you’re explicitly playing a low-magic game, in which case no random encounters with noncorporeal monsters, a high-level fighter will have had opportunities to acquire magic weapons, and protections, of broadly suitable power.

            And really, if you’ve got your heart set on some particular weapon, if you’ve daisy-chained feats and specializations and proficiencies to strongly favor that one weapon above all others, a reasonable DM should see that as a plot hook. It’s just that the plot won’t be “kill lots of Orc bandits, take the accumulated loot to Ye Olde Magick Shoppe”.

            Seriously, how are Paladins getting their +5 Holy Avengers these days?

          • beleester says:

            “Build planned around a specific item” is a straw man. All I said was that a hero who’s not at their wealth-by-level will likely struggle against appropriately-leveled encounters, because the CR of a monster encodes some assumptions about what magic items a party of that level will be packing. For instance, the assumption that a fighter who’s high enough level to encounter wraiths and ghosts will have picked up a magic weapon of some sort.

            If the only magic sword in the kingdom is at the bottom of Old King Thragmill’s tomb, that assumption may not hold, and the GM needs to adjust accordingly.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @John Schilling:

            Builds that depend heavily on some specific type of magic item that the character will need to acquire in the future, should be undertaken only on consultation with the DM.

            Once again, I completely disagree. In a Low Magic setting, yes, that is valid. In a regular setting, you just go to the marketplace (mage tower, wherever), find an enchanter, and have him upgrade your sword from +1 to +2. If you have a caster in your party, he might have the requisite Item Creation Feat, so you don’t even need to walk far. In fact, in our own parties, we tend to design characters with this in mind from the very beginning.

            Any weapons, magic items, etc. that you find during adventuring are bonus extras. This doesn’t mean that they’re somehow useless — quite the opposite. For example, our melee hitter managed to find an enchanted silver spear early on that was instrumental to our victory on many occasions; my own Wizard found a bunch of scrolls and some enchanted bracers that were likewise quite useful. But our characters were still designed with a specific weapon/armor progression in mind. Basically, we treat WPL as just another form of XP.

            But, again, this is all due to the fact that our setting is average-Magic, not Low Magic.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I have one player who is used to 4th Ed – the rest of the players aren’t D&D people – and he keeps endlessly whining about not being able to buy magic items. My reason for not allowing it is simple – that’s high-magic-world stuff, and I want a relatively low magic world. Not because I think magic is dumb or whatever, but because D&D as written is a high-magic world where they never really grapple with the effects of it being a high-magic world.

            I might allow every now and then that Duke So-and-So is impecunious and will part with his great-grandfather’s magic gewgaw, but a world where you can walk into the Magic Emporium and buy some potions is a world where magic is doing a lot of other things. Is instantaneous communication possible? What about teleporting? Do magic cures for diseases change the game? What about resurrecting people – what if instead of the same dynasty, it’s the same guy ruling for hundreds of years? What does magic do to the battlefield? Etc.

            A setting where those questions get answered would be cool, and I understand there are settings that do that or try to, but the “magic is everywhere and also it’s still a medieval setting” thing is weak.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @dndsrn:

            but a world where you can walk into the Magic Emporium and buy some potions is a world where magic is doing a lot of other things. Is instantaneous communication possible? What about teleporting? Do magic cures for diseases change the game? What about resurrecting people – what if instead of the same dynasty, it’s the same guy ruling for hundreds of years? What does magic do to the battlefield? Etc.

            The answer to all those questions depends on whether you’re playing High Magic vs. Standard Magic, and on your setting in general. For example, in most places, your local temple has a staff of clerics who will cure most known diseases… for a price, which an average peasant may not be able to afford. Resurrection is usually super expensive, so while a dynast might be able to afford it, the average merchant definitely cannot. Note that Resurrection doesn’t really help with aging; if you Resurrect someone who died of old age, he’d probably die of the same old age in the next 5 minutes. If you’re looking for immortality, lichdom is the way to go.

            If you’re interested about a standard-to-high Magic setting, you can check out Eberron; it details quite well how magic fits into medicine, travel, and overall daily life.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Bugmaster

            That’s still a level of magic that would radically change things.

            I mean, for divine magic, let’s say resurrection is only for kings and doesn’t deal with aging. Let’s say healing magic in general is only for the well-off. That still makes a huge difference when merchants and nobles can often be healed of grievous injury or illness, and monarchs can be brought back from the dead from either of those things. No more “King So-and-So died in battle” – as long as there’s a body. Now capturing the enemy leader’s body if you kill them is important. Mutilating bodies so they can’t be raised becomes SOP, including for footmen, in case someone important was in disguise. You can never know, right?

            Control of these abilities becomes very important. If established religions are the only ones who can do this, they become even more important players than they were in any historical human society. (Likewise, for arcane magic, if there’s a way to control it someone will try, and they’ll be very powerful)

            (Then some random nobody out in the provinces starts healing peasants for free. Sounds pretty destabilizing. What if he starts preaching seditious-sounding stuff?)

            This would be very cool, but it’s not the setting generally implied in most fantasy games. They’re very high-magic compared to most fantasy novels, but it’s bolted on to the world most often, instead of changing it.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @dndnrsn:
            Everything you said is more or less correct, and it does apply to most settings where magic is not rare. Religious organizations and magic guilds are usually a pretty big deal, politically speaking. Generals devise their tactics with magic in mind; thieves and assassins do the same. Skilled casters are in high demand, but even moderately capable apprentices can make a good living. Magical transport is the backbone of commerce. And so on.

            In fact, there are some really interesting edge cases such as Hollowfaust, which was founded by a group of powerful Lawful Neutral necromancers (out of desperation more than anything else). Their entire society is organized around necromancy, which most citizens see as perfectly sensible — who wants to spend all day digging a ditch under the desert sun, when a skeleton can do that just as well, and in fact better ? Yes, the price for many crimes (especially murder) is Final Forfeiture of your body; but that’s what you get for endangering the City.

          • Jiro says:

            Note that Resurrection doesn’t really help with aging

            But Reincarnation does. (Which I’m pretty sure is a rules loophole.)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Jiro: Reincarnation is a weird spell.
            “The magic of the spell creates an entirely new young adult body for the soul to inhabit from the natural elements at hand. This process takes 1 hour to complete. When the body is ready, the subject is reincarnated.”
            … that’s basically world-breaking, whereas reincarnation into a newborn like real-world belief would be weird but workable.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Bugmaster

            I’m not up to date on D&D, but my impression is that most of the “vanilla” D&D settings don’t do a great job of actually incorporating the changes that magic would cause. The wackier settings – 2nd Ed had a few, and I understand Eberron fell into this category – did. But a world where the availability of magic as assumed in the PHB, if people with magical ability of one sort or another are any significant portion of the population, would end up looking like sci-fi. Spelljammer: the most realistic D&D setting?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @dndnrsn: That depends on edition. If you’re playing one where Clerics get spells at Level 1, that means ~1% of the population can do some magic (ignoring the weirdness of the entire clergy knowing how to fight in armor). B/X makes for the least-miraculous settings, as the temples or Church can be staffed by Level 1 Clerics who perform no miracles. You can say that however rare Level 2 Clerics are, Level 1 Mages are also that rare.
            In 3.X, crafting magic items is trivial if you can come up with the gold. Then in 4E & 5E, magic is harder to industrialize but every Level 1 caster casts a cantrip every 6 seconds. Hmmm, maybe you could run an Industrial Revolution off enslaved Level 1 magic people producing flame for the steam engines every 6 seconds?

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’m pretty sure clerics by B/X rules do get spells at first level. It’s the original game where they get their first spell at 2nd.

            I figure that a “Cleric” as in someone with levels of the class isn’t just any old priest, but rather someone who has received their god’s favour, in the form of magic. Similarly, most sneaky criminal types are not Thieves, most soldiers and guards are not Fighters, etc.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I figure that a “Cleric” as in someone with levels of the class isn’t just any old priest, but rather someone who has received their god’s favour, in the form of magic. Similarly, most sneaky criminal types are not Thieves, most soldiers and guards are not Fighters, etc.

            That would explain why a by-the-book Cleric has abilities other than their daily miracles that don’t make sense for priests. But most soldiers and guards are not Fighters? Again, I think that depends on edition. Note the old school titles for each Fighter level:

            1: Veteran
            2: Warrior
            3: Swordmaster
            4: Hero
            5: Swashbuckler
            6: Myrmidon
            7: Champion
            8: Superhero
            9: Lord

            This implies that every commoner who’s served in combat becomes Fighter 1, a society’s warrior class is Fighter 2, reaching Fighter 4 is rare… and that all domain rulers of this class are a subset of the set “Superheroes”. Yes, that’s weird.

          • Nornagest says:

            Spelljammer: the most realistic D&D setting?

            I’m not sure about Spelljammer, but I’ve thought for a while that there’s an unserved niche for a D&D setting that looks like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars books. One of the planets in the Pathfinder setting is based on them, but it doesn’t get much attention.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: You and I think alike. The historical fantasy setting I campaign in has Mars still habitable (at least in the Late Bronze Age) and inspired by Barsoom.
            This was actually just one effect of trying to make sense of the Plane Shift spell before a Cleric reached Level 9. “Planes” became planets, with Sol being pure fire, Mercury and Luna pure rock, Venus water, Jupiter and Saturn air, and Terra and Mars human-habitable. The afterlife planes weren’t systematized, but Hades of the neutral dead and Tartarus of the evil dead seemed to be inside Terra/Gaia.

          • John Schilling says:

            In a regular setting, you just go to the marketplace (mage tower, wherever), find an enchanter, and have him upgrade your sword from +1 to +2. If you have a caster in your party, he might have the requisite Item Creation Feat, so you don’t even need to walk far.

            I get that this is how most people are doing magic items these days. I disagree that this is necessary or desirable, even if a campaign is going to be the sort where every mid-level fighter will have a fairly serious magic weapon. What is the advantage?

            Your, depressingly common, version requires three steps. First, somehow motivate a bunch of people who have chosen to spend an evening playing Dungeons and Dragons, to go into a dungeon. Because per the OP, their not wanting to do that is somehow a thing now. Second, crawl through the dungeon murderhoboing until loot equal to WPL has been accumulated. Then, step three, the trip to Ye Olde Magick Shop for an optimized functional magic weapon of level-appropriate power.

            The old-school version has two steps. Tell the players that King Thrangmill’s sword is in King Thrangmill’s tomb, and do a focused dungeon crawl. And this ends with a functional magic weapon of level-appropriate power, that the players will be emotionally invested in. How is this not better?

            @beleester: If after the DM has told the fighter that there’s a magic sword in Thrangmill’s tomb over there, and prepared the tomb with appropriate encounters and a magic sword, the fighter then goes off against a wraith without a magic sword, the only “adjustment” the DM needs to make is to find a different set of players or a different game to play. And if the reason for the fighter not having a magic sword is that King Thrangmill had a +3 bastard sword and the player was holding out for the +2 frost brand broadsword that would give an extra 8% DPS with his optimized build, I’m going to put approximately 0% of the blame for that on the DM or the game.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’ve thought for a while that there’s an unserved niche for a D&D setting that looks like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars books.

            So what ever happened to the Space:1889 reboot I was hearing rumors about a few years ago? Or if not that, can we at least get a GURPS sourcebook for the setting?

          • Nornagest says:

            trying to make sense of the Plane Shift spell before a Cleric reached Level 9… “Planes” became planets

            I like this idea. Maybe coupled with a geocentric cosmology and level-based limits on how far out you can go — so a 13th-level wizard or 9th-level cleric might have a lair on the moon, but you’d need an 18th-level cleric to breach the sphere of the fixed stars and reach the Primum Mobile. It makes intuitive sense, and there’s a nice symmetry with the power levels you should be playing at by then.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest:

            Hmm. I like your basic thinking, but I might modify it by using a geocentric cosmology and putting level-based limits on how far out you can go — so a 13th-level wizard or 9th-level cleric might have a lair on the moon, but you’d need an 18th-level cleric to breach the sphere of the fixed stars and reach the Primum Mobile. There’s a nice symmetry there with the power levels you should be playing at then.

            Whoa, that’s a clever limit that hadn’t occurred to me.

          • WafflesWaffles says:

            “In hindsight, I’d have preferred that there never, ever, have been a list of prices for magic items. Give them an XP equivalent, perhaps scaled to the XP used in creating them, for use in high-level character generation, and encourage player and DM alike to think that magic items are of such priceless rarity that they are basically never, ever, bought or sold except under the most extraordinary circumstances. There is no merchant anywhere who has a +3 sword to sell, or can afford to buy one. A king can’t afford to buy one, but he might give you his daughter’s hand in marriage for one.

            This does require a bit more effort on the DM’s part, but most of it would overlap with work the DM should be doing anyway, and the rest is just e.g. making sure random minor magic item drops aren’t so utterly useless that the characters would predictably just look for someone to sell them to.”

            I strongly disagree. The things that 3.5 did with magic items became really amazing when you looked into all the options and used them well. Having lots of magic items spiced up the entire game and gave characters lot of additional options that they could do. If you’re playing a fighter, you could either just whack at things all day with no magic items or you could use a magic anklet to short teleport out of pinch, activate a spell stored in your sword by slicing someone’s nose off, walk on walls, or even sprout wings. That’s freaking awesome and a fighter who has all 4 of those (and more!) is going to be a lot more interesting than a fighter who has only one. You can want to play the game where characters only get one, but that isn’t dnd 3.5 at all

            The more cool items you add into a system the more you would want a record keeping mechanism to hand to DMs to provide a context on how valuable and useful each item can be and how many each character should be able to have within the system. If you have lots of magic items available, allow characters to create magic items, and want to keep this even remotely under control then you’ll automatically end up reinventing an economic price scale for all this stuff anyway.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Of course, by the same token that you shouldn’t hand out gold and magic items for free just because they’ve been terrorizing the local wildlife, you shouldn’t throw out CR 16 monsters as random encounters just because they happen to be at that level.

          What I’m getting at is, if your players have decided to not go on your dungeon crawl and are trying to hunt dire bears instead, you have a campaign planning problem, not a wealth-by-level problem.

          What I’m getting at is that it seemed like my campaign planning problem started by consenting to run 3.5 when two players said they’d strongly prefer it.
          They started at Level 1 in the port of Lavrio, Attica in early Mycenaean times with a hex crawl stocked with
          Assorted commoners going about their business
          1d4+1 bandits (CR 1/2 each)
          Small vipers (CR 1/2)
          Small brown bears (black bear stat block, CR2)
          Wild boars (CR2)
          Nomad lions (CR3)
          Solitary centaurs, dryads (CR3)
          Werewolf (CR3)
          And a 1-in-36 chance of a wolf pack (CR4+)

          With untamed regions beyond the Argolid to the south & Delphi to the north having harder wilderness encounters. A silver mine of Lavrio was set up as a starting dungeon, one lair each in Attica, Boeotia and Delphi with plot hooks they bit, and early Mycenaean cities with Palaces & Princesses adventures. The first time they were granted an audience at a palace, they were encouraged to travel with hirelings (which I don’t remember them ever doing until they bought a pentekonter from Danaos, the man who invented them… which was like Level 9, when 3.5 hirelings are useless in combat).
          I wanted magic to be as priceless and awe-inspiring as in mythology, so there were 0 magic items for sale and a wanax or wanasse (‘king’, ‘queen’) was someone who could cast 4th level Cleric spells.

        • WafflesWaffles says:

          If the player characters are getting a reputation for mass slaughtering dire bears, then you may have a very interesting campaign story starting up.

    • Nornagest says:

      “Ear seeker”. That’s the kind of old-school fuckery I remember.

      Anyway, I think you could do it in 3.x. Just be playing a low-magic game or another variant where you aren’t doing WBL, and dangle something shiny in front of them. (I’ve even said a game was low-magic and then given out something close to WBL, just to stave off the complaints when I wouldn’t let my players roll up to Ye Olde Magick Shoppe and buy whatever they wanted to optimize their build.)

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        “Ear seeker”. That’s the kind of old-school fuckery I remember.

        I have at least one really smart player. I’m sure it would only take one dead character for him to teach the whole party to listen at every door with a hollow cylinder.

        • J Mann says:

          At which point an old school DM would decide that some kind of monster had evolved to mimic and replace hollow ear-listening cylinders.

          Actually, some kind of spell that replaces some of your supplies with mimics when you’re not looking is just the kind of 80s ridiculousness that I enjoy. I should come up with a dungeon crawl around the lair of a particularly annoying wizard.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      > 3.5 completely destroys this play style. XP comes from killing monsters, or double for getting past them non-violently.

      This is a popular misconception.

      In 3.5, XP does not come from killing monsters. XP comes from whatever you, the DM, damn well please.

      That could be killing monsters. Or, it could be not killing monsters. Or it could be roleplaying, or completing quests, or anything else you like.

      “XP comes from killing monsters” is not a rule of the game in 3.5. It’s just a common practice. The DMG gives guidelines and numbers for how to do this, if you choose to do it. But in no way, shape, or form are you obligated to adhere to this practice just because you’re playing 3.5.

      (Let me emphasize that I am not merely saying “well, Rule 0 says you can house-rule anything, or change the system to better suit you, etc.”. Of course that’s true, yes. But giving out XP for something other than killing monsters does not constitute house-ruling or modifying the system, because “killing monsters is what gives XP” is not a rule in the first place!)

    • Said Achmiz says:

      > insinuate that if their DM doesn’t make their Wealth By Level appear by the time they level up she’s a bad DM

      This, too, is based on a misconception, but untangling it would take way more than a comment.

      Instead, I’ll offer my own answer to your question. In the custom system/setting I’ve been constructing (which is very, very roughly 3e-derived), you get XP by “buying” it with treasure[1], on a 1-for-1 basis. Combined with a ground-up reconstruction of the XP table, this provides exactly the desired incentive structure.

      [1] In fact, what you’re actually buying is training; XP is merely a convenient abstraction for quantifying how that training translates into class levels, etc. There’s a certain organization that provides this service (for very good but complicated in-world reasons); you bring them treasure, which buys you “XP”; they keep track of how much “XP” you have in your “XP account”; and you can then “spend” that XP to purchase class levels (i.e., training in the abilities of whatever class you wish to advance).

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I endorse every word of this post.

        • Robert Liguori says:

          Mmm. I always get leery of training-based advancement paradigms in D&D. I mean, what’s the reach and power of that organization? If I’m a king going to be at war with a rival kingdom, can I sabotage their training halls and decrease the expected output of that kingdom’s heroes?

          How about in my own kingdom? Can I pass laws that only members of registered noble houses can get this training, and levy huge taxes on the rest of my kingdom to pay for it, secure in the knowledge that no peasant rebellions will ever be lead by a peasant hero who is self-taught?

          Can I as a prospective adventurer just kidnap a member of the organization, fake their death, keep them in my basement and magically-dominated, and get all the XP for free?

          How about cases like fantastically rich efreeti sultans or dragons? Can they thus order their mortal agents leveled at will?

          These are all addressable questions, of course, but in my own experience as a GM, it’s better to break the connection between economic and adventuring power as much as possible. You just don’t want to dangle the carrot of “If you break the assumptions about how much wealth you’re supposed to have, you gain Unlimited Power.” in front of PCs.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            My particular solution sidesteps most of these questions. Note, though, that I believe in strong setting/system synergy, and so the system I’m building is designed to work with the setting I’m building with it. Caveat emptor. That being said:

            The idea is not that “training, purchased with material wealth” is how everyone gains levels. No; the overwhelming majority of people gain levels the hard way—years of training, practice, the experience gained on many, many battlefields and campaigns (for combat skills), or the proverbial 10,000 hours of practice (for non-combat skills).

            ”Training purchased with wealth” is, however, the way that the player characters gain levels.

            It’s not just the PCs, of course. It’s… well, read on.

            The central conceit of the campaign setting is that there’s a somewhat-mysterious, extraplanar organization of traders. They use their realm-hopping powers to trade goods throughout the inhabited worlds of the multiverse—and, in addition to their primary trading activities, they sponsor adventurers.

            You, would-be adventurer and dungeon-delver, can sign a contract with these folks, which gives you access to their cross-realm travel abilities; thenceforth, you bring them treasure / wealth / gold / etc., and they train you (as I described in my previous comment).

            So, we can see that Robert Liguori’s questions have obvious answers:

            If I’m a king going to be at war with a rival kingdom, can I sabotage their training halls and decrease the expected output of that kingdom’s heroes?

            Inapplicable; the rival kingdom’s heroes, just like your heroes and everyone else except a handful of adventurers, got their levels the hard way.

            Can I as a prospective adventurer just kidnap a member of the organization, fake their death, keep them in my basement and magically-dominated, and get all the XP for free?

            You can do the kidnapping thing but that doesn’t get you any free XP, obviously.

            How about cases like fantastically rich efreeti sultans or dragons? Can they thus order their mortal agents leveled at will?

            The extraplanar traders have total freedom to accept or reject any would-be adventurers. If they feel that something like this would be unfair or abusive or a bad idea, or they just don’t like it for any reason, then they wouldn’t accept anyone who is an agent of an efreeti sultan or dragon. Then again, it’s not clear that they’d have a problem with it.

            (One thing to note is that, as I obliquely mentioned earlier, I reconstructed the XP tables—to bring them in line with expected treasure values. This means that XP costs of each subsequent level now scale much, much faster as you go up in level—exponentially, just like treasure values do. The upshot is that if an ancient dragon wants to have one of his minions leveled to 20th level, he’ll be spending the entirety of his treasure hoard on this—and even that may well not suffice.)

          • Said Achmiz says:

            P.S. One obvious question one might ask about the setting I’ve described is this:

            Just how, exactly, is it, that these realm-hopping traders have the ability to quickly train people to levels of combat ability / magic power / etc. that would normally take years of training, practice, and experience to master?

            That is, indeed, an excellent question, and answering it is related to one of the central mysteries of the setting/campaign. (Of course, players may also choose to ignore it entirely, and that’s fine. The setting is designed to support episodic adventures.)

            Anyone here who chooses to use this sort of idea in your campaign will, no doubt, be able to come up with any number of interesting and clever answers of their own.

          • Bugmaster says:

            It’s an interesting idea, but my view of XP was always a bit more realistic.

            As your character does whatever it is that he does, he gets better at it. However, there’s a limit to how much you can learn just by doing the same thing over and over. At some point, you need bigger challenges, and to do that you need better skills, and for that you (usually) need to get someone to teach them to you.

            Thus, spending XP for level increases is just an abstraction that represents your character finally mastering his current tier of skills, and thus becoming ready for advanced training. For example, a fighter won’t be able to learn the “Spinning Circle of Bladed Death” move before he learns the “Swing the Sword without Stabbing Yourself” move; a wizard won’t be able to learn how to channel lightning through his enemies without learning how to channel a bit of heat into a candle.

            Yes, ideally, you would track your character’s progress in a more granular way (e.g. how Wizardry does it), but rolling all of it up into the “level” abstraction does simplify housekeeping.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            Hmm. Well, it’s good that you’re thinking about these things. But if you’re keeping in line with almost any of the published spellcasters of 3.5, I think you’re going to have to turn “It’s somewhat mysterious.” into “OK, how many hit dice do these guys have? I’ll just Planar Bind a few of them and ask.”

            My own experience as a GM is that NPCs and secrets are fragile, and I rarely try to run campaigns where the structure of the game changes entirely if the Secret Is Discovered or Lord British ends up biting it.

            I really do wonder what the end-game of the mercantile assocation can be. There are loads of ways of turning arbitrary high-level character output into cash far more efficient and reliable than delving. If the mercantile organization wanted cash wealth, they should just train up a bunch of wizards, have the wizards make constructs and undead, and start strip-mining the Elemental Plane of Earth.

            But if you’re thinking about it and devoted to coming up with an interesting resolution, I’m sure you’ll get a fun and interesting game out of it.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @Robert Liguori:

            My currently-on-hiatus long-running (5 active years so far!) 3.5e campaign has 20th-level PCs, and one of the most memorable adventures I’ve run (also 3.5e) had 18th-level PCs, built as *gestalt* characters. So, believe me when I say that I am well and truly aware of just what kind of intense plot-busting firepower high-level D&D player characters, especially when played by clever and experienced players, can bring to bear.

            When I say that the question of “how the heck can these guys do this training stuff” is a central mystery, I don’t mean “no one in the campaign setting knows”. That would be silly. You wouldn’t even need to planar bind anyone; the traders in question are just humans, nothing terribly special—a rubber hose would presumably do the trick. Heck, you could ask one of the adventurers who work with them—surely at least one will tell you?

            No, what I meant was, “you, the player characters, do not start out knowing this”. (You could try and find out, of course, but the easiest way to do that is by going ahead and signing on as an adventurer with these traders, which—by construction—is what you’re going to do anyway!)

            It is absolutely not the case that if anyone finds out the answer, it’ll somehow wreck anything (either in-world, or in the meta sense). The assumption, necessarily, is that some people have found out. The question of why that hasn’t materially changed the state of affairs is also something that’s revealed to the players as the campaign proceeds.

            As for your question about why the mysterious traders do things the way they do (instead of mining certain planes for wealth), that, too, is precisely the kind of question I’ll be happy to have the PCs ask! Now, to some extent, it’s answered by common sense (i.e., “why don’t we just mine the Plane of Mineral for gems” is a question you can ask in any D&D setting, and if you assume that the world is coherent, then you can easily answer it yourself). But there do remain genuine puzzlers even after the common-sense part is dispensed with, and figuring out the answers is definitely one avenue that the players are welcome to pursue, if they so choose.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @Robert Liguori:

            By the way—

            There are loads of ways of turning arbitrary high-level character output into cash far more efficient and reliable than delving.

            Indeed. But I phrased my description deliberately:

            You, would-be adventurer and dungeon-delver, can sign a contract with these folks, which gives you access to their cross-realm travel abilities; thenceforth, you bring them treasure / wealth / gold / etc., and they train you (as I described in my previous comment).

            Absolutely nothing at all, in this setup, obliges you to delve dungeons!

            If the players decide that they want to set up some sort of entirely “civilian” money-making operation, delving no dungeons and slaying no dragons, and use the proceeds from that to fund their ascent into the rarefied heights of magical and martial power, then I say:

            More power to them.

            (And the implications of this option—and the implications of the fact that the campaign world contains people clever enough to see those implications—and so on, recursively—are, too, a wholly intended consequence.)

            This, in other words, is precisely the feature that allows my system/setting to support a much broader scope of play styles than most other systems and settings.

    • Plumber says:

      Play using easy to create characters rules.like in TSR D&D.

      “Standard Equipment” is a great innovation of Wizard of the Coast D&D, but otherwise in WD&D it takes way too long to create a character compared to TD&D.

      And getting rid of XP for gold was a mistake.

      There’s way too much “murder” and not enough “hobo” in later D&D for my tastes.

      Ideally I’d like to play something that combines the best of AD&D, B/X, and 5e.

      As for 3.5?

      Playing a first level Ranger in 3.5 looks like it could be fun, otherwise I don’t know how you can save the bloated mess that it is, though I suppose the “E6” variant tries, but I wouldn’t bother as “Feats” and “Prestige Classes” just aren’t my thing.

    • Lillian says:

      Wait, why do you need to use XP to incentivize players to go on dungeon crawls? Presumably when you are putting the game together you will communicate that you want to run a dungeon crawl game, and if they agree that this is what they want to play, they will proceed to make the kinds of characters who are likely to want to go on dungeon delving. If you need to bribe the players into engaging with the premise of the game, then it seems to me like something has gone already gone awry.

      If their complaint is that dungeons are too dangerous, then it seems to me that they are simply not interested in doing a classic dungeon crawl, which does by its very nature carry significant risk. You could address that by promising not to put them up against anything they cannot handle, but then that somewhat defeats the point of random table generation. Alternatively, you might perhaps want to sell them on it by doing the dungeon crawl with throwaway characters they have not become personally invested in. Hell don’t even give the characters names, just have them be addressed by their job title (Fighter, Wizard, Rogue, etc) to emphasize their disposability and replaceability.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Yeah, I don’t get it either. If they don’t want to play the game, they don’t have to.

        That said, WFRP has a great mechanic for dealing with players who sit around wasting time. Two mechanics, in fact.

        The first one is the “Party Tension Meter”, which is a tracker with a limited number of slots (the total number of slots depends on their Party character sheet, but it is always quite finite). Whenever the players waste time by bickering amongst themselves, you can raise the Party Tension Meter. When it gets all the way to the end, really bad things happen… and then it resets. BTW, certain powerful PC abilities will also raise the meter, just by the virtue of being super-scary.

        The second mechanic is the story tracker, which you assemble out of puzzle pieces to look something like this:

        |>>>>>[]>>>>>[]>>>>>[]>>>>>X

        At the beginning of the game, you place a token on the leftmost tracker slot. Whenever the PCs waste time by sitting around, or fail to accomplish an objective, you advance the token. If the PCs ask you, “hey what was that you just did ?”, shrug your shoulders and whistle nonchalantly. Each time the token reaches a keystone spot, the bad guys accomplish one of their major subgoals. Bad things usually ensue. If the token hits the end… well, either the PCs simply lose due to the world (or just the part of the world they happen to be standing on) ending; or they immediately enter into the final confrontation with the horrible demon, who is nearly unbeatable, because his power-ups were not disabled by the PCs in time.

        • Tamar says:

          In the game I’m currently playing (5e but pretty non-standard setting), our DM is clearly putting in the work and having things happen behind the scenes, to the point that apparently we’ve not only missed the opportunity to engage in multiple side-quests that might have been to our advantage to get in on, but we’re also suitably scared of “down-time”. Last time we were told we had some available, we gleefully started work on crafting several useful magical items (and my character even started work on an important side-quest) – but before the magical items were even all ready, one of our important allies got attacked and we nearly missed finding out about it before it would have been too late to prevent his death (and preventing his death did not actually come without cost). Now we’re about to have some “down-time” available and the DM finds it all too amusing how little we trust that whatever important plot event needs some time before it ticks is not going to wreck all our hopes. That said, we’re not sure exactly what active moves we can or should make right now, and some members of our party have useful “passive” actions they can take (helping decipher some encoded books with the secrets of the universe inside – a few Int rolls can simulate a fair amount of time sitting around in pretty assured safety working on that).

          Also, we level up essentially after big story beats, no XP tracking. It’s not a combat-heavy game, but I’ve played with that method in the past and it seems to work well.

    • Robert Liguori says:

      Mmm. In my experience, the WBL rule is a non-aggression pact. You as GM provide out-of-game promises that wealth will scale appropriately enough to keep up with the magic item budget, and the players have the freedom to actually adventure even when the expected return of a given adventure looks negative at first blush.

      Plus, having the WBL be an acknowledged out-of-game thing also curtails PCs from engaging in the kind of brilliant fraud only wandering strangers who regularly deal in huge amounts of foreign currency can do. When you look at what any wizard from the lowest levels on can do with the basic illusion spells, to make themselves look like someone important, go into a place, buy something on credit in their name, and walk out with it, or trade magically-adulterated goods for it, you see that just one player willing to optimize for money over the social trust of your campaign world can badly break things.

      In my own campaigns, I just de-meta-fy it. One recurring character/concept is a homebrew god of economics and trade who has the job of enforcing a great pact which specifies that heroes will be rewarded for their acts of heroism appropriately. In my campaign world, adventurers are a special class of people, and failing to pay them for agreed-upon services brings down all manner of divine misfortune. The adventurers themselves, however, get increasingly-blatant divine intervention to keep their rewards commensurate if things happen to wander in one direction or another. It’s known and accepted that bringing back a dragon haul might mean lean pickings for the next few quests, just as that taking several charity jobs helping poor unfortunates really increases the chance of you stumbling over a brace of magic swords in a random troll barrow, and at the highest-end cases, actual inevitables will be dispatched to adjust your finances personally.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I guess I’m not nearly old-school enough to understand this question. What are you trying to accomplish ?

      Are you trying to stop the PCs from boiling anthills for XP ? Pathfinder has a rule for that, anything that is too far below your level yields 0 XP, no matter how many of it you kill.

      Alternatively, are you trying to get them to enter a dangerous dungeon that you’ve devised ? Well, you’ve got to get them some incentive. Maybe a thief stole some of their valuable equipment and/or dignity, and fled into it. Maybe there’s an enticing reward for going in there and retrieving a macguffin. Maybe there’s a unique treasure in there, and on top of that the PCs get some sort of a powerful single-use magic item if they go in there, to help with the inevitable charlie-foxtrot situation (and they get another one of those if they come out after accomplishing their goals). There are really no limits here, seeing as you’re the GM.

      Or are you asking how to generate such dungeons to begin with ? Well, once again, you’re the GM, so can’t you just sort of do it ? No one is stopping you from putting down whatever monsters you want in whichever configuration you want.

      That said, in our games, we’ve pretty much stopped tracking XP. Instead, after the players complete some major milestone (and thus enter downtime), the GM simply announces, “All of you are now level N+1. If your total acquired GP is below the recommended starting GP for this level, give yourself the extra GP to compensate. You may now trade in and/or upgrade your equipment, and retrain Feats and Spells as per the standard rules”. Under this scheme, killing random goblins is pointless; and so is sitting at the tavern getting into bar fights. It also eliminates a bunch of housekeeping tasks, since it no longer matters who killed what monster when.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Or are you asking how to generate such dungeons to begin with ? Well, once again, you’re the GM, so can’t you just sort of do it ? No one is stopping you from putting down whatever monsters you want in whichever configuration you want.

        Yes, how to generate dungeons that my players will delve into. I had 3 Level 13 PCs with Level 11 cohorts running in a mix of terror and sadness from CR 10 encounters, with part of the Cleric’s plan to minimize the terror being “sleep in a rope trick after every underground encounter.”
        This was purely a mechanical issue, because they have fond memories of the new area they opened up at Level 13.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Ok, so first of all, lv 13 with lv 11 cohorts is kind of part of the problem. At that level, your players are not rat slayers for hire; they are major characters within the setting. They should not be going into random dungeons for loot, because they should already be in charge of a medium-sized organization (guild/mercenary outfit/kindom/whatever) that supplies all their daily needs. When they take the field in person, it should be a big deal. They are going out there because something really bad is about to go down, not because the kobolds are getting restless again.

          Anyway, in terms of game mechanics, rulebooks usually provide an encounter-building algorithm, where you plug in your players’ levels and classes, and it gives you a budget for monsters, traps, etc. Pathfinder has a detailed writeup on this in the GM guide… Which is totally useless, because it doesn’t take magic — and especially battlefield control — into account. So, what I usually end up doing instead is this:

          1). Reflect on how your players fared in previous encounters. Create new encounters accordingly.

          2). Give the bad guys some specific goal to accomplish, other than just “kill the PCs”. For example, this could be “complete the ritual”, “escape with the macguffin”, “neutralize the VIP”, etc. This way, combat is not just a statistical showdown, but a tactical affair.

          3). Give the bad guys a reasonable mix of units based on what they are. For example, if they’re evil druids, they might have a mix of casters and beasts or elementals; if they’re a mafia-esque assault team, they might have Rogues and Fighters with archery for backup (and maybe a caster or two).

          4). Cheat. Only a little, though. Give the bad guys a threshold of acceptable losses, beyound which they will break and run. Give them a place to run to, where reinforcements might be available. Design several reinforcement waves, if needed. If the encounter looks too easy for the PCs, have the bad guys call in backup. If it looks too difficult, forget about the backup and pretend like it didn’t even exist. Naturally, give the PCs some warning, i.e. “the enemy leader fumbles in his saddlebag for a horn”, or “they are retreating down a side passage, but the look on their faces is grim determination, not panic”, or something to that extent.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Ok, so first of all, lv 13 with lv 11 cohorts is kind of part of the problem. At that level, your players are not rat slayers for hire; they are major characters within the setting. They should not be going into random dungeons for loot, because they should already be in charge of a medium-sized organization (guild/mercenary outfit/kindom/whatever) that supplies all their daily needs. When they take the field in person, it should be a big deal. They are going out there because something really bad is about to go down, not because the kobolds are getting restless again.

            That’s how it was. Three PCs were a queen’s husband/army commander, plenipotentiary and high priest of Apollo for Attica, and a fourth was high priest of Zeus in Troy. The CR 10 encounters they were having at Level 13-14 were after Plane Shifting (actually Planet Shift in this setting) to rescue the infant princess of Troy who’d been kidnapped by Immortal Koschei and his right-hand Lich. Having planet shifted to Mars to search for her, the next “something really bad” they learned about, the one that made them take the field, was that Martians were losing a war to Mind Flayers, who’d had their spaceship diverted there by Zeus Kosmokrator (the planet Jupiter) when their intended destination had been the Pacific Ocean on Gaia, to search for Cthulhu.

          • Bugmaster says:

            If even half of that is true, your players’ heads must be exploding. Good job 🙂

        • ing says:

          Let me tell you a story about a game I played in once. We “ran in a mix of terror and sadness” from several foes in sequence, and we wished we could have run from more of them. We ran from a battle with fishmen, and we ran from a battle with a tendriculos, and then eventually (when we were down to three surviving characters) we got ambushed by a tiger and my character got killed and I left the game.

          Let me tell you why we ran from all those encounters: the encounters were too dangerous and they were going to kill us if we fought them. We knew this because there were several encounters we failed to run from, and characters kept dying or nearly-dying, routinely.

          Or, more clearly: the DM was making the fights too difficult.

          The DM was following the encounter design rules, more or less. A tendriculos is CR6, and we were four level-five characters at the time. A tiger is CR4, which isn’t unreasonable against three level-five characters. I don’t know about the fishmen encounters but I’d guess they were similar. So my guess is that the DM was thinking: “I’m throwing level-appropriate encounters at them, so it’s not my fault they keep dying or running away!”

          But it was, in fact, (mostly) his fault that we kept dying or running away.

          • ing says:

            Here is a thing that I believe: you can’t send a single monster at an adventuring party.

            If you send a single monster at an adventuring party, it’s going to focus all its attacks on one player character, presumably the tank. One of two things will happen. Either (1) the monster fails to hurt the tank, and it dies anticlimactically; or (2) the monster KOs the tank, and now it’s an interesting fight but it just probably killed a player character.

            This is less bad if the party has some way to change the monster’s focus; it’s much worse if the monster has Improved Grab (like the tiger, and the tendriculos, and their larger cousin the t-rex) and the unlucky target has no way to escape.

            At this point I have to admit that my initial statement was an oversimplification. You totally can send a single monster at an adventuring party, provided you have a way to make sure it spreads the damage out. Maybe it’s got lair actions, maybe it’s got area attacks, maybe it uses hit-and-run tactics. Dragons use all of these. But, if a DM naively says: “oh, the party is level five, so I’ll just pick a CR6 monster and make them fight that!”, they’re going to have a bad time.

          • ing says:

            Here is another thing that I believe: the challenge rating rules are not absolute. Some adventuring parties are strong, and can handle tougher foes; some adventuring parties are weak, and you’ll need to use weaker foes. The way to identify this is to watch how they fare in battle. If you notice them “fleeing in terror and sadness” from encounters, that means you need to use easier encounters.

            That’s true in my games, at any rate. I don’t know your players.

            Good luck with it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The CR rules are intended to quantify how hard an encounter is, including the possibility that the PCs might lose. That’s how I remember them. And there’s plenty of games, including versions of D&D, where encounters aren’t based on PC level at all. PCs choosing to run occasionally is a tactical decision. I agree that if they’re running a lot, that’s a sign that either the CRs are messed up, the GM is doing something weird, or the tables weren’t designed smartly, or the PCs are going somewhere that’s too hard too for them right now.

          • ing says:

            …Re-reading, I think I might have missed the point here.

            It sounds like the actual problem you have is: you want the characters to [have a significant chance to] die, and they don’t want that.

            That’s harder to solve.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yes; they basically didn’t want even a 5% chance of one PC death per fight, because the rez spells available from Level 9-16 cause the target to lose a level.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Well, if they want their characters to just chill with zero chance of death, they can just hang out at the tavern. Sure, the evil Ancient Black Dragon and his army of cultists will end the world eventually, seeing as the only force powerful enough to oppose him is sitting at the tavern… but… there’s no immediate risk.

          • John Schilling says:

            The CR rules are intended to quantify how hard an encounter is, including the possibility that the PCs might lose.

            The CR rules, at least as described in the core rulebooks, are both poorly designed and poorly explained. In particular, they gloss over the vast range of things that can be called an “encounter”, from being on the wrong end of an ambush to spending a campaign building up to a boss fight. If a DM is hitting the players with equal-CR encounters with every kicked-down door of a dungeon crawl or roll on the wandering monster table, each of which is “run, fight, or die, immediately”, then yeah, I can see a TPK on the horizon and I can understand a whole lot of running away.

            If they are going to try and make a mathematical formula for CR, which is dubious but plausible, they really ought to include a page or so of situational modifiers and associated guidance on how to use them in the field.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Supposedly there was a weird reaction early in 3rd Ed to lower- and higher-CR encounters, even though the book made it clear that there should be such encounters.

            I think you’re right that CR does a poor job because it ignores much of the context of encounters. Beyond that, if GMs are told that there’s a mathematical way to balance encounters right, perhaps they won’t develop the ability to eyeball an encounter and know how easy or hard it would be for the party they’re actually dealing with. Especially because it sort of assumes the platonic ideal of a party – optimized, but not wildly so.

          • John Schilling says:

            Good link, and I’m not sure how I missed it because I thought I had read pretty much all of his stuff. Disturbing that this is the reaction of so many players to what I would consider the basic principles of encounter design within the context of a campaign. Or even a decent one-shot.

            See also here; bringing back wandering monsters (and for the better class of DM, monsters with agency) and getting rid of the “sleeping in dungeons” nonsense, goes a long way towards rebalancing casters vs. non-casters at least in the middle levels. But it is too deadly if every encounter is equal-CL.

          • dndnrsn says:

            His site is absolutely great. It’s really weird how this guy’s free site is light years ahead of most (all?) “how to run the game” sections in RPG books, and considerably better than the average dedicated “how to run a game” book.

        • dndnrsn says:

          @Bugmaster

          Two things I’ve come to really like in running a retroclone are morale rules (which work better than GM fiat for having enemies retreating or running being an element of play) and unbalanced random tables (which create a mix of easy encounters and hard encounters, instead of Mathematically Proven 4-A-Day Optimal Encounters).

          @ing

          Were they hard because he played them really deviously, or because the CRs were wonky?

          • ing says:

            He wasn’t playing the monsters deviously. I think it was just a combination of a poorly optimized party and a tendency to use solo monsters that focused fire on one target.

    • DeWitt says:

      How do you get players to enter a dungeon stocked using an Old School random table?

      I dunno, how does Skyrim do it?

      My family’s ancestral shield lies there
      It is the tomb of a once-time great king
      Engravings there clue at the dragon who once destroyed these lands
      A cult of demon-worshipping fanatics has taken up residence

      If all a dungeon has to offer is monsters and maybe riches.. Yeah, people might take pause. But if your players aren’t into that, they’re not into that, and I don’t think fiddling with the rules will change that.

    • James C says:

      Really I don’t. It’s not so much that I don’t like a dungeon crawl but generally you do need at least some form of plot to draw in players otherwise they don’t really have a reason to dive into a generic dungeon. Even if it’s just for money it helps to have some narrative weight behind the delve like paying a princess’ random.

    • ing says:

      I handle this problem by having a declared plot for the campaign. For example my current campaign is Return To The Temple Of Elemental Evil, revised for 5e. The players and I have agreed that their actions will advance that plot. (And I suppose there’s a return tacit agreement that the foes they encounter while trying to advance that plot will be defeatable.)

    • Thegnskald says:

      An alternative direction to other commentary:

      Take their toys away; just slowly remove everything from the game except what you want them to do.

      If they are sitting in a tavern for hours at a time, the next game, have patrons be nervous, and more sparse than usual. Then fewer. Then, a night or two later, the tavern is empty. Then a few nights later, as wagon after wagon leaves the city gates, it stands abandoned, nothing left to look but scraps of torn cloth and dryrotted lumber. There is nothing left for them to do, nobody to talk to, except to investigate.

      The forest empties out, their encounters gradually turning from live direbears or whatever, to fly-ridden corpses shredded by an unknown assailant, scraps of bloody meat and too-thin footprints leading back to the entrance to a dungeon.

      Make the dungeon a threat to them, make it a threat to the things they value. Make it personal. And make it escalate.

      ETA: For example, while they sleep at night, have a haunting song start in the distance, and make whoever had watch roll a will save. If they lose – or hell, just say they lose – the party wakes up to them missing. Taking a player away will tend to incentivize the group.

    • Plumber says:

      Side topic, but I really, really miss the Dungeons & Dragons games that I played in the very late 1970’s and ’80’s, I started D&D again with 5e WD&D just a couple of years ago, but it’s just not the same as the TD&D I used to play. The problem isn’t the rules as much as the play-style and assumptions.

      I posted this at another Forum which I’d like to share with the great minds here:

      What happen to treasure?

      For me, proper D&D is about explorin’ dungeons, encounterin’ and runnin’ from monsters and then lootin’ the place.!

      Not savin’ the world!

      There’s too much Murder and not enough Hobo (maybe ‘ cause XP for is now for murder, not for gold) for my tastes.

      All this “Saving the world” instead of trying to survive and prosper.

      “Saving the world” seems an endless conga-line of combat with very little detail why, and there’s “boss monsters” to fight for some reason.

      But no treasure lately!

      I like standard equipment instead of toiling away tryin’ to budget the starting gold to optimize my PC’s equipment, but it don’t change!

      Never get hardly any loot, and never get to where you can spend it anyway!

      Meanwhile, other players rush into melee at first sight of most any critter, instead of tryin’ to take their stuff without our PC’s losin’ HP!

      All this murderin’ without lootin’ is like we’re all supposed to be playin’ 1e AD&D Paladins!

      And why don’t we track arrows, bolts, and rations?

      This don’t feel right!

      I want to start in a tavern, loot a dungeon, try to avoid bandits that want to steal the stolen loot, and then spend the loot in the tavern just like the young Conan, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser!

      It’s been too long!

      I want my Dungeons & Dragons back dagnabbit!

      (Your welcome to tell me how wrong I am, but please someone truthfully tell me of recent adventures of loot grabbin’ so I may feel less forlorn and lonely in my desires)

      Somethings about new D&D I like (that most of my PC’s survive to 2nd level), but I miss the old “hobo” adventures.

      • andrewflicker says:

        The last campaign I DMed certainly *had* a backdrop of a plucky rebellion trying to overthrow the Evil Empire and save (this part of) the world… but my players weren’t in the rebellion, kept finding themselves in jail on what I would consider solid criminal justice grounds, and had a shortlist of favorite taverns.

        To get more serious, though, a LOT of modern D&D DMs seem to make serious mistakes about how to run a game well. You’re not supposed to give XP for murderin’, you’re supposed to get XP for overcoming challenges- which might mean killing the horrible monster, or (as my party did) blowing up the mines their enemy was using as a base, or (as my party OFTEN did) sneaking around their enemy and robbing him blind.

        Standard starting equipment is great, and 5E does it fairly well (though even it gives too much option, I think). I usually houserule rest rules so that people are more careful with HP and don’t do the whole nova-then-sleep-then-nova nonsense.

        For me, D&D is best when the players are really talented adventurers that are definitely NOT the masters of their universe, but it can be fun in a lot of different ways. Pathfinder’s Kingmaker was a lot of fun, and a very different sort of game when ran by the right DM. (and the current game I’m DMing is different yet, but I won’t say anything here on the offchance a player reads it)

    • AnarchyDice says:

      I play 5e, but I love magic items so I created my own WBL chart. Granted I use that mostly as a guide when I’m creating dungeons (I aim for roughly 110% of their treasure by level relative to the XP I grant, but I hide about 20-30% in different difficulty locations that reward clever looting). The hunt for loot alone is more than enough to get them to explore dungeons and bash their heads against my traps and puzzles. I also unbounded my accuracy, or more accurately, I don’t bother with the MM most of the time and just make up appropriate seeming monsters and abilities as I go.

      The thing they’ve been chasing since the start is a way to control the giant earth elemental called the Walking Armory, and they chose the “find the ancient crown of the long dead ruler” route to controlling it rather than the “loophole your way into technical generalship to gain access”. That, and lots of side-quests, have kept them motivated to keep delving and looting.

    • MrApophenia says:

      I really like how Dungeon Crawl Classics encourages this type of play.

      – At start, everyone gets 4 level 0 PCs – after the first adventure you pick your PC from among any who survived and level up. This creates the proper frame of mind on character death.

      – XP is awarded based on the difficulty of the fight. Not the theoretical level balance but how it actually played out. If three goblins somehow kick the party’s ass, that is worth a lot of XP. High level adventurers killing a deer get nothing but a dead deer.

      • Nornagest says:

        Feels like the latter would make for some weird incentives. It’d encourage seat-of-the-pants play and doing the bare minimum necessary to survive a given encounter, and probably also a certain amount of hammed-up bungling. That’d be good for some games — seems like a natural fit for something like Toon, for example — but it’d narrow the scope for D&D, which some people play like Rainbow Six and others play like Serious Sam.

        (I’m probably dating myself with those video game references, but hopefully you get the idea.)

        • MrApophenia says:

          I mean, it’s up to the GM how difficult the encounter was. If they think the PCs were intentionally throwing the fight for XP, they can adjust accordingly.

          Of course, given the lethal nature of the system, players who try that are also more likely to just die instead of nailing the desired reward.

  26. I’ve been mildly obsessed with predictive processing since Scott reviewed Surfing Uncertainty, and have been thinking about how it meshes with positive thinking (affirmations, visualization, The Secret, growth mindset, etc). I wrote an article which is too long to post in full here, but here’s the link (the first bit is mostly summarizing Scott’s posts for a general audience, so you could skip to halfway through).

    The gist of it is that you might be able to prime yourself to pay more attention to opportunities, but only tiny, incremental ones. Practicing affirmations is like going through life whispering ‘gorilla, gorilla, gorilla’ under your breath. You’ll definitely spot the gorilla, but only if there’s a gorilla playing basketball in the first place. Thinking about gorillas is not going to trigger a tornado to pluck one up from the mists of the Congo and insert it into your weekend pickup game down at the YMCA. And so, there is probably no-one offering you a better job, or a useful side-hustle, or a thrilling romance, or a $20 note laying on the pavement that you just haven’t spotted yet.

    Nonetheless, some people swear by this sort of thing. A simple explanation is that they have probably increased their raw optimism by leveraging confirmation bias. The specific requests they make of the universe don’t actually matter, so long as they start paying more attention to positive things that were already happening. That probably makes them a bit more pleasant to be around, slightly more hard-working, more confident, etc. This could become a self-fulfilling prophecy which really does move them (incrementally) towards their actual, gorilla-sized goals.

    However, I’m still skeptical. It would be really surprising if a few whispered affirmations or minor physiological cues (e.g. power poses) were enough to brute-force the brain into updating the priors it has built up through decades of careful filtering. The key distinction here seems to be between unconscious beliefs, and unconscious skills. There’s a useful clue in athletics, where visualizing motor patterns actually works really well: are you better off spending an hour in the mirror telling yourself you’re a good tennis player, or by mentally running through specific cues and movements, over and over again?

    The upshot, as always, is that hard things are hard. Anything that falls in the passive/beliefs category is unlikely to do much of anything, compared to deliberate practice. It seems like if you want to become more optimistic, you have to fill in boring CBT-style workbooks, or set and achieve a series of goals, or do actual mental contrasting of all the challenges and obstacles, instead of just scrunching up your face and hoping that the good vibes seep into your unconscious.

    One area where affirmations might actually be useful: coming up with new ideas, or solving specific, actionable problems that don’t require any change in the external world. That way the gorilla doesn’t need to be real, it just has to be floating around in your head somewhere. Maybe constantly reminding your unconscious to pay more attention to gorilla-shaped ideas helps bring them closer to the surface?

    Something that surprised me while I was researching the origins of the positive thinking phenomenon is just how deeply these ideas are entrenched, and how potentially dangerous they are. Think and Grow Rich, which is the progenitor of all this sort of stuff, remains one of the best-selling books of all time, even though it’s a bunch of amazingly audacious lies cut from whole cloth by a professional conman. Tony Robbins, Oprah, Deepak Chopra, The Secret all trace a direct lineage to this same idea; that if you conquer your thoughts, you conquer the world.

    There are two things that really disturb me about this. If you’re in control of your destiny, the ugly flipside is that everyone must get what they deserve. A moment’s observation shows this to be untrue, not least because the people making a fortune pushing these sort of ideas are often pretty vile (seriously, read the backstory on Napoleon Hill). The second disturbing thing is that as far as I can tell, most of the good oil is in reducing pessimism rather than increasing optimism. If you go too far above the baseline level, it tips over into narcissism and shonky decision-making. Most people already have an optimism bias; there’s a fine line between the level of self-delusion required to get out of bed in the morning, and just being deluded. It would be interesting to know whether the positive thinking industry has, on balance, perhaps done more harm than good.

    Here are my six predictions/observations, from the article:

    1: The Law of Attraction/affirmations may be a useful tool for generating ideas, and solving specific creative or intellectual problems.
    2: The Law of Attraction/affirmations has little effect, and probably no effect, on external life outcomes.
    3: Deliberate practice (e.g. Seligman’s ABCDE model, success spirals) will have a significantly stronger effect on external life outcomes than Law of Attraction-style affirmations.
    4: Pessimists will see the strongest benefits from deliberate practice.
    5: Going too far above the ‘normal’ optimism level is likely to do more harm than good.
    6: No-one who believes in the Law of Attraction will pay the slightest bit of attention to any of the above.

    All this is completely speculative. I’m an enthusiastic layperson with no relevant expertise (apart from reading a lot of terrible self-help books!) so I’d be interested in other folk’s thoughts. Also curious which other areas might be interesting to view through the lens of predictive processing?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      You might be interested in Brightsided, especially the part about CEOs getting into positive thinking.

    • Matt M says:

      I dunno… superficially I think there’s something to be said for the idea that most opportunities require you to actually ask for something, and that there’s a whole class of people out there in the world who lack self-confidence and are afraid to do so.

      When I was in business school, our teachers and coaches spent a lot of time in interview training drilling us with “Make it very very clear that you really want the job, including outright asking for it if you’re comfortable with that.” I was really bad at this. My logical brain was worried that this would come across as desperate or arrogant. Surely the fact that I applied for the job and bothered to show up for the interview implies that I want it, yes?

      I did terribly in interviews. Until I had one with a very elite firm – well beyond what I ever expected to even get an interview, much less a job with. I went in with a “nothing to lose” attitude and spent every possibly interaction emphasizing two points: “I really want this job” and “I am absolutely qualified to do this.” And I got it.

      Anecdotal, sure. N=1 and all that. But that change in attitude really did seem to make all the difference in the world. My steel man of the positive thinking genre is something to the effect of “Most opportunities require you to actually ask for something and a lot of people are either afraid to do this, or aren’t aware that they need to.” The benefit of positive thinking isn’t “As long as you think positive you’ll get the job” so much as it is “In order to get the job, you have to ask for it, and you have to sell the fact that you think you deserve it.”

      • Possibly this would still fall under the ‘skill’ bracket, in the sense that it sounds like you were taught a specific strategy for interviewing well, but interesting nonetheless. In that particular interview, did you feel like your levels of confidence/audaciousness were intrinsically heightened, or you were basically just executing on a plan/following the right script? (or both? maybe one follows from the other…)

        My steel man of the positive thinking genre is something to the effect of “Most opportunities require you to actually ask for something and a lot of people are either afraid to do this, or aren’t aware that they need to.”

        Yeah, that sounds reasonable. Addressing underconfidence/local pessimism (not sure if these are synonymous, but roughly speaking) seems to be the low-hanging fruit. I wonder where the rationalist community falls on the optimism spectrum, compared to the general population? Would be an interesting question for future surveys.

        There seems to be a strong norm against anything that verges on self-delusion here (for obvious reasons) but maybe that gets taken too far? I read the second half of Inadequate Equilibria as basically a kind of rah-rah pep talk for believing in oneself, carefully dressed up in suitably rationalist-y language…but it was refreshingly uplifting, and probably something I needed to read.

        • albatross11 says:

          My steelman of the whole positive-thinking idea is that it’s a useful correction for a lot of people whose default worldview is too pessimistic to lead them to good outcomes. By hacking that from the outside (pushing themselves to try to act a little more optimistic), they move their actual behavior toward a more optimal point.

          By that logic, if your default worldview is too sunny, then the positive-thinking mantras and such will make you worse off.

    • Plumber says:

      My thought are that those kinds of “affirmations” are typical of people in “management” and “marketing” who’s work is convincing others to believe things.

      If you convince yourself that SNAKE OIL BRAND VITAMINS WILL MAKE YOU REACH THE TOP!!! then you’ll probably be slightly better at selling snake oil.

      In my line of work though optimists are a liability, I want co-workers who can think of and prepare for the worst that can happen instead.

      I highly recommend the book Shop Class as Soulcraft for students and white collar types to introduce the concept that material reality doesn’t change because of one’s personal mental state.

  27. marshwiggle says:

    Anyone planning on watching Perseid meteors tonight? How is the weather where you are? And has anyone been motivated enough to go somewhere with better weather? I say this from an area with a ‘mostly cloudy leading into thunderstorms’ disappointment.

  28. fahertym says:

    As a believer in objective aesthetics, I attempted to come up with a more coherent conception of “subjectivity” in aesthetics.

    https://objectivevgaesthetics.wordpress.com/2018/08/07/what-is-aesthetic-subjectivity/

    • James says:

      Interesting—it’s quite different to my take on subjectivity/objectivity. I tend to think of ‘objectivity’ as something like ‘invariance across observers’. So someone saying X is true ‘subjectively’ is saying that it seems true for them without making any claims that it would hold for any others, and to say it’s true ‘objectively’ is to say that it holds for them and they expect it to hold true over a certain set of observers. (Of course, the relevant set is context dependent—it could be all possible minds, all humans, English-speaking humans, all well-read 18th century English-speaking humans, ….) The same applies for claims about aesthetic effects/qualities, such as ‘X is good’ or ‘X is beautiful’.

      There’s an old Scott post which you’ve probably already seen on this.

      In my view, this process of converting subjective beliefs into objective beliefs should be the purpose of studying aesthetics.

      I agree that this is good and important work, but I tend to think of it more as the subject matter of the study of art per se (like fields like English literature, or music theory), rather than aesthetics-as-a-branch-of-philosophy, which I tend to think of as bearing the same relation to the study of art as the philosophy of science does to science.

  29. johan_larson says:

    Would it be possible to run a restaurant (or food-truck or mini-stand) that served exactly one dish? Suppose there was a House of BLAT, where all you could order was BLAT. You could get several BLAT if you wanted, and you could add standard condiments, but the only thing the server would bring you was BLAT. And not extra-large BLAT or southern-fried BLAT or chili-ranch BLAT. Just BLAT.

    Possible? For what dish?

    The problem I’m seeing with this is that people often want to buy both a food and a drink, and that’s not one thing, it’s two (duh). So, it this place serving just a drink? Or is it a really small one-person shop operating in something like a food court where you can easily enough get a drink at the next stall over?

    • Evan Þ says:

      Boba tea? Though even there, in the real world, you’re usually offered different flavors.

    • Matt M says:

      Depending on how loose you are with the “standard condiment” rule, I’ve seen hot dog carts that probably count as this.

      Stadium vendors basically do this too. While there are many to choose from, each individual vendor typically only sells one product.

      • johan_larson says:

        Around here, the hot dog stands all sell three or four kinds of sausage and at least a handful of types of canned drinks.

        • christianschwalbach says:

          They do now. In the past it was Hebrew National and only Hebrew National (or whatever they were using as supplier)

    • JohnofCharleston says:

      A restaurant in DC is kinda relevant, but does offer drinks. There are several single-item food trucks, though they too at least have a self-service drinks cooler.
      http://www.mediumrarerestaurant.com/dinner.php

      Transaction costs are real, even in a food court. If you want some water it is always easiest to add it to a transaction you’re already undertaking than walking to another stall, waiting in line, and having another interaction.

      • bean says:

        In Singapore, they do drinks at a separate hawker stall from the food. (Each stall has a dozen or so items, so it doesn’t fulfill Johan’s challenge.) But Singapore rolls all tax into posted prices, so you walk up with exact change, and walk away. That’s a policy I believe should be mandatory worldwide, just because of how nice it is. Also, abolish the penny while we’re at it. Seriously, using cash there was wonderful.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          UK does the same.

          I think one reason why it’s not done in the US is that there are so many jurisdictions with different tax regimes in which the same products are sold. In the UK, manufacturers will print packaging with the (recommended retail) price on it.

          • bean says:

            Good point about our sales tax system screwing this up.

            This seems like something uniquely suited to restaurants, particularly fast-food places. You’re not buying that many things, so it’s easy to have exact change ready when you get to the counter. And the prices are on a board you see at the counter, instead of being on the objects themselves, or on shelves that you took them off of.

            (Of course, I use credit cards almost exclusively, so it’s not that big of a deal to me personally.)

    • Shmooper says:

      In my country we have a lot of stands which sell only and only corn on the cob. I don’t know if it’s exactly corn on the cob, actually, but it’s kind of slightly roasted. You can ask the guy to roast it it little less or more and you can add salt or not, but that’s all the variation you’ll get.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Are you in the Balkans or Turkey?

        In that part of the world, I’ve seen a lot of stands like that, some selling corn on the cob, others selling other things like simit/koulouria (ring-shaped bread coated in sesame seeds, kind of like a bagel but larger diameter and with a very much larger hole) or (in Istanbul) stuffed mussels. If you want something else, you go to a different stand.

        In England, I’ve seen vendors selling only caramel-coated peanuts, or only roast chestnuts (the latter is rarer and seasonal).

        I think that for your BLAT to be a food product, it has to be something that doesn’t need refrigeration either before or after preparation (the Turkish mussel stands don’t refrigerate the mussels- AFAIK they all operate illegally but are hugely popular). Because if you have refrigeration, then it makes economic sense to use some of that refrigerator space for cold drinks.

        On the just-selling-drinks side, I’ve seen vendors selling bottled water on hot days (perhaps the trivial example), or people in crowds at music festivals selling beer from a barrel mounted on their back.

        • johan_larson says:

          I seem to remember something about people selling tea from samovars mounted on their backs. A Russian thing, maybe? I guess selling beer is the same thing, except cold stuff rather than hot.

        • christianschwalbach says:

          Roasted nut stands are an example. They arent super common, but at some fairs in the US, and inside some stores and malls, you can buy freshly made candy roasted nuts (usually almonds) in paper cones, and only that. The carts look like old-school push carts.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Oh, right– there’s someone at a local farmer’s market who sells nothing but water ices.

          • Matt M says:

            Nancy,

            That reminds me. In Texas there’s a very small chain called Bahama Bucks that, as far as I know, only sells shaved ice. They have like 5,000 different syrup flavors you can put on it, but I think the shaved ice is all they offer (perhaps they offer more, but I’ve never bothered to ask or really look at a menu or anything).

    • marshwiggle says:

      BLAT can be anything durian. That’s economically efficient so that people who don’t want durian don’t have to go to the same food truck as anything involving durian. That’s if you make it legal to sell non-frozen durian in public at all, of course.

      Alternatively, what if you had a locavore sort of food truck explicitly offering whatever is cheapest, freshest, and most local that day. You might be able to make that work even without offering drinks.

      Lastly, I think you might be able to do this with pad thai. I have no idea what you do about the drink problem though.

    • Lambert says:

      Fish and chip shops in the UK do sell other things, like battered sausages and Pukka pies, but the vast majority of orders tend to be X amount of fish + Y amount of chips.
      That gets you down to two dishes.

    • Aapje says:

      The problem is that Westerners have been spoiled with choice, so it’s often hard to do this without at least a little variation. You have hummus restaurants, but they do offer variations. Any restaurant will also have to serve drinks, so they are not really feasible for your strict limitations and you are left with food-truck or mini-stands.

      A classic Dutch snack that is sold from dedicated mini-stands is poffertjes, which are fluffy mini-pancakes. They are normally eaten with butter and powdered sugar.

      Another snack that is sold from dedicated mini-stands are stroopwafels.

      A traditional Dutch snack sold in winter, especially at outdoor skating rinks is snert, which is a pea soup. It’s a thick stew of green split peas, different cuts of pork, celeriac or stalk celery, onions, leeks, carrots, and often potato. Smoked sausage is typically added as well. However, mini-stands that sell this usually sell more than just this.

      A traditional Belgian mini-stand food is french fries.

      Cotton candy can be sold from mini-stands.

      Basically, the trick is to have a dish with fairly high demand and sell it in a place with many potential customers. However, even if it is viable to only sell one dish, often it is advantageous to sell more.

    • ana53294 says:

      In Spain, you have vendors that sell churros with liquid chocolate. I would argue this is a single dish, because you would never eat the churros separately.

      You can also have stands that offer just pumpkin doughnuts.

      This kind of truck is usually only there limited times of the year (during city patron’s days), but are very popular.

    • gbdub says:

      Honestly if you’re selling one thing it’s stupid not to have a cooler of beverages, because snacks make people thirsty and an ice chest full of bottled water and soda is cheap, high margin, and non perishable.

      For no drinks, the only thing I can think of are temporary farm stands that sell whatever comes out of the field behind them (in Michigan, this was cherries or corn). Sometimes here in Arizona you see fry bread stands. These are all temporary side hustles though, I don’t think you could swing that as permanent primary employment.

      If you allow for drinks, there’s those ubiquitous in Southern California little hot dog carts that pop out at night (the flattop hand carts grilling hot dogs, onions, and peppers).

      The only place I see single food item stands frequently are places like festivals and fairs where there are multiple food vendors. There you might see a stand selling only fries, or only lemonade, but they are basically piggybacking off the captive audience and the variety provided by the rest of the food court. They’d be less successful stand alone.

      What about Cinnabon or Auntie Anne’s, ubiquitous in malls across America (but rarely stand alone)? They sell drinks but their food options are very limited.

      For stand alone permanent eateries, the lowest variety I can think of is In N Out.

      • Matt M says:

        “Raising Cane’s” is a fast food franchise popular in Texas (not sure how wide their geographic footprint goes) that specializes in chicken fingers. Probably slightly more specialized than In-N-Out, but offers a few side options and drinks.

        • gbdub says:

          No we have that in AZ, forgot about them. They have less customization too (good chicken fingers though).

          I think the problem is that people associate a meal with, at a minimum, an entree, a side, and a drink. So Cane’s is about as minimalist as you can go and be a place people go for a meal.

          You might be able to pull off a one dish meal like pad Thai, paella, or ramen though.

    • James C says:

      Dunkin’ Donuts seems to do pretty well selling just donuts. There’s a huge range within that category but the core concept is a mono-food store.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Coffee is a key part of their business and always has been (their logo has included a coffee cup since the 1960s).

        • smocc says:

          Coffee is the key part of their business. I don’t drink coffee but love donuts and I’m not sure I have ever seen someone else besides me buy donuts there.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Dunkin’ Donuts sells hash browns and and bagels and heated meat/cheese/egg sandwiches. They *mostly* do donuts.

      • AG says:

        “Variation within donuts” doesn’t seem in the spirit of the challenge, or certain Italian restaurants would be “all-pasta,” or pizza places and hot pot/shabu-shabu restaurants would qualify. There’s also a Mac’n’Cheese restaurant where you get to pick the cheese type and toppings of choice.

    • beleester says:

      “Extra-large BLAT” is the condition that really kills this – even a drink-only place tends to offer different sizes of drink. Like, unless you’re at “kid’s lemonade stand” scales of business, you probably have different-sized cups in stock.

      You could simply remove the customization options. If you sell only 16oz cups of lemonade, or only small vanilla ice cream cones, you’d probably still turn a profit, those are perfectly fine items to sell by themselves, but there’s just not really a reason to do it aside from fulfilling the needs of this challenge.

    • AG says:

      I’d say it’s not possible because then it’s too easy to get undercut, someone opening up next door and selling either BLAT+ or Cheaper BLAT. Diversification hedges against this.

    • helloo says:

      Ice cream trucks. Lemonade stands. Udon/Ramen carts.
      Plenty of those exist already.

      Otherwise, might be possible with small shops in an area that features lots of other mini food carts.
      Like in a fair, festival, or food court.

    • Iain says:

      I think this is possible if you lean into it. Make exactly one thing. Make it really well. Probably you’re a food cart or something. Your service should be gruff. The lack of options has to be the pitch: you are the expert on this food, and you know the right way to make it, and you won’t let anybody screw it up. The food is only half your product; the other thing you’re selling is a sense of authenticity.

      Your goal is to be the place that hip young professionals brag about being regulars at.

    • dick says:

      Nong’s, one of Portland’s most famous food carts, started that way and is basically still that way. She has a restaurant now that serves other things but the cart is basically just khao man gai (chicken and rice and garlic sauce) and drinks.

    • Nornagest says:

      I’ve seen this in very high-end as well as very low-end restaurants. On the low end, you’ve got the food trucks that others have discussed. On the high end, you’ve got gourmet restaurants that serve one (albeit usually elaborate and multi-course) meal in a night to everyone that shows up, which is whatever the chef felt like making. Maybe you’ll get the option to modify it for dietary restrictions, maybe not.

    • bottlerocket says:

      I think roast chestnut stands meet this criterion. Their sole product is a fist-sized bag of roasted chestnuts. Here in CA, you can find them outside of grocery stores in the winter months.

    • secondcityscientist says:

      Chicago has various Tamale Guys who show up to bars that don’t serve food late at night and sell tamales to drunks. I’ve never had them (though I’ve seen them) so I don’t know if there’s more than one kind of tamale.

    • Randy M says:

      If you call “burger and fries” one dish, and “cheese” a condiment, then In-n-Out qualifies.
      I believe there are plenty of local restaurants that sell basically one thing, like Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches. Most probably also stock a vending machine or cooler of soda if you want to get picky, but I doubt that is strictly required.

      • John Schilling says:

        I’m pretty certain that if you want to sell food, and to be a profitable business, selling some sort of beverage is also required.

        • Randy M says:

          I suppose you are right, based on recalling reading once that fast food is only really profitable by dint of selling vastly overpriced sugar water. I expect that fancy restaurants may have the same strategy with vastly overpriced ethanol water. Any anyone trying to compete based on the quality of food has to compete with that high margin item allowing them to lower the prices of the burger to a more attractive level. I might have a skewed perspective since I nearly never order beverages with meals.

          • Nornagest says:

            This sort of thing’s pretty common. Movie theaters and amusement parks both make most of their margins on concessions.

    • Machine Interface says:

      I just realised you’re describing the old SNL skit “Olympia Restaurant”:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puJePACBoIo

  30. Jacob says:

    Can we post classified ads? I have room for rent in the greater boston area: https://boston.craigslist.org/gbs/abo/d/1-bedroom-in-condo-available/6668170504.html

  31. Wrong Species says:

    Imagine three different futures for the United States, 30 years from now, based on varying levels of productivity growth:

    Scenario 1: Productivity growth continues at the rate it’s been going the last 10 years, 1.2 percent

    Scenario 2: The rate from 1948-1973, 2.8 percent.

    Scenario 3: Double the rate of scenario 2, 5.6 percent.

    What do these scenarios look like and how do they differ from each other?

    • Christophe Biocca says:

      Eyeballing BLS stats says that your high-productivity-growth scenario involves the average industry growing faster in productivity than almost any industry today does. Computer components averaged 8% productivity growth annually from the 90’s to today, telecoms only averaged 4.

      I don’t think the results would be very recognizable to us if this was achieved. You’re talking productivity growth that impact almost all sectors, even very entrenched ones, or a combination of WintelPC-boom in many industries in parallel for that duration, combined with some extreme Baumol’s cost-disease for doctors and other supply-controlled professions.

      • marshwiggle says:

        But say for the sake of argument that some unprecedented technology actually boosts productivity like crazy, and keeps getting applied to new stuff every year. People get better at using it every year. More sectors of the economy are impacted than not. I don’t think that is going to happen soon enough for scenario 3. But if it did we might get that 5.6% growth rate. So what would the United States and the rest of the world look like if such a technology was discovered tomorrow?

        I’m thinking easily 50% of production is still old products way more cheaply made. 40% is new products, but iphone new – stuff that could have been there in 2030 without the crazy tech, just more cheaply made. Probably more such things, as the new tech both energizes creativity and enables it by allowing stuff that would have been prohibitively expensive to become marketable. Then, 10% who knows what that directly requires the new tech and is thus difficult to impossible to imagine.

        • Wrong Species says:

          What always get me about the future is virtual reality. In scenario one, I think VR wouldn’t be qualitatively different than what we have now. In scenario three, it would be the kind that connects directly to your brain and allows you to move about in the VR without moving your body. Scenario two would be somewhere in between. But if we had the advanced level of VR, isn’t that what everyone would do, all the time? In that case, over 99% of our spending would be on the shiny new computers that allow us that experience and the energy requirements to sustain it.

    • proyas says:

      In the high growth scenario, everyone will have granite countertops and Chevy Suburbans.

  32. kaakitwitaasota says:

    Chengdu reporting in here. A few people added my WeChat, but they were all SSC readers (and all Western expats) living in Beijing or Shanghai until the morning of. We had a grand total of two attendees–me, and a Chinese programmer who’d never heard of SSC but was told to go by a friend of his who lives in Hong Kong. Nice chap, but he had literally never heard of SSC–

    “So, are you the guy who runs the blog?”
    “No…no, I’m not…”
    “Oh! So, can you tell me what the blog is about?”
    “…I…y’kinda have to read it? It’s about…thinking?”

    He said he’d intended to read it but hadn’t had the time because of his busy schedule; I sent him links to some of the more seminal posts. After about forty-five minutes we called it and went our separate ways. (Additional snafu: the Beer Nest 2 was unexpectedly closed–it is supposed to be open on Sundays–so I left a note on the door directing any surprise newcomers to a nearby establishment where we went. Nobody else showed, though.)

    Most pathetic SSC meetup of 2018?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m just delighted we had a meeting in Chengdu at all. It seems like such an exotic place that it’s fun to know even people there have heard about me – especially since it featured in a recent blog post.

  33. imoimo says:

    Anyone here work with chaos or nonlinear dynamics for a living? (Yes, this is a hail mary)

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      Not just at the moment, but I did my MSc and PhD in them, and still do maths for a living. I doubt I can help, but I’d be interested to hear the problem.

      • imoimo says:

        Actually I’m a soon-graduating PhD student in chaos (w.r.t. physics) looking for connections, job opportunities, and life advice. Thanks for responding! Can you offer anything in those categories? Also what do you do?

  34. Freddie deBoer says:

    why come latitude and longitude use two different systems? Like longitude lines all meet at the poles whereas latitude lines are concentric circles that never meet. I mean obviously there’s a North and South Pole, right. But you could have a concentric ring system and still have the poles as long as the biggest circle runs through both. And conversely you could establish arbitrary East and West poles and have the whole lines that meet dealie. Why not use one system?

    • Enkidum says:

      Because distance from the equator is an important thing to know for all sorts of reasons, whereas distance from [insert your arbitrary East/West pole locations here] is not?

    • The Nybbler says:

      How would you measure it? Latitude is easily determined through star sightings. Longitude with more difficulty with a chronometer or star sightings (lunar distance method). Distance from arbitrary east pole doesn’t work that way.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Right, they’re both natural measures. You mention hard ways to measure longitude, but they’re only hard because you’ve imposed the requirement that a traveler can do it any day. For a city to determine its longitude once and for all, it just has to wait for an eclipse to provide a reference time, as was done by the ancients.

    • Christophe Biocca says:

      Latitude circle X and longitude circle Y can intersect on two distinct points (most obvious example, 0-0 can refer to the greenwich line at the equator OR its complete opposite), you’d have to refer to front/back to solve the ambiguity.

      In our system, valid latitudes range -90 to +90, longitudes from -180 to +180. In the proposed system at latitude -90 or +90, only longitude 0 exists, and for longitude -90 or +90 only latitude 0 exists. So you’d have to have a formula to figure out what is a valid coordinate and what isn’t, instead of simple range checks.

    • Tenacious D says:

      Whether it’s a different system kind of depends on your perspective. Both latitude and longitude measure the angle at the Earth’s centre between a point of interest and a reference plane. The valid ranges of angles are different, of course, because the poles are physically meaningful (but for longitude it’s easy to imagine a system that goes from 0 – 360).

    • smocc says:

      Latitude lines are the starting point and the most intuitive because it is very easy to measure latitude. Greeks have been doing it since at least ~300 BC.
      All it takes is an angle measurement from the horizon to the pole star and that’s it. The angle you measure is your angle of latitude, simple as that. Also, if you are traveling north/south an equal change in latitude corresponds to equal distance traveled. Not so with radial circles. I can’t think of any advantage to switching from the current latitude system to a radial one.

      The longitude system is not as simple, but it is defined so that changing longitude along lines of constant latitude mimics the motion of the earth as it rotates. This is what made the original method of determining longitude possible by using differences in measurements of the time of noon.

      The usefulness of the two systems comes down to the fact that the North / South poles are not arbitrary. The fact that the earth rotates freely picks out a preferred direction in space (and it must, because of physics and the fact that we live in 3 dimensions). Both the longitude system and latitude system are designed to take advantage of the special direction nature has given us. Doing anything else would be adding unwieldy arbitrariness.

      Not totally related, but here are two blog posts I wrote on the subject of geographical coordinate systems: Part 1 Part 2

    • bean says:

      It’s the only system that makes physical and mathematical sense. Most notably, it keeps the directions independent, and consistent with their cardinal uses. If I move due north, my north/south coordinate changes and my east/west doesn’t, and vice-versa. If we did two sets of parallels, moving north/south would also change your east/west coordinate unless you were on the EWquator. That’s really confusing to have to deal with. You’d see similar weirdness with two sets of meridians, although in that case it would be that moving east/west changes your north/south coordinate. And as smocc pointed out, it’s also tied in with how we measured when the systems were being created.

    • Well... says:

      Could there be a coordinate system based on a spiral that goes from one pole to the other?

      • Christophe Biocca says:

        Not without committing to a specific degree of precision.

        Otherwise, going from X separation between successive lines of the spiral to X/2 separation would cause all points to double in “distance-along-spiral” metric.

        I believe you can prove that no space-filling curve (of which your spiral suggestion is an example) has a stable coordinate system when you change the precision, but couldn’t find anyone who had bothered to do so.

        EDIT:

        You can shove a two-dimensional coordinate into a single number, but it stops being meaningful:

        – Express Lon/Lat as fractions from 0 to 1.
        – Lon: 0.ABCDEFG
        – Lat: 0.abcdefg
        – Your combined coordinate is 0.AaBbCcDdEeFfGg which is a single number.

        This is apparently called geohash, and is based on a z-order curve: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geohash

        • marshwiggle says:

          That’s likely true if you’re only allowed to use 1 coordinate in your coordinate system. But it’s fairly trivially untrue if you’re allowed to use 2, which I’m guessing is what Well had in mind.

          • marshwiggle says:

            Reply to the edit:

            That geohashing prevents a set of coordinates that are adjacent in one of the two coordinates from being adjacent in the geohashed number. But I suppose if a pair of coordinates was adjacent to another pair of coordinates in both coordinates, the geohash would also be adjacent, so you make a good point. If a 2 coordinate model is possible, a 1 coordinate model is possible.

            But, at last on a flat 2D plane, you can get a 1 coordinate space filling curve that preserves stability/locality/adjacency or whatever. The ones I’ve heard of are Hilbert curves. I’m feeling silly for not thinking of them earlier. I only remembered them when I tried to construct a more rigorous 2 coordinate model. link text

            Those are neither spiral like nor on the surface of a sphere, but they do demonstrate that space filling curves are not prevented in principle from having a stable coordinate system when you change the precision.

            In short, I think we were both wrong about whether you can do this properly with a 1 coordinate space filling curve. Disclaimer: I don’t have a degree in math.

      • Freddie deBoer says:

        I’m not smart enough to answer this query!

      • A1987dM says:

        Probably. Would it be convenient to use? Probably not.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          Space filling curves are cool! A spiral is a not-incredibly useful one because the ones that you want are fractal curves of arbitrary degree. They have one very useful property: you get a single, numerical coordinate for any point on the globe, which means that you can write a simple index to do a fast query for “areas nearby this point.”

          (Whereas with latitude and longitude, if you have a database with two columns, and you index one of them, then you have to manually go through and say, “Okay, now I’m going to throw out the vast majority of this big stripe of the world” when you’re trying to pare it down to points nearby this point.)

          Unfortunately, space-filling curves also have the property that some points that are physically near you in two-space are a long ways from you on the index. But lots of the points that are physically near you are near you on the index as well, reducing the number of queries you have to make in order to query points nearby you.

          (So, if this all seems pointless to you: when you go to Google Maps, center it where you are, and then search for “oil change,” the search is supposed to show places that offer an oil change near you, right? Ultimately, there’s a database somewhere that has a column that says “Jiffy Lube,” some other columns that have the hours and photos and so forth, and a coordinate, right? You want to construct a query that basically says, “Find all the places with keywords “oil change” that are within this arbitrary area.” That’s hard to index, and space filling curves are one of the better methods of indexing that query.)

    • AG says:

      If you do parallel lines/concentric circles for both N/S and E/W, then each non-zero circle for the former will interact with each non-zero circle in the latter twice, meaning two locations on the globe with the same coordinates. And flat maps have very unintuitional curved lines.

      If you do pole-based for both N/S and E/W, then you get crazy diagonal and curved lines on the map and a circle which both systems share.

  35. Old_onion says:

    Congratulations Scott,
    It looks like you were cited by the National Review again.

    https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/08/racism-debate-sarah-jeong-academia-cannot-define-words/

    • imoimo says:

      This is the first time I’ve read an article at National Review and I didn’t hate it (though it didn’t add much onto Scott’s article). Can I get some opinions on NR?

      • Reasoner says:

        I could reasonably be accused of being a right-wing moderate. NR seems to do a decent job of arguing for positions I agree with in a way that doesn’t strike me as excessively tribal. Not my favorite publication though; I would probably rate the Atlantic, the Economist, and the Financial Times higher (but maybe just on the basis of greater familiarity?)

        This chart seems to like them OK: http://www.allgeneralizationsarefalse.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Media-Bias-Chart_Version-3.1_Watermark-min-2.jpg

        • yodelyak says:

          Seconded that NR is right-ward and aspires to being reasonable/high-brow in a way that tends to make it moderate.

          +1 to both the Atlantic and the Economist as top notch. Dunno re: the FT.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Is it safe to come back to The Economist yet? I dropped them after 2016 due to the US section being consumed by TDS

            Edit: In fairness it was probably at a tolerable level for the print edition, especially compared to their peers, but I almost-exclusively used Economist Audio which really enhanced the obnoxiousness of everything being about Trump

          • gbdub says:

            Same question as Gobbobobble, but for the Atlantic?

            Actually I find myself there fairly often, the writing quality tends to be good and they cover interesting topics, but they’ve always had a streak of battier left mixed in. Right now one of their top stories is about how swim cap designers are contributing to structural racism by not selling caps that keep African American women’s hairstyles sufficiently dry. It is darkly hinted that there is a connection between this and black children being 5.5x as likely to drown.

          • dndnrsn says:

            My complaint about The Atlantic is that they have Frum there, who is aghast at what has happened to his conservatism, and at how uncouth Trump is. He just does not get that stuff like the war he propagandized for is one of the major reasons the Republican base rebelled against the traditional leadership. He also does not seem to get that as bad as Trump is, so far he has significantly less blood on his hands than Frum’s patrons do, and probably less blood than From himself.

            I think that’s way worse than the occasional injection of silly idpol left stuff. The Atlantic is generally a good mouthpiece for the American centre-left, and is generally able to extend some charity to people who aren’t intellectual fellow-travellers. That they’ve got a guy who is arguably a really low-level war criminal waxing outraged about how bad the thugs who have taken over his precious, innocent conservatism is? Eyeehhhh…

          • albatross11 says:

            dndnsrn:

            Connor Friedersdorf writes for the Atlantic, and seems to me to be a critic of the SJW movement who engages honestly with them. He strikes me as somewhere between moderate Republican and libertarian, but definitely isn’t a cheerleader for the right, either the Bush/neocon types or the current Trump types.

          • dndnrsn says:

            And now he’s done an article saying… democratic socialism would hurt women and minorities. Conor Friedersdorf… with a salvo against the brocialists? Astonishing!

            I thought he was a boring mainstream democrat, maybe a little too sympathetic to the Hated Enemy?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m pretty sure Conor Friedersdorf has always been right of center and libertarian leaning.

            Now the Trump presidency is scrambling some people out of the right wing coalition, so I guess he could be considered “left” now, but only in the sense that Frum, Navaro, etc are.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’d always interpreted his shtick as “guys, I’m vaguely centre-left just like you are, and we need to stop scaring away people who are slightly to my right” but I will admit that this is largely “he’s writing for a magazine that is vaguely centre-left” and so he therefore must be vaguely centre-left until I learn otherwise.

          • Deiseach says:

            And now he’s done an article saying… democratic socialism would hurt women and minorities.

            Well, that’s interesting: any mention in it of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, woman, minority and member of the Democratic Socialists of America, and all over the place recently as a Shining Great Hope for the Democrats? Granted, it’s the usual suspects pinning their hopes on yet another Shining Great Hope, but it seems as if democratic socialism hasn’t hurt this minority woman any too much!

          • dndnrsn says:

            His argument, as far as I can tell, is that capitalist markets provide a way for minorities to get what they want, as long as they have money. Conversely, popular control over production would hurt minorities.

      • nameless1 says:

        You wasn’t paying attention lately. Now they have things like an openly gay writer advocating that conservatives should accept trans people. They moved into the center in the recent years.

      • Yakimi says:

        Open any copy and you’ll find advertisements for cruises and mobile scooters. It’s a publication by and for obsequious and geriatric boomers who want to relive the confident unity of post-war, pre-Vietnam America. A complete nonentity, in my opinion.

      • christianschwalbach says:

        Its op eds by editorial board can come off as tribal in a way . They may pay lip service to being centrist and attempting to understand differing views, but I have never finished one of those articles without running into an “all Bernie Sanders, etc… policies are terrible” quip. Sanders, like all public policy promoters has good and bad ideas, so NR isnt nearly centrist enough for me

        • gbdub says:

          I mean, they are fiscally conservative and uneasy with populism. Exactly what of Bernie’s proposals do you expect them to like?

          NR is establishment Republicanism with an intellectual streak. It’s for blue tribe Republicans, basically. There’s an article on there today arguing against the Never Trumpers that considers the lessons of the Ptolemists fading in the face of the Copernicans and casually slips in some legal Latin while also “lamenting” the “low tone” that Trump has brought. Readers of the Atlantic and National Review have a lot more in common outside of politics than NR fans have with Rush Limbaugh listeners.

      • FLWAB says:

        I like their writing but I avoid the site because for years it has terrible ads that would significantly slow down my browsing speed. My (fairly old) smartphone would take ages to load an article, and then the whole thing would crash because of some auto-playing video ad. I think things have gotten better lately but I still avoid the site because of it.

      • mdet says:

        I regularly go to The Corner, which is the blog section of National Review, and look for David French, Jonah Goldberg, and Rammesh Ponnuru especially. I think they’re pretty charitable and accessible for someone coming from the center-left. I go to the Atlantic for Friedersdorf specifically. He was the first person to convince me that I could learn something by listening to people to my Right and extending them charity.

        • imoimo says:

          That’s now on my reading list, thanks!

          P.S. Having weird issues using the back button on mobile at that link for some reason.

    • historiaekatharsium says:

      Our family has pretty complete collections of early 20th century children’s books, including for example Baum’s Oz books, Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle books, and Lang’s Coloured Fairy books.

      The literalist definition of “racism” that is advocated by National Review would require that we pass over in silence passages like this one, from the Preface to Lang’s The Brown Fairy Book (1904)

      The stories in this Fairy Book come from all over the world … [as] told by Mrs. Lang, who does not tell them as they are told by all sorts of outlandish natives, but makes them up in the hope white people will like them, skipping the pieces that they will not like.

      One century and more later, isn’t it still true today, that cultural institutions like National Review still are promulgating Fairy Tales about racism that denialistically “skip the pieces that white people will not like”?

      In contrast, an appreciation of the Coloured Fairy books that is a nuanced, universalist, feminist, non-culture-warring, and culturally and cognitively homological — here “homological” is used in Colin McLarty’s sense, see above — is Sarindar Dhaliwal’s warmly humane art-installation the green fair storybook (2009); this work is especially commended to SSC readers as an antidote to the denialist fulminations of National Review.

      Also, especially for children and the young-at-heart, Lara Shigahara — already celebrated for her song Cube Land and game Rakuen — has just announced the coming release of her latest project (together with the renowned animator slamacow)  … a video show called (provocatively?) Farmer In The Sky. Holy Heinlein, here happens homological heresy! 🙂

      • Peffern says:

        I finally caught one of these before I read all the way through it!

        “Go away, John”

        • James says:

          Congrats! How does it feel to join the club?

        • Kestrellius says:

          Could I get an explanation as to who this guy is and why everyone is telling him to go away? I feel like I’ve missed something. Is this somebody who was banned, or somesuch?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Repeatedly. The original ban was under the handle John Sidles and who knows how many alts (or suspected alts) have been banned since. The ban is unique in that it wasn’t for any particular offense against the 3 Gates, but for pernicious Time Cube-style lojicks that are the perfect nerd-sniping material for SSC.

          • Lambert says:

            Is he not IP-bannable?

  36. Tenacious D says:

    Let’s talk about cheese. Do you have any favourites to recommend? Have you ever tried making it?
    I generally favour hard English- and Dutch-style cheeses (although I also really enjoy some goat cheeses). Some recommendations are Snowdonia’s wax-encased cheddar (they have one that’s infused with whisky which gives it a really interesting complexity) and Oude Rotterdamsche.
    Tortillons, which I’ve only seen in Eastern Canada, are a very tasty snack. These are fresh curds that have been stretched/twisted and then soaked in brine.

    • Brad says:

      I tried kunik this last winter and it’s a great dessert cheese. Goes well with a tawny port.

    • ana53294 says:

      I find halloumi cheese fascinating – because it has to be cooked before you eat it, and it has a very unique texture.

      Also, Norwegian brown cheese is great – it’s made with caramelized milk, so it’s sweet and salty at the same time. It kinda tastes like salted caramel.

      • Tenacious D says:

        made with caramelized milk

        Intriguing!

        • ana53294 says:

          Correction; it is caramelized milk mixed with whey. I only remembered that it is really tasty.

          Unfortunately, it is impossible to find in any supermarket. It seems to be a Norwegian specialty.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Gjetost cheese seems to be pretty available in the US, and I think it’s the sort of cheese you’re describing.

            It’s the only non-processed cheese I detest and I know someone for whom it’s the only cheese he likes, so it may be something of an outlier among cheeses.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brunost

          • FLWAB says:

            Traditionally Gjetost was made almost entirely from whey, and the process to make it is very different from traditional cheeses. If i recall correctly the whey was cooked slowly over several days in a big pot, until the sugars in the whey had caramelized and the whole mass solidified enough. Norway has a shortage of good farm and pastureland, but lots of forests so Gjetost was an culinary adaptation: fuel for the long cooking process was cheap, and milk was dear.

            Since it is not made from curds, it is understandable why it’s flavor and texture is so remarkably different than most cheeses.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’ve only found a few Snowdonia cheeses around here– their Black Bomber (cheddar in black wax) is excellent.

      Prima Donna is an Italian cheese I like a lot– it’s half way between parmesan and Swiss.

      Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge is by a man who went from not knowing why anyone would care a lot about how something tastes to running the cheese department at the Rainbow Cooperative to learning a lot about cheese.

      He’s got a punk background, a respect for excellence, and a strong mistrust of pretension.

      This book will introduce you to a lot about cheese.

      Belgioioso Ground Asiago is the only mass-produced cheese he recommends, and I’ve found it’s a very good inexpensive parmesan-type cheese.

    • marshwiggle says:

      Favorite cheese: Proper mozzarella.

      Have I tried making it? Only ricotta, which is easy and requires no special inputs or equipment.

      Lastly, I may be making a mistake letting my wife read this thread. She may want to each each cheese mentioned now…

    • fion says:

      Cheddar.

    • Aapje says:

      Frisian Clove Cheese. Low-fat Gouda-style cheese with cumin and cloves. The cumin and cloves create a very nice taste.

    • AnarchyDice says:

      The sharpest and most aged cheddars are always good. I also like nicely aged asiagos and Wischego (Manchego but from Wisconsin) with a lot of umami. I can’t think of any specific ones, but the more aged the better.

    • rahien.din says:

      Cypress Grove’s “Midnight Moon” is right up your alley. A hard aged goats-milk cheese, produced in Holland for a Californian cheesemaker. Nutty and salty, with a smooth paste flecked with little protein crystals – basically a buttery goat Gouda. We order a big chunk of this cheese for special occasions.

      You might also like their soft goat “Humboldt Fog.”

    • liskantope says:

      Blue, blue, blue. I enjoy gorgonzola piccante, which is popular where I live now, and I’m also fond of Castello blue. As a guilty pleasure (guilty because indulging in a cross between two classic cheeses sort of undermines the cheese snobbery I identify myself with) I get cambozola (camembert crossed with gorgonzola) from time to time.

    • dodrian says:

      My favorite is a blue stilton – since moving from England to ruralish Texas I am no longer afforded the luxury of having a favorite producer – I’ll take any stilton I can find (as well as any other proper English cheeses that fit in my budget). The best stilton I ever had was a cheese course at a restaurant where it was served scooped from the wheel with a spoon.

      I enjoy introducing my American friends to wensleydale with cranberries, it’s usually something new for them but fits their palate well.

      With cheese I mainly enjoy trying new ones. There’s so much out there!

    • Bugmaster says:

      I like sheep cheese in general, and hard sheep cheese specifically. Goat cheese is good too, but some of it tends to be too salty for me.

      Oh, and I absolutely detest blue cheese. That’s right. Fight me, fungus lovers !!!111!

      • dodrian says:

        I will fight you. It sounds like you don’t appreciate good culture

      • AG says:

        speaking of fungus, I never eat the rind on brie anymore

        begone, funky tastes

      • Winter Shaker says:

        I like sheep cheese in general, and hard sheep cheese specifically

        Have you tried Zamorano? It’s not always easy to get hold of, but it’s my favourite hard sheep cheese.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        What would I fight you about? More blue cheese for me!

        However, a friend has anecdotal observation– the people he knows who are allergic to penicillin are revolted by blue cheese. Anyone have more anecdotes on the subject?

    • proyas says:

      I tried limburger cheese for the first time a few months ago, and it was great. I kept it simple by exactly following this recipe:

      ‘The classic way to serve Limburger is on rye bread with sliced red onion and brown horseradish mustard or sweet-hot mustard.’

      https://www.wisconsincheeseman.com/blog/cheese-nation/limburger-cheese-nose-no-equal/

      • Deiseach says:

        Alas, it appears I shall never know, even in phantasy by the strivings of imagination, the rare delights of such a cheese because clicking on the link brought me to this stern message:

        Wisconsin Cheeseman is based in the State of Wisconsin in the United States of America and operates solely in the United States. We do not market, sell, or deliver products outside the United States. This Website is for use only by persons located in the United States.

        Wisconsin Cheeseman makes no claims that the Website or any of its content is accessible or appropriate outside of the United States. Access to the Website may not be legal by certain persons or in certain countries.

        If you have any questions, please contact Customer Service at 1-800-837-0252.

        Truly it must be the ambrosia of the gods, and they guard its secrets jealously lest lesser mortals outside the blesséd happy land of Wisconsin should trespass upon their demense and by guile and deception bereave them as Heracles plundered the Hesperides of their golden charge by base trickery played upon Atlas!

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I’m hoping there are cheese distributors who sell American cheeses in the British Isles.

        • proyas says:

          Ha ha! That digital rebel yell is especially funny since limburger cheese originated in Germany.

    • smocc says:

      This comic captures my feelings about cheese well.

    • I’m fond of Gjetost.

  37. Dave92F1 says:

    Boston meetup went great – I counted 20 people at once (probably the total was more – people came & left). Just hanging around, talking. (I was not an organizer – for those who were there, I was the old guy.)

    The venue (Starbucks) was kind of noisy and I think management wasn’t delighted with us (we were blocking the way to the toilets and not buying a lot of stuff).

    Nobody collected email addresses, but there’s a mailing list at https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/ssc-boston.

    But it was great fun. Maybe next time we can do it someplace quieter?

    (Thanks to the organizers!!)

  38. johan_larson says:

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to raise the fertility rate of your country to the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman.

    • James Miller says:

      Change the norm so that most middle and upper class women have children before going to college. Overall, holding constant the number of kids they have, they spend the same amount of time in the workplace, but now they take time off to have and raise kids starting around 18 rather then at age 27-35. We could do this by letting young families get government backed loans to help finance families, and by giving admission preferences in colleges to mothers.

      • Brad says:

        This may seem a little bit off topic, but how much credit to you give to federal, state, and local governments for changing norms around smoking? Can you think of anything else of equal or greater cultural significance where you’d give U.S. government entities most or all the credit?

        • Murali says:

          Who else would I have to give credit for. The government did require anti-smoking messages in primary school health education textbooks as well as various posters etc. Its not like parents from a smoking culture somehow instilled a non-smoking culture in their kids did they?

          • Christophe Biocca says:

            The same parents that found out they’d been poisoning themselves for decades?

            I’m sure I’m not the only person whose family members (parents and one grandparent) entirely stopped smoking right around the time their first kid was born to avoid second hand smoke + giving us a bad example.

            Now that still requires people to know how awfully bad smoking is in the first place, but that part (the research and communication aimed at adults) is where I’d give credit, rather than the ham-handed attempts aimed at kids.

            Otherwise you end up having to explain how the even more aggressive anti-drug messages in schools couldn’t get cannabis usage below cigarette usage.

          • Murali says:

            I’m from Singapore. Cannabis usage is lower than Cigarette usage.

            Most of the smokers I know didn’t stop smoking just because they had kids. I’ve only personally known two people who’ve seriously tried to quit smoking. One took to vaping and the other took to gum. Both are academics. You may not be the only person whose family members stopped smoking because of children or something, but I’m willing to bet that this is pretty rare population-wide.

          • Christophe Biocca says:

            Ok, I know nothing about the Singapore situation and how they dealt with tobacco. I know you can get executed for having 500g of cannabis leaves on you, so it’s a pretty different dynamic. For Canada though:

            The report, from the Propel Centre for Population Health at the University of Waterloo, found that 2 per cent of Canadian students from Grade 7 to 12 smoke marijuana every day, while 1.8 per cent smoke tobacco daily.

            And this is before legalization, which is pretty impressive, considering many 12th graders can legally buy cigarettes.

            You can estimate how many people quit smoking (in general, not just because of kids) by looking for decreases in usage relative to the death rate.

            Shitty CDC graph (https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/tables/trends/cig_smoking/index.htm), but the table shows that the pre-90s rate in smoker decrease is pretty high (0.67% per year average, compared to a death rate of 0.8% annually), so it’s not just dead smokers being replaced by better-educated-in-primary-school nonsmoking young adults (I mean it technically could be but that’d assume a not-very-realistic age breakdown of smoking habits).

            Wikipedia has a shitty citation for there being 47 million ex-smokers vs 46 million active smokers, so people willfully quitting is too big a factor to ignore here.

          • MartMart says:

            Hollywood. Seriously, I think not representing cigarettes as cool in movies and tv has done more to drop smoking than all the health warning and taxes

        • mtl1882 says:

          It’s hard for me to understand how we were able to crack down so hard on smoking. There are few things in this world we hammered home to this extent. The warning labels alone would not be tolerated on almost anything else. And it was something people of all social groups enjoyed regularly and were often addicted to – it wasn’t an easy thing or abstract issue to address.

          I give the government tons of credit, but I do feel like society deserves credit for tolerating it. Not at all because I object to it, but because we usually don’t seem to like to hear hard truths from the government, mess with social norms, or go after big businesses like that. I don’t know much about the history of activism in this area, but it certainly happened pretty quickly after the effects were known. And we made it shameful and expensive fairly quickly, which usually provokes a lot of resistance.

          I am also amazed at its effectiveness. I’ve never been a smoker, but I’m not stupid enough to dismiss addiction. It’s hard to quit. My dad’s parents quit late in life upon realizing the harms – my grandfather refused to wear a seatbelt most of his life, so he wasn’t generally compliant. But he stopped. My mom’s mother struggled to do so, but once I was born, she quit. And she had very high anxiety, so that seems like it would be really tough. I suppose smoking was so widespread that a lot of people were not truly addicted, even if they had some physical dependency, and so there were a lot of people who could kind of take it or leave it. And I think it was fairly intuitive for people that inhaling smoke was not good for you, whereas other warnings may seem silly. That being said, my dad’s parents smoked despite a son with severe asthma, and my mom’s mom despite having a son with only one lung. They didn’t make a connection between smoke and the exacerbation of breathing difficulties.

          Whoever deserves the credit, I think overall it has improved countless lives.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            I don’t think people DID overcome their addiction, for the most part. It’s just that between the time that the war on smoking kicked off and the it mostly completed successfully, most of the hold-out died of old age or illness.

            That is, in the areas where the war on smoking HAS been successful. I live in a rural town in the midwest, and I work at a casino that allows smoking, and I can tell you that the practice is still alive and well out here.

        • arlie says:

          Very little. My experience is that major employers went from more than tolerating smoking, to banning it in the workplace, almost overnight, and they all did it at once. Being addicted to cigarettes led to standing outdoors in winter, shivering, getting your fix as fast as possible. Lots and lots of people found that extremely unpleasant, and quit.

          It’s possible there was government influence on the employers – but I blame their facilities departments colluding on removing a perk in order to save money. Much the same as the more recent fad for Facebook style open offices, except there the savings involves using less space per worker. Other reasons are given – demonstrably inaccurate in the open office case – most likely accurate re smoking. But that’s what it looks like to me, based on living through the transition.

        • quanta413 says:

          My impression (which could be totally wrong since I’ve never read even the slightest history of the topic, just puff pieces) is that the campaign against smoking is behind vaccines and sewers as a great triumph for public health but not behind much else.

          And bizarrely this was managed without an amendment outright banning smoking like when some U.S. citizens tried to get rid of alcohol.

          It might be worth taking another shot at cutting alcohol consumption by treating it like the government treats smoking. Pictures of livers with cirrhosis on all bottles of alcohol, etc. I like alcohol and I don’t think the the circumstances are right but I probably wouldn’t have thought it’d work for tobacco either, and the benefits would be really big.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The thing about tobacco which made it easier to socially discredit than drinking is that it stinks. Literally. Smoke smells bad, butts smell bad, smokers smell bad, any area used by smokers smells bad. And gets covered by sticky (and stinky) yellow film as well. Alcohol doesn’t have that, except for people who abuse it in already-taboo ways.

          • Jiro says:

            Alcohol is unhealthy when abused. Cigarettes are unhealthy when used as directed.

      • Evan Þ says:

        I think, even if that were possible, it’d have other undesirable effects. Women who’re having children at age 18 would have to be having them either with four-years-older men, or with men their own age who’re going off to college and thus probably not available for childcare and emotional support. If the former, there’d be huge imbalances in the relationship; if the latter, both parents would have four years less emotional maturity, leading to less stable relationships.

        Also, I don’t think having a toddler or even preschooler at home is conducive to good studying.

        • arlie says:

          When I was in college, I speculated about a related problem: women’s fertility is at their best at a time when having children is sure to derail any career they may want to have. My solution at the time was an alternate culture, where children are raised by their grandparents. Young women have babies, hand them to their own mothers (possibly after spending some time nursing them), and then are completely out of the family thing until the first of their daughters presents them with a child.

          That’s more suitable for sci fi than as a reasonable direction for e.g. North Americans to move. Which worked fine for me, because sci fi was what I was interested in at the time 😉

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve thought about a milder version– children are mostly raised by their grandparents, but the parents are more like junior parents or elder siblings.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I’d be interested in a sci-fi story set in that culture!

            I don’t think most real-life women would be interested in living there, though. @Nancy Lebovitz’s milder version sounds more plausible to me, and also bears some similarity to the patriarchy discussion in the last open thread.

          • johan_larson says:

            If you live in extended families, with kids and parents and grandparents under one roof, it works just fine to have the parents out working while the grandparents do the day-to-day childcare.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Unless the grandparents die, which they are much more likely to have done.

            And that’s not counting health issues. Kids are tiring. I’m convinced that the reason people in their early twenties are well adapted to staying up all night is because babies require it.

      • Christophe Biocca says:

        Combining this suggestion with Bryan Caplan’s “The Case against Education”:

        – Stop subsidizing any education after grade 11.
        – Normalize grade skipping as the thing smarter kids do to not get bored (instead of AP/extracurriculars).
        – Pay parents for each year skipped once the student graduates, a substantial fraction of the cost that was not spent on the extra years of schooling.
        – Make this information visible on the diploma (+/- N years). To the extent that employers used higher-ed degrees as a filter for intelligence/conscientiousness/conformity, this can replace it.

        If Caplan’s right about the contribution of signaling to the education premium this gives smart but non-academically-inclined children a way to permanently enter the workforce at age 16-18, skipping tertiary education entirely. No starting debt load and a longer time horizon for their career means that the (pecuniary and opportunity) cost of having children would be lower, so we’d expect some uptick in fertility rates. Being socialized with older kids and years spent at work instead of school might also speed up emotional maturity (which might make people more likely to have kids?).

        • Brad says:

          I like this idea. I don’t think we need to push the average mother’s age at first birth down to 18. Just moving it back to 25 for the distinct subcultures where it is currently beyond 30 should be sufficient to bring the overall rate to replacement.

          If worse comes to worse and it doesn’t change the fertility rate, shaving four to seven or more years of wasteful signaling for our brightest citizens can’t help but have other positive impacts.

        • AG says:

          My guess is that this results in a rat-race of schools softballing the grading for many kids to inflate the numbers, and rich parents bribes the schools to let their kids skip grades without acing the tests…exactly what is happening now.

          • cryptoshill says:

            @AG – Replicating all the problems of our modern school systems, but doing it with 4 or 8 less wasted years is still a win.

      • albatross11 says:

        James Miller:

        I think this might work if we could do it, but changing the norm is a lot harder than changing a few government loan policies.