SELF-RECOMMENDING!

OT109: Opulent 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. The due date for Adversarial Collaboration Contest entries was last week. I now have four entries submitted: TracingWoodgrains + MichaelP, Mark + Mark, Flame7926 + AReader, JohnBuridan + ChristianFlannery. If you submitted an entry and I didn’t get it, please let me know below. If you almost have an entry done and want to beg for more time (no more than a week or so), you can do it below and I might give in. I’ll reserve the first post on this thread for contest discussion.

2. Comment of the week is a reader refining the claim (see eg here) that supposed magical immunity to bullets inspires some warriors to be braver.

3. I’ve unbanned various people whose terms of ban were up or almost up. I know I banned skef a few months ago, but I can’t find the ban in the usual place and so I cannot rescind it. Skef should check if they can comment. If not, they might want to register an alternate account since I can’t figure out how to unban them. Sorry about the inconvenience.

4. Thanks to everyone who’s arranged SSC meetups the past few weeks, including the digital meetup on Throne. As always, you can find upcoming meetups near you on the meetups page. If you hosted or attended a meetup, please comment to let me know how it went.

5. And thanks to everyone who pre-registered for the informal experiment on CO2. Do whatever you’re going to do, and I’ll have another survey up in about a month where you can record your results.

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

981 Responses to OT109: Opulent Thread

  1. Optimization Process says:

    Seattle’s SSC meetup was on Sunday! I am biased, but it seemed to go well. It was useful to have a bundle of orientation materials near the entrance (nametags, map of house, welcome guide suggesting areas for various kinds of discussion).

    50-60 people wandered through throughout the day — only about half of last year’s harvest, strangely. No idea what happened there.

  2. Alexander Lyzhov says:

    Moscow meetup was a good idea. We had 8 people in attendance (data scientists, programmers and biologists in our bulk) some of whom have been reading the blog since it was on livejournal. We covered a broad range of topics from depression to AI development to data privacy to fiction to incentives and probably will repeat it in a month or two.

  3. johan_larson says:

    In looking through movies on Prime Video, I see that some of them have not one Spanish soundtrack but two, one for Spanish(Spain) and one for Spanish(Latin America). Are the dialects really so different? And does “Latin America” really mean “Mexico” in this case?

    I don’t think I’ve ever been offered a choice between English(UK) and English(US).

    • ana53294 says:

      The tonality of the sound in Latin American Castilian and Spanish Castilian is really different. To me, Latin American Castilian sounds really sweet (like eating sugar) and annoying. Latin Americans have told me they find Spanish Castilian really brusque.

      So the main differences are: Spanish castilian distinguishes between the s and the z sound (which is equivalent to the English th in think). Andalousian Castilian also has a tendency to swallow the final s, by making an aspiring sound. The words they use are also different. For example, in Spain you can say “I boarded the bus” by saying “cogi el autobus” which at least in Venezuela would mean “I f**d the bus”.

      If you know any Castilian, this video will really highlight some of the differences in Castilian words.

      Also, Mexicans use a lot of anglicisms, and word calcs from English, whereas Spanish Castilian is a lot more conserved.

      I can understand what Latin American say; I just may sometimes use words that may be confusing for some countries.

      There are three Castilian speaking countries that dub movies; Spain, Mexico and Argentina. Latin American could refer to Mexico or Argentina, but given how many Latin Americans dislike Argentinians, my guess would be that it is Mexican Castilian.

      • Brad says:

        Also, Mexicans use a lot of anglicisms, and word calcs from English, whereas Spanish Castilian is a lot more conserved.

        Interestingly enough I’ve heard the opposite is true in French. Despite the French being famously conservative with their language the Québécois are apparently even more so.

        I’ve heard similar things about the Korean spoken in US immigrant communities. Kids in high school have gone to Korea for the first time and been told they speak like grandparents.

    • Aapje says:

      Actually, it seems to mean ‘central Mexican,’ what is spoken in Mexico City:

      Spanish was brought to Mexico in the 16th century. As in all other Spanish-speaking countries (including Spain), different accents and varieties of the language exist in different parts of the country, for both historical and sociological reasons. Among these, the varieties that are best known outside of the country are those of central Mexico—both educated and uneducated varieties—largely because the capital, Mexico City, hosts most of the mass communication media with international projection. For this reason, most of the film dubbing identified abroad with the label “Mexican Spanish” or “Latin American Spanish” actually corresponds to the central Mexican variety.

      It seems that the differences are reasonably substantive. For example, in Latin America they always use the formal second person plural ‘ustedes,’ while in Spain they also use the informal vosotros.

      Interestingly, this is similar to the difference between Dutch and Flemish, where the latter tends to use the more formal second person singular ‘u’ far more often than the informal ‘jij’. ‘U’ is similar to ‘you,’ while ‘jij’ is more like ‘thou.’

      Note that it is not uncommon for Flemish to be subtitled for Dutch television, as the intelligibility by Dutch people is rather low. This is the case despite Belgium and The Netherlands being members of the Dutch Language Union, which tries to preserve a common Dutch language.

      Interestingly, there is a similar organisation for Spanish, the Royal Spanish Academy, which tries to create a more similar language for the hispanophone nations, including Mexico.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        The Real Academia Española overstates itself. It is the language academy for Spanish… for Spain. It may sometimes try to claim it works on behalf of all Spanish speakers everywhere, but many of those people who it claims to represent… well, sometimes, on occasion, they have been known to disagree.

        More realistically, each country with a significant number of speakers of Spanish each have their own language academy for Spanish. The RAE calls them “corresponding members”, but each of them would say that the RAE corresponds with them, not the other way around.

        And also each of those academies in turn are members of an association of associations, the Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española, of which the RAE is, at best, a first of equals.

        Interestingly, the US is a member of ASALE, because it has a Spanish language academy too, the Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española. Because North American Spanish is just as real as the others, and has multiple dialects of it’s own, and started diverging some 500 years ago.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      And does “Latin America” really mean “Mexico” in this case?

      Yes, as far as I know the Latin American dub is always done in Mexico. The Spanish of the rest of Latin America is much closer to Mexico’s than Spain’s, even if each country still has some individual differences.

      Are the dialects really so different?

      Kind of, yeah. The words are mostly the same, but the accent is really different. Compare the Latin and Spaniard dubs of Game of Thrones. I’ve had other Latinos tell me that they hate Spaniard dubs and refuse to watch them; I’m not quite that extreme, but I still much prefer a Mexican dub over a Spaniard one (and note that I was born in Peru, not Mexico).

      Imagine if each time you bought a movie or show there was a 50% chance that, instead of the standard Midwestern accent you are used to hearing on TV, every character (whites, blacks, foreigners, ancient spirits, aliens from another galaxy, etc…) spoke with a thick Southern drawl, dropping Gs and pronouncing “I” as “Ah”, using words like “y’all” and calling every soda “coke”. Sure, you could understand every word, but that’s not the point; it would be incredibly jarring and take you out of the story. That’s how jarring it is for a Latino to watch a Spaniard dub with no warning (and, I assume, for a Spaniard to watch a Mexican dub). Which is why it’s so important to keep the dubs separated and clearly labeled, especially in this age of globalization.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        JAIME I NEED YOUR LIST OF SHORT STORIES FROM THE BOOK CLUB OF YESTERYEAR

        sorry for shouting I’ve just been trying to track you down for a few weeks. You probably won’t even see this post.

        EDIT: After making this post, I ahd the bright idea to go check the other thread for replies. It’s mostly dead, since there were only 4 new replies, but one was yours! This was exactly what I was looking for, thank you. A friend was looking for good science fiction stories available online and your list is the best I know of. 🙂

        Thank you kindly, both for gathering it and sharing it with me.

      • ana53294 says:

        I do find a Latin dubbing annoying if it is unexpected. However, if I am watching a Mexican TV series, I find it part of the charm. Is it the same for you with Spanish Castilian?

      • BBA says:

        Imagine if each time you bought a movie or show there was a 50% chance that, instead of the standard Midwestern accent you are used to hearing on TV, every character (whites, blacks, foreigners, ancient spirits, aliens from another galaxy, etc…) spoke with a thick Southern drawl, dropping Gs and pronouncing “I” as “Ah”, using words like “y’all” and calling every soda “coke”. Sure, you could understand every word, but that’s not the point; it would be incredibly jarring and take you out of the story.

        So like how on Doctor Who everyone in the universe speaks with a British accent, even the token American? (fine, I’ll admit the new series found some more convincing actors, and after Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins we don’t have a leg to stand on when complaining about bad accents.)

    • b_jonas says:

      > I don’t think I’ve ever been offered a choice between English(UK) and English(US).

      I have. By software, mind you, in which those only cause changes in written text, which is easier to duplicate than dubbing on a film. If you want to see an example, check Firefox, such as the list of user interface localizations on “https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/language-tools/” , where I currently see three dialects of English.

      I was also offered American English (Webster) and British English (Longman and Oxford) dictionaries in stores, but they differ much more by their style than their dialect of English, see first paragraph in my comment “http://www.madore.org/cgi-bin/comment.pl/showcomments?href=http%3a%2f%2fwww.madore.org%2f~david%2fweblog%2f2005-08.html%23d.2005-08-07.1066#comment-24842”.

  4. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://siderea.dreamwidth.org/1439898.html

    The importance of the Spanish Flu, the lack of major commemoration (there will be some this year, but there are no monuments), disease as an attack on the body politic, the importance of having respect for the past as well as change for the future.

  5. sharper13 says:

    Another data point on the issue of noise in polls vs. signal, i.e. when the number of respondents on a question (like have you been abducted by aliens) is so low that the answering mistakes/noise overwhelms the true number.

    In their latest survey, the DOE asked schools about school shootings. Apparently 0.2% of of the 96,000 schools surveyed reported a school shooting, with the result that the error rate in the report completely overwhelmed the real rate of school shootings. Even the highest-biased-to-count-anything-remotely like a firearm discharge near a school previous estimate is less than a 1/3 of the DOE survey results.

    The good news is that NPR contacted many of the schools involved and found that 2/3 never happened. The schools had no idea why the survey was marked for them as having had a shooting:

    We were able to confirm just 11 reported incidents, either directly with schools or through media reports.

    In 161 cases, schools or districts attested that no incident took place or couldn’t confirm one. In at least four cases, we found, something did happen, but it didn’t meet the government’s parameters for a shooting. About a quarter of schools didn’t respond to our inquiries.

  6. ana53294 says:

    There are many comments here against tips. I do think that customers deciding what wages get paid instead of the business owner is ridiculous. I would accept a system where waiters work on commision, with a clearly defined percentage of total sales (a lot of people point out that the tip % keeps going up, so the employer deciding the percentage will make it much easier for the customer, who doesn’t have to do math). It would still be a ridiculous system, and it would encourage waiters to put up with stuff they shoudn’t have to put up with. It would still be less ridiculous than the current system, though.

    Some people have pointed out in a previous thread that, coming from a blue-collar family, it just feels wrong to be served food in a fancy restaurant. I kind of feel like this. I don’t see the value of the waiter. I know the waiters work really hard, I just don’t fell their work adds much value to me. The value of the restaurant as opposed to a takeaway meal for me comes in renting the table so I can be with friends and other people without having to invite them to my home. Not cleaning is also a plus. Being served food is not much of a plus for me, especially if it comes with guilt (it still feels like I have servants or something) and a 20% more expensive meal.

    If there was a restaurant where half the tables were served by a waiter and the price came with a mandatory 20% service fee, and the other half had self-service tables (where each table comes with a screen on which you order food, and chimes to inform your food is ready for pick up at the counter), but no fee, which would you choose?

    I would choose the self service option except in the cases when I am dealing with OPM, for business meals.

    • Another Throw says:

      All of the confusion about tipping derives from the same misapprehension about what the service staff is there for. Their job, from the front end manager down to the bus boy, is to maximize house revenue by controlling the table turnover rate. The revenue maximizing strategy is situational and the ability to recognize the situation and effect change in table turnover is the most important skill a restaurant is looking for in their service staff. Bringing you your food is merely a pretext to achieve this end. The opportunities it presents to interact with the customers are there to allow the table turn over rate to be adjusted.

      Briefly, consider the factors that actually affect tipping. IIRC, it goes something like:
      1. House revenue
      2. Server attractiveness
      3. Customer demographic
      4. Food quality
      5. Service quality

      It would be really weird if the purpose of tipping was to maximize the thing that has the least impact on the tips a server receives. Just saying.

      ETA: In this light, a half full/self service restaurant would be unlikely. Half the dining room would be almost certainly be turning over at a substantially suboptimum rate. Making suboptimum use of your capital investments is usually not considered a winning strategy.

      • ana53294 says:

        Their job, from the front end manager down to the bus boy, is to maximize house revenue by controlling the table turnover rate. The revenue maximizing strategy is situational and the ability to recognize the situation and effect change in table turnover is the most important skill a restaurant is looking for in their service staff. Bringing you your food is merely a pretext to achieve this end. The opportunities it presents to interact with the customers are there to allow the table turn over rate to be adjusted.

        Which makes the customers paying their salaries even more bizarre. Their services are there not for the customer, but for the owner. Why should the customers pay for a service they don’t need? The owner should pay for a service they need.

        In Spain, we have a lot of open air cafes with terraces. When I sit in a cafe terrace, the point is never the drink. I consider the extortionate amount I am paying for coffee to be a reasonable charge for renting* the table so I can sit there with friends and talk in a nice place. Waiters usually make a point to hover around the table every forty minutes or so to remove empty china and to guilt trip you into either ordering something or leave. This is not a service I need or indeed want, which is why I never tip in such cafes, and knowing that they get paid decently makes it possible. If I had to tip them, I would resent them every step of the way, because I don’t want their services.

        It would be really weird if the purpose of tipping was to maximize the thing that has the least impact on the tips a server receives. Just saying.

        I would be satisfied with the service if the restaurant is clean and pleasant and the food is good. Unless the waiter is outright rude, the waiter has no effect on my recollection of the meal. Which makes tipping more weird.

        *Which is why I don’t understand the people who pay for the takeaway coffee in Starbucks. When you pay for the overpriced drink, you are renting a table with wifi in a nicely designed room. This makes perfect sense, because then the price becomes more reasonable. But why pay for a service you are not using?

        • Well... says:

          When you pay for the overpriced drink, you are renting a table with wifi in a nicely designed room.

          Sorry to quibble with this, but…nicely designed how? Uncomfortable chairs (unless you’re lucky enough to snag one of the two armchairs), uneven light, sticky floors, noisy, sometimes with lots of foot traffic and always with crappy hipster music and some corporate marketing department’s idea of whatever they think hip decor is…I will tolerate meeting people at Starbucks (or Panera or whatever) if it’s important and I know we won’t be there long, but it has very little in common with what I would consider a pleasant spot to hang out.

          • ana53294 says:

            I rarely go to Starbucks, because I don’t like coffee and I consider paying more than two dollars for a glass of hot water with 4 cents worth of plant tissue (either ground coffee beans or tea leaves), obviously excessive. Most Starbucks cafes I have seen around in Sweden or Spain are very nicely designed, but that may be because in Spain, the price of a coffee in a normal cafe is under 2 dollars (except for Madrid or Barcelona). Starbucks cafes are high end cafes here.

            It may be different in the US. Kind of how Zara is a low end but not bottom of the barrel store in Spain, but is considered fancy in Russia.

            If Starbucks cafes in the US are as shitty as you describe, why do people go there? The prices are ridiculous, and they add too much sugar to everything.

          • Well... says:

            If Starbucks cafes in the US are as shitty as you describe, why do people go there?

            Beats me. Mass delusion?

    • BBA says:

      I also find fondness for tipping irritating and bizarre. I hate the social anxiety that comes from not knowing who I’m supposed to tip or how much, and in the restaurant setting where 20% is standard and expected (at least in the US, other countries have their own tipping etiquette, more social anxiety yay!) it just amounts to printing a phony lower price on the menu.

      In a thread here some months ago, some people expressed a preference for haggling and lamented that price tags made markets less efficient. Yes, because we should all wait in line twice as long at CVS so each and every one of us can negotiate with the cashier for a few cents off our identical bottles of detergent… sure. Liking the tipping ritual is just a less extreme version of that.

      • ana53294 says:

        The only occasions when I am OK with tipping is when I like and specifically seek the service. The free tour movement has gained a lot of adepts around the world, and in almost every city you can find tour guides that take you around the city with no upfront cost, and expect a tip in exchange. This allows me to receive truly excellent service, and I gladly pay tips for that. This is a service I seek out and don’t get shoved down my throat as an addition to something I want (food in a restaurant). Which is why I always tip, although I would withhold the tip if the guide was bad (I would sneak away in the first thirty minutes if it was bad; this has never happened to me, though).

      • sfoil says:

        where 20% is standard

        I’m not that old, and when I was little I definitely remember both my parents and grandparents — none of whom were particularly tight-fisted — explaining that 15% was standard. Thinking carefully, I think 20% became “standard” in maybe the last ten years, in my experience.

        Also, solicitations for tipping on checks and bills for services have gotten way out of hand, especially with electronic payment on touchpads and the like. These are of course much lower-cost forms of solicitation than standing expectantly with a raised eyebrow, much less actually asking verbally for a tip.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I suspect the tipping standards have been raised by freelance “journalists” writing articles about tipping in between shifts at their day job waiting tables.

    • helloo says:

      One unsaid benefit/harm is that restaurants in countries that don’t have tipping enjoy having customers/tourists from countries that do have tipping as many people will still tip even in an environment where tipping isn’t expected. And of course the reverse is also true.

      I suspect however in the US, that tipping might have been “encouraged” by the same forces that pushed to hide the tax cost for item prices until the receipt.

    • Brad says:

      Almost everyone I know thinks tipping should go away, but I have close to zero hope it ever will. It’s one of those path dependent hells that seems inescapable.

      • lvlln says:

        This matches my perception as well. Which is why I think the USA should just have a federal law outlawing tipping. Some top-down regulation could help us get out of this bad situation.

        Unfortunately, building up the political will to make such top-down regulation is its own problem that seems insurmountable…

    • b_jonas says:

      Do we actually have proof that the tip rates are going up? I suspect that’s just rumors secretly started by the people who receive tips. It’s their interest to make everyone believe that you’re supposed to give higher tips. But I don’t think average people actually give higher tips.

      But I rarely go to fancy restaurants with table service, and even less rarely go their on my own initiative as opposed to my family inviting me. I sometimes tip the barman in a pub serving drinks even if there’s no table service, not for their service but for using their space as a meeting place. I regularly go to hairdressers and tip them. I sometimes tip doctors and nurses. When it’s nurses, that’s when I or someone else really is sick and so the “bed service” is essential. And in the very rare cases when I take a taxi, I tip the driver. So your arguments about the waiter and their table service is irrelevant to me.

      • ana53294 says:

        In Spain, the only people you give tips to are the waiters. I have heard you tip concierges at fancy hotels, but that is a job that exists only in really fancy hotels.

        While some people may just tell the taxi driver to keep the change, tipping is rare.

        As for tipping nurses/doctors. Is it like a gift you give them as a thank you, or is it a cash payment you give them?

        I know that giving nurses/doctors cash payments is fairly common in Russia, especially if you are going to a public system doctor. Private doctors are supposed to be paid decently, but state doctors are usually paid badly. So you have this informal system where patients pay doctors a certain amount, and expect more careful attention. I know the reasons why this system exists in Russia, and I consider it fair, because these gifts are the only thing that keeps decent doctors from going to the private system.

        • b_jonas says:

          I only give cash to doctors or nurses. It’s technically not a tip, it’s absolutely forbidden for them to accept, and it is never declared for tax, but it happens anyway. Everyone knows the phenomenon exists, but doctors still have to be careful about someone snitching, so I generally give the banknotes in an opaque white envelope that they don’t open until later, and ideally when nobody else can see, so it’s easier for them to hide it if we’re not alone. I generally don’t know a doctor well enough to tell what other gift I could buy them that they’d actually like, and I don’t want just a token gift like a flower. My mother is more of a social person, so she does sometimes gives non-cash gifts to doctors. And yes, it’s for good public doctors that give me or my family extra attention, or even doctors that don’t give me any attention but I’m under their scalpel for an important surgical operation and the quality of the rest of my life depends on how careful they are during that.

  7. Paul Brinkley says:

    Dog guarding sheep. This has to be a metaphor for something. Possibly many things.

    http://story.newspets.info/doggo-supposed-guarding-sheep-work-ethic-internet-stitches.html

  8. Deiseach says:

    Looks like cheese is back on the menu, boys!

    A study of 127 people with elevated cholesterol by Food For Health Ireland (FHI) scientists at University College Dublin has, however, challenged this view.

    It found when Irish full-fat cheddar cheese was consumed for six weeks, it led to more of a reduction in blood cholesterol levels than when other forms of fat were eaten.

    The researchers found other people who ate equivalent amounts of fat in either reduced-fat cheese and butter, or butter plus other sources of protein and calcium equivalent to cheddar, also saw their cholesterol drop, but not by the same amount.

    Though as a caveat, the Food for Health Ireland is funded by the dairy industry, and are explicitly involved in trying to promote cheese as healthy, so take that into account.

  9. Jade Nekotenshi says:

    So, because the thought won’t stop nettling me, a hypothetical scenario:

    It is June 2019, and the first real battle of the second American Civil War has happened – a flight of planes sent to bomb a group of unconvicted domestic terrorists were shot down by a US Navy cruiser in an act that’s officially considered a mutiny. Since then, there have been sporadic outbreaks of riots and mob violence, and attacks on random people. There is fractiousness within the military so far manifesting as mutinies and noncompliance with occasional shots fired.

    The question is, how did we get there from here? I’m interested in what y’all can come up with as far as plausible or at least not-totally-outlandish scenarios.

    • johan_larson says:

      The only flashpoint I could see leading to anything like the scenario you describe is illegal immigration. Suppose the Trump administration doubles down on deportations of illegals, to the point that citizen groups begin trying to stop ICE operations directly. And the police in liberal and high-immigrant areas are told not to interfere. The ICE kill some people who seemed threatening, and the activists reply in kind the next time around. Then right-wing counter-activists start targeting the anti-ICE activists directly.

      Not a likely scenario by any means, but if anything is going to leave blood in the streets in only a year, the issue of the illegals is the best bet.

    • Deiseach says:

      a flight of planes

      Why not drones? Much easier and already in use domestically in many contexts.

      • Jade Nekotenshi says:

        Well, in the interest of full disclosure, this scenario came from a dream that has recurred multiple times over the last few years, and the bombing aircraft were A-10s. Why not drones? Best guess, most pedestrianly, is that I just didn’t think of it. Also possible: unfriendly or at least unpredictable ECM environment, terrorists holed up in some kind of bunker that drone-carried ordnance can’t reliably penetrate, possibility of makeshift air defenses sufficient to threaten drones but not larger attack planes (say, machine guns), etc. Also, could be a jurisdiction thing, where the A-10s were air national guard planes while the only available drones were federal, or possibly it’s a message thing – send manned planes to underscore “no, now you dun screwed up, we’re declaring war on you”.

        But, if it’s easier to construct a plausible route from here to there if the bombers are drones, then let ’em be drones: no reason it couldn’t work, and they’re just as vulnerable to SAMs as A-10s are. (Not much out there can fly in the engagement envelope of Aegis/SM6 with impunity, anyway.)

    • The Nybbler says:

      Trump either gets DACA repeal unblocked, or decides to ignore the courts and starts rounding people up and deporting them. This leads to protests and riots, including in Portland, OR where the rioters take over the USCIS field office and kill a number of those within. The Portland police, on the orders of the mayor, refuse to assist the Feds and even provide material support to the occupiers. With no hostages inside, Trump orders the place bombed.

    • j1000000 says:

      An assassination by someone whose social media activity shows a lot of connections to left wing movements that are already despised by the right like BLM or “anti-fa,” which leads to large-scale and widespread reprisals by right-wing groups and then continual escalation by both sides, which leads to the typically politically indifferent slice of the population starting to pick sides

      But a far likelier scenario and the one that I’m hoping for is that the economy continues improving and everything remains basically fine

      • Civilis says:

        When I was writing a mildly post-apocalyptic RPG scenario, I had the trigger for the collapse of the US be an assassination at an already politically charged breaking point. The example I had was a contentious election where the presidency switched party in an election which both sides alleged fraud and interference leading to widespread riots, followed by the assassination of the president-elect and the lame duck president being accused of complicity in the assassination by conspiracy theory types. Basically, it was an artificial situation in which neither side could claim legitimacy. I was careful and the actual incident was far enough in the scenario’s past that it didn’t matter which side was which.

        • albatross11 says:

          We had an election like that not all that long ago, in 2000. If one of the candidates had been assassinated before the recount fight was done, I don’t think it would have led to a civil war, but it certainly wouldn’t have made US politics any more sane for the next few years.

          • j1000000 says:

            Was 2000 really like that? I don’t remember 2000 being a politically charged time in American history, felt very much “pre 9/11.” And I don’t remember much in the way of fraud accusations, just debates about hanging chads and recounts. But I was somewhat young.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Post 2000 election was horrific if you were plugged in to politics.

            If you could care less, then it was just “whatever”.

            The Supreme Court of the United States overruled the Florida Supreme Court interpreting Florida state law on how votes should be counted. They did it on a party line 5-4 vote and said that it established no precedent at all. This in a state where the Secretary of State, with the duty of overseeing the election results, also chaired George W. Bush’s campaign.

            If Al Gore hadn’t conceded, I’m not sure what would have happened.

          • BBA says:

            The 2000 campaign, the last one before I could vote, was the least politically charged campaign I can remember. All the talk was about “Gush and Bore”, “not a dime’s worth of difference”, etc. Of course, that was a time when all the cool kids were smugly apolitical and looked down on the naive losers who actually thought voting and politics mattered.

            That post-election clusterfuck was something else, though.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yep. Everyone basically started making official decisions based on their party affiliation and to hell with their long-term credibility. The Florida SC was majority Democrat, the US SC was majority Republican, so the Republican won the election.

            People were constantly joking about Bush being the “president-select,” and there was a very strong “we was robbed” narrative among Democrats which probably didn’t do them any good at all in the 2004 elections.

          • Matt M says:

            Agree with BBA. 2000 was the last time that the general public seemed to recognize the clear and obvious truth – that the two parties agree on about 98% of things the government does.

            If you recall, it inspired jokes like this…

          • Matt M says:

            there was a very strong “we was robbed” narrative among Democrats which probably didn’t do them any good at all in the 2004 elections.

            I can’t wait for the sequel in 2020!

          • Jesse E says:

            @albatross11 – The Democrat’s lost in 2004 because of 9/11, a not terrible economy, and that the Iraq War was still popular. According to the fundamentals, John Kerry actually outpreformed them and got closer than he should have.

            Before 9/11, Bush was barely hitting 50% approvals, he’s just had a Senator change over to the Democrat’s and various Republican’s such as McCain were opposing his domestic programs. All signs were pointing to a big mid-term win in 2002 for the Democrat’s and a close reelection where it’s very likely Gore would get renominated and we’d have an actual rematch.

            Then, some planes hit the WTC and history restarted for the Bush Presidency.

            (Note – I’m not saying that the government did 9/11 in any way or Bush or Rice or Powell or even the GOP was happy about their political windfall. Cheney and Rove…well, maybe. )

    • LadyJane says:

      Depends if those domestic terrorists are right-wing extremists or left-wing extremists.

      Given the current administration’s political leanings, left-wing extremists are more likely to be targeted. In that case, I would agree with @johan_larson and @The Nybbler that immigration is the most likely issue to result in such a situation occuring. All it takes is one bout of actual violence between ICE and local authorities to cause a cascade effect, with actual military personnel split between those condemning the globalist anti-American insurgents and those praising the patriots brave enough to take a stand against a corrupt and xenophobic President.

      If the domestic terrorists were right-wing extremists, then it’s harder to envision a scenario in which Trump or his successors would end up ordering an airstrike on them. One possibility is that a right-wing terrorist group – possibly white supremacists who view Trump as a puppet of the Jews, possibly Christian Dominionists who see Trump as a corrupt secular hedonist leading the Religious Right astray, possibly some conspiracy theorists who think Trump is controlled opposition – assassinates Trump himself or a high-ranking member of his administration. Another possibility is that some Sovereign Citizens or similar anti-government militia types end up getting into a major confrontation with local police that spirals out of control, something similar to the Bundy Ranch standoff but even more extreme. Yet another possibility is that Trump passes anti-gun legislation that causes a sizable portion of his base to view him as a traitor and take to the streets in opposition, with protests escalating into riots and riots escalating into overt insurrection. In any event, Trump sending fighter jets to bomb the perpetrators would make a lot of his far-right supporters in the military turn on him.

      • Jade Nekotenshi says:

        All it takes is one bout of actual violence between ICE and local authorities to cause a cascade effect, with actual military personnel split between those condemning the globalist anti-American insurgents and those praising the patriots brave enough to take a stand against a corrupt and xenophobic President.

        That’s also not the only axis I can imagine the military splitting along: there’s a fair contingent that considers direct use of the military against US citizens to be a bridge too far, even if they’re labeled as terrorists. I’m not sure if there are enough of them to be significant, but I can see a split forming merely because of the administration ordering strikes on US citizens on US soil. (Especially if the “terrorists” are non-Arab/non-Muslim. That’s racist, sure, but there’s a sense that terrorists who aren’t Islamic or aligned with the current Middle Eastern terrorist groups are out of scope for War On Terror tactics, regardless of how well the law bears that out.)

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      At a slight tangent, the most well developed US-collapse scenario I’ve read:

      http://archdruidmirror.blogspot.com/2017/06/how-it-could-happen-part-one-hubris.html

    • arlie says:

      Hmm – let’s start with the decision to bomb unconvicted domestic terrorists. Who would make that decision? Who would object? Who would object violently? If I’m allowed bad-thriller-plot levels of plausibility, this is really easy. The US has already routinely assassinated people deemed by them to be terrorists outside of US territory, including people known to be US citizens. (There’s a particularly hilarious case, where some US clergyman’s more-or-less routine visits to whores became known [to his congregation?] in the course of some government agency investigating him for terrorist connections – he had none at the time – and the negative impact on his career prospects radicalized him…. winding up with him assassinated with Presidential authorization.)

      IMNSHO, the step from drones-to-kill-the-bad-guys in e.g. Pakistan to using the same technique to kill the same-kind-of-bad-guys in e.g. Boston would be miniscule for some people – and a bridge too far for others. So all you need is a few career changes into internal law enforcement, and insufficient managerial oversight. Plus someone in the military who thinks that it can’t be law enforcement (either doesn’t ask, or doesn’t trust what they are told), and so shoots them down. Or in your scenario, someone who believes it’s rogue law enforcement, and acts to protect the potential victims – and their neighbours, children, etc. (The drone program is well known for collateral damage; planes dropping bombs would likely be worse.)

      As soon as this happens, at least half of the armed supporters of the 2nd amendment are going to want to join whichever ‘side’ they favour. Probably not all the same side. Probably not all competently. (Someone will shoot a random naval officer as being pro-terrorist, in spite of being themselves theoretically pro-military. Someone else will shoot cops ar anti-miltary. Or whatever.) Add internet rumours to taste – the less plausible the better. Now group X expects random attacks on them from group Y, with the conivance of law enforcement and/or the military, and group Y expects the same thing. Both decide to take preemptive action. At least 5 random bunches of conspiracy theorists have explanations ;-( which some of them act on …

      Continuing our story, some enterprising folks start blowing up major pieces of civil engineering infrastructure. (Damns, reservoirs, bridges, ec.) Martial law gets declared. 2nd amendment folks expect their guns to be confiscated, not to mention everything suitable for creating improvised explosive devices. So the preppers take to the woods, and some of the others go “proactive”. [Others decide they don’t like war games in RL, and hide under their beds ;-)] Some governor-or-the-other sides against other governors/the feds, and then there’s no clear authority…

      Alternatively, the whole thing started as a false flag operation, perpetrated by the villain of your choice. (Certainly there’s a loud faction on the internet claiming this, for most possible perpetrators.) Naturally it was necessary in some minds to lynch random people vaguely associated with the alleged perpetrators. (Those who think it was Putin are going after anyone whom looks Slavic; those who think it was extra-terrestrials are ….)

      Or worst of all, the whole thing started as a drill, but none of the people involved were into fact checking – and communication about there being a drill simply didn’t happen. Neither the bomber pilots nor the cruiser were supposed to actually fire on anyone, but … [This required fairly drastic levels of incompetence. But consider the public alert about a non-existent nuclear attack last year… incompetence clearly happens. And [in the hypothetical scenario] there wa a new computer system, just recently installed, linking all the original actors….]

      Backing up a bit – I’m referring to the bombers as coming from “law enforcement” above, but while police in the US may have drones, I don’t think any of them have crewed bombers. So they come from some miltary subgroup – I don’t know enough about the US military to list all the possibilities. I don’t *think* that bombing would realistically be authorized except in the case of an active ongoing danger, where conventional police action isn’t expected to work. It’s got to be at least on the scale – and duration – of the 4 hijacked planes being crashed into buildings. Which truly *domestic* terrorist organization is likely to do that? I can’t think of one. (The home grown groups generally go for mass shootings, or blowing up a single building. Bombing’s not going to help deal with that.)

      So either it really is “false flag” or there’s a new and extremely competent collection of loonies in the US, that goes from “random people have never heard of them” to “dug in well enough to need bombs to get them out, and dangerous enough not to simply be beseiged” within 10 months. Or some law enforcement type has taken some common-or-garden wackos, perhaps holed up in a compound somewhere, or having taken over some minor government building, and blown them up in his/her reports to be notably worse than the Branch Dravidians. Why? It’s clearly a power grab on behalf of his or her agency (or his or her self). I think this is my preferred theory – someone trying to enhance his own career prospects/power by massive exaggeration, except the wheels come off.

      Anyway, here’s my jumbled 10 cents worth. Please blame it on my taste for thrillers.

      • Chipsa says:

        As for bombing Domestic Terrorists, see the 1985 MOVE bombing: Philly police bombed a row house from a helicopter.

  10. johan_larson says:

    I’ve been thinking about scenarios where you are better off with less information. As far as I can tell, there are two categories. The first is where the knowledge is upsetting, and there is nothing to be done. Suppose you have a brain tumor that will kill you in two years, but you currently have no symptoms. If you had a CAT scan that revealed your tumor now, you would be worse off than if you hadn’t had the scan.

    The second category is where knowing will cause you to take action but it is the wrong action. Suppose you live in an old house that has some asbestos insulation. The asbestos insulation is well contained and poses no realistic danger. But you’ve heard a lot about the dangers of asbestos, and therefore insist that it be removed, which actually increases the danger by exposing the asbestos.

    Any other categories of scenarios where knowing less is better? Are there any legal scenarios where merely knowing something is a crime or a tort?

    • Aapje says:

      A mandatory reporting situation where the rules for reporting are unjust for that situation and/or if the response to that report is disproportionate and/or unjust.

    • I’ve just been reading the legal code of the Ming dynasty. Striking a senior relative is a serious offense. But if you didn’t know that the man you got in a fight with was an uncle you had never met, you only get the punishment for striking an unrelated person.

      For a modern equivalent, consider negligence. If you knew that your brakes were going and didn’t have them fixed the resulting accident was due to your negligence so you are liable. If you didn’t know and there was no reason you should have known—the problem only started recently and you haven’t had an occasion to do anything that would reveal it—you were not negligent so may not be liable.

      There are lots of other cases where tort liability or criminal guilt depends on what you knew.

      • Randy M says:

        That sort of qualifies, depending on how responsive one is to incentives. Presumably having the knowledge and using the knowledge of the increased penalty for negligence to motivate you to fix the brakes is the best case. Personally there’s no case where I would not want to know my brakes are going out; the problems that might arise are from incomplete information, like suspecting I had 6 months before it presented a serious risk when it was already dangerous.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        I feel as if a situation where a law punishes knowing acts ought to be cheating in this case, since it’s an arbitrarily constructed scenario. However, further thought suggests the law is itself an attempt to make people better off – it was a natural consequence, so to speak – so maybe this is fine.

        Then I think about it a little more, and in the context of a system that wants to discourage harmful acts with foreknowledge, laws might discourage foreknowledge rather than harm, unless they’re buttressed with yet more laws discouraging willful ignorance. Taking the brake example, it should be illegal for you to not check your brakes every so often.

        In the limit, if avoidance of net harm is the terminal value, then one could view such laws as reminding individuals that some act is harmful if they do not take reasonable precautions. Again, with the brake example, it’s in everyone’s interest, at least indirectly, to check their brakes at least once every few thousand miles. It was also maybe wise to be reasonably familiar with one’s senior relatives in Ming China. Both cases seem to suggest a general benefit to knowing more, giving rise to small eddies of weirdness where knowing less is beneficial.

    • ordogaud says:

      I could see situations involving criminal activity where you’re better off having less information when having said information would make you a threat.

      Like say you’re a hostage and your captors have concealed their identity. If one of their masks slips off you’d probably want to look away and try not to see, because if they know you’ve seen their face they are more likely to eliminate you since you now have valuable information for the cops and they can’t particularly trust you won’t talk.

      • Well... says:

        Similarly, if you’re a criminal it’s better for you not to know who your bosses are, because then your boss might have a reason to dispose of you. Or, if you’re captured by rival criminals, they might torture you if they think you know something useful.

    • ana53294 says:

      While I like to ask doctors to explain to me the kind of treatments I am getting and possible side effects, I think having a law that said a doctor cannot treat patients if they don’t know all the negative side effects could bring all kinds of negative effects. Because negative side effects are frequently much worse that what you have, and people are not really good with statistics. I have been considering getting eyesight correction surgery, but even an 0.1% chance of becoming blind scares me too much. I would be better not knowing.

      I think there are also scenarios where the truth’s value has an expiry date. I heard a story about a woman who had another man’s child and she didn’t tell her husband about it. And then, when she was on her deathbed, and her son was married and had kids of his own, she chose to tell her husband and son about it. What are they supposed to do with it? I think that it was too late to do anything. If she told her husband when the baby was born, he could have made the choice of leaving her, or staying with her and raising their son as his own. But what was the point of the truth when they had grandkids, her husband had raised their son all his life, was really proud of him, and really loved his grandkids? What purpose did that info serve? I think in this case the ethical thing at that point would be to carry the secret to the grave.

    • helloo says:

      You should broaden the first to where any time where the additional effort to process the information is not worth the benefit gained from it.

      For example, having calorie counts for all restaurants might have allowed you to drop one that was particularly loaded, but the time and stress required to make that decision costed more to your health than saved. Particularly if this was a one time deal as if you were a tourist or such.

      There’s also choice paralysis which makes some people put off a decision the more choices they have/are aware off.

      The whole idiom of the only thing a master fears is a complete novice – as they have no idea what they’ll do. Often case in decision making, making random choices is one of the better strategies as it means your opponent cannot outplay you.

      One other scenario that’s similar to your second is where picking the bad/uninformed choice would be beneficially in the long term though possibly be bad in the short. Learning from mistakes, learning how to handle failure, meeting different people, etc.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      If you had a CAT scan that revealed your tumor now, you would be worse off than if you hadn’t had the scan.

      The question is interesting, but this is probably a bad example, at least as framed.

      If I knew I was going to be dead in 2 years, and much less functional in 1.5, I’d quit my job and spend my retirement money now, checking things off my bucket list.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      The second category is where knowing will cause you to take action but it is the wrong action. Suppose you live in an old house that has some asbestos insulation. The asbestos insulation is well contained and poses no realistic danger. But you’ve heard a lot about the dangers of asbestos, and therefore insist that it be removed, which actually increases the danger by exposing the asbestos.

      Does this category include situations where you need to conduct a blind test to avoid bias?

      ETA: Also, certain games, where you deliberately destroy information for amusement purposes (shuffling cards, etc.). Which might also include enjoyment of magic tricks.

      • albatross11 says:

        One good place to want less information is when information about your users is pure liability. If I’m running some web service, all else equal, having my users’ names, addresses, SSNs, and credit card numbers means I’m much more likely to end up with some kind of breach where I have to report it, and end up in the news as “Company X lost 45,000 users’ credit card numbers to a hacker.”

    • Bugmaster says:

      If the information is “we rob the bank tomorrow at midnight”, and the cops catch you and your associates, then having access to that information would be retroactively harmful.

    • AG says:

      Placebo/nocebo effects

      Otherwise, mostly the second category. In what world is a person better off after learning that someone is wrong on the internet? What are the effects of learning a whole bunch of confirmation bias information?

      And the in-between might be learning things about situations you have no power to change, causing needless anxiety and such.

    • albatross11 says:

      The problem with the asbestos example is that you can’t know ahead of time whether this information will be beneficial or not. I mean, you might make the wrong decision when given the information, but the only way to assess how likely that is is for someone you trust to look at the information. There are cases where you have asbestos or lead paint in your house, and you should just leave it alone; there are other cases where you really need to get rid of it. By not knowing that you have it in your house, you’re better off in the cases where you shouldn’t mess with it, but worse off in the cases where you should.

    • Well... says:

      Plausible deniability. You work at a shady organization and you know that some of the things you’re required to do are probably not above board in some roundabout way, but you don’t ask too many questions of your superiors because you want to be able to deny knowledge of this when the audit/investigation comes.

  11. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/08/27/640323347/the-school-shootings-that-werent

    This is the first I’ve heard about this. Has anyone else heard about this? Doubted USED numbers, and if so, why?

    “This spring the U.S. Education Department reported that in the 2015-2016 school year, “nearly 240 schools … reported at least 1 incident involving a school-related shooting.” The number is far higher than most other estimates.

    But NPR reached out to every one of those schools repeatedly over the course of three months and found that more than two-thirds of these reported incidents never happened. Child Trends, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization, assisted NPR in analyzing data from the government’s Civil Rights Data Collection.

    We were able to confirm just 11 reported incidents, either directly with schools or through media reports.”

    A shooting was defined as an incident involving the discharge of a firearm whether or not anyone was injured.

    59 of the schools didn’t get back to NPR.

    The amount of blur and fog when three lists were compared was remarkable.

    “There is little overlap between shootings listed in the Everytown for Gun Safety database, the Civil Rights Data Collection and those confirmed by NPR. Everytown lists 29 K-12 shootings for the 2015-2016 school year. Only seven of those appear on the CRDC list. Four more incidents were not captured by Everytown, but were confirmed by NPR. In total, seven incidents appear on all three lists.”

    • Aapje says:

      Isn’t this just Lizardman’s Constant again? The actual percentage of schools that should answer ‘yes’ on the survey is so low that mistakes become a huge percentage of the affirmatively answers.

      • albatross11 says:

        Is it possible there’s some kind of confusion in the reporting criteria? Like, some kid brings a gun (maybe a toy guy or BB gun) to school, and the school reports it as though it were a school shooting?

        Alternatively, it’s possible someone decided to report lies as official numbers to move policy in their preferred direction. If so, that needs to be visibly bad for everyone involved in the decision, because we *need* accurate data a hell of a lot more than we need someone deciding what information we should be fed in order to come to their desired policy conclusions.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          There was a whole lot of confusion:

          “One item, about “Firearm Use,” was required for the first time for all schools in the most recent data collection.

          Most of the school leaders NPR reached had little idea of how shootings got recorded for their schools.

          For example, the CRDC reports 26 shootings within the Ventura Unified School District in Southern California.

          “I think someone pushed the wrong button,” said Jeff Davis, an assistant superintendent there. The outgoing superintendent, Joe Richards, “has been here for almost 30 years and he doesn’t remember any shooting,” Davis added. “We are in this weird vortex of what’s on this screen and what reality is.”

          “We got wind of it and nipped it in the bud”

          In other cases, something may have happened, but not the firearm discharge the survey asked about.

          The biggest discrepancy in sheer numbers was the 37 incidents listed in the CRDC for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Roseann Canfora, the district’s chief communications officer, told us that, in fact, 37 schools reported “possession of a knife or a firearm,” which is the previous question on the form.

          The number 37, then, was apparently entered on the wrong line.

          Similarly, the CRDC lists four shootings among the 16 schools of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in California. Gail Pinsker, spokeswoman for the district, says that “going back 20-plus years,” no one can remember any incident involving a firearm. Their best guess, she says, is that there was some kind of mistake in coding, where an incident involving something like a pair of scissors (California Education Code 48915[c][2]), for example, got inflated into one involving a firearm (48915[c][1]).

          Ray Poole, the chief of legal services for the Nassau County School District in Florida, told us that at one school where a shooting was reported, Callahan Middle School, on Nov. 21, 2015, a Saturday, a student took a picture of himself at home holding a gun and posted it to social media. “We got wind of it and nipped it in the bud.” No shooting.

          The CRDC shows seven shootings in DeKalb County, Ga. Police reports provided to us by that district give a sense of more of the many, many ways the data collection may have gone wrong.

          At Redan Middle School, there is a report of a toy cap gun fired on a school bus — not a shooting.

          The CRDC shows a shooting at Stone Mountain Middle School, but a police report shows an incident at Stone Mountain High School instead.

          And district officials provided a police report showing that there was a shooting after a McNair High School football game — in August 2016, after the time period covered in the survey.”

    • Matt M says:

      An extended family member recently told me there were three “credible threats” of a shooting at her child’s school last year alone.

      I haven’t reviewed the details personally, but this strikes me as incredibly implausible. Either that or a “credible threat” must surely result in no actual shooting an overwhelming majority of the time.

      My guess is a lot of these threats are just overblown teenage gossip put through the telephone game filter that end up finding their way to parents, administrators, or even local media sources.

      • albatross11 says:

        It costs nothing to make threats (until the cops catch you, at least), and I think it’s pretty common for some jackass to call in a bomb/shooting threat to stir up shit, or to avoid having to take their final, or whatever.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      @Well… :
      I was actually going to post this story (see above) as an example of what journalists do.

    • S_J says:

      This is…almost unbelievable.

      I’ve seen lots of ways in which statistics can be mangled in news reports. (Especially around a subject like firearms.) But I’ve never of statistics being off so much in in official government reports. And I’m accustomed to scenarios when an advocacy group like Everytown has somewhat-inflated numbers relative to the official data…

      My first thought is that the form submitted to schools might have asked a much broader question than “discharge of firearm on school property or in a bus”, and then the form data was published as if that question had been on the form.

      However, I suspect that some school officials would try to tell the reporter that. I presume that the reporter would have included that detail.

      My second thought is that someone in the government agency that issued this report did some data-mangling with the reports that came from the schools. If so, was it intentional, or accidental?

      • Douglas Knight says:

        The reporter did include the details of how some schools explained how they misread the question. (Most schools seem to assume that they made a mistake, but aren’t sure exactly what.) You didn’t think that Nancy copied the whole article, did you?

        Nothing wrong with thinking through the situation with limited data, but your use of the subjunctive implies that you think that the reporter did not include these details.

      • FLWAB says:

        I think it’s pretty simple. You’re a busy school administrative staff member and there is this huge survey you have to fill out and do you really have time for this? You’ve got memos to write and appointments to schedule and the Superintendent wanted that one report mailed to him before the end of the day and a dozen other things that need doing. How carefully are you going to fill out that form? If you’re confused about a question, are you going to bother trying to look up the number for some federal bureau and wait on hold until a similarly busy civil servant has time to clarify things for you? Might you accidentally write the wrong thing because you were trying to answer a previous question? Could you be confused about whether there was a shooting: do you have time to go digging through official records to figure out whether that incident you vaguely remember actually happened? I mean you’ll do your best, but you have a lot on your plate today and who has the time?

        That’s all that’s necessary to explain this bad data. It’s not like they hired a team of dedicated investigators, they just sent out a survey and trusted that whoever filled it out knew what they were doing and didn’t make any mistakes.

        • Matt M says:

          While I don’t necessarily disagree with your logic here, doesn’t this logic apply to almost all government-collected data?

          Is it all this bad? What if it is, but we act as if it isn’t? I feel like it’s plausible that this one only got “caught” due to how overwhelmingly obviously wrong it is to anyone with common sense and a TV.

          • albatross11 says:

            Just as with privately-collected data, there are big differences in care and professionalism. For example, I think the Census department is pretty serious and careful in collecting and reporting data.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            This is an instance where we’re multiplying a big number (schools) by a small number (error rate on the survey) and comparing it to another small number (actual school shootings). There are about 100,000 public schools in the US, and about 30,000 private schools. Assume .1% of survey takers screw up the survey. Then ~130 of the schools falsely report a shooting or falsely fail to report a shooting. How many times a year does a for-real shooting event (i.e., kid brings gun to school and shoots up classmates / teachers) happen? I would guess ~25 times. Who knows. It seems to make the national news pretty often and I’d say I only hear about these things once every other month, so figure I’m out of the loop 75% of the time, so there’s really two a month. It could be four times that amount and still be within the ~130 margin of error.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        But I’ve never of statistics being off so much in in official government reports.

        I have.

        I have an family member who co-owns a nail salon. You know, one of those places staffed entirely by recently immigrant Vietnamese women, who will wash your feet and will clip, shape, condition, paint, and UV bake all 20 of your nails. A few years ago I sat and read a stack of the industry trade magazine for that class of business.

        It was at that time an open joke in the industry and in their industry magazine that there was an almost two order magnitude error in the official US government labor statistics in how many people work for these places, and how many actually do, and similar errors for how many shops there were, and the industry’s total gross receipts. Apparently the Labor Department and the IRS don’t cross check their numbers.

        My takeaway when I learned that is that a significant number of the official economic metrics numbers are at least that badly wrong, and that a majority of the numbers are wrong enough to be meaningless.

  12. fion says:

    Effective alturism/economics question:

    Bit of a silly hypothetical, really. If EA became really successful in a rich country (such as the US, or somewhere in western Europe) such that, say two-thirds of the population started donating 10% of their income to effective charities, what effects would this have?

    I’m not so interested in the effects felt by the charities having lots of income and being able to do good stuff, but more in the effects on the rich country that loves EA. Does it harm the economy to have so much money flowing to foreign charities?

    • The value of the dollar on foreign exchange markets would go down, just as it would if Americans developed a taste for foreign goods and bought lots of them. That makes U.S. goods more attractive to foreigners, since they are less expensive in the foreigners’ money. So we export more, import less–in effect our new import good is utility from helping foreigners.

  13. Bugmaster says:

    Is China completely unstoppable by now ?

    It seems like they managed to establish a working balance between central planning and capitalism; that is, they’ve got just enough capitalism to prevent their centrally planned economy from imploding, but not so much that it gives people ideas re: freedom of expression.

    On the international stage, they are buying up small third-world countries left and right (under the auspices of their Belt and Road Initiative), thus obtaining their loyalty without any bloodshed. They are also buying up individual Western politicians, especially in Australia and Europe, but also in the US. They are also quite adept at taking over (or outright building) little islands wherever it suits them, and no other world power seems able to stop them. Naturally, they control Taiwan and Hong Kong in all but name.

    On the cultural stage, they effectively have veto power over the American movie industry (arguably, the sole cultural legacy of the USA), and they are expanding control over major universities. They can also commit whatever human rights violations they want, without fear of so much as a reprimand.

    On the scientific stage, they are investing enormous amounts of money and manpower into AI and genetic engineering; and have a semi-official policy to reverse-engineer anything they can’t invent locally. They are also the only remaining superpower with a real state-sponsored manned space program.

    Of course, almost goes without saying that China’s consumer goods and electronics manufacturing capabilities are unmatched, to the point where most people wouldn’t even consider producing such things anywhere else.

    So: is all of our bickering over political correctness, free speech, or whatever, even worth the effort ? It seems like our culture will be completely subsumed by China in 10 years, 20 on the outside, so our time would be better spent on learning Mandarin…

    • Björn says:

      It is true that China is catching up to the West in many aspects. This ignores, however, that China has some internal problems that are overlooked in the current “China will be the next superpower”-narrative.

      China has millions of poor workers and farmers, who will either need to be integrated in the Chinese economy or they will have to be kept under control one way or another. Think of the rust belt in the USA, or the divide between the places in the USA who profit from the digital giants, and those places who don’t. China has 1.4 billion inhabitants, who currently have very low living standards, but they are rising. There will be a time where businesses in China will have to embrace automation on a large scale or move abroad. This will give China all the problems the West has had since the West tapped into the cheap workforce in the third world countries.

      Also, note that just this year China abolished the main tools that kept the Chinese government stable and balanced. The Chinese party used to have a term limit for the president to prevent getting a strongman like Mao in power. This term limit has since been abolished. They already have a new strongman candidate, Xi Jinping, who has formal or informal control over the anti-corruption agency, the Communist Party, the military and the local governments. The Chinese Government has strong ties with the big tech companies like Tencent and Alibaba, so they too are dependent on Xi Jinping.

      This will be a big long term problem for the good institutions that China has, like universities, the bureaucracy and even the big companies. Look at Russia and Turkey! Both Putin and Erdogan did good reforms from 2000 to 2010, but now the institutions of their nations are filled with loyalists, and any remnants of of a political opposition may never be allowed to challenge the status quo, for this would mean death or prison for the current circle of power. Currently, Erdogan is destroying the work of his life to remain in power. If he would have stepped down in 2008, he would have been the greatest Turkish polititian since Ataturk, now he’s the Maduro of the Bosporus.

      Last but not least, I believe if a nation becomes a superpower, they also get superenemies. It is not possible to be a major actor everywhere on the globe and not make a ton of enemies. Just look at the wars the USA and the Soviet Union did not win in the cold war. That eats up a lot of capacities. Or look at how complicated it is for the USA in the middle east being allied to Turkey, Saudi-Arabia and Israel. With the the Belt and Road initiative, China gets stakes in countries like Pakistan, which can bring them big troubles down the line.

      • Bugmaster says:

        China has millions of poor workers and farmers, who will either need to be integrated in the Chinese economy or they will have to be kept under control one way or another.

        Agreed, but IMO they are doing a very good (“good” as in “effective”, not as in “moral”) job of managing their poor workers and farmers, so far. Yes, living standards are rising for some percentage of the population, but the majority are more-or-less content to live in the same conditions their grandparents did.

        The Chinese party used to have a term limit for the president to prevent getting a strongman like Mao in power. This term limit has since been abolished.

        Doesn’t this mean that China will remain stable — or rather, maintain its growth — as long as Xi Jinping is alive and in power ? Russia and Turkey are the same way, I agree (although, while I’m not sure about Erdogan, Putin’s position is not nearly as stable as Xi Jinping’s).

        Last but not least, I believe if a nation becomes a superpower, they also get superenemies.

        Having enemies is not the same thing as fearing those enemies. The US really undermined its own foreign policy over the years; from what I’ve seen, China is so far avoiding our mistakes, though I could be wrong.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          I dont see China’s FP as good, just that they are the only one really playing the game. Almost all of Europe and like 40% of the US has decided that benevolent leadership is impossible, thus they have abdicated most of the important parts of FP, causing a vacuum for Russia and China to step into.

        • Björn says:

          Agreed, but IMO they are doing a very good (“good” as in “effective”, not as in “moral”) job of managing their poor workers and farmers, so far. Yes, living standards are rising for some percentage of the population, but the majority are more-or-less content to live in the same conditions their grandparents did.

          I’m not so sure people are content with measures like having their meager living charters bulldozed, because the big Chinese cities want to build more middle class neighborhoods. China is good in making them not rebel, but will it be able to find a long term solution for them? At the moment, China is still in the economic phase where they are catching up in development. A big share of the population is profiting from Chinas huge growth in GDP, which is what keeps Chinese society well oiled. But already now, there are concerns that Chinas GDP growth is depended on the loan policy the Chinese government, and that the Chinese economy is overheating at least a bit. In 2008, China did the biggest stimulus program of that year, and it is unclear what will happen if they inject as much money in their economy as they did the last time. Consider that while some Chinese companies are buying very reasonable tech companies with money they get on loans, others are buying random stuff like Deutsche Bank stock.

          The Turkish economy has been running on loans at least in part for the last years, now Erdogan cannot combat the inflation of the lira while keeping his supporters happy. Xi Jinping could easily land in the same spot, and then managing both the middle class, the poor and the first wave of people that cannot enjoy economic mobility through the booming economy because there is none will be not easy.

          Doesn’t this mean that China will remain stable — or rather, maintain its growth — as long as Xi Jinping is alive and in power ? Russia and Turkey are the same way, I agree (although, while I’m not sure about Erdogan, Putin’s position is not nearly as stable as Xi Jinping’s).

          I believe there will be a time where they will not be able to have all three of those, and it might be hard to have even two of those. Dictatorships are not that good in handling perturbations, and I believe this to be more of a problem when your Dictatorship is built on the fact that you are one of the most successful nations on the planet.

          Last but not least, I believe if a nation becomes a superpower, they also get superenemies.

          I would say that having enemies costs (or more broadly being a major power that makes many enemies) incurs you costs in many ways. That are things like not being able to be on friendly terms with India when you ally Pakistan, creating a backlash in South East Asia/Africa when you pump the wrong people their full of money, having allies that are a liability (North Korea, other nations like Pakistan or many African countries), people who play a whole different game than you (terrorists, human rights/environmental activists, meme junkies, people afraid of China for all the reasons you stated.

          The West handles those problems by trying to build genuine partnerships rather than client states, not pumping money into chaotic and corrupt governments all the time, using human rights records to at least find out who REALLY NOT TO TRUST, and integrating at least the constructive type of the people mentioned above. I’m very interested how much Chinas foreign policy and Chinas handling of “middle class issues” works out over the next 10 to 20 years.

    • John Schilling says:

      Are you old enough to remember essentially the same things being said about Japan in the 1990s?

      The Gulf States in the 1970s?

      The Soviet Union in the 1950s, or the 1930s?

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        A nice corrective to this sort of view is Orwell’s discussion of James Burnham. In fact, it’s a little uncanny how well the parent comment matches the view that Orwell discusses:

        Capitalism is disappearing, but Socialism is not replacing it. What is now arising is a new kind of planned, centralised society which will be neither capitalist nor, in any accepted sense of the word, democratic.

        sounds a lot like “they’ve got just enough capitalism to prevent their centrally planned economy from imploding, but not so much that it gives people ideas re: freedom of expression.”.

        As Orwell, John Schilling, and Bjorn point out though, merely extrapolating from current trends doesn’t have the best historical track record, and ignores latent issues lurking in China. I think it’s probably true that China will continue to rise, becoming more economically, militarily, and culturally powerful, just as Burnham wasn’t wrong to see Germany and Japan rise in importance; but prophecies like “our culture will be completely subsumed by China in 10 years, 20 on the outside” are almost certainly nuts, and probably stem from the frame of mind that Orwell characterizes as believing that “things will happen more quickly, completely, and catastrophically than they ever do in practice.”

        • Bugmaster says:

          Ok, so assuming that China becomes the world’s largest economic, scientific, and cultural superpower in 10..20 years; when would you expect our own culture to be subsumed ? For example, how long do you expect English to remain (ironically) the Lingua Franca of the world ?

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            I don’t think it will be the largest economic, scientific, or especially cultural superpower in 10 to twenty years–I think China’s economic, scientific, and cultural power will continue to grow over that time, but not necessarily without interruption or at the same rate as today.

            As to how long before “our culture [is] subsumed”…that depends on what you mean by subsumed. Notice that despite the conquest of a huge portion of the world by Britain, the majority of the world still doesn’t speak English, the majority of the world isn’t Anglican, etc. And Britain’s mode of dominance involved a lot more conquest and demographic replacement than China’s will for the foreseeable future.

            I have no idea how much longer English will remain the world’s Lingua Franca, though I think 10 to 20 years sounds a bit short to me. But even if so, I don’t think that will mean China will have fully exported all of its culture and politics to the point that our current political issues will have become meaningless (though I don’t doubt that some of our current political issues will look meaningless for other reasons).

      • Bugmaster says:

        Are you old enough to remember essentially the same things being said about Japan in the 1990s?

        I’m old enough to remember the same things being said in the 80s. By the time the 90s came around, this was no longer the case. That said, why specifically do you think Japan failed to achieve world dominance, while Soviet Union had almost succeeded (after all, they were more or less tied with the US for 75 years) ?

        Personally, I think this has to do with a combination of factors. Population size is the most important one, of course; but access to natural resources as well as culture also play a role. I don’t think you can make an apples-to-apples comparison between China and Japan.

        • Matt M says:

          they were more or less tied with the US for 75 years

          No they weren’t. They were lying about being more or less tied with the US for 75 years, and got away with it for a while because a whole lot of the rest of the world was highly sympathetic to their cause.

          • Aapje says:

            A more likely explanation is that no one was allowed to check.

          • Matt M says:

            Eh, plenty of people weren’t even the least bit skeptical, and were happy to take the Soviets word for it.

            This included left-wing sympathizers, as well as right-wing warmongers who used it to justify increased military spending.

          • Aapje says:

            But by saying that you are admitting that there is no need for sympathy. There are situations where both sides want something to be true, because it fits both their narratives (but for different reasons).

          • A more likely explanation is that no one was allowed to check.

            There were indirect checks for anyone who didn’t believe the government figures. G. Warren Nutter produced estimates which were much closer to what turned out to be true, although still, I think, high.

            Samuelson’s textbook, through multiple editions, claimed that the USSR was catching up with the U.S., with estimates of the date at which it would happen. The date kept being pushed forward edition after edition without Samuelson ever conceding that his past estimate of the Soviet growth rate had been too high.

            On the other hand, it’s at least arguable that the reason was not political bias but methodological bias.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      You’ve listed a lot of strengths, but I noticed at least one thing missing: an internet censorship policy. Once that’s gone, I expect an uprising that dwarfs Tiananmen Square, and I think the Chinese government thinks the same thing.

      And then there’s things like pollution, Tibet / Taiwan, etc.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I’m not expecting China to ever relax their Internet censorship policy. If anything, I expect them to strenghten it, and for Western nations to adopt it in whole or in part — especially since they are using Western technology (e.g. from Cisco and perhaps Google) to implement it.

        (Well, “never” is a long time of course, but not within the next 20 years or so)

        • albatross11 says:

          My sense is that a lot of elites in the US, as well as in Europe, really feel like the internet should be censored. They’re not so happy with the free flow of information, which includes terrorists and criminals communicating with one another, unacceptable political views being aired and discussed, leaked embarrassing documents showing up on the internet, upstart political movements using the internet to organize and threaten the established powers, etc.

          My best guess is that we will see increasing censorship online, with arguments for free-speech rights eventually becoming part of what is considered outside the Overton window, and perhaps also being suppressed. That’s a more comfortable place for most of the powerful people in the US than our current policies, and the big powers that were formerly fighting against that sort of thing (newspapers, a big chunk of political liberals) are either disappearing or have been captured by a new set of ideas that think only acceptable speech should be permitted, and other speech should be shut down or no-platformed or criminalized.

          • AG says:

            What’s your estimation that, then, a migration will occur to an alternate technology that will eventually outcompete the internet for having less censorship?

    • mrjeremyfade says:

      If you would like to delve deeper into the question of China’s future, one place to look is Michael Pettis China Financial Markets on the Carnegie Endowment site.

  14. sunnydestroy says:

    I asked this before in a hidden open thread, but I suppose I’ll try here too.

    Does anyone have any experience with fasting or in the biological science behind it’s effects?

    I’m specifically interested in the effects from the Fasting Mimicking Diet which seems like it has an impressive magnitude of effect. The autophagy effects are particulary interesting. All the published research on it has the involvement of Valter Longo or USC (where Longo is a professor) so I wanted to get some 3rd party views on it.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I don’t really know how well it works but I have experience with fasting and weight cutting. My main thing is to know that if you are doing it right you won’t be hungry after a while.

      • sunnydestroy says:

        Did you notice any health benefits from fasting? What kind of fasting activities did you undertake?

  15. Tenacious D says:

    Imagine a new government has come into power in Venezuela, and the new President/Chairman/Generalissimo (pick whichever is most convenient for your answer) comes to you for advice on ending the crisis there. To be specific, the goal is to return inflation rates and out-migration to South American averages. What are your key suggestions?

    (to keep this from going off the rails, please taboo Socialism, Capitalism, and related terms; focus on specific policies rather than broad ideologies).

    • Tenacious D says:

      My top piece of advice is to ditch the Bolivar. Currencies require trust, and I think that one is past the possibility of getting it back. But switching to the US dollar (like other countries in the region have done) will allow your political opponents to accuse you of selling out to imperialists. Choosing the yuan or ruble might put you in Washington’s crosshairs if they fear you’re joining the sphere of influence of a geopolitical rival. Based on these considerations, I’d suggest the yen: it’s a global currency that won’t look like picking sides between superpowers. There is a small but long-standing Japanese community in Venezuela, and Japan’s elderly population and lack of domestic oil production opens up some possibilities for mutually-beneficial trade.

      Additionally, I’d recommend contracting an international oil & gas industry recruiter to administer proficiency tests to all PDVSA employees hired in the past decade. Anyone who doesn’t pass should be fired and replaced with someone competent.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      Peg the Bolivar to something other than the USD, with a preannounced plan to replace it with the New Bolivar by dropping four zeros. Keep it pegged. Ask the South Koreans to send some light arms peacekeeping troops to come replace all the cops and all the military for 10 years. Work through the now forcibly retired officers and enlisted: any who had received any training from the School Of The Americas gets “renditioned” to the US. Similarly for any trained in Cuba. Ask Mexico or Saudi or Russia (or all three) to send skilled petro technologists and skilled petro workers for 10 years to replace all the useless political hires and run training classes for local workers. Ask either the Hong Kong or the Singapore banking consortium to come completely replace the banking system, with a 10 year exit plan. Shame Canada and the EU into freezing and then repatriating all the many billions of dollars of wealth that the Great Leaders’s family had stolen and stashed in EU bank accounts and Canadian real estate. Shoot everyone who stills calls themselves a communist or advocates for it. Copy the Alaska Permanent Fund template. Immediately 20% of all extraction taxes goes into it, with a linear progression so that in 10 years, 100% goes into it. Take no advice from or place into any position of authority anyone who has an MBA from a US school.

      De-nationalizing the oil industry is going to be a much Harder problem. Possibly some variant of transferring ownership of it to the extraction permanent fund.

      • Deiseach says:

        Shame Canada and the EU into freezing and then repatriating all the many billions of dollars of wealth that the Great Leaders’s family had stolen and stashed in EU bank accounts and Canadian real estate.

        Why? I seem to recall from the “why doesn’t the West facilitate transfer of power in war-torn countries by guaranteeing deals with the despots about safe retirement” debates that nobody mentioned anything about taking the ill-gotten gains and repatriating them; the assumption seemed to be that if Strongman Leader for Life agreed to step down, the West would keep him from being lynched, give him a safe haven to live in luxurious retirement, and not look too closely into how that luxurious retirement was funded. Part of the appeal for Strongman was that he and his family and assorted cronies and hangers-on could fly out to New York/Paris/London and live comfortably on the loot they had stolen and stashed. Having to repay their theft was never part of the bargain.

        I mean, I’d like very much if this happened, but if the cynical pragmatic view is “to guarantee peace, let them keep the loot”, this is not going to work.

      • Tenacious D says:

        Take no advice from or place into any position of authority anyone who has an MBA from a US school.

        Tough, but fair.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      Well, it really depends on how politically popular my ideas have to be. The people of that region have demonstrated good policy is politically unpopular. So lets say its a Junta of sorts that won’t really have much trouble holding power for 20 years.

      Obviously you are going to want to abandon the Bolivar. I’d actually suggest the Euro as the best option, other than the Dollar (which also would work but would probably seem too “big papa” like) all other currencies don’t have the oomf of the Euro.

      Second is you start repealing old laws. You are stripping this baby down to the bare bones. Anything that wasn’t a law in America in 1800 is not a law in your country. Any social program, no longer. You cleanse the ranks of unnecessary people as this goes by.

      Third, send your oldest child to live with the CEO of Chevron and tell Chevron they have ownership of some % of currently operating oil wells in the country. Slowly send other family members to, essentially, be held hostage by other oil CEOs, thus ensuring you won’t nationalize the wells they develop.

      • Jesse E says:

        “Any social program, no longer. You cleanse the ranks of unnecessary people as this goes by.”

        I call this, “How to end up on the business end of a lightpost within weeks, no matter how many private contractors to you have.”

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          Ha, maybe. But the thing about Venezuela is that any objectively good policy will end you there sooner or later. The preferences of the people are the biggest issue.

          • DeWitt says:

            Nah. Cutting any and all social programs will get you on the wrong end of a lamp post in any country.

          • John Schilling says:

            That’s why you wait until a fiscal collapse blamed on the previous administration has already destroyed all the social programs, then claim credit for a limited reintroduction under your regime. And it probably is worth doing a little of that just for the PR.

  16. Trevor Glynn says:

    3 people attended the meetup in Santa Rosa. We think we can do better and want to schedule another one. Is anyone else interested in meeting in Sonoma County, or maybe Napa? We may be able to get Sacramento people to show up if we meet them halfway.

  17. b_jonas says:

    Ideas for further open thread titles for Scott. I seem to remember that you asked for ideas about these. List in no particular order.

    I am not trying to imply that “opulent” or any of the other recent thread titles were bad, I like gilding as much as anyone else. However, please credit images you use (either in the text of the post or at least with a link from the image) unless they’re entirely your own creation. In your scientific publications, you cite previous works you’re using for intellectual honesty. Citing photos created by other people is no different from that.

    – C-open-hagen interpretation thread. Image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Heisenbergbohr.jpg” , a photo from 1934 showing Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, two pioneers of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.
    – Eur-open thread. Image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Regina_Europa_from_Sebastian_M%C3%BCnster%27s_Cosmographia.jpg” , a depiction of Europa regina (“https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europa_regina”), a personification of Europe in the form of a map of Europe and a queen at the same time.
    – Tw-open-ce thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Two_Pence_02.jpg” .
    – C-ope-r-n-ican thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nicolaus_Copernicus_-_Heliocentric_Solar_System.JPG” .
    – Phonendoscopen thread or Stethosc-open thread, whichever term doctors in your environment prefer to use, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stetoskop.jpg” or take a photo of a phonendoscope a doctor you know owns.
    – Laparoscopen or Endoscopen thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bronkoskop.jpg” because there are wonderful photos available of laparoscopic surgery, but we don’t want to gross out anyone without warning.
    – Jump r-open thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Navy_030303-N-9109V-006_Steel_Beach_picnic_aboard_USS_Saipan.jpg”
    – Submarine periscopen thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Officer_at_periscope_of_HMS_Snapper_WWII_IWM_A_885.jpg”
    – Microscopen thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Australian_rain-forest_trees,_excluding_the_species_confined_to_the_tropics_(1929)_(20162243960).jpg” random microscopic image of trees
    – Open-ra house thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Die_Volksoper_am_W%C3%A4hringer_G%C3%BCrtel_-_panoramio.jpg” , photo of exterior of the Volksoper building in Wien, Austria
    – Paratroopen thread, “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Defense.gov_News_Photo_000507-F-1093P-003.jpg” (open parachutes were already done in open thread 3, but “paratrooper” is technically a new pun)
    – Calliopen thread, “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Calliope,_Muse_of_Epic_Poetry_by_Giovanni_Baglione.jpg” , replies are not restricted to epic poetry form
    – Catastropen thread, start thread after some natural disaster, use an image about that, but not a too shocking one, eg. “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kerala_Flood_2018_-_Angamaly-_IMG_20180818_084452.jpg” if this was a recent open thread
    – Encycl-open-dia thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:3rdBritannica.JPG”
    – Envelopen thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coloured_Cards_and_Envelopes_(3859554453).jpg” (photo shows envelopes before closing)
    – O-pen thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cattle_sale_1.JPG” (cattle in a pen)
    – O-pencil thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Colourful_pencils.jpg”
    – Oscilloscopen thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RAV4_Tach_750rpm.JPG” , sadly I couldn’t find a good photo of an old electrocardiograph with an oscilloscope display
    – Space telescopen thread, “telescope” was already used for an open thread in 2017, but if you use this title when the Webb space telescope is launched (or any other space telescope if the Webb is cancelled; unlike your 2016 and 2017 predictions, your 2018 predictions don’t even list a bet that SSC will still remain active this year, which I choose to interpret as you being very confident that SSC will live for a long time, I wish I could be so confident about the future of space telescopes), 2017 will be ancient history by then, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:James_Webb_Space_Telescope_Revealed_(26764527271).jpg”

    • b_jonas says:

      More open thread title ideas. I figured I had probably only imagined that you asked for more suggestions of these, but I can’t stop now. I’ll skip the puns connected to male ogenitalia and its oinsertion into holes.

      – Telephone openrator thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bell_telephone_magazine_(1922)_(14755092795).jpg”
      – Indopendence referendum thread or declaration of indopendence thread, use the next time something like this comes up in the news again, such as in Scotland or Catalonia or Puerto Rico or Iraqi Kurdistan, and use an image related to that.
      – Openalty shootout thread, use this the next time a highly watched match in a football tournament is decided by one, such as the Russia–Croatia match on the FIFA world cup quarter-final on 2018-07-07, photo is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cupfinalen_2009_straffespark.jpg” or a photo of the penalty shootout on that recent match.
      – Openalty thread, as an alternative to the above, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43455817” drawing of a pillory
      – Oppendix thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anatomy-human-appendix-in-colon.png”
      – Openinsula thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Location_Kamchatka_Peninsula.PNG”
      – Openumbra thread, as an alternative to the above, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lunar_eclipse_of_2017_August_7_Kuwait.jpg”
      – Caropentry thread, image is “https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bc/Budapest-bazilika-jozsef-szobor.jpg” (statue of Joseph, father of the Christ, with a carpenter’s tool, and of Christ as a child)
      – Susopension bridge thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Budapest,_H%C3%A1rmashat%C3%A1rhegy,_1037_Hungary_-_panoramio_(21).jpg”
      – Soap disopenser thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Soap_dispenser_2017_A.jpg”
      – Opener thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kitchen-Modern-Can-Opener.jpg” (can opener or tin opener)
      – Sharopener thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wooden_pencil_sharpener.jpg”
      – Openicillin thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nobelpristagare_Fleming_Midi.jpg” of Alexander Fleming accepting the Nobel prize in 1945 for the discovery of the first antibiotic.
      – As-o-pen thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51994928”
      – Foucault opendulum thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFoucault_pendulum%2C_Eotvos_Lorand_University_North_Block%2C_2016_Ujbuda.jpg”
      – Openguin thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Falkland_Islands_Penguins_40.jpg”
      – Opentagon thread (technically this is not a new pun, because “Opentecost” was already used), image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pentagon_satellite_image.jpg”
      – Peropendicular thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Katownik_stolarski_0211.jpg”
      – Seropent thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31738706”
      – His Noodly Oppendages thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Touched_by_His_Noodly_Appendage_HD.jpg”
      – Jalopeño thread, image is “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jalape%C3%B1os1.jpg”
      – Oppen-heimer thread, image “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JROppenheimer-LosAlamos.jpg”

  18. j1000000 says:

    Is anyone somewhat surprised by left-wing complaints that Twitter is hell/Twitter does nothing? Do they not remember what it was like not long ago, when any liberal comment would be responded to by huge brigades of the most combative/racist pre-altright types?

    I understand nothing is ever good enough, and I understand as a conservative I’m not the audience they’re seeking. But the notion that Twitter has done nothing and is still at its nadir is surprising to me.

    • Randy M says:

      I’m not terribly surprised, no. That is the kind of thing it is necessary to complain about in order to justify increased policing of conservative opinion on the edge of the overton window, which tactically is highly useful if the relevant authorities are amenable to such.
      Also, see almost every organization or movement ever that accomplishes a portion of it’s goal and does not decrease its advocacy proportionately.

      • j1000000 says:

        Yeah. I suppose I’m not surprised, either. But because almost everyone I know IRL is a committed liberal and on Twitter tweeting about liberalism, their insistence on this is bizarre to me.

        I read Twitter feeds sometimes (mostly far left and what I consider interesting alt-right like Sailer) but don’t tweet. About a year ago I wanted to respond to something Razib Kahn said, and so I signed up for an account. As soon as I tweeted at him — my first and only tweet, and it was nothing alt-righty or racist because I am the sort of #NeverTrumper the alt-right hates — Twitter banned me. They may have said I could keep tweeting if I used a phone number, I don’t remember. But I was still surprised.

        No one ever believes me about it, though.

  19. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/08/27/642218377/in-psychology-and-other-social-sciences-many-studies-fail-the-reproducibility-te

    It turns out that social scientists are pretty good at predicting which social science studies won’t reproduce, but medical researchers aren’t so good at prediction for medical research.

    I suspect it’s because medical researchers are less likely to use horribly bad designs for their experiments, but this is just a guess.

  20. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Cities part 7: Dimini/Iolkos

    This continues my series of effortposts on Late Bronze Age Greece that began here.

    The Bay of Volos forms the southeastern extremity of classical and modern Thessaly. The overland route to the region passes from Boeotia through the sparsely-populated mountainous district of Phocis on the upper Kephisos and then north through Thermopylae in Malis. By sea, the Bay of Volos sits right at the north end of the island of Euboea.
    Greek mythology records Thessaly’s original name as Aeolia and treats it as a wild region, productive for horse husbandry and populated by centaurs as well as uncivilized Hellenic tribes, but with an outpost of civilization at Iolkos (Volos). This fits the archaeological evidence: three of the few Mycenaean settlements in Thessaly are ports on the bay, Dimini, Kastro, and Pefkakia. At the beginning of this century, archaeologists turned up a Mycenaean palace at Dimini. An untouched tholos tomb (Kazanaki) with gold grave goods also turned up, and oh by the way, Iolkos really only figures in Greek mythology in the generation before the Trojan War, when Jason was sent on a suicide mission for the Golden Fleece by King Pelias, his usurping uncle.

    The pottery evidence indicates that the Bay area was incorporated into Mycenaean civilization during Late Helladic IIA, or some time between ~1550 BC and the middle of Thutmose III’s sole reign. The plain of Larissa and the west only start to adopt Mycenaean material culture even selectively in LH IIIA. It’s currently understood that LH IIA economic development was driven by “Minoan” need for metals, with a string of sites radiating north from the silver mines of Lavrion (which remained famously productive in Classical times). From Lavrion, Brauron and Thorikos, ports/outposts appeared in Boeotia and on the east coast of Euboea, ending at the Bay of Volos. At the end of this period, either the colonized or parties unknown in the Peloponnese (the gold-rich elites of Mycenae are most likely, but trade with Crete is also believed to have created the Laconic and Messenian elites) overthrew not only the Cretan navy but also seized Knossos, after which Linear B tablets replace the undeciphered Linear A.

    At Dimini, Linear B is only attested in a couple of inscriptions: no tablets have yet been found. This is probably only because of the lack of a fire-destruction layer. Dimini was abandoned at the end of LH IIIB with the other palaces save Kekropia (acropolis of Athens) and Tiryns, or very early in IIIC, presumably starved out by economic disruption. Curiously though, there’s also a dearth of seals and religious iconography, so the rulers were probably less sacred and controlled a smaller economy, which matches the palace being the smallest.

    • Deiseach says:

      The pottery evidence indicates that the Bay area was incorporated into Mycenaean civilization

      I laughed at this more than I should since plainly the Bay Area is not the one meant 🙂

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Do not tempt me, lady. I see LBA Volos with bearded douchebags competing for unskilled labor jobs, well-paid wizards who can’t afford to rent a room, a school that teaches that Zeus is the enemy and society should be overthrown to restore primitive communism, and black people in Zeus’s sacred district of Oakland.

        • Deiseach says:

          Zeus’s sacred district of Oakland

          Oh, bravo! 🙂 (Though the black people dwelling there are surely the people of Memnon, dear to Eos?)

  21. Thegnskald says:

    Thought: Time is a probability-like dimension. Entropy can be treated as a measurement of improbability, more or less. (It can be modeled as specific information about our universe). We are moving from a state of high probability to an ever-lower state of probability.

    • rahien.din says:

      We are moving from a state of high probability to an ever-lower state of probability.

      Did you mean “We are moving from a state of high improbability to an ever-lower state of improbability“?

      • Dan L says:

        That caught my eye, too. I’m not 100% behind any particular interpretation of thermodynamics, but the statistical approach pretty strongly makes the case that the Second Law is a steady advance to the most probable macrostate. I suppose that one could make a case like “an increase in entropy is a decrease in the likelihood of any given microstate for a particular observed macrostate”, but that starts to get a little tautological.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Depends on what you are measuring, basically.

        I am going by the information description of entropy, which means we are moving into an ever-more specific, and hence less probable, region of information-space.

        (Assuming that information is more than a metaphor, I wonder if compression algorithms would work on entropy?)

        • Dan L says:

          I am going by the information description of entropy, which means we are moving into an ever-more specific, and hence less probable, region of information-space.

          It’s unclear what you mean here – there are several obsolete definitions of entropy still floating around out there. It looks like you’re referring to something like my point in the comment above, but that’s more of a (imo less interesting) corollary to the statistical derivation of the Second Law.

          (Assuming that information is more than a metaphor, I wonder if compression algorithms would work on entropy?)

          Physical information is as much of a thing as “energy” is, pick your preferred ontology from there. But yes, entropy is compressible… sort-of. Few compression algorithms will be valid at more than a single instant; it follows that a good schema that functions in the temporal dimension as well is really just a new model of thermodynamics – this is more or less the motivation behind the quantum statistical approach. Swap out the physics for pure math, and you quickly end up with Kolmogorov Complexity.

        • dick says:

          I wonder if compression algorithms would work on entropy?

          What does this mean? Entropy is a measurement of a system, like temperature, so I don’t know what it would mean to compress it.

          Are you talking about compressing information about the state of a system? That is possible in inverse proportion to the entropy of the system. The more ordered (less entropy) the system’s state is, the easier it is to describe, and hence the less bits you can use to describe it, which is equivalent to saying the less information it contains.

          If that’s hard to visualize, compare a GIF of a Mondrian (low entropy) to a GIF of random pixels (maximal entropy). The fact that you can use shortcuts to describe the Mondrian (like, “Pixels (0,0) through (400,400) are all red”, instead of describing each pixel separately) is both literally the reason why the Mondrian GIF will compress better, and figuratively the reason why the Mondrian is in a state of lower entropy. Perfectly random data is incompressible, which is equivalent to saying that there are no shortcuts to describing it, and has maximal entropy,.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Entropy isn’t disorder – that is a good shorthand for entropy in some systems (particularly when examining gaseous systems), but it is trivial to design a physics such that the maximum entropy state is also the maximumally ordered state.

    • dick says:

      What does this mean? It is evocative in the sense of poetry or something that would make me say “Whoah” if I were stoned in a dorm room full of lava lamps, but in a more literal sense what does it mean for a dimension to be probability-like?

    • Paul Torek says:

      I think that’s the conventional wisdom among physicists about the “direction” of time – the future is definable as the direction in which entropy increases. Turn the Second Law on its head, and you get a more philosophically informative (IMO) statement: dt/dS > 0. In some cosmological models, such as Sean Carroll’s in From Eternity to Here, there is a time in our past when the (ancestor) universe was at its lowest entropy. On the other side of that region, entropy would be higher and time would “flow” in the opposite direction for any inhabitants of (daughter) universe(s) still-further in our past. If that sounds strange, well, it sounded strange to me when I was 5 that Australians would point (what I would call) down and call that “up”.

      If there is a spacetime region in which the arrow of time flips over, is that called Arrow Dynamics?

      • Thegnskald says:

        Entropy can’t flow in the opposite direction in any meaningful sense; it is a measurement of how many irreversible changes have taken place, and that looks the same regardless of which direction time is flowing.

        • Paul Torek says:

          Entropy could have a minimum in one spacetime region, such that times a little distant in both directions from there have a higher entropy. But you’re right to say this isn’t (best described as) entropy flowing in the opposite direction. It’s best described as time flowing in the opposite direction (to whatever extent we want to keep the metaphor of “time flowing”).

  22. Well... says:

    Bean, you still haven’t explained why the XB-70 is more beautiful than the SR-71. Because it isn’t, that’s why!

    • Well... says:

      The only remaining question…between the YF-12/A-12, the SR-71A, and the SR-71B, which is the sexiest?

      (Hint: it’s the SR-71A.)

    • bean says:

      Because it’s the more radical airplane. I admit that it’s a bit strange, but it’s just amazing. It’s four times the size of the SR-71, and it doesn’t drip fuel while sitting on the tarmac.

      • Deiseach says:

        it doesn’t drip fuel while sitting on the tarmac

        Now that’s just chicken, bean! What objections have you reasonably got against a giant vehicle of fiery doom? Chariots of Fire! 😀

    • johnstewart says:

      I have been lurking for months and enjoying the excellent articles and unique forum of debate here at SSC.

      I finally had to create an account to agree with you, Well…. the SR-71 is a far more beautiful object than the XB-70, leaking fuel be damned.

  23. albatross11 says:

    Atlantic first-person article about transracial adoption, with one interesting (depressing) part being that the adoptive parents get attacked by both far-left (cultural genocide!) and far-right (betraying the white race!). Though it sounds like these days, the attacks are mostly from the far-right, and that the far-left types at least didn’t wish their adoptive daughter any ill. (They also mentioned a book attacking international adoptions by evangelical Christians on ideological grounds, which sounded like pure “I can stand anything but the outgroup” stuff.)

    I’m not surprised by the incredible nastiness of some online comments they’ve gotten–for a certain fraction of people, more-or-less anonymous online communications turn them into genuinely awful human beings. (Or perhaps make it costless to behave like the awful human beings they are–I don’t know how you’d distinguish those two.) But I was quite surprised that they got a fair number of rude in-person comments, as well. I would have expected that a desire not to look like an asshole in public would have prevented most of those.

    • outis says:

      Eh, I think he has it backwards. It’s not like people “found him online” because he has a black child, it’s that he was being a journalist online, and people used whatever they could find about his personal life to taunt him. Which under ordinary circumstances would be considered rude; but journalists will gleefully dig out a random prole’s old racist tweet and use it to destroy their livelihood, so their own internet stuff is fair game; or so the argument goes, from what I’ve heard.

    • S_J says:

      Wow…The religiously-conservative church I grew up in had no animus against transracial adoption. There was one family which had white parents, more than one biological child of the white parents, and several Black children adopted. Another family served as a foster-care family, in a scenario which had lots of other-race children come into their home.

      Admittedly, this was a mostly-white church that deliberately tried to cross the racial divide in the region. And there was some friction inside the church over that. (At least one interracial marriage happened among my generation: the kids who grew up in that church. I think this was the big sticking point among ~10% of the parents, but those problems never rose to the point of open rebellion against the church leadership.)

      My understanding of both adoption and foster-care was that both the adoption agencies and the State agency that put children in foster-care really liked Black children to grow up around other Black children. Thus, all the families who did that told stories about home visits in which some investigator wanted to see Black, or mixed-race, neighborhoods.

      (Another story: I’m white…but I have an Uncle and two cousins who are Black. Somehow, I didn’t realize that they were of a different race until I was a teenager. They were part of the extended family, and I never felt any racial tension when we were at family events together.

      To give a sense of the timeline: Said Uncle married a my Aunt, less than 10 years after Sydney Poitier starred in a movie about interracial marriage. That Uncle said he got a few funny looks in public when he and his wife were taking any of their White nephews around. He also got some tension from older members of the extended White family. But that tension had faded by the time I was part of the family. Probably because my Uncle had most of the social habits of middle-class life, and is an easy person to get along with.

      The cousins don’t often get called ugly names. One of them is an officer in a small-town police force. Every once in a while, he will cross paths with a perpetrator who will use every vulgar, foul epithet in the language against him…including a vile racial slur that begins with the letter “N”. But that’s pretty much the only time he hears that kind of language.

      I guess my Uncle and cousins interact with a better section of America than the author of that article did.)

      • Jaskologist says:

        I guess my Uncle and cousins interact with a better section of America than the author of that article did.

        The author interacts with the internet.

      • Randy M says:

        Wow…The religiously-conservative church I grew up in had no animus against transracial adoption.

        I don’t think French mentions any religiously-conservative hate directed at him; more of the secular alt-right sort, I expect.

  24. proyas says:

    Would a UBI fail because it would raise inflation, destroying the value of the UBI?

    I recently read this argument on a blog, and wonder if any of you guys think it has merit: https://livingstingy.blogspot.com/2018/08/alaska-living-experiment-in-guaranteed.html

    And yes, I know the blog is not in any way scientific and is riddled with curse words, but please humor me.

    • Jiro says:

      By this reasoning, providing people with ways to get money for college would drive up the price of college until it eats up all the money.

      • liate says:

        TBF, one could argue it kind of is, if only by slight hyperbole; if nothing else, cost disease is basically this, if not necessarily to literally all the money.

        To give an actual response to the top-level comment, the argument I’ve seen is that as long as you don’t just print money, it probably mostly wouldn’t?

    • Guy in TN says:

      Sellers are in competition with each other, so they can’t just set prices to whatever they like. Imagine walking into your standard lunch restaurant, and telling the cashier than you just got a 5% raise. They respond with “okay, then your food will cost 5% more”. Competitor restaurants will have an incentive to say “Hey pal, we’re going to offer you only a 1% increase in lunch prices instead”, and so on.

      In other words, there’s no economic law that says inflation must necessarily cancel out all increases in income.

      The blogposter shows he is stretching too far when he brings up Silicon Valley:

      You throw money at people (in the form of high salaries for tech jobs) and prices of everything rises as a result. People can afford to pay more, so prices rise accordingly.

      Okay yes, prices rise, but they don’t necessarily rise to the point that people in Silicon Valley would be equally as well-off as working on a pig farm in Oklahoma. Like, its actually possible for people to become better off, even after factoring in inflation.

      Also:

      And that is exactly what is happening in Alaska. You can’t buy basic grocery items in this State at all. For some reason, Swiss cheese is almost impossible to find here.[…]So why wouldn’t Alaskans import cows and make their own cheese?

      Has the blogger never considered that the reason why people don’t have dairy farms in Alaska, is that its a barren, arctic, mountainous wasteland? Seriously, this is like complaining about the price of water parks in the Sahara.

      • Deiseach says:

        Has the blogger never considered that the reason why people don’t have dairy farms in Alaska, is that its a barren, arctic, mountainous wasteland?

        Darn it, you made me look up “dairy farming in Alaska” and the ostensible reason is a labour shortage, seemingly Alaska used to have a thriving dairy farming sector in the old days:

        Although dairy farming has a rich history in Alaska, hailing back to at least 1867, there are less than a handful of commercial operations existing today.

        In that light, it seems incredible that in 1959 the state boasted 525 farms and milk accounted for 49 percent of agricultural products.

        So I imagine “can’t get Swiss cheese” is more to do with “it’s a huge, enormous, large, barren mountainous Arctic wasteland, the transportation infrastructure just isn’t in place to get the cheese from Down There to Up Here and even when it does, the costs involved mean that the price of the cheese is too high for ordinary people to buy; ditto for the parts and other materials needed to run the farms because everything Takes Longer and Costs More so places go under easily“:

        Lintleman said they’ll try again to find good workers to operate the dairy. She said that’s been getting harder in recent years, mainly because they must compete against Delta’s biggest employer: Fort Greely and its missile-defense base contractors.

        “Everybody thinks that they need to be getting wages like they do out at the military base,” Lois said, “And a farmer can’t pay $25, $30 to $40 an hour. We’ve advertised Outside, and we even sent a fellow a plane ticket. And he never came.”

        It’s hard to get agricultural employees even in Ireland; there’s a lot of Eastern European workers employed by agricultural contractors to be herdsmen and so on for exactly this reason – hard work and low pay and better jobs elsewhere.

        • FLWAB says:

          I live in Alaska and I can attest: we have Swiss cheese up here! My local Fred Meyer has a whole fancy cheese section, you can get all the kinds of cheeses you can find down south.

          I remember when I first moved up here, my mom called and asked me if they had strawberries up here. I work down the street from an IHOP, yes we have strawberries. We have everything you have down there….as long as you’re in a city or town with a population over 2,000. Out in the bush things are a bit different.

          Of course most of our food (that isn’t seafood) is imported. But that’s because of simple economics: no matter how hard you try you can’t grow wheat up here for as low a cost as they can do it in Iowa, even with the cost of shipping added. Ditto for milk, eggs, and cheese. If shipping broke down, we’d do it on our own and it would cost more, but as long as the container ships keep coming it’s just not worth it to make it ourselves. Alaska has a suprisingly large amount of arable land: you can even farm on permafrost with the right techniques. It’s just not cost effective do do it at scale.

          • lazydragonboy says:

            Side question: wouldn’t farming on permafrost be environmentally damaging? I seem to remember permafrost is ecologically important and stuff.

          • FLWAB says:

            Probably? I mean, farming anywhere is environmentally damaging if you want to preserve the environment before the farm was there. Much of the great plains is now large squares of corn and wheat, I’m sure that would be bad for the buffalo if they were still around.

            I think the main concern with permafrost is that it is a massive carbon sink, and if it warms up something bad might happen (source: something I read once and half remember). As far as I understand it the permafrost farming technique follows a three step process: plow up a patch of permafrost, let the top layer thaw out over a couple of years, and then plow it up again while adding soil and fertilizer (typically fish slurry). Of course permafrost is very deep: the question is, does farming on top of it cause the lower layers to thaw? If so, how deep does this thawing action go? It’s definitely an unknown: the only guy who does it has only a few acres, nothing compared to a modern commercial farming operation. On the other hand there is a TON of permafrost. It would take quite a while to put farms on top of all of it, and I’m not sure if the permafrost above the arctic circle is a good candidate for farming in any case, so we would still have that tundra.

        • Guy in TN says:

          Ayy, I should have known better before just guessing. I always forget how environmentally diverse the state is.

    • raj says:

      Of course it would cause inflation, but if the argument is “ubi would leave buying power of recipients unchanged” then no, it wouldn’t.

      It’s just another redistributive tax, which has some deadweight loss. But the same can be said of all regulation and taxation, where in an economic sense it is necessarily inefficient, but it can still be a positive policy because it improves some other metric we care about (equality, QOL of the poor).

    • Eric Rall says:

      The difference between Alaska’s permanent fund and a national UBI is that Alaska doesn’t control its own currency. Inflation is driven by a mismatch between monetary policy and the economy (to oversimplify, printing money more quickly than the real economy is growing). A UBI could plausibly shrink (or slow the growth of) the real economy: by enabling people to leave the labor force, by shifting spending from investment to consumption, or by the deadweight loss of the financing mechanisms. A UBI or UBI-like program at a state level (especially a state that’s only loosely connected to the rest of the country) could hurt the economy within the state, but the Federal Reserve looks at the whole country when adjusting the money supply. But a national UBI would affect the whole country, so the Fed should be able compensate (at least on average throughout the country).

      I doubt this is what’s going on with Alaska, though. The APF is very modest as a UBI (so it shouldn’t have much effect on the labor force), and it’s funded by oil drilling royalties (pretty close to a Georgist land tax, which should have little or no deadweight loss). It seems more likely to me that prices are higher in Alaska simply because Alaska fairly remote and has a small, widely-scattered population. The former makes stuff more expensive to ship in from the rest of the country, and the latter makes local production more expensive (less opportunity for specialization and economies of scale). Compare Hawaii, which is also remote, has a small and scattered population, and tends to have higher prices than the mainland, but doesn’t have anything like the APF.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        The APF is funded by all extraction taxes in Alaska. Not just oil. Lumbering and mining also pay into it.

        I met quite a few people in Alaska for whom the annual dividend was their *only* source of cash money.

        The lived in hand-built houses, farmed up and preserved 3 crops per season out of their garden during the amazing summer growing season, hunted and fished and trapped on a subsistence license.
        That license cost USD0.25 when I lived there, and granted the right to hunt and fish and trap over a much wider range over a much wider season, with the requirement that everything you harvest, you, your family, or your guests have to eat, and must never be sold.

        They were universally the happiest people I’ve ever met.

        Some of the very best and most thoughtful (and usually very slow) conversations I’ve had were with the people living that life.

        I have to confess, I got really tempted. I’m still tempted.

        • Randy M says:

          I have to confess, I got really tempted. I’m still tempted.

          I understand the sentiment. However, it sounds like it is still a great deal of work to survive in that lifestyle, so I don’t know if it is necessarily analogous to a UBI of the sort debated here, which is likely to leave many people subsisting entirely on handouts without a purpose or rhythm to their lives.
          It sounds more akin to the Homestead act than welfare.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            That’s actually one of the things I really do like about the APF dividend as UBI.

            If you are lazy and unwise, trying to live that way will get you killed.

            But for someone who is able to keep a planning horizon of over a year (winter is always coming) and has the spoons to keep to a daily physical work schedule without a boss on your ass, one can live a decently comfortable and apparently very satisfying life, with no corporate rat-race or idiotic cultural bullshit.

            If for those who want a UBI so that they can have the option of living a life of living pre-prepared food, living in a house that someone else build, enjoying a ration of cannibus and xanax, and while working hard on playing videogames, in some cool city full of cultural social opportunities, no. They can starve.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m going to guess that this is an amazingly satsifying life if you are a healthy young to middle-age man of at least average skill and diligence, and/or you can absolutely trust that your family will be there for you when you need them, otherwise not so much. The question is, to what extent can the latter condition still be reasonably assured anywhere in the contemporary United States?

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I don’t understand why people keep raising this objection. Does literally nobody understand what causes downward pressure on prices?

      It would only raise the prices of things which are supply-constrained. If I sell sandwiches, and currently sandwiches cost $10 per sandwich, if everyone can now afford $20 sandwiches, and I try to raise my prices to $20 per sandwich, then my competitor can undercut me by selling $15 sandwiches, etc., until we’re back down to $10 per sandwich.

      Housing prices might rise if we gave out UBI. Sandwich prices wouldn’t.

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        But aren’t those things (housing, healthcare, education) the things that are gobbling up increasing shares of income already?

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          Yhea, but that is not an argument against UBI – It is an argument against, in order: current zoning laws, the restricted supply of medical schools/ private health insurance, and education as a veblen good.

          Currently those three things are sucking up most of *all* rises in general wealth, regardless of source. That means fixing those three things is a top priority, not that we should not attempt to increase general wealth.

    • dick says:

      Would a UBI fail because it would raise inflation, destroying the value of the UBI?

      Inflation is caused by an increase in the money supply relative to GDP and has nothing to do with UBI (unless you’re making an indirect argument like, “I assume that any UBI would be so expensive that we’d have to drastically increase the money supply” kind of argument, or “I assume that any UBI would decrease productivity so much that GDP would drop”, or something else, in which case you should probably say so explicitly).

      As for the article, it seems pretty bad. I would be at least open to something of the form, “I think the reason consumer prices are higher in Alaska is because of the UBI-like permanent fund and not just because of shipping costs – let’s test that by comparing the prices of things that could be produced here to things that can’t be” but he doesn’t make any attempt to support his thesis, and didn’t even mention Alaska being remote (at least not before where I stopped reading, “Leftists argue that if crack whores were given $10,000 a year in guaranteed annual income, they would stop being prostitutes and apply to Harvard”).

    • Ketil says:

      Not if it the cost is offset by cuts/tax increases elsewhere?

  25. lazydragonboy says:

    Why do colleges preferentially admit students who excel at unprofitable sports?

    Background: A few months ago I taught a high-jumper who had been told by Harvard that he would be admitted if he scored a 1300 on the SAT. This astonished me because I didn’t see why Harvard would want a champion high jumper so badly that they would lower their admissions standards so much. Later, I taught a soccer player who told me she could have gone to Harvard, but she chose Bucknell primarily because Harvard was already had upperclassment playing defense so she would have been a benchwarmer—and secondarily because Harvard didn’t offer her money. I have heard some explanations for why colleges alter their admissions policies in favor of athletes, but none have fully satisfied me.

    These include 1) Title IX require schools to spend equally on male and female athletics, and school’s rain down so much money on men’s basketball and men’s football, that they have to invest heavily in unprofitable women’s sports to balance things out.

    This is a very satisfying explanation, but it only explains part of the phenomena: it explains why my soccer playing student might get preferred admission and scholarships, but it doesn’t explain why my high jumping student might get into Harvard with a 1300. In addition to not explaining why students who excel at unprofitable men’s sports would receive preferred admission, this explanation does not explain why colleges that do not have profitable men’s sports teams would give preferred admission to female athletes (I am assuming that this happens).

    2)Schools treat sports as loss leaders, paying for the athletic programs because of the tuition dollars name recognition brings in.

    This doesn’t make sense to me because colleges are recruiting for unprofitable sports that also don’t have big followings, like high jumping. I basically can see two ways that having a good athletic program can drive applications: people wanting to go to the school because they have heard of their teams, and people wanting to go to the school because they want to play for one of their teams. High jumping doesn’t really fulfill the first criteria. I expect some people to know which school has the best high jumper, but I don’t expect this to have a big enough impact to be worth diminishing admissions standards in order to secure a good high jumper. Meanwhile, if having a good high jumping team because you want to attract high jumpers seems like a losing proposition if you are paying money and reducing admissions standards to attract good high jumpers.

    3) Schools are just competitive, and having good sports teams is a way they can compete.

    While I might object to this argument on the grounds that it is dumb, in some sense this makes the most sense. Emotionally, I can see how competing in a few high profile sports would snowball into competing in every sport, and elite schools certainly have money to burn. Indeed, I tacked on to this argument I have read that the present situation makes total sense because the grouping of schools we call the ivy league originates from athletic competition anyway. Nonetheless, preferred admission for talented athletes extends far beyond wealthy elite universities, so I am surprised everyone would be investing in athletic teams if they are prestige projects.

    4) Schools invest in athletics programs because having a successful athletics program helps them secure donations from alums and politicians.

    Once again, this explanation has some traction but I don’t feel that it explains the sum of the phenomena: I can see how alums might prefer to donate to a school that succeeds in a high profile sport; I have read evidence that politicians will allocate funds to a school that succeeds in a high profile sport; and I can conceive how alums who played an obscure sport might donate more if their team is doing well; but I don’t see how investing in low profile sports would lead to more donations, unless alums who played that sport are particularly more capable and inclined to make large donations.

    • johan_larson says:

      Hypothesis: High achievement in sport is a good but not infallible sign of who will be successful later in life. Elite colleges are basically trying to maximize their prestige, and they get prestige by having successful alumni. Running a 4-minute mile, say, is as good a sign of who will go on to be a big wheel as a perfect SAT score. The colleges understand this, and therefore don’t just admit juku nerds. They admit some of the top jocks too, provided they are not so stupid or unprepared they can’t handle the academics.

      • jgr314 says:

        To build on this, universities are also interested in maximizing their (risk-adjusted) long-term financial prospects. Having a student population comprised of hard-working and competitive folks with diverse abilities and interests seems like a reasonable strategy to generate a pool of alumni that are wealthy in most future states of the world.

      • Matt M says:

        Indeed. Haven’t there been studies done indicating that both admissions in general, as well as the average SAT scores of applying students, tend to go up for a particular school the year following a football/basketball championship.

        And that’s putting aside the massive cash flow generated by such programs, which can (in theory at least) be re-distributed to academic interests.

      • lazydragonboy says:

        @Matt M
        Yeah, but that doesn’t really fit the category. A lot of medium to small schools are giving preferred admission to athletes too. I would be interested in any studies of the long term financial performance of athletes though. That could make sense as an explanation.

        • Matt M says:

          Obviously a championship team is an outlier, but can we not assume/infer a relationship wherein, all else equal, superior athletic performance will tend to attract more and better applicants?

    • baconbits9 says:

      What Johan_Larson says probably covers a good chunk of it, star athletes probably preform better than their grades and test scores would indicate. A high jump champion who gets the Harvard boost is probably going to do a lot better than your typical 1300 SAT earner.

      They also aren’t lowering their standards that much as they probably aren’t admitting more than a handful of people each year under such cases, the dip in quality isn’t noticeable academically, but the boost in athletic performance is.

      • lazydragonboy says:

        They also aren’t lowering their standards that much as they probably aren’t admitting more than a handful of people each year under such cases, the dip in quality isn’t noticeable academically, but the boost in athletic performance is.

        Actually, athletics apparently outstrips legacy for how many spots are reserved. A lot of that is football teams, but soccer teams and lacrosse teams recruit too–and team rosters for those sports are big-ish even if they aren’t as big as football.

    • proyas says:

      I think there’s something fundamentally crazy about one of the best institutions of learning in the world being interested in a student because he can jump high in the air.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Because being sufficiently good at jumping high in the air takes a lot of hard work and practice no matter how talented you are.

        Whereas the scores to get into Harvard are achievable with almost no effort for some small percentage of the population.

        They aren’t prioritizing test-taking ability, they are prioritizing students who will take advantage of the opportunities they have to offer.

        • lazydragonboy says:

          I guess the thing is that I perceive college as primarily an academic task, and I don’t necessarily think that athletics is predictive of academic accomplishment. This kid was academically good, but not Harvard good. Then again, he did have to work crazy hard at high-jumping so maybe if he had more time he would perform better. Still, 1300 down from the mean of 1550 is a big adjustment. As for the 1550 being achievable with almost no effort, I think that is a very small percentage of the population. Sharing the score with that small percentage I would expect there to be a larger percentage of students who put in ~100-200 hours of labor into getting good at the test in order to get that score. My data may be biased though since I work for a tutoring company.

          • Matt M says:

            Another theory: All of these schools want to promote the idea that they embrace “diversity” and have a “holistic” admissions process wherein they don’t simply admit people with the best test scores.

            As such, they are highly motivated to find a few students to admit with very low test scores, to give this narrative some credibility.

            If you’re going to admit any low-test-scoring students at all, well, they might as well be athletes, legacy admissions, or students who can otherwise make it worth the school’s while to admit them, despite their low test scores.

            This allows the school to advertise “You don’t need to have a 1550 to get into Harvard, we’ve let in students with scores as low as 1300” to encourage applications (and the accompanying application fees of course), while they innocently leave out the whole part about all of those admits going to athletes and legacies.

            In other words, these schools need token low-scorers, and athletes/legacies are the perfect way for them to still get something valuable in return for it.

    • rlms says:

      5) Harvard expect your high-jumper to score over 1300 but gave him a low offer to entice him to pick them.

      6) High-jumpers can be easily retrained to play basketball.

      • lazydragonboy says:

        5) Harvard expects your high-jumper to score over 1300 but gave him a low offer to entice him to pick them.

        This doesn’t make sense to me. If they expected this, then they are far off the mark because 1300 is a stretch score for him. More generally, I think elite universities deal with a lot of athletes who find the curriculum challenging, because I have heard of intensive programs to keep their grades up during their tenure. Granted, a lot of this is simply because being an athlete takes up a massive amount of time.
        To give a sense of how much lower 1300 is than a typical admitted student’s score, the average admitted Harvard student scores a 1540, and bear in mind that that average includes a lot of hooked applicants whom we would expect to have at least a somewhat lower score than average.

        6) High-jumpers can be easily retrained to play basketball.

        I don’t think this is true. He put in over four years into his high jumping to get where he is; when Harvard wants a basketball player, they find someone who has already put years into being good at basketball.

        • rlms says:

          You’re quite probably right, I don’t know much about either this high-jumper, high-jumping in general, or basketball.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Remember, our institutions of high learning did not grow up de novo, unsullied by anything other than the purpose of academic pursuit. Modern colleges and universities are rooted in the idea of an education in the liberal arts.

      The liberal arts are those subjects or skills that in classical antiquity were considered essential for a free person (liberalis, “worthy of a free person”) to know in order to take an active part in civic life, something that (for ancient Greece) included participating in public debate, defending oneself in court, serving on juries, and most importantly, military service.

      Engaging in physical activity and sporting competition as part of the pursuit of education flows from this, I believe.

      • gbdub says:

        “Engaging in physical activity and sporting competition as part of the pursuit of education flows from this, I believe.”

        That’s a good reason to have sports, but it still doesn’t explain why you’d substantially lower your academic standards to get “the best” high jumper. If anything, it seems like it would be more valuable to make your nerds high jump to round out their education. The value is in training and competing, not necessarily winning medals for Harvard.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          No. It explains why sports and college go hand in hand. Once you have them hand in hand, wanting to win is just normal human ape behavior.

      • proyas says:

        Engaging in physical activity and sporting competition as part of the pursuit of education flows from this, I believe.
        Jumping up in the air over and over (something that the prospective student already learned to do very well in high school) will somehow intersect with or benefit his studies at Harvard? What is the connection? Instead of being synergistic, won’t the activities compete with each other for his personal time?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Instead of being synergistic, won’t the activities compete with each other for his personal time?

          The complete citizen was good at everything. That was the point. They were creating warrior-citizens who could out-think and outfight you.

          But again, we are talking antiquity, not current day.

        • Deiseach says:

          What is the connection?

          Remember, you’re dealing with a lot of traditional hold-overs. The idea of mens sana in corpore sano, the ideal of the well-rounded individual – neither a weedy specky swot or a brainless jock – the “battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton” (mis)attributed to Wellington, sports make you manly, team sports produce leaders and teach you to be a good loser, conduce to moral as well as physical health and so on.

          The influence of the 19th century movement Muscular Christianity, where a proponent of this was also a highly influential educational reformer and principal of a major public school, so the emphasis on school sports carried over to university, must also be taken into account (and remember, Harvard started off as a divinity school). Though the emphasis then moved, over time, from the “Christianity” to the “muscular” part, as success in sports was seen as a gentlemanly accomplishment (though not for pay, the distinction between “Gentlemen” and “Players” was highly important). From a Raffles story of 1899, where the father makes the son stay on at school until he finally gets into the First Eleven (the leading cricket team):

          “Young Crowley,” said some voice further back. “Last year’s Harrow Eleven.”

          “I remember him. Worst man in the team.”

          “Keen cricketer, however. Stopped till he was twenty to get his colours. Governor made him. Keen breed. Oh, pretty, sir! Very pretty!”

      • johan_larson says:

        …, and most importantly, military service.

        I wonder how much having completed a term of military service counts for these days when applying to a place like Harvard. I would guess not much in itself, though service in a famous unit like the SEALs or bringing home a big shiny like a Silver Star might get some attention. Perhaps shooting-war veteran status would rate.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Historical, not present day.

          But being a vet probably helps you, all else being equal. Decorated in various ways helps, too.

    • Deiseach says:

      but it doesn’t explain why my high jumping student might get into Harvard with a 1300

      If your high jumper is really, really good they might get picked for the Olympics, and if they’re really, really, really good they could win a medal, even gold – and having a gold medal Olympian as one of your former students adds lustre to the radiant reputation of Harvard 🙂

      • gbdub says:

        Yeah, that’s probably the major goal for Harvard. Having Olympians in your student body is always a big feather in the cap.

      • lazydragonboy says:

        Huh. That actually makes some sense. He told me about a classmate who had been accepted by Harvard, but decided not to go to college and just pursue an athletic career instead. He was apparently Olympic level and could be expected to compete for the US Olympics within four years. If he had chosen to go to Harvard, there’s a decent chance Harvard would have had an Olympian. That being said, this particular student was not at that level. He was just really good rather than really, really good.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I don’t think that just making offers to Olympic level (or potential) athletes works though, as they are rare enough that your programs would be rather pathetic for many years in terms of results and then you would have to sell the potential Olympian on your coaches and training staff with no results to back them up.

      • littskad says:

        I once interviewed for a position at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa. They had one very large room in one of their buildings entirely filled with Bruce Jenner memorabilia which they proudly showed off during the campus tour. This was before, well, you know; I don’t know the current status of that room, but I wonder.

    • massivefocusedinaction says:

      Schulman and Bowen studied athletics at 30 selective schools over a couple of decades, I’d see if you can track down a copy of their book: The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values.

      • lazydragonboy says:

        So…basically they wrote a book that answers this question? That sounds interesting. I may check it out.

    • Rob K says:

      Huh, as it happens I walked on to an ivy league varsity sports team and have a bit of insight about this; it was a pretty open subject of conversation, although what I’m saying is athlete chatter based on coach gossip and so probably not fully accurate. Basically each team had a “budget” of people it could get in with scores that otherwise might not pass muster, which seemed to vary according to how many athletes the team needed, how big of a deal the sport was for the school (sports where we were a contender had more pull, as I’m guessing did the traditional prestige sports), and how much the sport was a fancy prep school thing to the point that you could get top athletes without really compromising on scores.

      There was some sort of “average SAT score of recruits” metric that athletes gossiped about, and which at least seemed to be accurate. The sport that was the lowest among the mens team was a national title contender and only needed like 6 people a year; I believe lightweight crew was the highest.

      My assumption is that this was rich alumni-driven to a large extent, mediated through an athletic department that was interested in having top teams in whatever sports it could, not just the ones the alumni cared most about. The alumni definitely cared, though.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Remember that Harvard and the other Ivies haven’t always been the best universities in the world. They cared a lot more about sports back when they were less meritocratic and were also not as good universities.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I have always regarded the unprofitable sports as a kind of niche interest among certain interest groups at the university.

      Also, its important to note how much of it is just institutional inertia. Most athletic departments started out as a few clubs that were cheap/free for the school to support. They give some boys a bus and an interested professor “coaches” as they travel from Cambridge to Boston to Providence and they scrum with a club at another school. Like many things in Universities the current form is just a more institutionalized, professionalized, and expensive version of that. So in the 50s your whole athletic department probably had more sports and cost less (in inflation adjusted dollars) by a significant percentage.

      Now they have expensive legacy programs so they need to justify their existence, and the only way to do that is to win, and to win the high jump you probably are going to have to lower your standards.

    • lazydragonboy says:

      Side point: this doesn’t just happen at elite colleges. I went to a small liberal arts school that had recently qualified for DIII, and my junior year a former DI basketball player was admitted, allegedly with a full ride. I was actually close friends with some of his close friends and they told me he had been expelled following a sexual assault accusation (He told me the same thing, though he cast more doubt on the accusation’s legitimacy). He had a penchant for sharing around alcohol and xanax, and he had sex with one of my housemates which she apparently didn’t remember, so I can see where those accusations would have come from.

    • Jesse E says:

      Posts are like this are why I’m always surprised when people get all out of sorts about affirmative action.

      The truth is, it’s far more likely that Kid A didn’t get into Selective College B because the track team found a good cross country runner, they were low on their level of out-of-state kids, an alumni had a kid hit 18, a white kid with a single Mom who’d be the first one to go to college wrote a killer essay, or an international support offered to pay full freight, all with lower SAT scores than Kid A did, than a poor black kid from Chicago snuck in with his less than ideal GPA and SAT.

      The other truth is, all these things make colleges much better places to learn that if we only went only by “here are top scores 1 – 450. Send out the acceptance letters.”

      • johan_larson says:

        I do get the impression from the articles that have been written about the current Harvard lawsuit that the really big departure from merit-based admissions is the legacy students.

        • quanta413 says:

          The lawsuit shows rather immense differences in the racial composition that Harvard decides on compared to what you’d get from a race-blind policy.

          The whole suit is about discrimination against Asians. It’s pretty obvious at the college level that affirmative action or racial discrimination or whatever you’d like to call it is a significant boost for some groups and a significant penalty for others (arbitrarily choosing the plurality of whites as a baseline).

      • albatross11 says:

        Jesse E:

        Is there a good source for the numbers here? Like, how many affirmative action admissions? How many athletes? How many legacies? How many kids whose dad just endowed a new chair?

        This link shows about 29% of Harvard admissions are either black or hispanic. Those groups both have much lower average test scores than whites, and so almost certainly those students are being admitted with lower test scores than you’d need as a white kid to get in. On the other hand, 22% are Asian–they have higher test scores than whites on average, and so probably are only admitted with higher test scores than white kids need. Another source I saw said that about 29% of Harvard’s incoming students are legacy admits.

        So it looks like affirmative action and legacies are probably pretty comparable in terms of probability that they’ll bump your kid out of Harvard with worse test scores/grades/etc.

        • Jesse E says:

          There are no good numbers, because of course, we don’t actually know the SAT & GPA of each individual student that gets accepted, let alone groups like “out of state vs. in state students” or “international students who might never actually take an SAT test vs. US students” and so on and so forth.

          I mean, speaking anecdotally, as a high school senior, I was in the supposed situation (poor, white, male, good but not great SAT scores) that is supposed to be according to the Narrative, complete doom, but I got accepted to more than a few colleges above my SAT score, likely because of the fact I’d be the first kid in my immediate family to go to college and more importantly, more than a few of those colleges were out of state.

          On the other hand, despite my white maleness being supposed Doom for my future, I got accepted to every school I did apply to where the average was around my SAT score.

          The truth is, almost nobody actually sees long term harm from having to go to their fifth choice college, even if in truth, they had the scores to get into those four other colleges. Having to go to UC-David instead of UC-Berkeley isn’t the end of the world, no matter how many suburban Tiger Mom’s may be upset about it.

          • quanta413 says:

            Your anecdote is irrelevant next to the data we can look at. There’s even access to analysis of individual application decisions at Harvard. And being a white male isn’t the biggest penalty (or smallest bonus). Whites do ok in admissions. Being Asian has a significantly larger penalty. Students for Fair Admissions statistical evidence against Harvard is pretty damning, especially next to all the other evidence. That Harvard had to bury its own internal report years ago just makes the malfeasance even more obvious. The sudden amnesia a large chunk of their staff experienced on the witness stand was probably the best move they could make, but still pretty embarrassing.

            Of course, it’s not just Harvard that behaves this way, but rarely do we get so a blatantly open a look at what’s going on. The smart way to bet is that other schools that look like they’re behaving similarly from the outside (and what we can glean from what occasionally slips out about the inside) are also behaving similarly on the inside.

            EDIT: And it’s not just “Suburban Tiger Moms” whose children get the shaft. It’s bad for poor Asian kids too for whom going to Harvard may be a significant gain.

            And if it’s not a big deal for some Asian kid to go to a second tier university instead of a first tier one, why is it so important for some Black kid to go to a first tier university instead of a second tier one?

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m pretty sure nobody here is arguing that being a white male dooms you to failure, or even to not being accepted by a good college, so maybe it would be better if you didn’t beat on that strawman anymore.

            At a personal level, I agree that it’s probably not all that big a deal whether you go to Harvard or Duke or UCLA for your undergrad[1]. But if we all agree on that, then wouldn’t the same hold true for affirmative action admissions? I mean, it’s also not any great hardship for a smart black kid with very good grades to go to Duke or UCLA instead of Harvard or Stanford.

            I think a lot of people get mad about affirmative action programs because they violate a principle we have adopted in the rest of our society, which says that we shouldn’t discriminate based on race, religion, ethnicity, etc. And in fact, courts have sort of winked and nodded at affirmative action programs at top schools while not allowing overt, explicit discrimination–you can’t just say “Asians require a 1600 to get in, whites a 1500, hispanics a 1400, and blacks a 1300.” Instead, you have to come up with some kind of complicated scheme for managing to get that outcome (with more realistic numbers) without ever explicitly saying that, say, Asians will have higher admissions requirements than whites (who will have higher requirements than hispanics and blacks).

            There are also some cumulative effects of affirmative action, which may be good or bad overall. To the extent you get into a school where you’re in the bottom 10% of the class by ability and work ethic, you’re probably going to have a hard time scraping by, and you probably will be majoring in something pretty easy. The same guy who might have majored in chemical enginering at NC State may end up in sociology at Harvard. You can imagine that having a bad effect on the world overall. On the other hand, the Ivies are basically the education system for the ruling class. Since some people in power will end up being black, it’s probably good to make sure the ruling-class-educational-system is available to them, so they’re on the same page as the rest of the ruling class.

            One interesting aside: If admissions requirements are the same for everyone, then students at Stanford will notice that their black, hispanic, white, and Asian classmates are all about equal in ability. If they’re heavily skewed to get the right racial mix, then students at Stanford will notice that the Asian students are extra smart, and the black students are extra dumb (or ill prepared, or whatever). That’s an inevitable consequence of letting some groups in on lower standards than other groups. Something similar applies to athletes and legacy admissions–since they got in with fewer qualifications than others, you’d expect (assuming the qualifications reflect anything meaningful) that they would generally be at the bottom of every class, scraping by with a gentleman’s C or whatever the Ivy equivalent to that is now.

            [1] Though watching how people at the top of our society approach things suggests that they believe it matters a great deal whether you go to Harvard or Duke.

          • Matt M says:

            Something similar applies to athletes and legacy admissions–since they got in with fewer qualifications than others, you’d expect (assuming the qualifications reflect anything meaningful) that they would generally be at the bottom of every class, scraping by with a gentleman’s C or whatever the Ivy equivalent to that is now.

            Non-gendered person’s B+

            But I agree with your point. If someone were to theorize about how, due to admissions preferences, scholarship athletes are generally dumber and less qualified than other students, all respectable people would nod in obvious agreement.

            Try saying that about the black students and see how quickly you get run off campus by a violent mob.

          • lvlln says:

            I mean, speaking anecdotally, as a high school senior, I was in the supposed situation (poor, white, male, good but not great SAT scores) that is supposed to be according to the Narrative, complete doom, but I got accepted to more than a few colleges above my SAT score, likely because of the fact I’d be the first kid in my immediate family to go to college and more importantly, more than a few of those colleges were out of state.

            On the other hand, despite my white maleness being supposed Doom for my future, I got accepted to every school I did apply to where the average was around my SAT score.

            I’m not familiar with a narrative that says that every last poor white male with good but not great SAT scores is doomed to failure for his future or for his college admissions; could you point me towards it? Such a narrative would be incredibly out of touch with reality, since there are plenty of poor white males with good but not great SAT scores who do perfectly well and make it into good colleges. The narrative I’m familiar with is that, all else being equal, being white provides a disadvantage for getting into colleges, especially elite colleges; that is, a poor black male with good but not great SAT scores has a higher chance of getting into colleges than a poor white male with similar SAT scores. This obviously doesn’t imply that the poor white male with good but not great SAT scores is “doomed” by any stretch of the imagination, which is what leaves me wondering where you got this narrative.

          • Jesse E says:

            @albatross11 – You’d think, but in reality, the people upset about affirmative action are people who never had a shot to go that college in the first place and most Stanford grads are super liberal having no issue with affirmative action.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            I just disregard all complaints about affirmative action as racism unless the person making the complaint is also complaining louder and longer about legacy admissions. Because those take up far more slots, and outweigh a far greater gap in academic achievement. Its not close.

          • albatross11 says:

            Thomas Jorganson:

            I just disregard all complaints about affirmative action as racism unless the person making the complaint is also complaining louder and longer about legacy admissions.

            In exactly the same way, I just disregard all complaints about gender discrimination against women as anti-male hatred unless the person making the complaint is also complaining louder and longer about men working more dangerous jobs.

            I mean, it’s practically the national sport to infer racism in anyone who disagrees with your policy preferences, and I certainly can’t stop you. But it’s hard to see how this makes you any smarter.

            Because those take up far more slots, and outweigh a far greater gap in academic achievement. Its not close.

            The best stats I could come up with for Harvard suggested about the same number of admitted students eligible for affirmative action and legacy. (Though there is surely some overlap.) Do you have a link to some better numbers? Otherwise, it seems like it’s about the same size of group. Similarly, do you have a link to what the actual differences in, say, average SAT scores are between, say average Harvard admits and black/hispanic Harvard admits? And then the same for average Harvard admits and legacy Harvard admits? Because otherwise, I don’t see how you can assert this with such certainty.

          • Matt M says:

            One thing I’m curious about in regards to legacy admissions…

            It seems to me that this would be much more problematic at the very top, elite institutions and would become exponentially less problematic the farther down you go, whereas, affirmative action would be equally problematic all along the way.

            Consider a hypothetical policy wherein if anyone in your extended family was ever a student of a particular university, you are guaranteed admission. (I concede most policies don’t work this way, but it helps get through the thought experiment.) The practical result of this is, as soon as anyone in a particular family gets into Harvard, the rest of the family is guaranteed Harvard admission forever. But it never really goes down or goes away. You’re much more likely to see people using a legacy claim to gain admission to Harvard than to Middle Tennessee State, because everyone would use the legacy to pick the best school anyone in their family ever got into.

            Therefore, Harvard would have a ton of legacy admits relative to student body size, but Middle Tennessee State would have very few, and over time, this proportion would do nothing but continue to increase.

            Am I thinking about this right?

          • albatross11 says:

            Re: legacy vs affirmative action

            In general, we care about racial/gender/ethnic/sexual orientation discrimination where we don’t care about other kinds. So if the Masterpiece Cake Shop guy refused to bake me a cake because he and my dad had a big falling out and he’s holding a grudge against my family, I don’t think there would be a legal remedy for that[1]. You might personally think he was kind of a jerk for refusing to bake me a cake for such a reason, but he wouldn’t get hassled by the authorities for it.

            I think the same issue applies w.r.t. affirmative action vs legacy vs athletic admissions.

            And as I’ve said before, I’m actually okay with two paths forward from here w.r.t. school admissions and other private business/association:

            a. Free association for all–use whatever criteria you like for admissions, it’s nobody’s business but your own.

            b. Antidiscrimination law for all–no discrimination for or against any race/ethnicity/religion/gender/sexual orientation.

            What I don’t think makes sense is a situation where antidiscrimination laws apply only to other people, but not to me or my kids. I certainly am not going to be a supporter of such a system!

            [1] I am not a lawyer, so someone who knows more please pipe up!

          • albatross11 says:

            Matt M:

            Do most colleges even do legacy admissions? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of State U making a legacy admission decision, but maybe they do.

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t know for sure – but I don’t see why they wouldn’t.

            I went to Business School (at a very large but reasonably well respected state university) with a kid who had the same last name as was on the basketball arena (and we checked, it was not a coincidence).

            He seemed bright enough to me, but I have to imagine that there was no circumstance whatsoever in which the school was going to tell that family no…

          • lazydragonboy says:

            @albatross11

            One interesting aside: If admissions requirements are the same for everyone, then students at Stanford will notice that their black, hispanic, white, and Asian classmates are all about equal in ability. If they’re heavily skewed to get the right racial mix, then students at Stanford will notice that the Asian students are extra smart, and the black students are extra dumb (or ill prepared, or whatever). That’s an inevitable consequence of letting some groups in on lower standards than other groups. Something similar applies to athletes and legacy admissions–since they got in with fewer qualifications than others, you’d expect (assuming the qualifications reflect anything meaningful) that they would generally be at the bottom of every class, scraping by with a gentleman’s C or whatever the Ivy equivalent to that is now.

            This seems interesting and super testable.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            In general, we care about racial/gender/ethnic/sexual orientation discrimination where we don’t care about other kinds.

            What’s more, if an institution can be suspected of prejudice against blacks, no one demands (or should) that it be shown to be meritocratic in every other respect before anyone’s allowed to to be troubled about it.

          • Brad says:

            And if it’s not a big deal for some Asian kid to go to a second tier university instead of a first tier one, why is it so important for some Black kid to go to a first tier university instead of a second tier one?

            It’s not about any particular kid. Admission to a particular college isn’t a prize to be won by doing well in a contest.

            As long as you think about it that way, you are going to have many distorted downstream beliefs.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Brad

            It’s not about any particular kid. Admission to a particular college isn’t a prize to be won by doing well in a contest.

            As long as you think about it that way, you are going to have many distorted downstream beliefs.

            What you think I believe doesn’t reflect my actual beliefs, and I was responding to someone else’s ridiculous claim so what would you like to argue about?

            Hopefully it will be better than the last few times where your argument against a more uniform standard for admissions (by major say, we’re not crazy) for any school taking significant amounts of federal money (read: all of them) boiled down to “Universities say they each have special unique admissions criteria that are totally distinct from each other and well calibrated, so we should trust them on that”. All the evidence from court cases, admissions statistics, and Brown being where kids who don’t get into Harvard go notwithstanding.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Harvard is over 30% legacies, and the odds of any given legacy applicant being accepted is five times that of the average applicant.
            And legacy applicants almost certainly average worse qualifications than the general pool of applicants (because few mediocre applicants without a legacy advantage will even waste the postage. Not zero, but..) so that likely understates the multitude of sins having a parent who was a grad will cover for.
            Sure, this is not an equivalent problem at lesser schools, but it certainly is at this end of the scale. And it matters because these schools are where the future leadership of the US make their connections – and the US is not supposed to be a hereditary aristocracy.

            RE;”Student athletes” Problem is that the schools are expecting them to perform at a professional level. Which is a full time job.

            Does not really matter how bright they are going in, trying to keep up with a meaningful course load and be a high end basket-ball player at the same time just does not work – and since their continued attendance depends on their athletic performance, its the studies that suffer. For american hand egg, you can add a large number of concussions per semester on top of that, which means they will leave dumber than they arrived due to out-right brain damage.
            .. american hand-egg really has no place on a campus. Seriously, quit it with the barbarity.

          • albatross11 says:

            Brad:

            In living memory, the Ivy league schools put a lid on the number of Jewish students admitted per year. Basically, Jewish kids were taking up too many slots in the top schools by the unfair and biased tactic of being smarter and working harder than the other students[1]. Was there anything wrong with that policy? Because to my mind, that policy was pretty horrible–it was deeply unjust in how it treated individual students. But your comment would apply nicely as an answer to any objection to that policy–indeed, the whole reasoning for the Jewish quota was about wanting to shape the student body in a more desirable way, rather than having it become heavily populated with second-generation Eastern European Jewish immigrants whose parents were shopkeepers in NYC.

            [1] A tactic the Asian students have now cunningly copied.

          • albatross11 says:

            Jesse E:

            You mean like Thomas Sowell (Harvard, U Chicago)? Or Charles Murray (Harvard, MIT)? Or Stephen Hsu (Caltech, Yale, Harvard)?

            Obviously, most people with an opinion on these issues didn’t go to an Ivy League[0] college, because that’s a pretty small set of people. But there are a fair number of Ivy Leaguers who oppose affirmative action.

            And AA applies to universities all the way down the line. Harvard and Duke and UNC and NC State are all going to be applying racial preferences in their admissions[1], and someone who would rather get their kid into Duke than UNC has as much of a dog in this fight as someone who’d rather send their kid to Stanford than to Berkeley.

            [0] Caltech and MIT aren’t Ivy League, but they’re absolutely elite schools that are rightly very hard to get into.

            [1] Unless NC has made it illegal for state schools to do that–I don’t know.

          • Matt M says:

            Admission to a particular college isn’t a prize to be won by doing well in a contest.

            If it isn’t this, then what is it?

            A lottery of random chance?

          • quanta413 says:

            @Thomas Jørgensen

            Fully agreed. Legacies are a terrible system and American hand-egg should be paid for by the NFL instead of being a free minor league paid for by places that are supposedly school.

            Which is yet another reason why we should switch to a system of standardized entrance exams (like many other civilized places in Europe or Asia have had now or in the past) with explicitly adjusted passing bars or quotas for socioeconomic status if we want to engage in some sort of societal balancing. I think it’s a rather ineffective method of adjusting the socioeconomic welfare of a group if individuals don’t matter, and it’d be better to cut checks or figure out better investments in schools lower down the pipeline then make those investments. But it’s not crazy.

            EDIT: And to prevent rule by a hereditary aristocracy, we should probably ban people from running for political office if their parents, spouse, or siblings achieved political office. Some term limits would be nice too. To be really safe, maybe we should go further along the family tree and in time. Say r must be less than 1/4, or it must have been at least 50 years.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            a lottery

            There are those who assert and desire exactly that. For job applications and for housing rental as well.

            They usually dress it up in fancier words, and hide it behind processes like “the first person to meet the pre-published qualifications”. Which is random, and so is a lottery.

          • Matt M says:

            There are those who assert and desire exactly that.

            Desire is one thing, but as an assertion, this seems clearly and obviously untrue.

            We can prove, statistically, that higher SAT scores increase your chance to get admitted into Harvard (but do not increase your chance to win Powerball). So does being black. So does being good at football. Etc.

            To the extent that admissions are a lottery, that implies the jobs of the entire admissions department at every university, as well as the entire “help you get into college” industry are completely and totally frivolous and are adding zero value. BS-jobs theory aside, that would be a huge and glaring market inefficiency…

      • The Nybbler says:

        This is just a pro-slippery-slope argument in disguise. “We have all these other exceptions, why not this one?” No, each exception needs its own justification, and racial discrimination needs an extraordinary justification.

        • Jesse E says:

          That’s why I’m glad programs like affirmative action exist, to fight against the racial discrimination that looking at just SAT scores and GPA would create, so that people are judged on the content of their character, instead of how where they came from.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Where’s the racial discrimination on the SAT? How does the test discriminate against black people and for Asians?

          • You can tell the content of someone’s character by the color of his skin?

          • Matt M says:

            Oh look, there’s someone unironically making the literal “black people must, on average, just have really great personalities, while Asians must have really terrible ones” argument.

          • Jesse E says:

            Actually @Matt M, I’d be all for removing SAT scores & GPA’s from college admissions totally, so Asian college students will be able to show off their great personalities instead of the 40 after school clubs and perfect 1600/2400 SAT score they had drilled into them.

          • Matt M says:

            What makes you so confident that barring any and all objectively measurable criteria from admissions standard will help disfavored minority groups?

            Or do you agree with me that in the sense of college admissions, blacks and hispanics are actually the favored groups, while whites and asians are the disfavored ones?

        • lazydragonboy says:

          @Jesse E
          @Matt M

          Actually, I had a Chinese student make an arguement for grade inflation that was kind of like this. Basically, she argued that if grades were all inflated nobody’s parents would be able to get mad at them. It would be extremely difficult to prevent parents from pressuring their children like hell to be able to win in the college application race no matter what adjustments you make, but anything that would structurally make it harder to pressure your kid like hell into grinding a lot of their life and wellbeing into a marginal advantage in the college admission competition might help a lot of teenagers lives.

          Followup: any ideas on how this could be done?
          Sidenote: I have taught three black students who were going pushing their lives into the same marginal advantage grinder so this is definitely not exclusively an asian thing (nor an asian/jewish thing, though we do have more of those groups than we do others at the center particularly when the demographics of the Scarsdale/Ardsley/White Plains/Greenburgh are are considered.

          • Brad says:

            Wait, White Plains has those kind of schools now?

            It used to be Yonkers North …

          • quanta413 says:

            I’m not sure what you mean by “How this could be done?” It’s already occurring in some places. There’s no physical law preventing teachers from giving everyone who shows up an A.

            However, the obvious side effect of these sorts of schemes will be to reduce any signal of intelligence, persistence, or academic ability that is currently in grades. The more you narrow the distribution of grades, the less pressure from parents about grades but the less signal there is.

            At that point, why not just skip all the time and money we waste sorting people into university to supposedly learn things and just have them draw the amount of prestige and lifelong pay increase they’ll receive after four years out of a hat. We can even have people of different socioeconomic or ethnic background draw out of different hats if we want to equalize groups or increase social mobility.

            Make the richness of the reward from the hats inversely related to family wealth, and I’ll be on board. That should have the side effect of also evening out racial imbalances in wealth without doing something weird like rewarding rich black people over poor Asian people.

            People who want to learn can then do it for the joy of things, and those who want certain jobs can get not terribly prestigious technical certifications.

            Even more seriously though (I really think the hat system has serious advantages but obviously it’s impossible), it’s not that parents have some unfailing obsession with school no matter how school works. Make school grades irrelevant and pushy parents will push their children to work hard at some other task that does help those children get ahead.

    • arlie says:

      Two questions here, at least:

      – why care about sports at all?
      – why care about less popular sports?

      40 years ago, when Harvard admitted me to their undergraduate program, they cared about having a highly varied student body, partly for the sake of the experiences that would bring to their core demographic (“1000 future leaders of America”). I imagine I got some preference for being foreign for this reason.

      Some of the odd sports could be for similar reasons.

      As for the rest, a lot of educational institutions really really care about sports, especially major sports. So do a lot of people. I have no empathy for the desire to watch athletes compete, and identify with one group of them because of some extremely casual, non-personal connection. (e.g. Went to the same school, grew up in the same country, hired by team currently based in the city where you live, etc.) So I can’t say whether someone with the sports-fan attribute will care about having “their” group excel in all sports, or just a subset, even if they prefer to watch only a subset. Maybe these people actually care about the performance of all Harvard teams. (My high school certainly cared more about the performance of all their athletes, than anyone’s academic performance, judging by the recognition they gave. And AFAIK, the same is true for almost all US high schools – possibly less common in other countries. So why not colleges too?)

      It might also be about donations – capitalizing on alumni with the sports-fan attribute. But there I’d expect a lot more focus on football, which seems to be Harvard’s historically huge rivalry (vs Yale), and the one game few students missed watching – and perhaps crew (racing 8 seat rowed boats) as upper crust and similar.

  26. James Miller says:

    I was talking to an expert on malaria who has worked in Asian. He told me that a public health official confessed that they don’t actually want to eliminate malaria in his country because of all the money that fighting malaria brings in, and because in his country malaria mostly afflicts minority populations. This expert also told me that China has done a fantastic job at combating malaria in China.

    • roystgnr says:

      An Indonesian official, maybe? Nearly all of Asia has apparently been doing a decent job combating malaria:

      http://www.who.int/gho/malaria/malaria_003.jpg

      The “malaria reduced 50%-75% from 2000 to 2015” category is practically the worst case; most places beat 75%.

      “This expert also told me that China has done a fantastic job at combating malaria in China.”

      Tens of millions of cases per year in the 50s through 70s, but then nearly an order of magnitude improvement every decade thereafter? (Or even better, when you don’t count malaria cases “imported” from travelers who acquired it elsewhere) Yeah, that’s outstanding, even by comparison to everyone else’s progress.

    • Aapje says:

      expert on malaria who has worked in Asian.

      Peter Duval?

  27. Plumber says:

    ^

    “…with regards to changing culture; we’re in the middle of a culture war right now…..”

     @Aevylmar, .

    Are we really in a “culture war”?

    About what? 

    I’m absolutely serious.

    I’ve read and even used the term “culture war”, and I realize that I really don’t know what that means.

    I have never been outside of what are now called “Blue States” for even a total of one month in my whole lifetime, so I be blinkered on this, and for most of the 21st century I seldom read things “on-line” (I was only issued a “Smart phone” a couple of years ago, and it’s only recently that I’ve thought to ask questions like this), but I only have guesses.

    Different mores between rural and urban areas?
    That’s not new, novels of the 1920’s and ’30’s focused on that.

    Different regional “folkways”?
    A few years ago I read “Albion’s Seed” (that Scott Alexander did a great review of it is one of the things that inspired me to read more of his writings) which detailed long historic cultural differences between regions of the US.A., so nothing new there.

    I definitely remember a time of cultural changes that directly influenced me: the 1970’s when my and the majority of my classmates parents divorced, and that parents no longer felt social pressure stick it out “for the sake of the children” seems to me the biggest cultural change of my lifetime, but I don’t remember a “war” about it (they really should have been IMNSHO) and the things that I read about that are described as issues of a “culture war” now (who gets to use what restrooms, nonsense about pronouns) seem small ball to me.
    Much mention is made of “feminism”, but that was a change of the 1970’s!

    So what is this “culture war”, and what is being fought over?

    • rlms says:

      Some people on the internet disagree with other people on the internet.

      • Plumber says:

        “Some people on the internet disagree with other people on the internet”

        @rlms, That’s been a suspicion of mine, that this so-called “culture war’ is either just ink and pixels spilled over something of no consequence to most people (like Dungeons & Dragons “edition wars”), or it’s people play-acting arguments over the cultural changes of the 1970’s (that most internet users are too young to even remember!), not unlike people dressing in blue or grey uniforms for Civil War reenactments, a hobby which is also of no significant real world consequences for most people who don’t have the hobby. 

        Can anyone point ut some examples that show it worth it to regard “the culture war” as more worthy of notice than Renaissance Faires and the SCA?

        • Jiro says:

          If someone gets fired (or can’t get a job in the first place) because of the culture war, is that still just ink and pixels? Nobody gets fired because they made a remark in a public forum about how they hate 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons. This does happen for the culture war.

          What if he’s boycotted or sued?

          Also, politics involves real-world things such as elections and political policies. The dominance of one side of the culture war in ink and pixels leads to domination in politics, and that’s definitely full of real world consequences.

          • Plumber says:

            “If someone gets fired (or can’t get a job in the first place) because of the culture war, is that still just ink and pixels? Nobody gets fired because they made a remark in a public forum about how they hate 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons. This does happen for the culture war….”

            @Jiro

            People getting hired and fired because of cultural and political affinities is nothing new (Hell which Union you could become an apprentice of used to depend on what county in Ireland your grandparents came from, what church and school you went to, and which politicians sign was in your window have long effected what jobs you could get.

            What’s new?

            Why is it worthy of being called a “culture war”?

          • albatross11 says:

            I think “culture war” encompasses topics where a large fraction of participants are likely to be mindkilled–unable to think about the actual discussion at hand, because it’s wrapped up in bigger tribal/partisan conflicts, or questions of identity, or moral questions that encompass factual beliefs.

            Also, “culture war” typically involves stuff where there’s a large loud public group who will attack the other side without any concern for consistency or logic or justice–I want my side to win and yours to lose and that’s that.

          • Deiseach says:

            Why is it worthy of being called a “culture war”?

            Because it’s a struggle for who gets to define the culture. People get hired and fired depending on what pull they have, sure, and that won’t change – but the background culture will change from “it’s acceptable to fire Joe because he’s divorced/black/gay/trans” to “it’s acceptable to fire Joe because he’s not divorced/black/gay/trans”.

          • Ketil says:

            Research on transgender reaps the whirlwind. The only surprising thing is that some people are actually willing to research such matters.

            https://retractionwatch.com/2018/08/29/reader-outcry-prompts-brown-to-retract-press-release-on-trans-teens/

        • Guy in TN says:

          The increasing political polarization is real, though. Here is data from Pew. Things really are different than they were 20 years ago.

        • quanta413 says:

          @Plumber

          I think the whole war thing is an overblown metaphor, but I have a bone to pick with a claim you keep making

          it’s people play-acting arguments over the cultural changes of the 1970’s

          You keep saying things along these lines in thread after thread, and unless you get more specific it’s just not true. You say you’re blue collar and maybe for blue collar people there has been no shift. But it’s not true in general.

          I grew up in California in the 90s, and the biggest change is that the current cultural zeitgeist is way different on gay and trans issues. Just go look at some polls on support for gay marriage. Polls for the country have shifted tens of points in the last two decades. And it’s not due to people dying or just one group becoming more supportive of gay marriage. There’s a gradual upward trend in support for gay marriage among almost every group and subgroup.

          I’ve lived in pretty blue areas for over a decade now, and I’ve seen friends start somewhere to my right on racial issues and then slowly plod somewhere to my left. I haven’t seen the reverse. This shift hasn’t been very significant, but it’s notable next to the above changes which were huge and obvious.

          • Plumber says:

            “….Just go look at some polls on support for gay marriage…..”

            @quanta413

            Huh.

            That is a shift in national cultural attitudes, and relatively recently, not a generation ago.

            I stand corrected.

        • Civilis says:

          Can anyone point ut some examples that show it worth it to regard “the culture war” as more worthy of notice than Renaissance Faires and the SCA?

          It’s perfectly possible to be in circumstances that causes something that affects everyone else to completely miss you.

          If I went and asked, for example, a farmer in the Andes in 1924 about “the World War”, it’s perfectly possible that he’d reply “what World War?” and be suspicious when I went and told him about how important this massive war that happened over in Europe, and if he asked me “how did that affect me?” I’d probably not be able to come up with anything.

          The problem is, if I went and asked, for another example, a Japanese factory machinist the same question in 1924, he’d probably have the same answer. Oh, there would be some minor differences; the newspaper probably had some stories about islands changing hands and such. But (absent the omniscience of hindsight) I’d be hard pressed to explain to him how that affected his life, even as the harsh terms resulting from that war helped fuel the rise of nationalism and antisemitism in Germany, which led to a number of prominent scientists ending up in the United States, and I’d be hard pressed to explain how all that affected him right up until his factory (and much of the city) vanished in a blinding flash in 1945.

          WASHINGTON, Aug 24 (Reuters) – Twitter Inc Chief Executive Jack Dorsey will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Sept. 5 on the social media company’s algorithms and content monitoring, the committee said on Friday.

          “This committee intends to ask tough questions about how Twitter monitors and polices content, and we look forward to Mr. Dorsey being forthright and transparent regarding the complex processes behind the company’s algorithms and content judgment calls,” Republican Representative Greg Walden, the panel’s chairman, said in a statement.

          I mean, if you don’t care about social media, how can congress grilling the CEO of Twitter possibly affect you? Unless, of course, you would happen to live in a city in which Twitter had a major corporate office and in which the company and its employees contribute to the local economy (such as San Fransisco, where Twitter has its company headquarters).

          Ultimately, though what happens in congressional testimony can cause the fortunes of companies like Twitter to temporarily go up and down (which is still on the order of billions of dollars of value, which is a lot of Renaissance Faires and SCA), the long term health of social media corporations (and a lot of other cultural producers, such as companies that produce movies, books, and video games) is going to depend on how well they read the market, and most of the culture war ends up as market signaling. The left thinks the social media market wants a space free from harassment (as they define it, often using terms derived from social justice). The right thinks the social media market wants a space where everyone is free to talk, with minimal rules applied evenly. For the social media market, the “culture war” is two fold, both convince other people that your side’s idea of the future of social media is correct, and to use those people to convince the company to implement it. Billions of dollars are at stake in reading the social media market correctly, and the same game is being played elsewhere, from movies, to sports, to video g*m*s (all also multi-billion dollar industries). And, as the congressional investigation suggests, a lot of people feel that all of this feeds back into politics, and that’s something you can’t deny affects you.

          • Protagoras says:

            Minor nitpick: the Japanese factory machinist would probably be perfectly aware of WWI, as it produced a massive boom in Japanese industry as Japan exported war materials to its allies, and a subsequent bust when that source of demand dried up.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup“, which is one of Scott’s most popular posts, is likely the reason for the commonality of the phrase here. Scott introduces the ideas of “Blue Tribe”, “Red Tribe”, (and later “Grey Tribe”) and describes them as in conflict with each other. Because their different cultures mark each as the outgroup to the others, we see a “culture war” fought, wherein anything that seems to be from the outgroup provokes extreme hostility.

      • Nick says:

        I always figured Scott’s use of it to distinguish culture war from non culture war threads was tongue in cheek.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Huh? What is the “it” here?

          • Nick says:

            Use of the term “culture war”. Note that it’s never actually used in “I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup,” so he at least didn’t explicitly popularize it there.

      • Plumber says:

        “I think “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup“, which is one of Scott’s most popular posts, is likely the reason for the commonality of the phrase here. Scott introduces the ideas of “Blue Tribe”, “Red Tribe”, (and later “Grey Tribe”) and describes them as in conflict with each other. Because their different cultures mark each as the outgroup to the others, we see a “culture war” fought, wherein anything that seems to be from the outgroup provokes extreme hostility.”

        @HeelBearCub,

        I read that essay by Scott Alexander, and at first I felt a bit forlorn and “tribeless”, but when I read more in depth….

        “…The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.

        The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.

        (There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk…”

         …I realized that 9/10ths of the people I know have elements from both the “Red Tribe” list, and the “Blue Tribe” list, and I know of no one who fits the “Grey Tribe” list.

        Near me right now is a co-worker who was born in San Francisco, California and his response to “Would you vote Republican?” is “HELL NO!”, but he fits everything else on the “Red Tribe” list.

        I was born in Oakland, California and I fit five things from the “Blue Tribe” list, and five things from the “Red Tribe” list, as does my wife (different things though).

        The lists look like false stereotypes to me.

        Where are these “Tribes”?

        Who are these “Tribes”?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          First, the essay specifies that “Red Tribe” and “Republican voter” (or Blue/Democratic) aren’t synonymous. There is significant overlap, but that is all.

          If you are familiar with the fable/tale of the town mouse and the country mouse, Scott isn’t doing much than recapitulating it. I have referred to it as the “urbane vs. rural” divide before. I say urbane and not urban very specifically (and rural isn’t really correct). This is an old, old divide, and it is not just an urban thing, but in some sense classist as well.

          Of course this is all too simple, but in other ways it captures a certain kind of short hand that we all employ. It’s why Sarah Palin can talk about “Real America and Real Americans” and no one in her audience is in the slightest confused about what she is talking about. Nor is almost anyone else.

          Gray tribe is just Scott’s name for the group of people he thinks of being a part of. It’s one little wrinkle in the “it’s actually not that simple” picture.

          You probably knew one or two of these guys at some point. The guy in HS who didn’t belong to almost group of friends, was relentlessly picked on for being different, extremely bright, talked about shit that didn’t seem to make sense if you could get him to talk, didn’t care about anything “normal people” cared about. Basically the nerds (me very much included), but a little more than that.

          To be clear, I don’t think of myself as “gray tribe”, but some people might want to classify me that way. I like D&D, and European board games, and non-fiction books, and conversations about things like economic theory.

          • Plumber says:

            Well I like playing D&I, reading non-fiction, and discussing economics, but I’m far from a libertarian.
            I eat steak and arugula.
            I drive a pick up truck during the week and a Prius on the weekend.
            My boss has solar panels, drives an electric car, and collects guns and votes Republican.
            For there to be “Tribes” at “war” there needs to be enough people who fit the descriptions, and in my experience people don’t exclusively fit the lists.
            In my experience, most guys who grew up in the “flats” fit many of the “Red Tribe” list, but they vote Democratic (if they vote) and listened to R&B not Country.
            Most of the girls I knew who lived in the “Hills” (I really didn’t know the guys) fit more of the “Blue Tribe” list, but were Republicans (like their parents).
            Maybe it’s a generational thing (I was born in 1968), but the lists just don’t fit the people I know, and nobody says they’re “at war”, and I’ve never heard anyone use the term “culture war” out loud, I’ve only read it on-line, in The Atlantic Monthly, and The Wall Street Journal.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Plumber:
            I was born in ’69, so we are similar in that regard.

            For there to be “Tribes” at “war” there needs to be enough people who fit the descriptions, and in my experience people don’t exclusively fit the lists.

            This is mostly a war of words on the internet. College campuses or even some HS interactions will see some of it in real life . Occasionally that spills over into something like a CEO saying something that gets them sent packing from their current company or a media type losing a job. That’s about the extent of it. The “war” here is just the kind of heated rhetoric that makes productive conversation impossible in your average comments section on a mainstream site. Antifa vs. White Nationalists is about as “real world” as you see.

            Again, the fact that you don’t “fit” in a tribe isn’t particularly surprising. Especially if you are talking about California and trying to make sense of things, but also because all stereotypes are ill-fitting.

            Did you understand who Sarah Palin was talking about and to?

          • Plumber says:

            “….Did you understand who Sarah Palin was talking about and to?”

            @HeelBearCub

            You mean her “Real Americans” comment?

            As far as I can tell Sarah Palin definition was Americans who agreed with her.

            Now I live in a city and while I liked McCain I didn’t vote for the ticket with Palin as vice-president (my grandmother insisted, I think she had a crush on Biden).
            My great-grandparents were from Austria, Ireland, Ireland, Kansas, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Poland (but the town was part of Germany back then), but all of my grandparents were born in the U.S.A. including a born in New Jersey grandmother (with an Irish mother) who was terrified of the Klan when they burned a cross in front of her school as they hated Catholics back then, but my born in Kansas great-grandfather was descended from a man who came from Sussex, England in 1620, and multiples of his descendents have served in the United States Army, and I have ancestry that has been on this continent for nearly 400 years, just like Palin has.

            Palin doesn’t get to define “Real American”.

            Now I am starting to feel a bit tribal, if one side is claiming the right to decide if my family counts as “American”.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            If you are familiar with the fable/tale of the town mouse and the country mouse, Scott isn’t doing much than recapitulating it. I have referred to it as the “urbane vs. rural” divide before. I say urbane and not urban very specifically (and rural isn’t really correct). This is an old, old divide, and it is not just an urban thing, but in some sense classist as well.

            This is so key it’s not even funny. America is not a very rural country by global or historical standards, but ~50% of white people still have what’s called “country” culture (and Mexican culture can be pretty similar except for the language barrier). Plus since 1968, the more urban working-class culture associated with the Northeast and Rust Belt has come to be seen as more and more Red/bigoted by the urbane. In the 1970s, it was considered highly realistic for a middle-aged man from Queens to be a dumb bigot who was pro-union (All in the Family).
            So almost the entire working class are treated with contempt by the urbane, except legal and illegal Latino Americans and whatever stable black working class exists between the large underclass and highly-educated middle class.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            In the 1970s, it was considered highly realistic for a middle-aged man from Queens to be a dumb bigot who was pro-union (All in the Family).

            Archie wasn’t dumb and we weren’t supposed to think of him as dumb. He was a bigot. The whole point of the show was to make him human and relatable, while not pulling any punches against the world view he espoused. I’m not sure why you think his character wasn’t believable.

            Honestly, of all the shows to attack, that’s not the one.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @HBC: I’m not attacking it. You misinterpreted me trying to say “He was a realistically bigoted New Yorker from outside Manhattan, and everyone recognized him as average.” Working-class people from Queens were unionized, might vote Democratic, and were urban/Yankee rather than rural/deep Red, but everyone knew they were bigots and this wasn’t considered beyond the pale until the late ’60s.
            I did think the writers treated Archie as dumb despite being human and relatable (I remember seeing an episode where Michael was treated as knowing much more about how to argue with management, which you’d think would be Archie’s expertise as a union man of average intelligence).
            That’s tangential, though. I was trying to allude to the (white) Democratic Party shifting from a “labor” focus with a donor class on top to an instantiation of the Blue tribe that sees both “country” and urban proles as a dangerous racist outgroup… mirrored by the changing British Labour Party.
            This is also complicated by the existence of a West coast working class that combines Blue tribal emotions with the same economic conditions (or worse, with student loan debt) as archetypal protetarians in other parts of the US.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Le Maistre Chat:
            I thought you were trying to say it was a weak man for the proles of the day, put up as a figure of mockery by the urbane, but perhaps I misinterpreted.

            I always thought of Archie as blinded rather than stupid. I was 10 when it went off the air, so it’s possible I missed some characterizations, but my perception was that Meathead was also frequently presented as blind in his own ways. That’s the source of the “stupidity” (very less-wrong when you think about it).

            ETA: I do agree that as union power has waned, the previously central tie that binds working class industrial job white voters to the Democrats has waned. This is another way in which the electorate is becoming polarized in ways that it was not previously. I think that was what you were getting at.

          • MrApophenia says:

            I’ve mentioned this before, but as someone who grew up in a working class family in the rural Northeastern Rust Belt, it’s not like that stereotype sprang unbidden from some liberal propagandist’s brain.

            My hometown and the surrounding area was racist in a way I think more urban/less working class folks have a hard time imagining is still real outside of period TV shows and movies. The N-word was a casual and frequent part of conversation, people openly talked about holding political positions because they didn’t like black people, racist jokes were completely commonplace, that kind of thing. It usually didn’t manifest in large amounts of concrete mistreatment of minorities, but that’s probably because you could count all of them who lived there on the fingers of one hand.

            This has improved somewhat in recent years – a year or two ago, my mom brought a black friend and Vietnam vet to the local VFW. The bartender refused to serve him, like something out of an old timey movie.

            After my mom complained, the bartender’s boss chewed out the employee and apologized, and seemed by all accounts mortified. But still – someone still thought they could get away with refusing to serve a black guy because of his race in 2016/2017. And honestly, nobody else in the place was giving her crap about it until my mom complained. The fact that the story ended with him getting a beer at all is the big news.

            This isn’t saying that everybody is racist – but there is a general acceptance of racism that is just leaps and bounds beyond what I think folks around here would believe unless they saw it themselves. (This is why I had such a hard time with ‘Against Murderism.’)

            At a basic level, I think the Culture War is what happens when the internet suddenly starts confronting people like some of the folks I grew up with, with people in cities who thought that kind of thing didn’t exist anymore outside of after school specials.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @MrApophenia:
            Yeah, this is not a surprising story to me. My Dad grew up working class in Chicago. My grandfather ran a gas station. My great grandfather sold vegetables from a market stand. Everyone came over from Sicily. Now, all 5 of the kids in Dad’s family ended up graduating from college, and my dad was a professor, but when we went back up to Chicago and saw his friends, mostly buddies from the CYO (Catholic Youth Orchestra) the causal racism from some of them was just accepted. It was just part of the fabric. My dad didn’t accept it, but the conversation he had with me was always later on.

            My wife is from a mid-sized town in the South, Her dad was from a town that merited one whole stop sign. There again, he wasn’t, she wasn’t, but there was definitely some of it around, kept at bay because my wife would not to,erase that kind of talk.

            It’s also why all of the talk about “what’s the definition of racist and who would even be one and how do even know racial animus even exists” has always made no sense to me.

          • SamChevre says:

            Agreeing that really open racial prejudice is still common in some social classes and places. But…

            I worked construction for years in west Tennessee. I heard plenty of openly racial comments. I mean, come on–this is a world where “I guess I’d like a Coke” was considered an awesome joke. I heard plenty about why you don’t want to rent to _’s and why _’s have no f’ing sense and on and on.

            On the other hand, there was very little racial hostility except in the context of political struggles that were perceived as zero-sum racial quarrels.

            And my sister still lives there. Her husband is black, her son is black, and she’s very white. And they’ve lived there for a decade plus, and by her account she has never been hassled, had rude comments made, or anything else about a very obvious mixed-race marriage from anyone white.

            Red Tribe/Blue Tribe really falls apart on issues around race, in my opinion. Working-class African-Americans are very much Red Tribe culturally, but a core part of the Democratic coalition.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @samChevre:

            Yeah, I wasn’t saying “everyone is like this”or anything similar. As I said up above, stereotypes are almost always somewhat ill-fitting.

            Red tribe/blue tribe doesn’t really even try and capture ethnic cultures, not really. And it was never intended to be synonymous with Republican or Democrat.

        • Garrett says:

          You’ve caught on to the reason that the term Red Tribe vs. Blue Tribe come up. Namely, that the relationship between political party and the cultural view doesn’t solidly line up.

          But imagine hosting a party for your co-workers. Now imagine that you showed The World Cup (or Riverdance) on the television, and were serving La Croix and kale chips. How well would that go over?
          Contrast that to showing The Superbowl with beer and steak?

          • Plumber says:

            “….imagine hosting a party for your co-workers. Now imagine that you showed The World Cup (or Riverdance) on the television, and were serving La Croix and kale chips. How well would that go over?
            Contrast that to showing The Superbowl with beer and steak?”

            @Garrett

            I had to do a web search to find out what “La Croix” was, some kind of soda? 

            Among my co-workers; the Superbowl with beer and steak would be popular, as would the world cup, kale chips and a French named soda would probably be accepted, but Riverdance might get me punched, depending on who was onscreen in tights.

        • theredsheep says:

          I think a lot of it, in practice, is enemy-of-my-enemy. I was raised in a staunchly Democratic household, and I don’t believe in many parts of either paleo- or neo-conservatism. But I find myself rooting for the Reds anyway. Why? Because a lot of prominent Blues dislike religion, and a lot of prominent Blues dislike white people, and I’m a religious white guy.

          Rod Dreher compared it to a prison gang once: when you’re on the inside, you don’t care if any given gang has beliefs or principles that align with your own, you only care if they’re willing and able to keep members of the other gangs from beating you bloody. So I’ve come to think of it as “prison gang politics.”

          Similarly, Scott is a polyamorous atheist transhumanist. A surprising percentage of his regular commenters are observant religious traditionalists (I’m sort of one myself, if you’re willing to play loosely with definitions). Why is this? Partly it’s because a certain type of leftist who loathes our kind also dislikes this site. Though I don’t want to downplay the general open-mindedness that makes this place so great, or any of its other virtues. But having the right enemies helps. Or doesn’t hurt, anyhow.

          • Plumber says:

            I know lots of Democrats who are very religious.
            When I was growing up all the old “church ladies” in my neighborhood had pictures of John and Robert Kennedy on their walls, along with pictures of either Martin Luther King Jr. (if black) or the Pope (if white).

          • LadyJane says:

            I think a lot of it, in practice, is enemy-of-my-enemy. I was raised in a staunchly Democratic household, and I don’t believe in many parts of either paleo- or neo-conservatism. But I find myself rooting for the Reds anyway. Why? Because a lot of prominent Blues dislike religion, and a lot of prominent Blues dislike white people, and I’m a religious white guy.

            No offense to you personally, but I find this kind of mentality more detestable than either genuinely believing in horrible racist/sexist/authoritarian ideals or cynically using those ideals as a tool to gain power and influence. On a subconscious level, that kind of tribalist thinking probably plays a major role in a lot of people’s opinions. But to consciously be aware that your team is mostly wrong from both a moral and a practical perspective, and still support them just because they’re your team – as if it’s a damned football game! – is atrocious.

            I could see it as being justified if there was an actual existential threat to you and people like you. I certainly wouldn’t blame Jews, Roma, and various other “undesirables” for siding with the Stalinists against the Nazis, even if they were fully aware of just how evil Stalin was, because the only viable alternative at the time was a group that was actively trying to completely wipe them from existence. But there’s a vast gulf between that, and siding with people you know are wrong and evil just because of a vague sense that their opponents personally don’t like you that much.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            I could see it as being justified if there was an actual existential threat to you and people like you.

            how existential and threatening does it have to be then

            because that’s kind of the key issue here, and I do mean that

          • albatross11 says:

            It’s probably worth remembering that a lot of people are pretty comfortable reading/associating outside their political ingroup. I expect the SSC participants are more comfortable doing so than most people.

          • Thegnskald says:

            LadyJane –

            I will dryly observe that many of my more blueish acquaintances spent most of the last couple of years working very hard to convince one another and themselves that Trump represents an existential threat.

            (Likewise, a few years ago with Obama with reddish acquaintances)

            I agree yours appears to be the standard everyone adheres to, given the effort they seem willing to undertake to game the measure.

            I just have to ask, given that people are clearly willing to game the measure…

            Is it a useful measure?

          • theredsheep says:

            Oh, I think they’re both bad and wrong. The Blues are slightly less bad and wrong in an overall sense, but there’s not much room there for someone like me, so I guess I’m stuck in Red. I don’t think of myself as a “member” of either group, but I have to reflect that it’s better for me personally if the orcs beat the goblins rather than vice-versa.

          • Registered says:

            Plumber, I think LadyJane may have knowledge of this war.

            Paraphrase: No offense to you personally, followed by, your mentality is atrocious, followed by, reference to Stalinists and Nazis,
            followed by, you are not as bad as them, but you still side with evil and wrong people.

          • Plumber says:

            ^

            “Plumber, I think LadyJane may have knowledge of this war.

            Paraphrase: No offense to you personally, followed by, your mentality is atrocious, followed by, reference to Stalinists and Nazis,
            followed by, you are not as bad as them, but you still side with evil and wrong people.”

            @Registered

            You’re refering to @Lady Jane‘s comments to @theredsheep I presume? 

            Which was preceded by @theredsheep confessing “tribal” affiliation?

            How common is this off-line?

            I can only think of one example out of the hundreds of people I’ve known: I briefly had a co-worker who expressed glee at the thought of “Anti-Fa” getting beaten up to me (he had to tell me what Anti-Fa was), so there’s at least one person who expressed on-line like attitudes face-to-face with me, but I still think the vast majority of Americans are bystanders to this nonsense. 

            I suppose in some sense he was a victim of “the culture war” as our boss assigned him to the 9-1-1 call center where no one from the general public can hear his opinions. 

            He’s happy there though, it’s a longer commute, but he’s getting more overtime.

            Strangely, whle he clearly seemed a fan of the “white-ethno-nationalists”, he seemed to like me despite my telling him that the mother of my sons is non-white, and I’m of part Jewish descent (I asked him to stop using “Jew” to mean “cheap”), and when asked I’m honest about my pro “New Deal” and “Great Society” economic views.

          • Registered says:

            Yes you have it right about the comments I was referring to. I was seriously suggesting that LadyJane may have insight. Her comment had the tone of what I imagine culture war to be, I could be wrong.

            Anyway, I too look around for this war and see nothing with my own eyes. Maybe I am sheltered

          • theredsheep says:

            It probably is mostly an online thing at this point, at least in terms of the visceral anger. And I probably do read too much political crap online; it’s not good for me.

          • mtl1882 says:

            I get what you’re saying, but LadyJane’s post echoes my feelings pretty well.

            I certainly understand watching with some glee when the red tribe gives the blue tribe a hard time about its disingenuous or ridiculous denigration of religious people. But enemy of my enemy is a dangerous game. I get that you are probably being somewhat facetious and that “rooting for” doesn’t necessarily mean much. While I enjoy the prison gang metaphor, I don’t think the plight of the white Christian fits well with the victim of the gang beating. If you were to take some stance based on your religion that was unpopular with the blue tribe, then maybe. But I think few Americans are actually in a situation where they have to suspend any concern for morals in favor of survival with whoever will defend them. Much better to work to change your preferred political party.

            There’s too much abdication going on. People have to take a difficult stand and challenge the parties to accommodate them, not the other way around. There is no longterm safety in a party that is just as morally bankrupt but happens to be favoring people like you at the moment. There is little sincerity behind it. People have to start forming groups that make it clear that some people are religious and Democratic-leaning, or whatever.

            A post above spoke about how the blue/red/gray tribes don’t map to people she knows. And I think that’s the norm. We need to demand better of the options available, and not keep going into this false and arbitrary dichotomy. I’m not saying do away with the two-party system, but we’ve got to take some responsibility to make politics something other than a farce and internet harassment.

            It is not nearly as hard as it seems; look at history. This is not directed all at you, but it just brought these thoughts to the forefront. We can’t just write off half of America and expect to function. The culture wars are a thing, but the war mindset needs to stop. Debate the issues like you are supposed to; not everyone is going to be nice about it; that’s life. But we need to figure out a way to deal with others in a productive fashion and stop getting distracted by easy caricatures of each other and social media squabbles.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The culture wars are a thing, but the war mindset needs to stop. Debate the issues like you are supposed to; not everyone is going to be nice about it; that’s life.

            The war mindset is a prisoner’s dilemma; whoever abandons it loses, even if peace/peace would be a theoretically better option.

            “Debate the issues” doesn’t work when taking the wrong side gets you fired, blacklisted, and/or otherwise ejected from polite society. When that’s the case, it’s yield, stay silent, or suffer the consequences.

          • Brad says:

            and/or otherwise ejected from polite society

            I mean, it’s right there in the name.

          • quanta413 says:

            @mtl1882

            There’s too much abdication going on. People have to take a difficult stand and challenge the parties to accommodate them, not the other way around. There is no longterm safety in a party that is just as morally bankrupt but happens to be favoring people like you at the moment. There is little sincerity behind it. People have to start forming groups that make it clear that some people are religious and Democratic-leaning, or whatever.

            Unfortunately, I think this is the opposite of true. Ideas rarely help people maintain cohesion for multiple decades in most places. The Republican Party of 1870 is pretty different from the Republican Party of today. Same for the Democratic party. But you can trace a clear line of tribal descent in both cases.

            Tribal cohesion can last a really, really long time. In the extreme limit, you get a caste system. Tribal instincts are one of the strongest social forces among humans. Because the people at the top of a tribe rely upon tribal support for their power, they are in great danger if they betray the tribe. Making a stand for an idea or a sane policy with good material benefits is really dangerous if it betrays the tribe. Even for powerful people. Like Anwar Sadat or Mahatma Gandhi.

            Tribal politics is cohesive and relatively reliable. Idea based politics is more of an exception that occasionally maintains cohesion long enough to get an idea in place.

            I don’t recommend participating in tribal politics though. “Mindkiller” is a good appellation. But I think it’s best to be resigned to the fact that if you think you’d prefer idea based politics, you will forever be in a tiny weird minority.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Registered:

            Her comment had the tone of what I imagine culture war to be, I could be wrong.

            If this “war” consists of people on internet forums making critical statements about other people’s reasons for holding opinions, then I don’t see how it’s much of a war at all. Nor a battle, nor a fight. Hell, I wouldn’t even count it as an argument.

            @mtl1882: Thanks for expanding on my point, I agree with pretty much everything you said. (Although I don’t think religious Democrats even need a group to fight for them; theredsheep’s idea that the Democratic Party is openly hostile toward religion or even Christianity in general doesn’t have much actual basis in reality. Hell, at this point, Dawkins-style New Atheism is more associated with libertarianism than mainstream Democrat-style center-left liberalism.)

          • arlie says:

            So I’ve come to think of it as “prison gang politics.”

            Arguably this is the essence of the cultural wars – people affiliating for fear that otherwise some group is going to “beat them bloody”, metaphorically or literally.

            I’m “blue tribe” because I’m more afraid of anti-immigrant and anti-non-Christian rhetoric/action/policies (among others) than I am of e.g. anti-white or anti-middle-class rhetoric/actions/policies.

            At some point about a decade or so, I went from considering individual issues to picking a side – regretfully, because neither side really agrees with me, and I despise evidence-suppressing and evidence-ignoring true-believers regardless of what they believe.

            And of course that latter point is probably why I hang out here – while the cultural wars threads are often weak on evidence, other posts are better, particularly Scott’s.

    • Chipsa says:

      I think it’s not just that things are different in different places, but rather, people are unwilling to let it be different in different places.

      • Plumber says:

        That fits, and has long been true.
        What’s changed for it to be called a “war”?

        • Well... says:

          More/visible venues in which to team-bark at each other.

          • mtl1882 says:

            Yeah, pretty much. A huge portion of this is just that we are now face to face with each other and encouraged to waste our time getting appalled over things that are par for the course.

            The same thing happened prior to the Civil War, which is a bit unsettling. The telegraph brought the North and South (and in some ways the West) face to face, and they couldn’t really deal with each other’s lifestyles and it became clear it was only going to get worse. And newspapers were extraordinarily popular and partisan, so we could sit and talk about it all day long. A lot of those newpapers had running columns eerily similar to Twitter, and they copied things from other papers very similarly to a “repost” or “share” function.

    • Well... says:

      Related:

      To what extent is the whole controversy over “trans”-this and -that just a matter of hormonal teenagers and 20-somethings now basically all having, in the internet in general* and social media in particular, a potentially powerful way to instantly broadcast their ideas to the entire world?

      *Yes, the internet’s been around for a while but the tacit knowledge required to use it effectively to broadcast one’s ideas has gone WAY down in the last ten years.

      BTW, is there any information out there on how frequently people who identify as transsexual before age 25 still identify as such after age 35?

    • Baeraad says:

      Well, to me it’s about whether I have a right to be part of society despite being very slightly odd in how I think and act. Not whether I will be allowed to go where I want and talk to people if I want, you understand; I’m pretty sure no one is in a position to prevent that, or will be anytime soon. But as someone who has pathalogically low self-esteem, whether or not me inflicting my very slight weirdness on nice, normal people is a Terrible Thing or not is of crucial importance – especially since if everyone agrees that I should make myself scarce, there isn’t much point in socialising anyway, socialising being by its very nature supposed to be pleasant for all parties concerned and all. I mean, if the best I can hope for is to be that annoying uncle who no one wants to invite for Christmas but who they can’t honourably exclude, then I think I rather would seclude myself for the rest of my life.

      Whether that is a reasonable thing to demand of me – that’s the Culture War, as far as I’m concerned.

      But I’ll grant you that I’m not sure why everyone else seems to be so worked up about it.

    • RobJ says:

      I would describe the culture war like this (lots of speculation):

      US politics are becoming more polarized and geographic clustering of politically likeminded people is increasing (I think the data backs this up?). This (along with efforts from the Democratic and Republican parties) has resulted in political party becoming much more a cultural signifier rather than just a cluster of positions to agree or disagree with. Social media and clickbait journalism, as well as the geographic clustering, make it really easy to be exposed to only the worst of the other side. Political disagreement then becomes a battle of our smart and good people vs those evil and dumb people, and thus becomes more vehement, dumber, less productive. The most visible result of this is the inability to discuss any “culture war” topics without it devolving into name calling at best and attempts to get people fired (or worse) at worst.

      While I think all of the above is a real phenomenon, I do think it’s reach is overestimated. I think you have to be pretty steeped in social media (or at least online partisan media) or involved in activist culture to really see much of this stuff.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      The major culture war items of the day aren’t trans- issues, they are abortion and gun rights. SSC focuses on the aggressive bleeding edge of the Social Justice Movement as the primary feature of the Culture War, but that’s not the case.

      Social Justice is also broader than just trans-rights. Your feminism comment is a good example: feminists still believe they have a fair bit of work to do, and are concerned about issues like “yes means yes,” equal pay, woman leadership in the C-Suite, etc.

      “Normal” people may or may not feel this is important. For instance, I had a co-worker out in meatspace that felt Frozen was very important because it taught girls that they don’t need a man to save them (the actual correct lesson was that being led by an emotionally insecure teenage monarch will lead to your nation being alternately conquered or plunged into economic disaster, symbolized by a permanent winter, and thus you should behead your monarch and replace it with a constitutional republic). On the other hand, my wife watched a Girl Meets World “Very Special Episode” about girls in science and said “this is preachy.”

      • Plumber says:

        “Frozen……the actual correct lesson was that being led by an emotionally insecure teenage monarch will lead to your nation being alternately conquered or plunged into economic disaster, symbolized by a permanent winter, and thus you should behead your monarch and replace it with a constitutional republic…”

        @A Definite Beta Guy

        That….

        …..is the best interpretation of Frozen I’ve ever read!

        I’m reminded of Terry Pratchett’s Sam Vimes character. 

        I was a little worried if my query would do more harm than good, but that made it worthwhile! 

        Thanks!

        • albatross11 says:

          Or even just make your monarch a figurehead whose actual role in the government is to formally acknowledge the head of the coalition running parliament as her new prime minister. An emotionally insecure teenage monarch should be able to handle that job pretty well.

    • outis says:

      The culture war was won by the blues a while ago, which is why you think it’s all old news. Then they moved to mop up all remaining pockets of resistance. Unfortunately, at the same time the future they created started falling apart. Because hegemonic globoliberalism is a monolith of total control, opposition to it also runs across domains; this is why, even though the most immediate issues are economic, you see old cultural battlefronts reopening.

    • Brad says:

      So what is this “culture war”

      It’s puffery. Would you rather say your hobby is hate reading and shitposting or fighting the culture war?

      Everyone involved has an incentive to exaggerate the scope, scale, and importance, and boy do they!

  28. Aapje says:

    Interesting paper about the gender pay gap suggests that a major cause may be non-linearity in pay per hour worked. More specifically, some occupations favor longer work hours, especially those where there is a long-term personal relationship between the worker and the customer. For example, lawyers (especially when the personal reputation or achievements of the lawyer matters as well). In contrast, there are other jobs like pharmacy where people just tend to care about a specific transaction going well, which have a very small gender pay gap.

    This also explains why the pay gap is higher in Business and Finance than in Technology and Science, as the latter presumably have fewer jobs that are customer-facing.

    (Partial) solutions for this (and also to combat the increasing disparity in earnings between well-educated people who work many hours and the rest of society) may be to:
    – create a personal relationship with a group of people and/or branding that group, rather than individuals, so it doesn’t matter as much which person the customer deals with.
    – Better sharing of information, perhaps by use of advanced CRM software, so people can easily pick up the work of others.
    – have the customer-facing person hand off most of the work to be done by others, having that person pass off the work as their own. Then you have one sociable full-time worker with broad and shallow expertise that handles the customer and (many) others who support that person in a way that can be fairly easily be done part-time. Of course, you can still expect a pay gap between the full-time worker who manages the customers and the rest of the workers & that the former job will be more sought after by men, but there will be fewer of those jobs.
    – Commoditize goods and services.

    PS. Another interesting find by this researcher is that men are penalized more heavily for career interruptions, which helps to explain why men tend to be very reluctant to take advantage of parental leave when it is available to men: “The wage penalty for men, using our standardized career interruption at six years out, is 45 log points, whereas that for women is 26 log points. Taking any time out appears more harmful for men (26 log points) than for women (11 log points).

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      Or just, you know, come down like a tonne of bricks on any business which routinely asks or permits its workers to put in more than 40.
      There is lots of research that super-long hours are bad for actual productivity – If this is true, but it is excellent for building professional rep, which is what this research seems to be saying (That is, companies promote and payraise based on perceived loyalty, as signaled by hours, rather than merit..), then there should be substantial real benefits to the economy from putting a stop to it.

      • Aapje says:

        Including self-employed workers? That will hit many small businesses very hard. What about those who work multiple jobs (perhaps to avoid the law)? What about the military? What about the police? What about workers on oil platforms, ships, etc?

        Taiwan actually capped hours per week to 40 in 2017, but reversed that again in 2018. So apparently it had so many downsides that they had to reverse it very quickly.

        It also doesn’t change the issue that part-time workers get substantially less per hour worked than full-time workers.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Sure, hours 45-60 aren’t very productive, but if the people staying 45-60 are also more productive in 1-40 and it’s more costly for non-productive people to stay 45-60, then it makes sense to reward people who are staying for 60 hours.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I’m sure that marginal productivity does drop at some point (though I note that 12 hours a day for 6 days at hard labor used to be rather typical, and nobody realized gains by cutting hours), but I’m not so certain it’s at 40 hours. Added on top of that, net productivity at hour 1 is pretty low (because there’s a lot of overhead per employee), so getting the same amount of work by hiring more employees is far more costly.

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          This is wrong: History of working time laws: Back in the dawn of time, some of the larger industrial firms commissioned research into productivity. One of the results they got was that very long work weeks work fantastically well the first couple of weeks, but every consecutive week, the workers got less productive, and by week 6, they were getting less done than they had been on an 8 hour day.

          (Oil rigs essentially game this. They work you 80 hours for two weeks, by which point, diminishing returns are still minor. Then they send you home to recover for two weeks. This is fairly sustainable. )

          Then those firms.. and essentially only those firms … took that research to heart, and implemented the 8 hour day as a standard, and only worked overtime in short bursts to cover for planning failures. Which made them even more dominant actors in the economy than they had been, because now they were the only ones getting work done with a non-exhausted workforce.

          At which point the government looked at this and went “Okay, so managers everywhere are idiots congenitally unable to learn this lesson from their competitors. Time for the legislative hammer!”

          Overtime laws are not only there for labor, although, of course, the politicians enacting them took all the credit they could for the benefit to labor – they are also there to fix a market failure and protect firms from managerial stupidity.

          What I am saying is that the current exemptions in those overtime laws for professional workers are almost certainly just flat out a mistake. That the hammer should have been brought down across the board.

          Depressingly, modern management would likely still be idiots about this, absent the state forcing them not to as demonstrated by Japan, which has enormous work weeks, and utterly abysmal hourly productivity, despite a fantastic educational system and very advanced technological base.

          • Chalid says:

            Perhaps this is true on average, but I’d expect that whether 40 hours is optimal must vary a lot based on the type of work. And obviously there will be variation among individuals as well.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            It is pretty obvious that things like the length of your commute and how much work is involved in keeping your household in order comes out of the same “Budget” of hours of work per week you can sustain deliver (That is, the true number is higher than 40, but the average person spends a good chunk of it on not living in a dumpster and actually getting to work), but unless you plan to be really enormously intrusive into the private life of your employees – in a “Everyone lives in the apartments on the floors above the office and uses the cleaning service we hired to keep the place clean!” way…

            Then individual variation is irrelevant, you have to set policy for the overall average of your workforce.

            To do otherwise means you effectively end up promoting the random subset of your employees who have the least labor-intensive personal life – that is, you promote the people who tolerate long hours best, which means you are in fact selecting for “Lives closest and has a significant other that does 100 % of the housework”… which.. how does that correlate with being a good manager?

          • Plumber says:

             says:
            August 27, 2018 at 11:16 pm ~new~

            “This is wrong: History of working time laws: Back in the dawn of time, some of the larger industrial firms commissioned research into productivity…..”

            @Thomas Jørgensen

            What?!

            NO!

            Men fought for and were martyred in the struggle for the 8 hour day.

            It was a class war not some damn technocratic fix!

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            It was both. The research got commissioned because those firms wanted to know the consequences of yielding the point to labor. When the answer they got back was “.. Labor is totally right on this. So much more shit getting done. Minds blown” that made political victory on this point inevitable.

          • engleberg says:

            There’s a huge difference between working on your feet and humping heavy stuff and sitting at a desk. I’m like most people. I’m smoked after eight hours on my feet humping. I’m mildly neurotic after twelve hours at a desk. The fight for an eight hour work day on your feet was a heroic struggle for unions. The top-down stuff about white collar workers being a little wack after twelve was trivial by comparison, though not nonexistent.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            I’ve worked weeks of 8 hours a day of mindless labor. I still occasionally do heavy labor shifts. (Building crazy art projects for a week before the Thing In The Desert, for example.)

            I spent more of my career working at a desk.

            I’m far more wrecked after 8 hours at desk than I am after 8 hours of physically exhausting physical labor.

            Somehow, I don’t think I’m unique.

            Work is work. Work is hard. Work is tiring. And the thing that you run out of, the thing that when you get short on it you start making mistakes, the part that makes you an exhausted zombie when it runs out, is in the brain. Doesn’t matter if it’s your brain driving creation and decision making, or if it’s your brain driving your muscles through the unpleasant sensation of lactic acid buildup, the limiting factor is the brain.

      • quanta413 says:

        I’m sure average productivity drops past a relatively low point of 30-50 hours. But until marginal productivity hits 0, if you’re being paid salary (which most people working really long hours are) the business still benefits.

        I’d like to claim that the trick is to get men to value their time outside of work more highly, but if pay actually scales really fast with time spent at work then it is a sign that men do value their time out of work a lot because you need to pay them a lot more to work a lot longer. Causing a disparity.

        I don’t think there is any easy way around this. Most men don’t work high hours for high pay. We’re already looking at only a small subset of men.

        • arlie says:

          As said above, once you get chronically exhausted (work > 40 hours for 2 weeks), your productivity for the 1st 40 hours of the week is significantly reduced.

          FWIW, this is the story of my life. One way I – and most of my colleagues – cope is by spending significant at-work time not working 😉 FWIW It was hard for me to learn to do this, coming from a family background of hourly work, but personally being salaried starting with my first job out of college.

          • quanta413 says:

            I think it varies with task and person.

            For physical work? Definitely.

            But depending on the mental work I’m doing, I’ve been able to maintain high productivity for a few months averaging 60 hours a week, but I’ve also had trouble at different tasks maintaining high productivity for a mere 30 hours a week.

            But like I said, productivity per hour worked isn’t really the right metric from the point of view of the business when it’s paying you salary. As long as an hour they take from you doesn’t make for net negative work, they’re ahead.

            Of course, the metric of how many hours did we get someone to work is also wrong, so it’s not surprising that if you optimize for getting some number of hours at work out of your workers they may just shirk for more hours at work.

      • b_jonas says:

        I don’t know if limiting all jobs to 40 hours a week would be good or bad. But it certainly seems unrealistic for the state to mandate this. Governments are the employer who benefit the most from its employees working more than 40 hours a work, often without the overtime being compensated. There’s already a shortage of doctors and nurses and teachers and firefighters, so the government-controlled employers of them try to cover the difference by forcing those people to work more than 40 hours, with various questionably legal tricks.

        • ana53294 says:

          The idea is to limit the hours to 40 h, and every hour on top of that gets paid as overtime work, where overtime means X% more per hour of work.

          Thus, companies will not make their workers work more for an ordinary work load, and will hire an extra worker if the workload is too big for the 40 h workweek. But then they would pay the extra X% for short outbursts of extra work, such as accountants who have to change their quarterly report after a rule change in reporting. You don’t expect this change to last, so you don’t hire an extra worker. You instead pay a surplus for this necessary extra work.

          If there are too many extra hours, and they happen all the time, the total labor cost increases by the per hour work *X* hours worked. Thus, this will force companies to either increase productivity by investing in capital or to hire extra workers. If too many companies prefer to pay extra, then you should increase X until you reach an equilibrium where most companies do not overwork their workers.

          • b_jonas says:

            That’s the idea, but it doesn’t work.

            For private companies, it doesn’t work, because even though those are the rules for overtime, but the private companies define the salary of the skilled workers to whatever they want, so if they want workers that work for 60 hours a week, then they set the nominal wage of workers such that they pay the right amount after adding the overtime percentage. For untrained workers where the nominal salary would fall below minimum wage that way, they just fire and blacklist the workers that complain about illegal practices of the employers too much.

            For the government, it doesn’t work, because they define “overtime” such that a doctor or firefighter being on the watch for 80 hours a week in case some emergency happens doesn’t count as overtime because most of the time nothing is supposed to happen so the doctor or nurse or firefighter isn’t working, while in reality there are too few doctors and nurses and firefighters so they do work a lot during those times; and because they define a teacher’s 40 hour job as consisting of spending lots of actual hours in classes with children and very few hours preparing for those classes, while in reality no teacher can hold those classes with so little overhead; or simply because the government delays paying the salaries to teachers in time with various excuses until they start to collectively complain too loudly. Sure, I’m simplifying and biased in favor of the teachers and doctors here, so don’t believe all I’m saying without checking it.

    • Paul Torek says:

      Alternative hypothesis: in jobs like pharmacy where people just care about a specific transaction going well, it’s very easy to notice, and stop oneself from, discriminating for reasons irrelevant to job performance.

    • SamChevre says:

      This fits well with my observation in insurance/finance–pay goes up exponentially with hours. If you want to work a predictable 40 hours a week, you’ll have a hard time getting to 6 figures. If you are willing want to make it to executive leadership, working a 60-hour week will be short–and executives can make 7 figures pretty reliably.

      I would say the average executive with whom I’ve interacted has worked 80+ hours a week, every week, for at least 20 years.

  29. Yaleocon says:

    I can’t believe no one has brought this up yet: a former American Nuncio has accused Pope Francis of enabling sex abuser Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

    The NYT article on said topic framed it as “cultural conservative attacks pope”, and highlighted oddities in his account, as well as his disdain for homosexuality within the church (and belief that it is largely responsible for the sexual abuse scandal). Others have been more supportive of the letter, supporting his claims and applauding his bravery.

    What are people’s thoughts on this, especially from people knowledgeable about Catholicism? Can we trust Vigano’s account? And even if we can’t, this seems like a huge event—a church higher-up calling for the Pope himself to resign. What does this portend?

    • Deiseach says:

      Whispers in the Loggia is a reliable site for inside-baseball on American Catholicism with a good handle on Vatican goings-on as well, and it has a preliminary post on this.

      This whole Viganò affair is hard to get a handle on; yes, he’s on the conservative side and yes, he doesn’t like Francis. He appears to have a lot of axes to grind (he got shifted around in his career and looks like he holds some grudges about that) and seems to present himself as a whistleblower, while the view of others is that he’s a loose cannon – from the quick’n’dirty reading up I’ve done that’s the impression I get, anyway.

      On the other hand the Cardinal edit: he renounced the title of cardinal and is now simply Archbishop McCarrick scandal is blowing up quite badly, and is reviving accusations of the ‘lavender mafia’ in the Curia (the supposed cabal of gay clerics who protect each other and promote one another’s causes and favourites). Ironically, in view of the favourable purring the media did over Francis’ “who am I to judge?”, if he knew or suspected McCarrick was gay, Francis might have been inclined to be more lenient rather than booting him out simply for that, and now this scandal of sexual harassment of seminarians (who tend to be young men in their late teens/early twenties) and allegations of grooming a boy where he was the family friend are bursting out, which is going to hit Francis in the way Viganò is doing – accusations that he knew or was informed and did nothing because he favoured McCarrick (who was a liberal and well-regarded by the American media).

      On the other other hand, Viganò himself is accused of deliberately covering-up reports of sexual misconduct during his time as Nuncio in America:

      Notably, however, one thing the former Nuncio doesn’t mention is his own reported pressure on the auxiliaries of the Twin Cities in early 2015 to quash a diocesan investigation into similar allegations of misconduct and harassment by then-Archbishop John Nienstedt, which played a part in the outspoken conservative’s early resignation at 68 that summer as a multi-front scandal enveloped Minnesota’s lead fold, dragging most of the state’s dioceses into Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to a torrent of abuse suits. (Only this past May, the Twin Cities church settled its own bankruptcy filing with a $210 million settlement for some 450 survivors – the second-largest payout ever made by an American see.)

      I have to say here that the Nienstedt thing is a gay sex scandal not a child sex abuse scandal, though it does involve alleged misconduct with seminarians.

      So yeah – very messy all round. Viganò may indeed know where bodies are buried, but on the other hand he is vulnerable to counter-accusations of being involved in a cover-up himself and of settling grudges by making this accusation at this time – if you read his statement, you can see he has a real grudge against Cardinal Bertone (as to who he thinks was responsible for the delays before Pope Benedict sanctioned Cardinal McCarrick in 2009/10):

      I believe it was due to the Pope’s first collaborator at the time, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who notoriously favoured promoting homosexuals into positions of responsibility, and was accustomed to managing the information he thought appropriate to convey to the Pope.

      I would recommend reading the full statement by Viganò; there’s a definite whiff of conspiracy theory going on there (networks of conspirators, ambiguous remarks, lies and deceit, setting traps for our naive and honest hero to fall into) but again, we’re talking Italy/the Vatican and the Curia, there could well be these levels of cabals and conspirators going on, they’ve been doing it for at least five hundred years or even longer so why stop now?

      I will also be very interested to see if the media refer to or acknowledge at all his accusations of the homosexual current in the Church ruining everything? EDIT: Yes, the NYT did mention it, so that may or may not work to make him more/less credible as an accuser: if he’s thought to be seeing “gays in the beds” everywhere, he may not be considered reliable.

      But this will not be enough to heal the situation of extremely grave immoral behaviour by the clergy; bishops and priests. A time of conversion and penance must be proclaimed. The virtue of chastity must be recovered in the clergy and in seminaries. Corruption in the misuse of the Church’s resources and the offerings of the faithful must be fought against. The seriousness of homosexual behaviour must be denounced. The homosexual networks present in the Church must be eradicated, as Janet Smith, Professor of Moral Theology at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, recently wrote. “The problem of clergy abuse,” she wrote, “cannot be resolved simply by the resignation of some bishops, and even less so by bureaucratic directives. The deeper problem lies in homosexual networks within the clergy which must be eradicated.” These homosexual networks, which are now widespread in many dioceses, seminaries, religious orders, etc., act under the concealment of secrecy and lies with the power of octopus tentacles, and strangle innocent victims and priestly vocations, and are strangling the entire Church.

    • Brad says:

      as well as his disdain for homosexuality within the church (and belief that it is largely responsible for the sexual abuse scandal)

      This might be playing with gasoline when it isn’t even my fire, but the sake of my understanding what’s the rough breakdown of clerical abusers that target men and boys vs those that target women and girls?

      As someone that only skims these stories on rare occasion it seems to be overwhelmingly the former, but that could just have to do what’s written about.

      • Nick says:

        According to the 2003 John Jay Report, 81% of victims were male; see table 4.3.1 on the page 69 (75 in the pdf). From the summary on p. 6 (12 of the pdf):

        The largest group of alleged victims (50.9%) was between the ages of 11 and 14, 27.3% were 15-17, 16% were 8-10 and nearly 6% were under age 7. Overall, 81% of victims were male and 19% female. Male victims tended to be older than female victims. Over 40% of all victims were males between the ages of 11 and 14.

        There do exist typologies of child sexual abusers. I don’t know how reliable the models are, and the report does not give an opinion either, but a summary from p. 36 (42):

        One way of categorizing offenders, for example, is by the type of victim they choose. Some child sexual abusers are diagnosed as pedophiles, meaning that they exhibit recurrent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies, urges or behaviors related to sexual contact with a prepubescent child over a period of at least six months duration.2 However, not all sexual abuse occurs with young children, and not all child sexual abusers fit this clinical diagnosis. Some researchers have identified a similar condition, ephebophilia, which refers to individuals who exhibit these same fantasies, urges or behaviors towards post-pubescent youths.3 While some offenders evidence a clear preference for particular types of victims with regard to age and gender, many do not. Individuals who molest children may be heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual with regard to victim selection. Child sexual abusers who prefer female victims are more likely to be diagnosed as pedophiles than those who prefer male children while child sexual abusers who prefer male victims tend to target boys who are slightly older.4

        A second way of categorizing offenders is based on the factors believed to produce the offending behavior. The most widely accepted classification of child molesters follows a dichotomous model consisting of fixated offenders and regressed offenders.5 A fixated offender is characterized as having a persistent, continual, and compulsive attraction to children. In contrast, regressed offenders are individuals who are primarily attracted to adults, but who are perceived to engage in sexual activity with children in response to particular stressors (e.g., marital problems and unemployment) or contextual variables (e.g., stress or loneliness).6 Subsequent research has demonstrated that while these two concepts are still important in terms of describing sexual abusing types, this classification alone is not sufficiently nuanced to describe the complexities of child sexual abusers.7 Instead, fixation can be understood to exist on a continuum, meaning that all offending behavior is likely to result from some varying degrees of a combination of stable personal characteristics (e.g., substance abuse) with contextual variables (e.g., depression). 8 It is clear that multiple subtypes of offenders exist within the population of sex offenders; however, there is no single classification system that has strong empirical support.

        Two questions arise here: one, if offenders “may be heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual,” then why the enormous disparity in victims? And two, is someone going after 15 year old boys really a pedophile, or something else? For the latter question, the citation on “tend to target boys who are slightly older” goes to the DSM-IV, which on these questions says, “Some individuals prefer males, others females, and some are aroused by both males and females. Those attracted to females usually prefer 8- to 10-year-olds, whereas those attracted to males usually prefer slightly older children” (527; 556 in this pdf). It sounds like the pedophiles who prefer boys tend to target 11-13, then, since one of the requirements for pedophilia is that the victim be 13 or younger, so this really doesn’t explain the regular abuse of boys 14+ or young men like seminarians. The DSM adds that there are exclusive and non-exclusive types; that is, some pedophiles experience attraction to adults as well.

        This is crying out for an analysis of whether the clerics in question were of which types and why the vast majority preferred boys. Table 3.5.4 on p. 53 (59) is a step in this direction; it’s a chart of victims grouped by gender and age. It looks like the percentages of victims by gender and age are:
        Boys: 0-7: 2.4%; 8-10: 11.8%; 11-14: 51.5%; 14-17: 34.5%
        Girls: 0-7: 14.8%; 8-10: 20.7%; 11-14: 38.3%; 14-17: 26.2%

        The last factor here is the time the abuse occurred. There has been considerably less abuse from the nineties onward; the distribution of victims has also changed considerably. Figure 3.5.1 just below it shows an enormous increase in the number of male victims in the sixties, seventies, and eighties; male victims remain far more common than female in the nineties, but the proportion is only about 2.5-3x as many, eyeballing it (73.5% male, if the numbers are those used in the following tables). Finally, on the next page, are the age of victims by when the abuse began. Percentages of abuse of male victims in the 0-7 and 8-11 ages decreased as a proportion of total male victims over the decades, as abuse of males skyrocketed, but remained low as it plummeted in the nineties. The same happened for female victims. Yet the percentage of male victims in the 15-17 range continued to increase in the nineties, making up 55.2% of victims in that period. For female victims the pattern held steady; most victims are 11-14 even in the nineties.

        The conclusion appears to be that by the nineties about 40% of all abuse was with male victims in the 15-17 age range. That doesn’t even fit the profile the DSM gave for pedophilia; it sounds more like the now-touted ephebophilia, which Wikipedia says the DSM says isn’t even a disorder. This report was commissioned in 2002, which is where their data end; since then the Catholic Church in America has taken up several reforms to combat child abuse. But if 40% of the victims (48% if we include females) just before these reforms were 15+, why are we calling it child sexual abuse?

        The conclusion a lot of people came to, like Rod Dreher, is that this isn’t so much a matter of child abuse anymore. It’s predatory gays in the priesthood (which is, it goes without saying, not all gays in the priesthood) targeting sexually developed young men. Dreher connects this with the stories he’s both read about and received as a journalist of widespread gay subculture in seminaries—including invitations there to pretty young men—, and of sexually active priests, and of predation on seminarians, who are 18+ and often in their early twenties. And he connects this, finally, with some apparent prevalence of interest in the LGBT community with young men of that age.

        On that last point, some anecdata: I did some googling around when I read about this to see what the LGBT community thinks of this sort of thing, since I know NAMBLA, for instance, has a very low reputation, and the reaction to Kevin Spacey was sharp and immediate condemnation. All the same, I found plenty of approval for consensual relationships between young and adult men from self-professed gays, including ones in long-term relationships with other adult men. But since it was cursory and no doubt highly self selected, I’d like to see some actual data on this, and whether there is some kind of subculture for it—I know about terms like twinks, and jailbait, and so on, but my impression was that men who prefer younger or younger-looking men have the decency to restrict themselves to actual adults and not fifteen year olds. But I guess that decency isn’t universal, even with the disapproval or condemnation of other gays.

        • mtl1882 says:

          I do think the priesthood attracted men who were confused sexually, due to the justification it gave celibacy. Some may have entered with a predatory mindset due to access and authority, though I tend to think this group was probably small. Some were trying to cover for their lack of expected relationships. And I think some were truly horribly conflicted and confused and believed that devoting themselves to god would fix them, and they would commit to being celibate.

          What their sexual preferences were varied, and as the post above makes clear, these definitions are quite difficult. There are people who prefer sex with adults and usually pursue that, but may have sex with a minor in some situation, usually a teenager. There are some who are pure opportunists and go for anyone, male or female. There are some that are exclusively pedophiles, some exclusively into teens.

          I think part of the issue may be that men who preferred young girls had more options and didn’t feel as driven to cover it up, especially when they were young and the age difference wasn’t as striking. And becoming a priest probably is less likely to get you access to very young girls. And in general, girls are probably more warned and questioned about this stuff. I think the seminarian stuff is probably different – I do think people struggling with homosexuality in the past thought becoming a priest might be the best choice, and then were unable to stay celibate. They may have entered into relationships with each other or young men, but not children. I don’t believe they are the real problem with the Church. I’m sure a great many priests have affairs with married parishioners (women) and there are communities in the church where that is pervasive as well.

          I study American history and all day long I read references to the clergy sexual abuse problem (referring to all sorts of churches). It is a sad result of people in positions of trust and authority who are unable to control themselves. That is why I liked Francis’ emphasis on getting away from clericalism – you can’t worship the priest and hierarchy, you have to be the community yourself.

          From 1922, though I sense it was written a while before and about experiences that had occurred much earlier:

          “The newspaper devotee runs across a similar item every once in a while, and nearly always the “monster” is a clergyman or a teacher. . . Simply their high ethical standing, and the common fancy that they should therefore be proof against what is incorrectly regarded as the worst of vices, attract greater attention, and give news value to the occasional disclosures.” [He says incorrectly because he is talking generally about homosexual/atypical sexual behavior and kind of blending it all together – it wasn’t well-defined at the time. He is specifically complaining about fellatio, which is what they punished instead of child abuse.]

          And from the same:

          “It would be well for the Church authorities to question, as to their sexuality, all candidates for beginning a theological course, and in the kindest manner advise adolescents in the least bisexual to choose some other profession . . .”

          In another illustration of how complicated sexual categories are, he uses bisexual to mean something close to homosexual or sexually abnormal. Homosexual is a fairly recent term. Of course, homosexuality should in no sense be equated with pedophilia. The author of the above passage has sexual preferences that are a bit hard to follow and may have involved minors, but his emphasis is on the attraction between soldiers/rough working men and “androgyns/female impersonators,” which seem to be homosexuals and people of other sexually atypical lifestyles. They wanted men who looked like ideal physical men, and soldiers tend to attract me and women alike.

          Also, check out this 1909 protest of a school sexual abuse scandal:
          https://archive.org/details/mrsanniebesantmo00fussrich

          Nothing’s as new or shocking as people seem to think. But that doesn’t make it any less disturbing and sad.

          • Yaleocon says:

            If you want to talk about not new, we can also bring up Ancient Greece. I’ve always wondered whether men there were somehow more innately disposed to be pederasts, or whether many people who consider themselves “heterosexual” today could engage in and enjoy pederasty under the right (that is to say, wrong) set of social conditions.

          • mtl1882 says:

            @Yaleocon

            Yes, definitely. I didn’t bring that up because in Greece it seems to have been accepted and unsurprising. I was responding to the idea that clergy sexual abuse was recent/highly anomalous and “no one could have foreseen” such an outrage or its coverup.

            But there is a hilarious willful blindness to historical knowledge of sex. Even the most uptight New Englanders read the ancient Greek plays – they just assumed that was confined to the past. I’m writing a piece on this related to a particular issue I research, which I can’t explain right now. But I regularly see scholars argue that Whitman’s references simply can’t be to oral sex, as the vast majority of people didn’t know about that then. But it was pretty freaking clear. And a letter recently surfaced from Napoleon to Josephine expressing interest in performing the same. Apparently some people knew about it, and maybe Josephine wasn’t as appalling to Napoleon as she is to judgmental historians!

            ETA: The 1922 work I quoted goes on about poor straight men with high sex drives frequently resorting to homosexual sex. I think the issue is less predisposition to things like pederasty (though it certainly is true for some), and more the lack of other options. For a long time, men were absolutely terrified of catching STDs from prostitutes, and they thought masturbation made you insane and crippled. This was probably less true in ancient Greek times, but I’m not sure – I think that was a cultural thing that developed for various reasons and got rather glorified and thus imitated. Combine that with rules about not touching women until marriage, and constant issues with pregnancy and childbirth after marriage, and highly sexual men sought other avenues. There were also ideas about the loftiness of male bonds compared to relationships with allegedly morally and intellectually inferior women (Whitman sort of touches on this).

            I’m not sure if you are interested in this as a subject, but I have writer’s block and tend to be much better at writing articles when I have someone willing to read it. Would you be interested in reading my draft when I get to it? In part, it’s about what people in the 1800s knew about sexuality based on reading ancient Greek texts. No pressure at all, but let me know if you feel like looking it over!

          • PedroS says:

            @mtl1882 “I’m not sure if you are interested in this as a subject, but I have writer’s block and tend to be much better at writing articles when I have someone willing to read it. Would you be interested in reading my draft when I get to it?”

            I am not Yaleocon but I would be delighted to read that draft when you come around to finishing it
            My email (ROT13’d) is
            crqeb.qsg@tznvy.pbz

          • mtl1882 says:

            @PedroS – thanks, I’ll try and finish it soon!

      • Jaskologist says:

        The Male:Female ratio among Catholic priest victims is 4:1. In the general population, most victims are female. The majority are post-pubescent.

        Source, numbers are from 2004

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I would think the overwhelming majority of molestation/statutory victims are post-pubescent, because humans didn’t evolve to suppress sexual attraction to 14-17-year-olds, while a true pedophile is a rare freak with a “thorn in the flesh” (of their brain).

    • outis says:

      My prior is that for a person like McCarrick to become cardinal, and such an influential one, he must have had several people covering for him at a high level. Also, the presence of corrupt people in the Curia is well-known. So I find Viganò’s allegations to be at least credible. He also mentions several witnesses and documents that can confirm key portions of his story, and says more than once that memos are available in various Church offices. It is not unlikely that he has copies of the memos, and may release them later.

      Pope Francis was obviously caught off-guard, and refused to answer any questions, instead saying that the document “speaks for itself” and asking the press to investigate. This was probably the best strategy he could muster after the attack: it would be dangerous to explicitly deny facts that Viganò may be able to prove, and committing to a story too soon could allow Viganò to humiliate him further by releasing further evidence. Instead, by asking the press (which is friendly to him and his “current”) to investigate, he can wait for them to dig up dirt on Viganò and hope that he is forced to show his cards.

      Ultimately, I think Francis will survive this. If he avoids getting caught into too many explicit lies, he can find a suitable way to spin the story. What really matters is his public reputation, and having the press on his side counts for a lot. As juicy as a high-level scandal may seem for the press, they perceive the situation within the church as an extension of secular politics, and there is no way they want the undermine a progressive pope and hand such a big victory to conservatives.

      The child abuse scandal can be big and powerful as long as the press is behind it. Without a sustained campaign from outside the church, meh, the hierarchy can weather it.

      Ultimately, if Francis does not abdicate, the conservatives will have to fall back.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeah, at the moment some of the papers do seem to be treating it as “conservative attacks”. It will be interesting to see if the gay sex angle is played up rather than the ‘bishops knew priests were abusing/bishops were themselves abusing’ (and it’s ignored that Vigano is saying this was priests and bishops having gay sex with younger men). And it is true that Vigano has axes to grind so his claims that ‘I sent a letter which was never acknowledged’ have to be investigated carefully; as discussed elsewhere in another context, even registered letters get mislaid or go astray, whereas a fax is hard copy proof you did send it and it went through. In his statement he does do a lot of “Francis never said anything when I said X, so this must mean he already knew about it” which is subjective interpretation on his part and not evidence that Francis was lying.

        The abuse scandals are very convoluted because (a) they go back decades (b) they’re global (c) they’re slightly different in every country (d) mores have changed so much – for example, the Irish church mother and baby homes scandals, there were similar secular homes in many countries including the US and England which has similar set-ups, but the big deal is being made in Ireland over the religious involvement and the secular scandals never get brought up.

        The American situation has, as someone remarked, three levels: there’s the historic child abuse (non-sexual), the historic child abuse (sexual), and the adult straight and gay sex scandals. The child abuse cases are mostly from years back and are being dealt with. Priests having sex with female parishoners/having children with them has always happened, unfortunately. The gay sex scandals involving (as with Archbishop McCarrick) allegations that he abused his position to proposition and harass seminarians are of more recent vintage (70s-90s) and are really coming to the fore now. It all gets lumped into one big overarching ‘Catholic sex abuse scandal’, though, and the assumption in the public mind is that ‘clergy accused of sex scandal’ means ‘priest with very young children, 12 or under’ and not ‘priest and 18 to 20 year old man’.

      • Nick says:

        Some thoughts, since I haven’t responded to the top-level post:

        My prior is that for a person like McCarrick to become cardinal, and such an influential one, he must have had several people covering for him at a high level.

        This is all but guaranteed. Vigano alleges he had several allies in the Curia and names names; many of these are at least plausible. Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, meanwhile, insists he was never informed about McCarrick’s sanctions, and if Wuerl is telling the truth (never something to bet on), that actually confirms McCarrick must have allies in the Vatican—though it’s more likely Wuerl was simply complicit in the coverup.

        He also mentions several witnesses and documents that can confirm key portions of his story, and says more than once that memos are available in various Church offices.

        We’re starting to see a few of these. He says the Lantheaume had a loud argument with McCarrick about sanctions on him that carried out into the hall; Lantheaume confirmed that this was true. He claims he never quashed the investigation into Archbishop Nienstedt; a document was just produced showing that Cardinal Ouellet was indeed informed by someone in the Nienstedt investigation that this wasn’t true and Vigano only asked that Nienstedt be able to give his response before the investigation continued—though no one involved ever made any effort to exonerate Vigano.

        Pope Francis was obviously caught off-guard, and refused to answer any questions, instead saying that the document “speaks for itself” and asking the press to investigate.

        Yep; it’s quite clear that Vigano chose to release it at this precise time to embarrass Francis. Francis has a habit of doing off the cuff interviews when he gets on the airplane, and in this case the plane was the first place the press could get to him that morning. It’s all the more embarrassing given that Francis was in Ireland and spent so much time apologizing for clerical abuse and denouncing coverups.

        Of course, the fact that Francis couldn’t deny the allegations that he knew and did nothing is extremely telling.

        Instead, by asking the press (which is friendly to him and his “current”) to investigate, he can wait for them to dig up dirt on Viganò and hope that he is forced to show his cards.

        Yep, which the Times has proved it’s eager to do. I was tempted when I read the article Yaleocon linked to fisk it, but there’s no point; we know where the NYT stands on this and that it has little interest in, as you say, handing a victory to conservatives. Credit them this, though: they published Matthew Schmitz’s op-ed, too.

        At the AP, meanwhile, we have this sterling reporting, h/t Dreher:

        (ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE) — Pope Francis declined Sunday to confirm or deny claims by the Vatican’s retired ambassador to the United States that he knew in 2013 about sexual misconduct allegations against the former archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, but rehabilitated him anyway.

        Francis said the 11-page text by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, which reads in part like a homophobic attack on Francis and his allies, “speaks for itself” and that he wouldn’t comment on it.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        The child abuse scandal can be big and powerful as long as the press is behind it. Without a sustained campaign from outside the church, meh, the hierarchy can weather it.

        I don’t know if this is true. The Catholics I speak with, and the websites I read are furious. People want a coup, where the conservative Catholics throw out the modernists, Francis and the homosexual priests to both protect the flock and save the Church from further scandal and embarrassment. The media does not want this to happen , and will likely shill the other way, protecting Francis and ignoring the “gay priests” angle in favor of the “pedo priests / abusers” angle in accordance with my frequent observations on this blog that “don’t make gays uncomfortable” appears to be the highest moral good in current society. But the Church Militant will have none of it, and do not care what the media has to say.

        I do not know how it’s going to end, but I have faith that nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light.

        • albatross11 says:

          I’m active in my (liberal) Catholic parish, and I, my wife, and many of our friends are both heartsick and enraged about it. Our priests have tried to address this in their homilies, but they’re mostly having similar reactions to ours. And I’ve noticed the church, which is usually full during most of the Masses, is a little emptier than before. I don’t know whether that’s anything more than noise (lots of people are on summer vacation), but I have a strong suspicion that this is showing up in how many people show up to Mass and how much money comes in for the collections. I wonder how it will affect how many couples come to the Church for baptism of their children–one of the common threads I’ve heard from people coming back to the Church when they have kids is that they want to raise their kids with some values and the Church is a good place to do that. None of this suggests any kind of decent values in the hierarchy of the Church.

          In some sense, this is the strong and weak point of the Catholic Church. We have a hierarchy, all the way up to the Pope. To believe that this is how things should work requires a belief that the hierarchy is trying to do the right thing–they’re human and they will screw up, but they shouldn’t be actively evil. (Or classic ass-covering bureaucrats who have no moral compass beyond keeping scandals out of the newspapers.) That hierarchy needs to have the moral authority to promulgate moral teachings that we can take seriously.

          The hierarchy moves priests around, so that a parish can have a beloved priest whom everyone’s comfortable with moved away with no warning or explanation, and replaced with a new priest. And that power was used, repeatedly, to move around priests who had taken advantage of their position to have sex[2] with (mostly) adolescent boys. Quieting down the scandal was critical; keeping the abusing priests from spilling whatever dirt they had on their higher-ups[1] was nearly as important. Protecting the kids in the new parish that got that priest was way, way down the list of priorities.

          [1] Apparently made easier by widespread homosexuality among the priesthood–a lot of stories have come out suggesting that there was a lot of sex between priests and seminarians, and that this was more-or-less an open secret in some places. If you spent a couple years having a gay affair with the guy who’s now the bishop, he’s going to have a hard time disciplining you meaningfully for having a gay affair with a 15-year-old altar boy.

          [2] This is not a totally crazy way of handling the normal adult/adult sex scandals–move the priest far away from temptation and hope he reforms his behavior. But you’d like some memory.

          • Randy M says:

            As a conservative protestant with some sympathy for the argument that one should submit themselves to the one Holy church with a tradition leading directly back to the apostles… I hear Orthodox has nice trappings, too.

        • Nick says:

          The trouble with “the websites [you] read” (and I read, for the record) is that they tend to be populated by traditionalist or traditionalist-sympathetic Catholics—a small percentage of the Church with little institutional power. What we have, bizarrely, is a disproportionate number of journalists, which it seems is our only path to effect change. But notice that even so rags like the National Catholic Reporter are busy running interference for the pope. I gather from reading others’ comments that some local priests, and some local bishops, are talking about it, but meanwhile, I haven’t heard a word from my parish or bishop, and so long as Winters or the NYT are crafting the narrative, it will be “Evil Conservatives Attack Pope for Preaching Peace, Love.”

          (Note also that it’s not as though Tosatti, Montagna, Pentin, Dreher, Douthat, et al. are unbiased either. I have a lot of respect for Rod, but he’s a blogger right now, not a journalist. He doesn’t have the resources to investigate the alleged Nienstedt coverup (which Dawn Eden Goldstein has been proving to be more complicated than LifeSiteNews and Vigano would have us believe), much less the McCarrick coverup. And he’s understandably more interested in McCarrick than Nienstedt, but he still looks credulous when he immediately accepts Vigano’s version of the latter events.)

        • outis says:

          Furious though they may be, what avenues do the conservatives have if the Pope does not abdicate? They cannot split with the papacy or they’re hardly conservatives any more.

          • Nick says:

            It’s not even clear the pope should abdicate. Anyway, I’d rather see a sacking of the curia—as thorough as it needs to be—before any resignation from the pope, or we’ll be in the same mess we were in before. Worse, given the appointments Francis has been so eagerly making.

          • One thing that strikes me about this whole controversy is that the central factual question should be easy to answer. Did McCarrick keep a very low profile–no traveling, no speeches–for several years before Francis became pope, then become active again under Francis?

            If the answer is yes, that supports Vigano’s story pretty strongly—it’s hard to imagine that if the previous pope had put McCarrick under severe restrictions his successor wouldn’t know about it. If the answer is no then Vigano’s story is false.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Vigano’s letter gets pretty specific in naming names and documentation to the point that it literally says “All the memos, letters and other documentation mentioned here are available at the Secretariat of State of the Holy See or at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C.” That’s Vigano screaming to reporters to go follow-up on this.

            But I don’t think they want to. The NY Times even went with a “Conservatives Pounce!“* headline, which I think signals pretty clearly how they intend to cover this story: with a pillow, until it stops moving.

            That and the pope’s non-denial make me rate the contents as highly likely to be true.

            * The print title was even better: Francis Takes High Road As Conservatives Pounce

          • Nick says:

            Did McCarrick keep a very low profile–no traveling, no speeches–for several years before Francis became pope, then become active again under Francis?

            Folks at the National Catholic Reporter were telling a story rather like this about McCarrick a few years ago: Benedict had sidelined him, but now Francis isn’t. Observe this choice quote:

            [T]he cardinal was soon back at his guest room in the U.S. seminary in Rome when the phone rang. It was Francis. The two men had known each other for years, back when the Argentine pope was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires. McCarrick assured Francis that he was doing fine.

            “I guess the Lord isn’t done with me yet,” he told the pope.

            “Or the devil doesn’t have your accommodations ready!” Francis shot back with a laugh.

            Here we have the narrative I’m speaking of:

            McCarrick is one of a number of senior churchmen who were more or less put out to pasture during the eight-year pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. But now Francis is pope, and prelates like Cardinal Walter Kasper (another old friend of McCarrick’s) and McCarrick himself are back in the mix and busier than ever.

            McCarrick in particular has been on a tear in the past year, traveling to the Philippines to console typhoon victims and visiting geopolitical pivot points such as China and Iran for sensitive talks on religious freedom and nuclear proliferation.

            It’s quite obvious, though, that McCarrick was less active during Benedict and more active during Francis. The real question, whether there were secret sanctions on McCarrick placed by Benedict known to Wuerl and dozens of others, is harder to answer. We know McCarrick definitely did have public appearances after the alleged sanctions: he celebrated a mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York during the Benedict papacy; he went on at least one diplomatic mission; he was with the rest of the cardinals with Benedict in Rome for his birthday or something like that. However, it’s not at all hard to believe McCarrick flouted these sanctions—it, uh, wouldn’t be the first time he’s done something he shouldn’t have.

            What’s more, the Register reports that a source close to Benedict has confirmed Benedict recalls placing sanctions on McCarrick, though not their specific nature; McCarrick was indeed moved out of the seminary he was staying at; Lantheaume, noted in the testimony as willing to testify that the previous nuncio, Sambi, had a stormy confrontation with McCarrick that could be heard in the hall when these sanctions were to be reported has said “Vigano said the truth”; and McFadden, the Archdiocese of Washington’s rep, has said that Wuerl did cancel the event where McCarrick was to meet seminarians, saying only that it was “at the nuncio’s request.” None of it is conclusive, but that’s a lot of puzzle pieces starting to fall into place—and surely, at some point, warrants some actual investigative reporting instead of character assassination.

            One last thing: why secret sanctions? These exist; Benedict apparently used the same on Marciel Maciel until that was uncovered. This is a failing on Benedict’s part, I believe, and it shames me, because I respected Benedict, and now it seems clear that he was covering it up. Granted, what Benedict would have known about was the abuse of seminarians, not of minors; it was only when the Archdiocese of New York announced in June the credible claim by the 16 year old (followed by the New York Times breaking the story about the seminarians and then the 11 year old) that public sanctions were ever brought against McCarrick. Nonetheless, a good deal of the onus for this mess belongs on Benedict, who, if Vigano is telling the truth, imposed sanctions which were hard to even enforce and which brought, it is needless to say, no justice for his victims.

          • albatross11 says:

            Secret sanctions sound very much like what you’d get when you were trying to address bad behavior, but were also extremely concerned about causing a scandal. Which absolutely fits the way the Church has handled these scandals over the last several decades–mission #1 was apparently protecting the Church’s reputation. This has not actually worked out very well, in the end.

            Though one thing strikes me about the quoted conversation is that it could only have come from Pope Francis or Cardinal McCarrick. How else could the reporter have known what they said to each other on the phone. (Alternative possibility: the reporter is moonlighting from his full-time job at the NSA.)

          • Nick says:

            Though one thing strikes me about the quoted conversation is that it could only have come from Pope Francis or Cardinal McCarrick. How else could the reporter have known what they said to each other on the phone.

            The article claims that’s a story McCarrick likes to tell, so it’s likely the reporter got it from McCarrick himself or through the grapevine.

            It’s creepy as shit on its own, of course, given the allegations. But it’s actually worse than that, when you give it a little more context. Do you remember the famous “Who am I to judge?” The context was a Msgr Ricca, a scandal-ridden bureaucrat at the Vatican bank who was living with his gay lover and was caught several times in compromising situations. The pope was being asked about this with Ricca’s latest situation in Venezuela—where he was shipped off to when the pressure got too high in Rome:

            Ilze Scamparini: I would like permission to ask a delicate question: another image that has been going around the world is that of Monsignor Ricca and the news about his private life. I would like to know, Your Holiness, what you intend to do about this? How are you confronting this issue and how does Your Holiness intend to confront the whole question of the gay lobby?

            Pope Francis: About Monsignor Ricca: I did what canon law calls for, that is a preliminary investigation. And from this investigation, there was nothing of what had been alleged. We did not find anything of that. This is the response.
            But I wish to add something else: I see that many times in the Church, over and above this case, but including this case, people search for “sins from youth”, for example, and then publish them. They are not crimes, right? Crimes are something different: the abuse of minors is a crime. No, sins.
            But if a person, whether it be a lay person, a priest or a religious sister, commits a sin and then converts, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives. When we confess our sins and we truly say, “I have sinned in this”, the Lord forgets, and so we have no right not to forget, because otherwise we would run the risk of the Lord not forgetting our sins. That is a danger.
            This is important: a theology of sin. Many times I think of Saint Peter. He committed one of the worst sins, that is he denied Christ, and even with this sin they made him Pope. We have to think a great deal about that.
            But, returning to your question more concretely. In this case, I conducted the preliminary investigation and we didn’t find anything. This is the first question. Then, you spoke about the gay lobby. So much is written about the gay lobby. I still haven’t found anyone with an identity card in the Vatican with “gay” on it. They say there are some there.
            I believe that when you are dealing with such a person, you must distinguish between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of someone forming a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. This one is not good.
            If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way, saying … wait a moment, how does it say it … it says: “no one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society”. The problem is not having this tendency, no, we must be brothers and sisters to one another, and there is this one and there is that one. The problem is in making a lobby of this tendency: a lobby of misers, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of masons, so many lobbies. For me, this is the greater problem.

            These remarks were made one month after Vigano claims to have informed Francis about McCarrick’s dossier.

            Vigano said this is how McCarrick responded to him when he informed him of the sanctions upon becoming nuncio:

            In turn, I repeated them to Cardinal McCarrick at my first meeting with him at the Nunciature. The Cardinal, muttering in a barely comprehensible way, admitted that he had perhaps made the mistake of sleeping in the same bed with some seminarians at his beach house, but he said this as if it had no importance

            And lastly, this from Tornielli yesterday, a very Francis-friendly reporter:

            It is worth remembering: no one has ever spoken, let alone denounced, about child abuse. We are talking about harassment of people of full age, which – given that it is the bishop who invites his seminarians or priests to bed, are actually an abuse. There is no such thing as a situation of equality, before it being a sexual abuse, it is an abuse of clerical power. Although no one has ever said that to invite seminarians close to the priesthood and young priests to sleep with him, “Uncle Tedˮ (as McCarrick called himself) used forms of violence or threats.

  30. LesHapablap says:

    What are the arguments for and against restricting foreign/non-resident purchasing of residential property?

    Secondly, in NZ the new restrictions are softened by allowing foreign buyers of properties over 2.5MM. The idea with the >2.5MM exception is that those properties weren’t going to be purchased by first-home buyers or Kiwis anyway so it shouldn’t affect the market much, and that the purchases will inject foreign money into the economy. Do those ideas have merit?

    • Guy in TN says:

      The best reason I could think of in support of restricting sales to NZ residents, would be to lower demand and thus lower property values, making the property more affordable for the average NZ resident. If you goal is to provide affordable housing to the average person, the market becomes more efficient by restricting it in this way.

      In this reasoning, the 2.5 million cut off is logical, since that is outside the range of your typical family dwelling, and you are probably dealing with a lot more luxury vacation homes.

      • baconbits9 says:

        The best reason I could think of in support of restricting sales to NZ residents, would be to lower demand and thus lower property values, making the property more affordable for the average NZ resident. If you goal is to provide affordable housing to the average person, the market becomes more efficient by restricting it in this way.

        Lower property values benefit people who don’t own at the expense of people who do, the only way you can make housing “more affordable” for the average person is if the majority of people aren’t homeowners. It looks like home ownership rates in NZ are around 65%, so this is unlikely to be true.

        Secondly for this condition to hold in the long run you need some combination of home costs being disconnected from construction costs or construction costs decreasing or population shrinkage. If these aren’t powerful drivers then what you get is a decline in the quantity or quality of housing to compensate for the lower prices.

        So basically such a scheme is only plausibly going to benefit people who currently don’t own homes at the expense of people who currently own homes and people who will want to own homes in the future.

        • Thegnskald says:

          NZ lacks property taxes, as I understand it, which means foreign investment might be a much bigger distortion than in regions with property taxes.

          Which is to say – it is very plausible that construction cost and home cost are more easily disconnected in NZ than, say, the US, since foreign investment could swamp the real-estate market without the usual checks holding prices stable.

          • baconbits9 says:

            What do you mean by “investment”?

            Purchasing homes and leaving them empty, purchasing homes and living in them, purchasing empty land and letting it sit.

            Or purchasing land and building on it, or purchasing homes and renting them out?

            These are separate categories for such a discussion.

            The main issue is, as always, what is unseen. If NZ has its own currency then for housing to be bid up this way you need people demanding NZ currency, which should strengthen its purchasing power and lower the costs of other goods in proportion to the housing cost rise. In general it is hard to get a real increase in the cost of living through these mechanisms when you have currency barriers.

          • Thegnskald says:

            baconbits9 –

            In the short term, sure.

            In the long term, if property values are driven up by foreign investors – who have no reason to sell to New Zealanders specifically – then the nice cars and computers you imported thirty years ago in exchange for that land aren’t going to compensate your country for the fact that a lot of the real estate is now unusable and bundled up in investment portfolios.

            The lack of property taxes turns property in NZ into an excellent store of value whose value becomes neatly severed from its development.

            The fact that it might be worth even more, if developed, might seem an excellent reason to develop it – except that this won’t happen until the opportunity cost of the development is favorable. That is, not only do you have to be able to make money developing it, but you have to be able to make more money than any of your other investment opportunities. Given that the land is only going to get more valuable, anyways, its use as a store of value may far dominate its development potential.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The lack of property taxes turns property in NZ into an excellent store of value whose value becomes neatly severed from its development.

            I doubt this would be true on a large scale, again you have currency issues from the get go. If you are purchasing larges amounts of NZ currency to then buy land and sit on it for long periods of time attempting to liquidate exposes you to large currency risks, especially since liquidating and selling and then exchanging currency is going to weaken the currency and purchasing is going to strengthen it. Not only that you are betting that NZ won’t eventually institute a property tax as it becomes an island of renters.

            In the long term, if property values are driven up by foreign investors – who have no reason to sell to New Zealanders specifically – then the nice cars and computers you imported thirty years ago in exchange for that land aren’t going to compensate your country for the fact that a lot of the real estate is now unusable and bundled up in investment portfolios.

            Lets run though a scenario: Lots of lots of foreign investors purchase homes and apartment buildings and rent them out to New Zealanders. The expected economic outcome is to drive up the nominal price of housing, but the supply and demand for living space is the same so rents should stay roughly the same. The end result should be in the range of “home ownership is harder/more expensive but cost of living is the same or less overall”, plus all of the current homeowners (a majority of NZers according to google) get the gains associated with the higher nominal prices.

            If the outside buyers are buying and developing it is almost certainly a net positive for the average NZer, which leaves only one real option for a net negative impact. Outside buyers are purchasing and preventing development that would have otherwise happened.

            The fact that it might be worth even more, if developed, might seem an excellent reason to develop it – except that this won’t happen until the opportunity cost of the development is favorable.

            When would it be favorable to develop? Almost certainly when nominal home prices are rising. If NZ has a construction crisis because their government won’t allow development then this is a major issue, but then the issue is not the investors its bad housing policy or NIMBYism.

          • baconbits9 says:

            That is, not only do you have to be able to make money developing it, but you have to be able to make more money than any of your other investment opportunities. Given that the land is only going to get more valuable, anyways, its use as a store of value may far dominate its development potential.

            How is it a given that the land is going to get more valuable? Allowing foreign investment doesn’t guarantee foreign investment. You are baking in all kinds of assumptions, and if the land is a given to be more valuable then the largest beneficiaries would be the largest group of landowners which is going to be NZers.

        • David Speyer says:

          “Lower property values benefit people who don’t own at the expense of people who do”

          I want to push back on this. I plan to stay in my house for 10-20 years; if I did move it would almost surely be to another house that I would buy; banks already offer me far more credit than I need. A general rise in property values (which would also increase the price of the house I was moving to) would raise my taxes and raise the transaction costs of a potential move without benefit to me.

          I don’t know anything about NZ politics, but it seems reasonable to me for the government to aim to make house purchase be about a way of lodging, not an investment.

    • LesHapablap says:

      Guy in TN,

      Yes that seems reasonable (that it would lower house prices).

      The exception for >2.5MM though, wouldn’t purchases above that also raise house prices? It would also encourage developers to build luxury homes instead of more affordable homes.

      One argument for the 2.5MM exception, and against restrictions generally, is that the money that flows in from the house purchases will benefit the NZ economy. Is this true?

      • Guy in TN says:

        One argument for the 2.5MM exception, and against restrictions generally, is that the money that flows in from the house purchases will benefit the NZ economy. Is this true?

        Well yes, having no restrictions will primarily make real estate developers wealthier, and they might spend some of that money somewhere down the line in other aspects of the NZ economy. Standard trickle-down stuff.

        This is one of those cases where you can clearly see the disconnect between economic value and utility. If you want to maximize economic value, you let the developers build what they want and sell to who they want. If this results in poor New Zealanders living in cardboard boxes, well, they weren’t creating much market value in the first place, compared to the economic value in building a billionaire’s fifth vacation home.

        If you want to maximize utility though, you instead have to take into consideration the fulfillment of human desires (e.g. food, shelter), regardless of how the expression of those desires manifests itself in the marketplace. In this way, you might actually fulfill more utility by allowing a first time home buyer to purchase a $50,000 family home, rather than allowing the creation of a $500,000
        vacation house, despite the latter creating 10x market value.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Well yes, having no restrictions will primarily make real estate developers wealthier, and they might spend some of that money somewhere down the line in other aspects of the NZ economy. Standard trickle-down stuff.

          No, real estate developers are people developing real estate, which means construction, which means jobs and productivity. You don’t have to resort to “standard trickle down stuff” to show economic benefits.

        • The Red Foliot says:

          If there’s a market for the $50k people, shouldn’t there be real estate developers working to capitalize on it, regardless of the $500k people? The only way I can see for the market to fail to satisfy both demands here, is if there’s an approachable limit on the amount of land available, so that the wealthier people get to have all of it. But I don’t think there’s an approachable limit. Not in New Zealand, not even in North America.

          • John Schilling says:

            If the fixed costs of e.g regulatory compliance for new construction is $50K/unit, there will be zero developers working to capitalize on the $50K market. Even at $25K/unit it will be marginal.

            There may be units newly available at $50K, because that’s all the market will bear now that all their formerly-$100K owners have moved on to what used to be $200K units whose owners have decamped for actual new $500K construction. This sort of hand-me-down real estate market may not be as efficient as doing new construction directly targeted at the market you care about, but it’s more politically plausible than getting a hundred separate interest groups to back down on mandates that each add “only” $500 to the cost and serve some great and worthy cause.

          • Guy in TN says:

            The only way I can see for the market to fail to satisfy both demands here

            That the market only satisfies economic demand is the problem. If I want to buy a house, and I only have $1000 dollars, the market will determine that I want to live in a cardboard box, and my “demands” will be satisfied.

            The market will, of course, give people something for a $50,000 home, and this will tautologically satisfy demand in the economic sense. But whether this scenario alone is the best way to maximize human utility is doubtful. After all, we can change what the market decides by shaping the rules of it (e.g., whether foreign money is restricted), and the status-quo market outcomes are just the result of the rules that were decided beforehand.

            The rationale behind restricting foreign money, and thus reducing demand, is not to just decrease home values and make them more affordable for first time buyers, but to increase the quality of house you can purchase for $50,000.

          • Guy in TN says:

            The only way I can see for the market to fail to satisfy both demands here, is if there’s an approachable limit on the amount of land available, so that the wealthier people get to have all of it.

            I assumed that having a “limit on the amount of land available” was a given, seeing how it is the classic example of a zero-sum good.

            At the very least, you would surely agree that zoning law prohibits unlimited construction possibilities?

    • alef says:

      It’s worth being clear that foreign/non-resident means foreign AND non-resident. It’s not “hard” to become a NZ resident if you have decent demographics and skills, and then, still: live there, buy a house. There is the belief (not sure how true it is – it happens, but how much and which how much impact???) that overseas Chinese are buying and leaving vacant numbers of houses just to have an ownership foothold outside China. That belief makes this type of law popular.

      On the one hand, that this is a significant effect sounds unintuitive, racist, and seems likely to be economic self-harm. On the other hand, there really is a huge flow of Chinese money trying to establish foreign assets, real estate is a big deal, and something I read recently said that of the usual suspects (e.g. California, Western Canada, etc) NZ was the fourth most popular destination in absolute, not relative, terms. Problem: NZ is tiny; China isn’t. That this would twist the property market isn’t completely nuts.

      I don’t have any thoughts on the 2.5MM threshold, but it’s also relevant that foreign buyers can still build/buy brand new homes.

      NZ home prices in Auckland (the major city) seem to be insane by most standards. Normalized by average income (even average regional income) are, I think (may be wrong but if so not by much) worse than Silicon Valley.

    • baconbits9 says:

      be purchased by first-home buyers or Kiwis anyway so it shouldn’t affect the market much, and that the purchases will inject foreign money into the economy.

      Push back about the “inject foreign money into the economy” concept (ignoring for simplicity the foreign exchange market).

      It is only a net injection if the person selling the house is only going to spend that money in NZ, and all the people who get the money he spends also spend it in NZ, etc, etc, etc. If the seller goes out and buys a yacht made in a foreign country or a house in a foreign country then there is no net injection. If the seller buys a different house in NZ and THAT seller goes out and buys a house in a different country then there is no net injection. If every house seller all the way down the line buys a house in NZ that will push up prices, which should push up construction and be a net gain to the economy.

    • arlie says:

      Something I haven’t seen here, is market distortions due to foreign investment buying.

      In Canada, it seems that the problematic foreign buying is concentrated in a small number of cities. Properties are bought and left vacant, rather than being rented out or occuppied by their owners. The result is a reduced supply of housing, at a higher price, for both purchasers and renters. People born in one of these cities leave, and there is much political drama. And Toronto and Vancouver have housing prices way out of line with the rest of the country.

      Note that I have no detailed evicence of this – I have not looked at what statistics may or may not exist – this is just the generally understood description as reported to me [= bitched about ;-)] by Canadians living in Canada. And I don’t know whether the NZ picture is the same.

  31. Brett says:

    I had an odd thought earlier today about capitalism. One of the under-rated benefits of capitalism in a democratic society is that it separates out a lot of the ruthless, competitive people who otherwise would be competing for political power directly in the state and its hierarchy, and channels them into private sector competition where they can do less damage through oligarchical competition (while people who are more civic-minded and less accumulative are more likely to go into public sector work).

    That doesn’t mean that they have no influence on politics as such (very obviously not), just that it’s less direct than it would be in a system where the “public” and “private” distinction doesn’t exist. A lot of them instead spend their days racking up share value as a form of points scoring by increasing the size and value of the businesses they own – and they fight against other ambitious folks doing the same thing (elite “churn” is good as well).

    • Michael Handy says:

      For similar solutions, see Versailles, parts of the Chinese system, and other cultural attempts by governments at stopping the upper classes from burning everything down for a shiny bauble of power.

      The problem, is, once you get a substantial fraction of the elite and wannabe elite competing at something it becomes a pathological status game. Capitalism (and to a lesser extent the Ivory Tower of Academia) clearly was superior as it forced the status game into something productive rather than calligraphy or frilly dresses, but now the game seems to have overcome the actual productivity almost completely.

    • AG says:

      I’ve seen it written that this was one of the points of the Light Novel/anime Saga of Tanya the Evil. In one life, he’s just a jerk boss middle manager, with ambition of climbing the corporate ladder. In another, he slaughters his enemies, as a military figure.
      The musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” indirectly touches on this, as well. Being a cutthroat businessman doesn’t actually sever jugulars.

      But the argument against is that the scale of suffering has broadened, with globalism. Maybe the CEO of a big investment bank involved with the housing crisis didn’t directly murder anyone, like the local crime syndicate, but the thousands of people who lost their homes, lost their jobs, perhaps got addicted to opiates, might outweigh that. Hence the shift in some ideologies to systemic impact.

  32. ansiton says:

    What is the hivemind’s opinion on theta burst stimulation, which appears to be a new variant on transcranial brain stimulation? I’ve heard good things but it is always so hard to separate the temporary excitement around a new approach versus the long term results of an anti-depression treatment.

  33. Education Hero says:

    Fellow accounting/finance commenters (and any other interested parties), I’d love to get your opinions on the following tax policy proposal:

    Situation: The current approach to corporate financial statements in the United States is to use one set for financial reporting purposes (e.g. SEC filings, raising capital) and another set for tax purposes (e.g. for the IRS). Typically, the financial reporting statements are presented in a manner that overstates the company’s financial position to increase the company’s share prices and access to capital, while tax statements are presented in a manner that understates the company’s financial position to reduce their tax liability.

    Proposal: Require businesses to use the same set of statements for both financial reporting and tax reporting. This would reduce the incentive to over- or understate a company’s financial position due to the mutually opposed incentives.

    Expected Results:
    1. Increased transparency to financial analysts and investors as financial statements would be less optimized to create misleading impressions
    2. Increased corporate tax revenue; depending on your opinion of current corporate tax rates, that can be offset with an accompanying rate cut (smaller businesses would disproportionately benefit since they are likely optimizing their statements less)
    3. Significantly reduced accounting overhead

    I acknowledge that there would be significant rent-seeking pushback against such a proposal, but are there are any other drawbacks (or benefits) that I’ve missed?

    • The Nybbler says:

      If public companies provide different information to the IRS and to the SEC, it’s because the IRS and SEC are asking for different information, or have different accounting standards for calculating it. They aren’t pulling some sort of moustache-twisting fast one; they save that for non-GAAP metrics.

      • Education Hero says:

        I’m aware that the standards are different, but my proposal is to unify them.

        I’m not making any accusations of impropriety here; companies have a fiduciary duty to maximize shareholder return and minimize tax burden, and the differing approaches to financial reporting and tax reporting properly reflect this.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I know next to nothing about accounting or finance, but I’ll ask you the same question that I ask of every would-be reformer: how are you going to actually implement your policy into practice ? Is there some way, politically speaking, of passing the laws that you propose ? If the answer is “no”, then debating the benefits of your policy (or lack thereof) is pointless.

      • Education Hero says:

        To the general public, this would be a relatively boring special interest matter, so political feasibility depends most upon the three key stakeholders:

        1. Businesses stand to benefit from the reduction in overhead, and can be bought off with the aforementioned rate reduction.
        2. Financial analysts and investors would generally favor greater transparency, though some may currently benefit from opaqueness as a rent-seeking matter because they have a competitive advantage in dealing with reduced transparency.
        3. The accounting profession would probably generally oppose this proposal for rent-seeking reasons, though the growing diversification of the Big Four professional services firms means that they aren’t quite hit as hard as they once would have been.

        All things considered, I would expect that this proposal would be reasonably politically feasible if the implementation details are well thought-out. The relevant stakeholders have accepted many similar simplification pushes in the past, provided they’ve had reasonable transition times and a seat at the discussion table.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Not my expertise, but:
      The only real result is #1. This is a one-way information black hole: the IRS gets to see everything the SEC/Wall Street does and more, and IRS rules require companies to explain any differences between their IRS numbers and their Wall Street numbers. So it’s not as if Uncle Sam is getting jipped on tax revenue, it’s Wall Street getting duped.

      IRS disclosures are also private, so we also can’t really say the IRS is getting duped. Presumably not too badly, because the IRS hires lots of really intelligent people that have lots of time to go over lots of tax returns. Either way, there’s probably two reasons we don’t want public companies to adhere to IRS guidelines in SEC statements:
      1. There is a ton of confidential information in there. My 10-K might detail that I have a factory and some stuff in there. The IRS disclosure probably requires listing out every single asset along with the depreciation schedule. And the asset list is HUGE. I have the binders for our non-taggable assets (like, the floor), and they fill an entire bookshelf. That’s like 10% of our assets, and that’s just one for factory. Our company would not want to reveal that information to the public.
      2. It’s a ton of work to comply with the above, and I don’t want to duplicate work on a quarterly basis to provide “color” on this annual report.

      The above gives a really big incentive to take the whole company private, which just makes the whole situation even worse.

      And I’m not sure the benefit is THAT much? It seems like the big collapses (WorldCom, Enron) are the kinds of things you wouldn’t pick up on regardless.

      But again, this is not my area of expertise. My inclination would be requiring the disclosure of certain high-level items (net income, gross income, gross receipts, net receipts, deprecation, taxes paid and for what years, yadda yadda) but not require the presumably-odious disclosures the IRS requires.

      Also, as Nybbler says, there’s isn’t One Law of Accounting. There are different standards and different stakeholders/agencies might want different reporting according to these different standards.

      • Education Hero says:

        IRS disclosures are also private, so we also can’t really say the IRS is getting duped. Presumably not too badly, because the IRS hires lots of really intelligent people that have lots of time to go over lots of tax returns.

        I’m certainly not suggesting the IRS is getting duped. Current corporate tax rates already reflect the current levels of tax optimization.

        1. There is a ton of confidential information in there. My 10-K might detail that I have a factory and some stuff in there. The IRS disclosure probably requires listing out every single asset along with the depreciation schedule. And the asset list is HUGE. I have the binders for our non-taggable assets (like, the floor), and they fill an entire bookshelf. That’s like 10% of our assets, and that’s just one for factory. Our company would not want to reveal that information to the public.
        2. It’s a ton of work to comply with the above, and I don’t want to duplicate work on a quarterly basis to provide “color” on this annual report.

        Supplemental statements to the IRS can be separate and required only when filing your taxes. The proposed unification is concerned with differences such as taking more depreciation for tax purposes than for financial reporting.

        And I’m not sure the benefit is THAT much? It seems like the big collapses (WorldCom, Enron) are the kinds of things you wouldn’t pick up on regardless.

        One key advantage to unification with respect to fraudulent accounting is that you have an extra set of eyes on the same set of statements. If financial analysts, investors, and the IRS are all looking at one set of statements, fraud has a lower chance of slipping by.

        Also, as Nybbler says, there’s isn’t One Law of Accounting. There are different standards and different stakeholders/agencies might want different reporting according to these different standards.

        I do have an accounting background, so I am well aware of the different standards. The idea here is that unification should be possible in a manner satisfactory to all relevant stakeholders (at least to my knowledge and the knowledge of various accounting professors that I have discussed this with).

    • Thegnskald says:

      Simple: You cannot charge somebody for tax evasion if correctly reporting their taxes would result in them being charged for a crime.

      The fifth amendment forbids laws which require people to testify against themselves. (This is also why you can’t charge a felon for failing to register a firearm – the requirement to register, given they can’t legally own a firearm, amounts to a requirement that they testify that they are breaking the law.)

      The firewall between the IRS and all other law enforcement exists to skirt the fifth amendment. As soon as you combine tax and any other legal code, your tax law becomes less effective and less enforceable.

      • Education Hero says:

        Excellent point.

        Is there any reason that this cannot be simply resolved through a supplemental IRS form allowing disclosure of illegal income, to be submitted only to the IRS in addition to the unified financial statements?

        • Thegnskald says:

          At that point, you are effectively back to having two sets of accounts.

          • Education Hero says:

            For the legal portions of the statements (and since my proposal is directed at businesses, as opposed to individuals, there should be less illegal activity), it would still result in unified accounting of aspects like capitalization/depreciation, cash flows, compensation, etc.

    • SamChevre says:

      I’ve been proposing this for years, so strongly in favor.

    • Chalid says:

      Tax paid is already a standard reported item, so investors are already aware of any major discrepancy between what is being reported to the IRS and what the company is telling them.

      I don’t know anything about corporate tax, but I would expect that public disclosure at the level of detail the IRS requires would be very harmful for a company’s competitive position. Things like e.g. a detailed breakdown of rental revenue by property would be the sort of thing a company would strongly prefer that its competitors not know about.

      • SamChevre says:

        I agree that disclosure at tax reporting levels would be problematic. My proposal is in the other direction: get rid of the tax basis for income and associated reporting altogether, and tax GAAP income. Most of the weird rules and disclosures for tax are because reducing income is a straightforward benefit for tax purposes; having GAAP, which everyone watches and tries to maximize, drive taxation would align the incentives better.

        You can see some discussion of the idea here (scan down-I did mention I’ve proposed this for a long time).

        • Chalid says:

          Don’t the tax authorities need the granularity of the existing system for auditing purposes?

          • SamChevre says:

            The tax authorities might need the granularity of current reporting for auditing purposes; I hadn’t considered that. But that just means that you provide additional support for your publicly-reported numbers to the IRS.

            Reporting tax paid doesn’t have the same effect; taxes paid is a mixture of taxes based on current income, taxes based on past tax-income-specific items, tax offsets from past losses, etc, etc. So far as I know, current taxable income is not reported.

  34. theredsheep says:

    In The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis claims that a certain amount of virtue is necessary to make a really terrible villain (the examples he gives are Atilla’s courage and, uh, the fictional evil Jew Shylock’s asceticism, for some reason). This stuck with me, and really came back to me when Trump was elected, because Trump, quite simply, appears to lack all virtue in the classical sense. That is, he doesn’t possess any character trait I can determine that one should be proud of, or which would ordinarily lead to prosperity or flourishing. He isn’t honest, kind, loyal, brave, modest, temperate, prudent, generous, diligent, or anything else like that. And he seems to prove Lewis’s claim in a negative way, in that his vices undercut each other. He’s too lazy to attempt anything really ambitious and stick to it, too vain and insecure to act decisively in the face of criticism, too self-centered to dedicate himself to any kind of grand cause. He appears to be a perfectly failed human being, and content to sit around tweeting inflammatory things and calling for parades. Also a very large amount of otherwise pedestrian corruption.

    Anyway, what about positive examples? What are the virtues of history’s monsters? What were Hitler’s virtues, or Mao’s, or Stalin’s? I’ve read about Hitler’s early life, and the best I’ve got is that he was legitimately idealistic in the sense of really believing that Germany was doomed and anything was justified to save her. Other than that, he was legitimately brave when necessary and could work hard within the limited sphere of touring Germany giving endless rabblerousing speeches. Then again, Trump can do that. He’s just not one tenth as good at it.

    Please, praise monsters for me, or give me an example of a total monster who nevertheless did tons of damage.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Regardless of how you feel about Trump, at the very least you’ve got to admit that he was elected to the highest office in the land, in the face of overwhelming opposition and against all odds. That’s got to count for something. Moreover, he continues to enjoy a reasonably high degree of popularity, despite his enemies’ continuously sustained efforts to undermine that popularity. He has also accomplished a certain number of his stated political goals (however evil those goals might be), though the extent of his accomplishments is certainly arguable.

      I’m more of a consequentialist than a virtue ethicist. If your virtue-based model predicts that Trump should utterly fail at his own goals; and observation informs us that Tump is not utterly failing; then perhaps your model is wrong and virtues don’t matter as much as you think they do.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        If your virtue-based model predicts that Trump should utterly fail at his own goals; and observation informs us that Tump is not utterly failing; then perhaps your model is wrong and virtues don’t matter as much as you think they do.

        That, or perhaps you’ve not properly identified the virtues. I’ve heard a lot of people cite his nativism, for example, and more specifically his protectionism.

        Another factor is that he’s being graded on a curve with effectively two points. He doesn’t have to be “virtuous”, per se; just more virtuous, in the eyes of the voters, than the alternative.

    • cassander says:

      Hitler was, by all accounts far more than a rabble rouser, but a brilliant and charismatic speaker. Stalin was one of the greatest bureaucratic manipulators in history. Mao managed to win a 3 decades long multisided civil war and is widely considered one of the greatest insurgent generals in history. That they used their gifts for evil ends doesn’t mean that they didn’t have gifts. Had they not had those gifts, they never would have gotten the power to do all that evil in the first place.

      As for trump, as bugmaster says, he did win an election that very few people could win against a field of people who were vastly more experienced in the political arena and against the opposition of much of his own party.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Also, wasn’t Hitler a war hero? He got the Iron Cross for bravery and was even gassed.

        • dndnrsn says:

          He was awarded both degrees of the Iron Cross, but this isn’t as impressive as some think it is – millions of the second class and hundreds of thousands of the first class got awarded in both wars. In general, in both wars, the Germans seem to have been considerably freer in handing out medals (eg, over 7k recipients of the Knight’s Cross and variants, issued only in WWII, vs 1,355 recipients of the Victoria Cross over its entire history) and far more likely to hand out the same medals out for command effectiveness as for valour (plus, this being Nazi Germany, medals got handed out for behaviour that was distinctly unheroic – eg, the guy who was in charge of putting the Warsaw uprising down was awarded the Knight’s Cross, medals were handed out to commanders of death squads, etc).

          So, he was a war hero, but of a fairly commonplace sort: he played up his image as a common soldier far more.

          • theredsheep says:

            IIRC he ran messages, sometimes through dangerous ground. There’s no reason to believe he was an actual coward. The beer-hall putsch, asinine as it was, probably took a certain amount of courage. He was up in the front lines when they exchanged fire with the police. Or so I recall. I read that biography months ago.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Yeah, he was a runner, which I think was a relatively dangerous job, and he was willing to get shot at in the putsch attempt. However, it’s a common misunderstanding concerning the Iron Cross – it doesn’t require suicidal bravery like one sees in VC citations or whatever.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I can’t tell if Lewis is just saying that you can’t be a really successful villain unless you’re competent, or something more profound.

      Stalin, Hitler, and Trump are all competent (in different ways!) at getting power, which seems to qualify. I think Trump’s special competence is in getting and holding people’s attention, sort of a very particular type of PR. I agree that doesn’t really match well to “virtue”, but I think the competence framing is probably better than the virtue framing for just this reason.

      • arlie says:

        I suspect that Lewis, given his beliefs, really meant virtue, and reframing as competence wouldn’t have worked for him.

        For me, the framing as competence is somewhat a tautology. Let’s say I’m writing a thriller, or an EOTWAWKI story, and require a villain attempting to exterminate the human race. It’s not even going to be worth reading or writing if they don’t have a plausible plan, within their abilities, or close to it. And they certainly aren’t going to succeed – really life super villain – if they aren’t competent to implement whatever method they settle on.

        Even the most banal of evil generally requires a lot of people doing the same not-so-good thing, to accomplish anything worse than harming a few people local to them.

        • theredsheep says:

          He did have a further example, less explicitly defined: in Out of the Silent Planet, there are two villains. One is motivated purely by greed; the other sees himself as a hero, and wants to colonize the stars for the sake of perpetuating the human race. The latter is, in a sense, more virtuous, since he is driven by a twisted kind of love, and he ultimately winds up being more dangerous. He takes bigger risks to achieve his goal, even to the extent of being willing to die to achieve it if need be. The greedy one limps cautiously along in his wake, seeing if he can exploit interplanetary colonialism for cash but ready to snatch back his hand the moment he sees danger.

          To some extent, I wonder if the same is true of Trump and Hitler; Trump wants to be big and famous just to be big and famous, he doesn’t want to do anything in particular with it. Okay, he wants to crack down on illegal immigrants, I guess that sort of counts–and that is the area where he would seem to be doing the greatest harm, in the sense of breaking up families and detaining children, etc. But Hitler genuinely loved his adopted country, saw it under threat, and wanted to defend it. That drove him to not only attain power, but use it aggressively and decisively. If he’d hated communism and seen democracy as its natural antithesis, he could have done tremendous good with his gifts for mass mobilization.

          • theredsheep says:

            Actually, I just checked in OotSP, and the angel of Malacandra says it explicitly, that Devine (the greedy one) is so degraded as to be basically an animal, and not terribly dangerous even if he is worthless. Weston, the sick idealist, is far more dangerous, but by the same token worth saving because that danger comes from his still having one functioning moral instinct.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I’m glad everybody is so good at reading Trump’s mind.

            I wonder if there is any chance at all that he genuinely loves his country and sees it under threat. Certainly a lot of the people who voted for him do.

          • Plumber says:

            ^

            “I’m glad everybody is so good at reading Trump’s mind….”

            @Doctor Mist

            I’ve no idea what’s in Trump’s mind, nor do I have a guess, and the man seemed an odious boss on “The Apprentice” with his “Your fired!” shtick, but I do give him credit for his commitment to protectionism, and I confess to being envious of his base because he’s actually delivering a visual crackdown on immigration that they wanted (even though I think he’s being cruel and going after the wrong people, I’d much rather see a crackdown on the “job creators” than desperate migrants).

            If he also showed some commitment to the promised infrastructure projects it might take some of the stench away from the tax cuts he signed.

            Since I just called Trump odious I feel I should be balanced and name a Democrat that I find odious as well, and one comes readily to mind: Gavin Newsom, and for two of the same reasons: personal life, and personal style.

      • raj says:

        It’s more like, a truly evil villain is one that has acknowledged and understood virtue, and then rejected it.

        It is more of a virtue ethics based rather than utilitarian perspective of evil; a fallen hero is more tragic than a born monster.

        See also Christian preference for hot or cold belief both being preferable to apathy (Revelation 3:14-22).

    • LadyJane says:

      @theredsheep: Hitler, Stalin, and Mao all displayed courage, resolve, a strong work ethic, and arguably a genuine concern for the groups they claimed to fight for (though that last one is debatable).

      I would say that Trump has some virtues too, although they’re harder to clearly identity. While he may be lazy, weak-willed, and prone to changing his mind, he still displays a certain kind of stubborn resolve and can work very hard when he chooses to. His raw authenticity and emotional earnestness might also be seen as a virtue, even if he lacks any kind of moral, social, or intellectual honesty (assuming you believe he’s at least being genuine about expressing how he feels).

      Someone with no virtues would be more like some random dude with anger management issues and poor impulse control who sits around the house all day doing nothing but watching TV and drinking beer, making his wife do everything for him and abusing her to make sure she stays in line. Someone completely devoid of physical or moral courage, who’d constantly insult and yell at people he knows are too timid to fight back, but who’d also suck up to anyone who posed a physical or social threat to him. I can’t imagine someone like that getting very far in life, so while he might make life worse for the people unfortunate enough to be in his immediate social circle, he wouldn’t be able to cause any real harm to the world as a whole.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Stalin had a strong work ethic, I don’t know about Mao, but Hitler by many accounts was fairly lazy.

        • FLWAB says:

          For instance, during D-Day the generals wanted to bring an armored division in Paris up to the coast to fight off the invasion, but due to previous meddling the division could only move if Hitler ordered it to directly. That might not have been a big problem…but Hitler liked to sleep past noon, and none of his aides wanted to risk waking him up.

          • Aapje says:

            Both Stalin and Hitler were night owls. In the night before the invasion, Hitler went to sleep at 03:00. I don’t see how going to bed late and waking late makes someone more lazy than a person who goes to bed early and wakes early.

            The D-Day story is complicated by the German belief in a diversionary pre-attack. It seems to me that the issue is not that Hitler was sleeping, but that the generals were afraid to disturb him until it was quite clear that the attack was real.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Aapje

            By most accounts, Hitler spent a lot of late nights not working, but making subordinates watch films and listen to his pontificating.

    • Baeraad says:

      I think what Lewis overlooked was that a lazy person can nonetheless work very hard at doing the things they want to do, which allows them to be effectively diligent while still being morally slothful. Trump is lazy, but he really-really-really-REALLY wanted to become President and show that he was better than everyone else, so he worked hard at it and succeeded. And as President, he really-really-really-REALLY wants to run around and bellow at people, and somehow that’s working out pretty well for him too.

      Also, I suppose that Lewis might have claimed that Trump has the virtue of Conviction? He genuinely believes in himself and in his right to do whatever he wants to, whenever he wants to – he isn’t the sort of wishy-washy small-time sinner that Lewis seems to have despised the most. And certainly I don’t think he’d get away with absolutely freaking everything the way he does, if he didn’t have that one defining virtue.

      • theredsheep says:

        I don’t think he actually does believe in himself; he’s really quite insecure.

        • LadyJane says:

          What I was getting at with my post was that Trump has a certain kind of bizarre integrity to him, where his sense of entitlement and outrage is genuinely real, even if his stated reasons for feeling those emotions aren’t. I don’t think he believes the things he says are true, nor do I think he believes they’re false. I think actual truth is an irrelevancy in his mind, perhaps even something that he can’t conceptualize on the same level that most people can. But when he gets angry about something he hears on Fox News or Breitbart, I do think that anger is legitimate, and that’s what allows him to be so effective at rallying his supporters. When he talks about how he worked hard to get where he is and how he deserves everything he has, I have no doubt that he’s utterly convinced himself of that sentiment, emotionally if not factually.

          Lewis would probably describe his virtue of Conviction as having been so far twisted and distorted in upon itself that it’s completely swallowed up all the related virtues that surround it (like Honesty, Courage, and Rectitude), leaving nothing but a grotesque parody that’s almost but not quite indistinguishable from pure sinful egotism (what Lewis termed “animal self-love”). Yet it’s that millimeter of difference between “I should get what I want because I’m me and that’s all that matters” and “I should get what I want because I’m amazing and I deserve this,” however thin and flimsy of a pretense the latter is, that enables Trump to be so much more persuasive and successful than the abusive alcoholic husband who does nothing with his life.

        • Baeraad says:

          I don’t know – being oversensitive to criticism isn’t the same thing as being insecure. I think, rather, that he sees himself as being so inherently wonderful that any attack against his precious self is a crime against all that is good and right.

          • Aapje says:

            @Baeraad

            A not uncommon pattern:

            Critic: “The pope doesn’t do enough against sexual abuse by priests”
            Apologist: “Why do you hate Christianity?”

            Critic: “These feminists favor policies that discriminate against men”
            Apologist: “Why do you hate women?”

      • LadyJane says:

        As an aside, I don’t think that Lewis despised wishy-washy small-time sinners the most. He thought they were utterly lacking in virtue, yes, but he also considered them relatively harmless. If anything, I would say he had more disdain and fear for the sinners who monomaniacally upheld a single virtue at the expense of all others, to the point where reason and empathy and morality become nothing more than sacrifices to be made at the altar of that one terminal value. Certainly he would’ve considered Hitler and Stalin to be men of virtue, on some level, and all the more diabolical for it.

        He also makes the point in The Great Divorce that people who are simply weak-willed and prone to sins of impulse are more easily redeemed than those who genuinely believe themselves to be righteous. Those consumed by vice can choose to break free of their sinful nature, but those consumed by corrupted virtue will likely have degenerated into something more like a Paperclip Maximizer than a human being, a broken machine on loop forever that would pursue its insane goals for eternity if given the chance. And in Lewis’ version of Hell, that is exactly the chance they will be given (albeit in permanent isolation, without the ability to harm others in the process).

        “If we must have a tyrant a robber barron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point may be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely more because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations.”

        • Baeraad says:

          As an aside, I don’t think that Lewis despised wishy-washy small-time sinners the most. He thought they were utterly lacking in virtue, yes, but he also considered them relatively harmless. If anything, I would say he had more disdain and fear for the sinners who monomaniacally upheld a single virtue at the expense of all others, to the point where reason and empathy and morality become nothing more than sacrifices to be made at the altar of that one terminal value. Certainly he would’ve considered Hitler and Stalin to be men of virtue, on some level, and all the more diabolical for it.

          We may be talking at cross-purposes here… I also have the impression that Lewis was more worried about the sort of sinners who were virtuous in a few select ways, because he figured that those were the sinners who could actually get stuff done. But to me, being worried about someone is, in itself, a form of respect; you can hate someone you fear, but you can’t properly despise them. To me, to despise someone implies a form of huffy disdain, a you’re-not-even-worth-the-effort-ness, that is impossible to cultivate against someone who might genuinely do something to harm you or the things you care about.

      • Randy M says:

        Also, I suppose that Lewis might have claimed that Trump has the virtue of Conviction?

        I need to reread some of Lewis, but I am curious now whether he would see (wrong) convictions as being virtuous. I tend to doubt it. Bravery in defending them, sure, that’s courage, but holding tight to falsehood doesn’t sound like something Lewis would admire.

        • Evan Þ says:

          But, look at Emeth in Last Battle, and how Rishda is derided for not even believing in Tash till the end.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t recall the wording there, but if the goal was to show that conviction qua* conviction is laudable there were many devout priests of Tash that could have been greeted by Aslan, accepting their devout rituals and human sacrifice as pleasing to him on account of the strength of their belief, instead of the man who believed in a $God who valued honesty and duty and kindness and strove to live these virtues in spite of the priests of Tash preaching vice.

            *am I using that right?

          • Evan Þ says:

            That’s a good point about Emeth. However, the protagonists denigrating (if that’s the right word – maybe “ridiculing” is better?) Rishda’s disbelief makes me think Lewis would say your hypothetical devout priests are at least marginally better than other priests who did the same things without even believing in Tash.

          • Randy M says:

            That could simply be because the perpetrators of the Tashlan scheme were knowingly perpetrating a lie in order to achieve power–in addition to the other abuses of that power. And intentionally leading others astray.

            Conviction isn’t a good in and of itself, but at least if you are honestly convinced of an incorrect moral system, you aren’t knowingly committing and coercing others to commit evil. In a legalistic sense, it turns an immoral action into an amoral action.

            But, I don’t know if Lewis would believe that such conviction is possible without some level of purposeful self-delusion. He was a believer in the universality of the self-evident moral law (not in the specifics, necessarily, but at least in the broad strokes), see his discussion of the Tao in, iirc, the Abolition of Man.

          • theredsheep says:

            For comparison, in the Silmarillion Tolkien says that Sauron was only less evil than Morgoth because, for a time, he served someone other than himself. Now, that someone was, of course, Morgoth; nevertheless, it still counted as the faintest sliver of goodness because evil is by nature self-centered. To do the will of one other than oneself is intrinsically good in that sense, though that does not remove our obligation to serve a good master.

    • Aapje says:

      @theredsheep

      I think that Trump’s skills are pretty much the opposite of those appreciated by most people here and certainly are not appreciated by you, evidenced by your claim that traits that lead to “prosperity or flourishing” are being “honest, kind, loyal, modest, temperate, generous, prudent, kind, diligent.” Those skills are good for merely moderate flourishing, while the truly successful tend to not have these traits.

      I would argue that some of the most successful create a perception that is at odds with their actual behavior, allowing them to benefit from unearned trust. So they have an aura of honesty, kindness, loyalty, etc; but their actual behavior doesn’t comport with that.

      Note that the relative difficulty that SSCers tend to have in dating may often also be attributable to a surplus in the traits you respect; and an unwillingness to cultivate a certain duplicity between signalling and behavior.

      Aside from that, Trump is anti-elitist, which many see as a virtuous point of view. I also think that he is quite brave, as he has made many risky choices (like running for president). He is certainly seen as brave by many for standing up to the establishment.

      As for Hitler: he was also a hard working dictator (although one that made bad choices how to spend his time, micromanaging things that he had no expertise in), was quite ascetic (being a vegetarian, teetotaler and non-smoker at a time where that was abnormal) and he correctly judged the communists to be a huge threat to human well-being before the most damning communist crimes against humanity happened. If he hadn’t committed horrible crimes against humanity himself, he might have been well-regarded for this.

      • theredsheep says:

        I think I need to own up here that “flourishing” is somewhat subjective, and thus virtue can be hard to define.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Someone who is both evil and incompetent (having no positives) is likely to do a relatively small amount of damage compared to history’s greatest monsters. Getting into the position where one can kill hundreds of thousands, millions, or tens of millions of people requires being good at whatever enables a person to get into such a position: Stalin did not bumble into leadership of the USSR, for example.

      There are some wires crossed between virtues that are moral and those that are merely practical. Is bravery a moral virtue? People have done brave things for terrible causes. I think though that people tend to view even competence as a moral virtue: there’s a need to view one’s opponents as not merely evil or wrong, but as stupid, cowardly, weak, etc.

    • mtl1882 says:

      These posts are really confusing to me, though they are certainly common and you are articulating the thoughts of many.

      I get why Trump is appalling to many people, especially since he became president.

      But “He’s too lazy to attempt anything really ambitious and stick to it, too vain and insecure to act decisively in the face of criticism.” This baffles me. The guy takes on one fanatical battle after another, never backing down long after he is declared dead. He loves it. He loves acting decisively. He loves criticism. He loves ambition. It is completely bizarre to me that people argue a man lacking ambition and oversensitive to slights got himself elected president with the media and his own party against him, under a torrent of feverish criticism.

      But other people have said this to me.

      When Trump started running, out of curiosity, I read all his books. Yeah, they’re ghostwritten, exaggerated, whatever. Whoever’s voice and life that was, it was interesting and unexpected, and I found it at times admirable. His behavior since has largely canceled that favorable first impression, but it did make me view the campaign very differently than most. He loves conflict, and he loves projects. A ghostwriter couldn’t fake the vigor with which he speaks of construction details and zoning battles. I think even Scott acknowledged this in his review of one of Trump’s books. He’s pretty upfront with his tactics and questionable values, including his manipulation and insult techniques. I find that refreshing, even when I strongly disagree, and I think many other Americans share that stand. People are sick of politicians who allegedly personify virtue but in reality lack all substance for fear they might slip. Ideally, one can be both virtuous and a strong leader, and god knows I’d love to see one of them. But for too long, virtuous has been associated with passive condescension and pandering. And that’s not an attack on virtue itself – those people were simply never that virtuous, or didn’t have the courage to live those virtues publicly. Cheapen virtue for that long, and it looks the same as vice.

      There’s more about this that I could say, but I find it falls on deaf ears. There are many reasons to hate Trump. But for the love of god, being clueless and thin-skinned aren’t options. For better or for worse, the guy has had astounding success in the midst of incredible criticism. What scares me far more than Trump is how many people can’t see that Trump is playing them – he LOVES criticism and a challenge. He relishes it. He invites it. The best thing people can do is to stop playing his distraction/insult game and get real about what skills he used to win.

      I hope this doesn’t sound uncharitable – I truly don’t mean it that way. I am just truly baffled by this incongruity – Trump’s phenomenal and highly contested success, and allegations that he is a nonfunctional human being. Or even harder to understand, thin-skinned. Yes, he reacts to everything with a Twitter tantrum. That’s not being thin-skinned. That’s turning negative attention back towards the audience and manipulating them with it. And it works scarily well.

      Our society has a major problem with insisting on scolding people who aren’t looking for approval, and then being shocked when those people rise up. It is an important life skill to recognize when people are not playing by your particular rules and to adjust accordingly, not yell louder what the rules are. And this is a *crucial* political skill – the lack of which Trump’s campaign exposed to a shocking degree.

      • beleester says:

        The reason people say he’s not ambitious and doesn’t stick to things isn’t because he doesn’t try. It’s because he tries briefly, makes a big media splash about it, and then quietly lets it die when he discovers the actual complexities involved. And nobody notices because actual policy is boring and slow-moving so nobody checks back to see if the things he started actually got completed.

        For instance, the Obamacare repeal. A whole bunch of fanfare about how he was ready to sign a replacement on day one, followed by the Republicans realizing that they couldn’t actually agree on a replacement plan, followed by quietly removing the mandate and hoping that nobody notices they went from “repeal and replace” to “kill slowly and don’t replace.”

        And more recently, we had the North Korea summit. He met with Kim Jong-Un, had a nice photo-op, made some bold statements about how the nuclear threat was no more, we even got some commemorative coins. We’re just missing the part where he gets an actual treaty out of it.

        Trump has tried taking on a number of big projects, but I’m going to hold off on praising his ambition and work ethic until he actually sees one of his projects through to the end.

        • mtl1882 says:

          If you look at his history of construction battles, the guy tries hard, over a period of decades. He also tried hard over a long and brutal campaign in which he was declared dead every day. Now that may not translate to his activities as president – maybe he has gotten lazy.

          But I think your assessment is more accurate – yes, he does make a big splash, and lets it die when it becomes uncomplicated. While his splashes are always bigger than most people’s, is that really so different from other politicians? Big promises that fall by the wayside without a murmur. And no one ever follows up to see what happened. They usually just pick vaguer, more easily “achieved” goals, so it’s not so obvious when it falls apart. But they arguably accomplish nothing more, they are simply less obvious about it.

          You could legitimately say Trump likes hype and dislikes discretion, and you’d be right there. But I don’t think he seems particularly incompetent compared with other presidents dealing with complex issues and an unhappy opposition. I’d rather him announce his intention and then drop it when it becomes clear it is not tenable. That keeps Congress accountable, instead of allowing them to kick the can down the alley. I’m relieved that we can move on from the Republican healthcare plan, instead of having Trump “stick with it” and drag it out as a hope to pacify his base. It’s not feasible, and it was nothing but a distraction. Now we know the Republicans have nothing worth offering.

          I don’t consider that Trump’s fault – the Republicans didn’t take the time to put together a good plan in all the years they yelled about Obama, and a good plan may not exist. So he recognized it and moved on. I don’t want him to stick to that issue.

          The Korean situation is ongoing – and you are completely right to hold off until we see what results, if any, occur. I’m not super concerned about getting a treaty ASAP, as they are easily broken or written as to be ridiculously vague. I think having a relationship with them is the most important thing, and we’ll see what comes out of it.

          The thing he seems to have stuck onto is the tariff issue. Whether or not you agree with the policy, he has stayed committed to it in the face of tremendous criticism from his own party. And that was one of the things most important to him in his books. He brought it up constantly, just like he does now. I think some of the other things are just not his goals – he’s a little more systems-oriented in that he can consider multiple paths on something like healthcare or Korea. He can watch and wait. The frenetic charging at goals that worked in real estate construction just isn’t quite as effective in government. Things are in many ways more complicated. But that’s true for every politician. They just tend to be a bit more quiet or platitudinous about it. Whether he adapts his tactics to meet the situations remains to be seen. I had hoped to get a better read on this by now, but the constant investigations have really made it hard to assess, and it’s hard to see them ever ending. We have got to move away from the distractions and wait for real information to come out.

          • Deiseach says:

            I see by the latest news that despite all the sabre-rattling over he wall, he has successfully signed a trade agreement with Mexico, and NAFTA is ended. Whether Canada signs on or not is still being debated.

            So does this mean the Mexican president has given in on the wall? If he’s the outgoing guy, what will the policies of the incoming guy be? Is the wall not that big a deal after all? (I saw a lot of cheerleading for the Mexican president online when he was perceived as standing up to Trump and threatening not to sign agreements etc. but given that apparently trade agreements have been signed, the posturing was just that).

          • BBA says:

            The new agreement is fairly minor. Nearly all of the NAFTA rules are still in place, the wall isn’t part of the deal, and “NAFTA is ended” only because of Trump’s obsession with branding. It’s like saying that because last year’s tax law ended the individual mandate, Obamacare is repealed and it’s Trumpcare now.

            As for Canada, the USTR (who actually did the negotiating) has been in talks with them too. Trump is blathering about leaving them out, but it’s highly unlikely to happen.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I see by the latest news that despite all the sabre-rattling over he wall, he has successfully signed a trade agreement with Mexico

            Nothing has been signed
            From the article:

            But the administration’s own description calls the deal a “preliminary agreement in principle.” That’s not a finished product, and it can’t become one without clearing the high hurdles of approval from Congress and Mexico.

            As BBA pointed out, it’s not even that big a change.

            This is more Trump puffery, but at least it is puffery with specific numbers attached and some agreement from the other side. We will see if he can actually get that small change across the finish line.

          • Matt M says:

            Agree with HBC that it’s mostly Trump Puffery, although I’d add that as usual, it’s significantly enabled by the TDS-suffering mainstream media.

            Trump incorrectly boasts “I ended NAFTA!” to brag to his base. CNN incorrectly runs taglines of “TRUMP ENDS NAFTA” to outrage their base.

            There isn’t much of a base out there interested in a reasoned discussion of the facts.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            CNN is not actually saying that, at least not exclusively.

          • Matt M says:

            Well, the first I heard of this story was yesterday when I walked by a TV in the office and that was literally the crawl at the bottom.

            If they’ve corrected themselves since, good for them I suppose.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            I guess their TV coverage is probably more sensational, though maybe they just hadn’t had time yet to really review the story.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            literally the crawl at the bottom.

            Surely you have noticed that ANY summation of anything merely points vaguely in the direction of the full story. The shorter the summary, the less reflective it is of the whole. In practice, non-lossy compression is not practicable.

            Honestly, you should not read chyrons as anything more than “there is a story on a certain subject which may merit further consideration”

            The fact that you think they are telling you much past this is on you, not them.

          • Matt M says:

            Eh, if they wanted to communicate “Trump re-negotiated a new trade deal with Mexico that isn’t called NAFTA but is virtually identical” the crawl could easily have read “LITTLE CHANGES IN NEW TRADE DEAL” or something like that.

            Yes, I understand that space is limited and that’s not a great venue for nuanced discussion, but they could at least have made an attempt.

          • albatross11 says:

            Like headlines, I think the news organizations’ editors often phrase the chyrons to create an impression that’s not at all what you’d get if you read / watched the story. Probably some of that is for ideological reasons, but most is for attracting-eyeballs reasons.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Usually the chyrons are heavily weighted towards a) eyeball catching, b) paraphrasing a quote from a source of some sort.

            Trump said he was ending NAFTA, so the chyron will say something like that. It would not surprise me if the chyron you actually read said something like “Trump announces end of NAFTA”.

            Mind you, I would love it if reporting had some sort of objective way of being able to tag things as “BS claims”, but this is a very hard problem to solve, journalists not actually being omniscient, etc.

          • quanta413 says:

            @HeelBearCub

            It’s hard to solve from an institutional perspective, but I don’t think the problem is that it is or would be hard for journalists to understand that many headlines are nonsense.

            Having boring headlines will probably hurt sales relative to your competitors so the nonsense continue.

            Kind of like how some scientists choose titles, give talks, or write grants that aren’t blatant lies but are hyperbolic to the point of being deceptive. They likely know what they are doing to some extent, but justify it as necessary to get attention and secure money that might otherwise go to a competitor.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @quanta413:

            There are two different issues here. The one you bring up is not the same as the one Matt M is complaining about.

            #1 – Headlines are frequently sensational, lurid, or otherwise enticing. “Click-bait” is the current term, but it’s been the same roughly forever. This isn’t going away, so long as people care about whether what the write gets read.

            #2 – Headlines represent what powerful (or popular) figures choose to do or say, without the opinion of the reporting organization as to the validity/impact of said utterance or action. This is a tough one. If the president says he is “eliminating NAFTA”, you are going to need to report he said that. Not reporting it would be a kind of malpractice. Much like Trump threatening to pull out if NATO, it is news when the president says it.

            I don’t think Matt would actually like it if straight reporting mostly ignored the president’s actual statements and actions to instead report what they think he might have meant. I sense he doesn’t even like it now when the editorialize about them.

          • quanta413 says:

            @HeelBearCub

            Granted, there is some distinction between the problems. But I think the choice of title or scrolling news is more the problem I am speaking about.

            It’s not whether or not to report what he said. There is no malpractice in not choosing the most eyecatching title possible and putting things below the headline. Except the potential loss of money. You can report what he said in the body instead of the headline. It’s not even about reporting what he might have meant. Trade agreements don’t revolve solely around Trump. There’s no need to divine what he means or doesn’t. There are negotiators and staff and the actual text of agreements and so on and so forth. And notably, media has no problem with doing divination on whatever Trump is saying or tweeting any given day no matter how asinine. It’s not a random coincidence that they’re more likely to have a headline with quotes that are good clickbait.

            A boring and less in accurate crawl or headline might be “New trade treaty about to be signed between Mexico and U.S.” or “U.S. and Mexico trade agreement soon to be amended” or whatever.

            It all loops back to the monetary incentives all being towards being entertaining and eye-catching.

            When someone says crazy things all the time, that’s great for the media business. But I don’t buy some story about good journalistic practice requiring making every crazy or hyperbolic thing Trump says part of the headline. Rather than page 5 a boring title with a lede “President Trump says [yet another ridiculous thing that he’ll forget about by next week]” or “Things pretty much the same but President says they’re now way YUGER”.

          • Matt M says:

            I sense he doesn’t even like it now when the editorialize about them.

            And my point is, given their long and established history of editorializing against Trump (including headlines that frequently read: “Trump claims X, that’s not true”), your defense of them that it’s reasonable and neutral for them to just parrot his talking point seems absurd.

            They’ve never parroted his talking points before. They haven’t run crawls saying MEXCIANS ARE RAPISTS or MEDIA BIASED AGAINST TRUMP.

            They ran this one, parroting his own bluster, because they believed it served their agenda of making him look bad. That’s the only reason they did it.

            ETA: I’ve seen a million crawls where they make it clear they are just reporting on what was said. These start out with TRUMP: It wasn’t like that on this one. They weren’t reporting that Trump said he was ending NAFTA. They were reporting that Trump ended NAFTA. They aren’t stupid and they didn’t just forget. They did it for a reason.

        • theredsheep says:

          Pretty much. I feel he succeeded largely by happenstance, by a fortuitous conjunction of circumstances including the Obergefell ruling (and the aftermath getting white Evangelicals in an apocalyptic mood), Hillary’s nomination (and subsequent campaigning carelessness), the general tendency of the electorate to want a change after eight years with an incumbent, growing racial polarization, the weakness of the conventional GOP “brand,” and probably a bunch of other things as well. He’d been trying to be the president for some time before 2016; did he suddenly stumble on a magic formula for success, or was it just that the time was right for us to elect a jackass by an ephemerally thin margin?

          When he first got elected, I was paranoid about him becoming some sort of uncanny fascist supervillain, because it just felt abnormal for men of such abysmal character and poor qualifications to reach supreme power. Then I saw his pitiful attempts at governance, and reflected on the sheer number of inept bosses I’ve had, and recalled how, during the leadup to the Iraq War, I’d assumed that there was some secret reason why the invasion was not the abject stupidity it appeared to be, because too many apparently smart people were backing some absurd argument about fuzzy pics of trailers in the desert …

          Sometimes idiocy wins. I’m just happy it was Trump this time, and not an actually effective demagogue.

          • mtl1882 says:

            Timing and political circumstances played a big role; political/communication skill is assessing and using that correctly. Trump’s skill was seizing on it – he may have “run” in the past, but he was clearly way more serious this time. And I don’t think he necessarily thought he had a good shot at winning, but he could see the giant void where authority and trust and substance should be. So he determined to exploit it and see how far he could get. His 2008 book was rather eerie.

            But I don’t understand how it can be written off as *merely* a timing/cultural thing. That’s no small accomplishment – many people get that absurdly wrong. I would say most political leader and analysts read the situation completely incorrectly. They can’t get outside their preconceived notions – Trump’s talent is being able to adjust to meet the situation, and set the terms, sincerely or not. He was taken as a joke long past when he should have been. He stuck to his tactics when the whole world acted like he was committing political suicide. He played people like fiddles. He systematically eviscerated the other Republican candidates. He pulled the strings. He was able to do this because of the times – there was a certain cultural mood and pathetic leadership to take advantage of, not to mention the complete abandonment of everybody in America to outrage/sensation headlines and chatter. He insisted on setting the terms, and we let him do so, and still are. I thought his triumph would invite some rivals onto the stage, who knew how to beat him at his own game. I am incredibly disappointed that he is still so successful at dominating our mental and intellectual resources, and yet hasn’t inspired a fruitful opposition.

            It might seem easy to take advantage of such a prime opportunity, but no one else was doing it, or even seeing how it was working and responding to it. It seems strange to me that we’ve so quickly forgotten how his success was looked at as an impossibility, a hilarious thing. Then he does it and it was “easy” and “lucky.” As you mentioned, what was lucky was that we didn’t get a real demagogue.

    • Ketil says:

      In typical action movies the villains tend to be way more competent than the heroes. Villains are typically cold-headed, intelligent, organized, and goal oriented, while the heroes are violent and emotional with severe social problems, and often even less respecting of rules and law and order than the villains. That we need to throw in some obvious vice in the form of a bit of kick-the-dog sadism, just to make sure we understand who the villains are, says a lot. I tend to root for the bad guys.

      • MrApophenia says:

        This is not an idea original to me, but it has been pointed out in stuff I have read in the past that the role of hero and villain are flipped in modern fiction, particularly superhero and action movie fiction, compared to classical literature.

        The classical hero has some great task or goal they are trying to accomplish, and sets out on that quest. The villain is an obstacle to be overcome.

        The modern hero is usually just trying to stop the villain. The villain is the one on the quest, and the hero is the obstacle.

        Thus it is not surprising that at least in fiction, the best villains are the ones who are almost heroes.

        Consider superhero fiction. Who are the best villains?

        Magneto, who genuinely believes he is doing what he must to save his people from a second Holocaust.

        Dr. Doom, who is a megalomaniac who wants to rule the world but also really genuinely believes the world would be better under his rule, and once he takes over, actually does his level best to be a good king.

        Lex Luthor is maybe the most interesting, because he actually is motivated pretty much purely by greed and envy and ego, but needs to think he isn’t, and so has successfully convinced himself he is the lone hero protecting the Earth from being ruled by an alien god.

        These guys are the ones who set out to change the world according to their heroic ideals – only to be foiled by the super-powered obstacles who always thwart them.

        The only great supervillain who really is just evil for its own sake is the Joker. (Which is also interesting because Batman in a way subverts some of the above tropes too, sometimes stepping more into being the actual force moving the plot forward.)

        • beleester says:

          I think this is more a question of genre than modernity. In fantasy settings, we want the hero to explore the fantasy world, so he has to go out and do things. His motives for doing so can still be reactive – there’s a reason so many heroes start their journey with their hometown getting burned down by the Evil Overlord. In superhero or modern settings, the world is familiar and the status quo is generally good, so the main reason for the hero to go out and do things is because the villains are shaking up the status quo.

          Modern settings where the hero takes an active role usually need the hero to be oppressed by the status quo in some way. It could be as simple as “teenager is looking to escape their normal life” (a YA favorite), but it also includes heist movies and dystopian settings.

          Another place to find active heroes is in mystery stories. The hero has a reactive motive, in that the villain has to commit the crime before they can start chasing them, but their role in the plot is active – the story won’t make progress unless he goes out and finds clues.

          (Batman makes use of both of these elements – the villains tend to have secret plans that The World’s Greatest Detective can uncover, and Gotham is a terrible place where the status quo is “all the crimes, all the time”, unless a hero tries to change that.)

          EDIT: The Odyssey, the original hero’s journey, has an essentially reactive hero, now that I think about it. Odysseus just wants to go home and be with his wife – in other words, he wants to restore the status quo. He only ends up in adventures because the gods keep pushing him into them.

        • John Schilling says:

          The Odyssey, the original hero’s journey, has an essentially reactive hero, now that I think about it.

          Isn’t the Odyssey the sequel to the one where the same hero and his buddies were minding their own business in Greece until they decided to sail off anc conquer another country for no good reason?

      • The Nybbler says:

        In typical action movies the villains tend to be way more competent than the heroes.

        They kind of have to be; they have the harder job. They’re trying to change the world, or at least rob it blind, against large established organizations trying to stop them. If the plan involves kidnapping the World Leader’s Beautiful Daughter (who is probably also engaged to Hero), and the Beautiful Daughter’s bodyguards stop the attempt, question the mooks, and uncover the plot in Act I, you don’t have an action movie, you have an episode from a police procedural. This means you need either really good villains, or really bad bodyguards. And really good villains are much more interesting (unless you’re going for an action-comedy).

        Of course, having the Beautiful Daughter kidnapped allows for some kicking-the-dog or worse; even the most tame action movie will probably have the villain or his mooks slap her around.

        • John Schilling says:

          They kind of have to be; they have the harder job. They’re trying to change the […] against large established organizations trying to stop them.

          Why is that the villain’s job? Are we to presume that the world is now perfect, such that any major change would be a villainous act and every large organization defending the status quo is going God’s work?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Hey, I didn’t make the tropes.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Most specific changes a hero might want to make would be opposed by a significant part of the audience, thus reducing the audience for the movie. One easy way around that is to have the villain be the one to make a change you specifically design to be unpopular.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        The bad guys always seem to surround the good guys, disarm them, and hold them captive. The good guys shoot first and never ask any questions.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Scott Adams is right. We’re watching different movies.

      I don’t know how you look at Trump and get that summation, but there you go. I’m glad his enemies are unable to understand him. Sun Tzu had that bit about knowing your enemies and knowing yourself and Trump’s enemies do not know him.

      • rlms says:

        Which one(s) out of “honest, kind, loyal, brave, modest, temperate, prudent, generous, diligent” would you describe Trump as being?

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Several of them, but only transactionally.

          • rlms says:

            Which? And how?

          • albatross11 says:

            I would say Trump manages to be audacious and self-confident and smart and willing to take big risks. He’s charismatic enough to have spent his whole life in the public eye, to have had a successful career as a reality TV star, and to have outshone a bunch of professional politicians to get elected president. I wouldn’t call him any of your adjectives except maybe diligent.

            I don’t think he’s much good as president, but I also don’t feel like that opinion obliges me to assess him as having no virtues. Anyone who is successful at the level he has been successful has a lot going for him, even if he got some benefits from luck or starting position. And in general, I find the whole pattern of being unable to acknowledge any virtues in your enemies to be pretty dumb. (Hence, the guys who started a war with the most powerful nation on Earth by knowingly going to their deaths to fly planes into buildings get routinely described as “cowardly.”)

        • mtl1882 says:

          This seems like a discussion that I will regret, but I’m interested in hearing my own response.

          He is perceived as honest by many, although they’d probably also agree he’s a liar. While my mom is big on the “if he lies in one thing, he lies in all” warning, if we went by that we’d have no honest people, except for a few who would not be elected due to their lack of social skills.

          At times he has been refreshingly honest, but that is hard to praise in the face of his constant lies. But the reason people respond to it, in part, is because I generally get the sense that most politicians are never honest, even if they rarely (?) outright lie. They evade and virtue signal, and for a long time now most of them have come across as completely insincere no matter what the topic or occasion. People were so relieved to get a clear answer.

          It was a failing of our system that led to an embrace of shameless lying – I’m not in any way justifying shameless lying, but I don’t think it is all that different from evasion and insincerity, which probably mislead people even more harmfully. All three of them are damaging and unacceptable in an effective leader.

          But the fact remains that people just don’t like when they can tell someone gave you a prepared response to every issue, which comes awfully close to chronically lying – it creates a yearning for authenticity that can manifest very badly, with the embrace of an authentically bad person.

          Diligent, absolutely, at least transactionally. He watches his projects and campaigns like a hawk and has unceasing energy towards his goals. He’s definitely hardworking and detail oriented – that doesn’t mean he always pursues the goals and details people want him to.

          Brave, most definitely. The accusations of cowardice baffle me. Does he take on all the right fights? No. But is he afraid of a hard fight? No way – that appeals to him all the more. He’s probably not brave in the sense of physical combat, but what movie were other people watching during this election? When he stood alone at against all advice and amid withering criticism and contempt. With both parties and the media against him? Raising his hand saying he wouldn’t sign the pledge on day one. Now you can argue that is boldness, bravado, not bravery, but I didn’t see anything that looked like bravery from any other quarter of the Republican party. (Kasich and Cruz had their moments of taking strong, sincere stances). It remains to be seen whether that bravery will be used to good ends going forward.

          You’ll laugh, but I consider Trump pretty temperate in many respects. He appears to have stayed away from drugs and alcohol, and I think he’s generally in control of himself. He seems to keep an incredibly strict routine and I do not think his moods wildly fluctuate. The meltdowns are calculated to throw people off, and many things mistaken for emotional outbursts are just him taking a strong stand (this does not just apply to him – the media appears to think any sort of directness indicates uncontrollable rage – look at this memo of JFK and tell me if you the appropriate adjective is “scathing” https://www.rrauction.com/Jacqueline-Kennedy-White-House-Restoration-Archive.html).

          Temperate is probably not the most accurate description, but I agree with @Conrad Honcho about a lot of it being transactional, assuming he means that it depends on the nature of situation. He possesses virtues, he just doesn’t use them in a way that lends itself to a coherent image of a virtuous person.

          Now, maybe that means he isn’t virtuous. But our options aren’t great. I am pretty sure that no currently reasonably electable politician is honest in any appreciable way. Pandering and evading is their whole way of life, and I say this about politicians I personally like and who I think have good intentions. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren don’t raise as many red flags for me as most, but I’m sure now that I’ve singled him out people will cite a million cases of sketchy behavior. The obvious one with Warren is the whole Native American thing, but I think defining her by that is probably not the best idea.

          FDR had his own litany of issues, but whether I agree with his sentiment or not, I would kill for a moment of presidential bravery and honesty on par with this:

          ” We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace–business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

          They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

          Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me–and I welcome their hatred.”

          That is, if he was honest about this, which I’m not 100% sure of. But I think he did welcome their hatred, even if he was pandering a bit.

          Imagine someone saying that now!

          But again, assessing other options: I can grant most of them are at least sometimes kind, some might be generous, most are diligent at least in some areas. Some are probably loyal, but isn’t that almost a vice in politics under current standards? If you try and stick by someone who has fallen out of favor, you will be lambasted for corruption or undue influence. But some are definitely more appreciative of those who have helped them than others. Loyalty to principles is important, but I don’t see a whole lot of that going on anywhere. None are modest, though some fake it better than others, and some at least are willing to acknowledge their limitations. Few of our presidents could be described as temperate in terms of emotions or substance use, but there are a handful. Prudent is impossible to define or assign value to, so I won’t get into that one.

          I’m not trying to portray Trump as a paragon of virtue. He isn’t. But I don’t see him as an alien being among politicians just because he does things in a big way. A strange amount of people seem to think quieter = more moral. It doesn’t. He’s a creation of our own system, holding up a mirror of our values and our conceptions of leadership and virtue. There are aspects about him that are anomalous, but his predecessors and competitors weren’t exactly radiating virtue. Obama made more of an effort than our other recent presidents, and probably possessed more actual virtues. But he didn’t exercise in it such a way as to prevent the 2016 election outcome. He had an almost impossible task in many ways, and I think his temperance, prudence and loyalty outweighed some much needed bravery and honesty.

          ETA: My conclusion is that the current state of things is unacceptable, but this is more the American people’s fault than Trump’s, and even if you choose to assign the fault to him, he will be gone eventually, and I doubt that things will “go back to normal.” We have to choose better politicians, and make sure they get nominated in the first place. We have to make it something people with character want to do. We deserve better, but only we can secure it. My secondary conclusion is that we have to accept that no one is perfect, and that the greatest leaders had their vices. We need to decide what balance is appropriate, but our increasing insistence on blowing up everything into an outrageous headline ensures that the only people who will have a clean record will be utterly devoid of substance, assertiveness, insight, or accomplishments. Or really good at hiding their skeletons, which is not what we want. Of course their records should be discussed, and I’m not saying people should just get over anything, but virtually everyone has at least one highly questionable or just outright bad incident in their past. The constant shock of discovering this really needs to stop.

          • On the claim that FDR was honest … . You do realize that, in his first election, he campaigned on the grounds that his opponent had the government spending too much?

          • mtl1882 says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Circumstances change. I don’t think the issue with that is dishonesty. I think it is foolish and irresponsible to make campaign promise about most things, because it’s not the type of job where most promises are under the president’s control or where consistency is always best. All recent presidents are disingenuous on this level. That is, if FDR made such promises. If he simply criticized the other guy, he probably was being very unfair, but that’s the MO of every presidential candidate. But it is entirely possible that (in his opinion) the government was spending too much for what was happening at the time, but then things changed. I’m also not claiming that any of them were 100% honest. I’m talking relatively, and I’m also talking about how the public perceived the dishonesty. I think the public has shown a preference for boldly stating a new position that is directly contradictory to an old one, without explanation, by choosing Trump. In opposition to making vague promises all the time and then tying oneself in knots to justify how they are consistent. I suppose both are equally problematic, but I understand why the first one can work better.

      • mtl1882 says:

        Yeah, I was going to quote Scott Adams, but I figured it was overdone. He’s right about that one.

  35. Atlas says:

    Enlightened Area Necromancer Attempts to Revive Dead Argument (1/2):

    Many OTs ago, I posted a polemic making a somewhat Devil’s Advocate case for anti-war, isolationist US foreign policy and questioning whether any of the wars fought by the US historically had genuinely protected American citizens from material harm. (My argument is much more nuanced than that, so go read the whole thing if you’re curious.) I don’t have too much to add what I wrote previously, though I do have a little, but I feel that this is such a shocking claim considering the typical rhetoric around war, US history and the American military that I just want to throw it back in the discussion pot and see what people have to say.

    To wit: I claim that almost none, and perhaps literally none, of the major wars that the United States has fought were defensive wars of necessity or substantially made American citizens safer. This includes the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War 1, World War 2, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the “War on Terror.” Furthermore, the United States’ security commitments and alliances in Europe, the Middle East and East Asia do not in any substantial way safeguard the citizens of the United States.

    (The specifics for each conflict are fleshed out in my original post.)

    To be clear, this is not a statement about the morality of US foreign policy or wars. I in fact think that those are debatable as well, but that’s a more complicated question and I think the issue I’ve raised here is controversial and weighty enough without adding more argumentative territory.

    Some extra thoughts I had since my original post:

    1. I think there is almost constant and extremely misleading conflation of the fact of the personal courage and competence of military personnel and the need for those virtues to be exercised in war. That is to say, the fact that US soldiers demonstrate courage on the battlefield and skill in defeating their enemies does not automatically mean that the wars they fight in are necessary to protect American citizens.

    However, many people frankly lack the patience, reflective temperament and detachment to think this through, so political rhetoric in favor of wars tends to emphasize the courage of American soldiers rather than actual logical reasons why wars protect American citizens. For instance, in a speech I believe written (somewhat ironically) by Pat Buchanan, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew said to great applause: “I’d swap the whole damn zoo [i.e. leftist protesters] for the kind of young Americans I saw in Vietnam!”

    While in fact I agree that valorous and competent military service in the face of mortal danger is exceptionally praise worthy, this does not in any way demonstrate that this service was necessary to protect American citizens. However, in the minds of many people it sounds as if you’re saying that you don’t believe Americans soldiers are valorous, which gives them an emotional and argumentative log to grab on to in the otherwise empty sea of “reasons why we actually need to be fighting this war in the first place.” Or perhaps the courage that US soldiers display is in fact the justification for war in many people’s minds. For instance, a writer for the New Yorker perceptively said of the Nixon administration’s highly effective POW propaganda campaign, “it was as if the Vietnamese had kidnapped 400 Americans and the US had gone to war to rescue them.”

    2. To put it crudely, some people like the “toys” and “great game” of war, which leads them to be sympathetic to excuses for using said equipment. Having had a great interest in military history myself as a child—by, say, 6th or 7th grade I think I could have told you who Belisarius was, which major battles (or campaigns) before Waterloo actually led to Napoleon’s downfall and the strategic consequences of the Inchon landing—I certainly understand this temptation.

    War is perhaps the greatest challenge of human potential that a society can face. From engineering to piloting to intelligence gathering to logistics to combat, it demands extreme competence, courage and intelligence. There is something fascinating to many people, myself included, in learning how one side triumphed over the other in such a struggle.

    Yet I feel that many at least popular historians tend to focus heavily on such matters without including much critical reflection on the justifications for such wars. For instance, while certainly the story of the US’ war in the Pacific is a fascinating one, shouldn’t one spare some thought as to why the United States had to go to war with Japan before penning hundreds of pages on the strategic logic of leapfrogging? Of course, for most Americans, the answer was and is very simple: they attacked us at Pearl Harbor, so we had to defend ourselves. One might ask, however, why did the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor? Did they want to invade and conquer America, like North Dakota and Nebraska, thus leading them to randomly attack us out of a clear blue sky? Or were there in fact important decisions made by the FDR administration, the consequences of which were not made clear at the time to the American public, that played a role in why the Japanese decided to attack?

    Of course, rather than asking such pesky questions, one can always nerd out over the facts and figures of troop deployments on Okinawa or the strengths and weaknesses of the Zero fighter.

    I suppose I may be being a bit unfair here, in that of course many even mainstream historians discuss the causes of wars in depth. Yet I still feel rather justifiably peeved that they don’t seem to consider the rather obvious and important question of, “was this war a defensive war that was necessary to protect American citizens?” In many popular films, such as Saving Private Ryan and Flags of Our Fathers, the answer is implicitly or explicitly communicated, without elaboration, to be yes—these wars were necessary to protect our liberties and our safety.

    • Atlas says:

      (2/2)

      3. John Schilling posted a comment in reply to my original post that I promised to reply to, but I was busy at the time. However, as promised, I have returned!

      As I saw it, John made two points:

      1) Without US intervention, the Axis would have eventually gained capabilities that would have allowed them to conquer the US, and since “it is the nature of conquerors to keep conquering”, they would have conquered the United States.
      2) While I thought I was making a claim about the security of US citizens, I was actually making a claim about the welfare of US citizens, which includes wanting to go to war to stop genocide.

      I disagree with these points on many different levels. Firstly, even if we grant totally uncritically point 1 (which I most certainly do not) note that this a speculative, long-term argument for why US citizens were endangered by the Axis powers and why World War 2 was necessary to defend the US. So in the case of World War 2, the poster child for a defensive war that was necessary to protect America, the best argument for a threat that someone can formulate is not a clear, immediate, present threat to Americans, but a speculative one about dangers that would manifest in 10 or 20 years after the war.

      Of course, I do not in fact grant point 1. There are two things to consider here: capabilities and intentions. In the original post, I made the case that the Axis powers lacked both the capabilities and the intentions necessary to invade the United States, and I don’t think that anything John wrote convincingly challenged that.

      While intention is always somewhat nebulous, I don’t think it’s quite true to say, as the Duke of Wellington did, that “a conqueror is like a cannonball: once launched, he cannot stop.” While certainly some military leaders, like Napoleon, Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan, had simply insatiable appetites for conquest, most countries at most times have been bounded by geography, ideology, practical considerations, and so on, in terms of their appetite for conquest. The US and its allies were themselves conquerors, yet the United States did not try to conquer Indonesia after conquering the Philippines, Britain did not try to conquer Norway after conquering India and France did not try to conquer Portugal after conquering Vietnam. There were many limits on what kind of empires they could, and wanted, to build.

      Thus, I do not see it as obvious that, simply because they were aggressive, conquering regimes, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan would have attempted to invade the North American continent at some point simply because, as the mountain climber said of Mt. Everest, it was there. Again, one could use the same open-ended, speculative logic to say the United States should have gone to war against Britain, because if let unchecked the British Empire would simply continue conquering until it decided to conquer the United States.

      Furthermore, if absolutely nothing else, I think that most Americans are probably ignorant of the fact that invading and conquering the US was not actually a serious strategic goal of the Axis powers.

      Whatever the intentions of the Axis powers, the question remains of capabilities. Even if the Axis powers had been Hell-bent on conquering the United States, which I don’t see much evidence for, it still seems to me that even moderate investments in naval and aerial defense forces, and later thermonuclear weapons, and defensive alliances with close US neighbors would have made such an invasion prohibitively expensive. John’s reply claimed that victorious Axis empires would have had a huge advantage vis a vis the US, but I don’t think that the actual history of empires suggests that this would be the case. Empire, especially in the modern world, is often at least as much of a burden as it is a benefit. I think what’s ultimately really valuable for projecting power is a homeland of numerous, loyal and high IQ subjects, not far-flung imperial possessions full of restless natives who can turn on you at any moment.

      After all, in 1939 Britain and France had huge colonial empires in Africa and Asia, with hundreds of millions of subjects, while Germany had no overseas colonies whatsoever. If empires provided huge “human, material and industrial resources” that were easy to leverage, it should have been easy for the British and French empires to crush Germany, without the aid of the US and USSR.

      In any case, the United States is a large country, with abundant natural resources, separated from Germany and Japan by vast oceans. The difficulty that Imperial Japan had in occupying China and that Nazi Germany had in attempting to invade the UK and the USSR does not suggest that it would have been feasible for either nation to invade the mainland US, even if it had completely subjugated all neighboring competitors.

      The English channel is ~20-300 miles long. In 1940, the Nazis were not able to achieve sufficient aerial and naval superiority over this body of water to invade the UK. In 1944, despite total aerial and naval superiority and the fact that the vast majority of German forces were deployed on the eastern front, as well as suffering from shortages of motorized transport, even after years of careful preparation the Normandy landings were considered to be a considerable gamble. In 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the USSR, with whose possessions it shared contiguous land borders. Despite the complete advantage of surprise, the invasion was ultimately a total disaster.

      By contrast, the distance from New York to London is about 3,450 miles. It simply beggars belief to claim that Nazi Germany could have plausibly secured such extended supply lines in order to invade the United States. Presumably, unlike the USSR, the US would have been fully appraised of a Nazi invasion long before it actually begun, and had time to prepare extensive defenses. In short, such an invasion would have clearly carried a substantial risk of massive, humiliating defeat, which would likely have greatly imperilled the remaining Nazi empire.

      Furthermore, while as bean noted early nuclear weapons aren’t magic, within 30 years or so the development of thermonuclear weapons with multiple means of delivery would make it near suicidal to attack the United States.

      Regarding the point about “welfare”, there are a lot of opposing points I was going to raise, and perhaps I will later, but I realized that they venture into more complicated issues, and this is long enough already. I think there is a clear difference, regardless of the semantics, between material safety/benefit, the criteria I was evaluating US foreign policy on, and the more abstract notion of “welfare”, pursued through altruism, that you raise.

      • Michael Handy says:

        In addition to Cassander’s excellent responses, I’d add WW2 materially benefited Americans by allowing them to easily take indirect control of the resources of the former empires, which they would not have done if Germany had forced a peace in Europe and Japan created its Co-prosperity Sphere.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Regarding whether Americans were threatened in WWII: Hawaiians are Americans.

        (Also, you said “American citizens” but defending territories should maybe get partial credit? The Philippines were US territory and got straight-up conquered, and while you might be able to argue Japan would’ve left Hawaii alone if the US agreed not to intervene against them, no way they were letting the Philippines be)

      • bean says:

        The general rule of history is that it’s best to keep war as far away as possible from your home. The US has done a good job of that, and it’s more important than ever given how interconnected our economy is with our allies.

        By contrast, the distance from New York to London is about 3,450 miles. It simply beggars belief to claim that Nazi Germany could have plausibly secured such extended supply lines in order to invade the United States. Presumably, unlike the USSR, the US would have been fully appraised of a Nazi invasion long before it actually begun, and had time to prepare extensive defenses. In short, such an invasion would have clearly carried a substantial risk of massive, humiliating defeat, which would likely have greatly imperilled the remaining Nazi empire.

        There are a lot of differences between the two cases. Germany wouldn’t have simply sailed a bunch of ships from London to land on Long Island. (Well, probably.) The obvious thing to do is seize forward bases for bombardment and blockade. Newfoundland would be the most likely first choice. Secure your supply lines there, then land on the mainland somewhere without heavy defenses. Note that the Atlantic Wall relied on a fairly high force/space ratio. This is not plausible in America, so the chances of throwing them back on the beaches are not that high.

        Ultimately, the war will almost certainly hinge on control of the sea. While the USN will probably win that one, it isn’t certain, and I really wouldn’t want to live through a world where we had to find out.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          If US foreign policy were to only respond to literal invasions, wouldn’t the obvious German move be to conquer some Caribbean islands, then Mexico, then launch a ground campaign through Texas? Or have I played too much Hearts of Iron?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The US is huge, especially Texas and the Midwest. I think New Orleans is something like 800-900 miles along major roads from Mexico, so you’re talking about an invasion that makes the logistics of Operation Barbarossa look like a trip to the gas station.

            Also, if you can manage that invasion, you already assume you can fight and defeat the USN. So if you can fight and defeat the USN, you can launch an amphibious invasion somewhere along the Eastern seaboard, and therefore don’t have to go that route. If you DO try to Operation Barbarossa through Texas without defeating the USN, all your soldiers will wind up becoming POWs, really, really fast.

          • bean says:

            That’s pretty much what I was getting at, although I was assuming that even the most isolationist US wouldn’t be stupid enough to let that happen. But yes, if the US decides “no response to anything except an invasion of us, ever”, that becomes viable. I’d probably go for Canada over Mexico, because of shorter supply lines, but Mexico is a viable second option, and one that deeply worried the US in the early years of the 20th century.

            @ADBG

            The big difference is that you can use the enormous blue highway called the Gulf of Mexico to move stuff forward to support the troops. But I’d base in Canada and go after the Northeast/current rust belt, which is where US industrial strength was concentrated then.

          • John Schilling says:

            Canada is the obvious starting point because, Canada having declared war on Germany in 1939, Germany can “legitimately” invade and conquer Canada without the hypothesized isolationist USA being able to do anything about it. Once Canada is in German hands, the road distance from Toronto to Washington is less than that from Warsaw to Moscow, and Winnipeg to Houston is shorter than Bucharest to Baku. Also, with a spring invasion, the Germans can stay ahead of winter as they march south.

            If Barbarossa is thinkable, so is this. And nobody will be offering the United States any Lend-Lease in this hypothetical.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The big difference is that you can use the enormous blue highway called the Gulf of Mexico to move stuff forward to support the troops. But I’d base in Canada and go after the Northeast/current rust belt, which is where US industrial strength was concentrated then.

            I’d be scared launching the initial attack. Don’t you have to get as far as Galveston before you have a port that can support an invasion?

            From there, where do you go to take out the US? Up the Mississippi?

          • baconbits9 says:

            But I’d base in Canada and go after the Northeast/current rust belt, which is where US industrial strength was concentrated then

            This is a huge freaking area though. NYC to Detroit is 600+ miles and you have to drive south through all of Upstate NY to get to Pennsylvania by land, and then through large chunks of Pennsylvania to get to their industrial centers. You can send bombers over the great lakes to hit a lot of the industrial centers if you get your airstrips far enough south.

            The more I think about it Newfoundland isn’t a viable staging area at all. The areas physically attached to Canada have extremely low population density due to the climate conditions, and the island portion means doubling your exposure for an invasion, first hitting the island and then transporting again from the island, and you are still a thousand miles (literally) from the nearest major US city (Boston).

          • baconbits9 says:

            Once Canada is in German hands, the road distance from Toronto to Washington is less than that from Warsaw to Moscow, and Winnipeg to Houston is shorter than Bucharest to Baku. Also, with a spring invasion, the Germans can stay ahead of winter as they march south.

            These calculations are putting the cart before the horse, you are going to need a massive invasion just to cut the distance to half the Warsaw to Moscow. Planning to invade the US through Canada is way crazier than Barbarossa unless you are just assuming the Canadian invasion is all peaches and cream.

          • bean says:

            @ADBG

            I’d be scared launching the initial attack. Don’t you have to get as far as Galveston before you have a port that can support an invasion?

            I was thinking of using something like LSTs. You’d load into coastal craft somewhere in Mexico, then send them up to support the invasion.

            From there, where do you go to take out the US? Up the Mississippi?

            I guess. I’d definitely start from Canada instead of Mexico, though.

            @baconbits9 says:

            The more I think about it Newfoundland isn’t a viable staging area at all. The areas physically attached to Canada have extremely low population density due to the climate conditions, and the island portion means doubling your exposure for an invasion, first hitting the island and then transporting again from the island, and you are still a thousand miles (literally) from the nearest major US city (Boston).

            That’s a feature, not a bug. I want somewhere lightly defended and far from the enemy’s centers. The fact that it’s an island makes it easy to defend while you build up your own forces. And it’s a lot easier to go from Newfoundland to Boston than it is to go from London to New York direct. And if it fails, it’s a lot easier to write off from a propaganda front than an attempt to secure New York or Boston directly.

          • baconbits9 says:

            That’s a feature, not a bug. I want somewhere lightly defended and far from the enemy’s centers. The fact that it’s an island makes it easy to defend while you build up your own forces.

            I don’t see how any of this actually works. Yes landing in a lightly defended area is easier, but the goal isn’t to land, its to land, hold and stage. By taking this position you have made your landed troops and equipment completely immobile, painted a large target right on top of them and done no actual damage to Canada’s military condition. If you attack a strongly defended area the initial attack is more likely to fail, but given its success you will have impeded your enemies ability to resist (unless they are defending worthless areas). Controlling a waterway, oil reserves or dominating manufacturing will improve chances of further success. Additionally a strongly defended position that has been overcome is often a position that can be strongly defended by the conquerors, and you get to turn the remaining defenses to your own use.

            Landing a million troops in Newfoundland in the 1940s would mean that there is no infrastructure to handle them, there won’t be the food, water or electrical capabilities to support such a mass of men, and anything less won’t be of practical use in invading the rest of Canada. You will be cramming men, weapons and important support areas into a tiny spot with limited resupply areas (I don’t know how many deep ports there are, but there won’t be enough to stop a determined Canadian air force). Virtually the entire island will be a high value, target rich environment.

            And it’s a lot easier to go from Newfoundland to Boston than it is to go from London to New York direct

            That’s not the question*, the question is how hard is it to land and then stage in Newfoundland and then attack Boston, vs some other plan in its entirety.

            *I also don’t know that it is actually correct given the geography, getting off the island and puttering down to Boston is easier, but it is also the obvious target, making defense easier. If you have a high seas fleet then defense has to be more spread out, and you get to focus an attack on one of several areas. Attacking from Newfoundland and going overland means every man, transport and supply has to be loaded up twice at a minimum, and you have to bring enough supplies to cross hundreds of miles of varying geography with a hard timer on, and you have to consistently push beyond your air support or hug the coast and have aircraft carriers all for the big goal of what, getting troops into Maine so you can restart the whole process again the next spring to get you to Boston?

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Planning to invade the US through Canada is way crazier than Barbarossa unless you are just assuming the Canadian invasion is all peaches and cream.

            We’re talking long-term, though: Invading Canada makes sense on its own, for at least two reasons: it’s likely the site of most revanchist Brits and maybe French, and occupying it would be a deterrent in case the U.S. ever stopped being isolationist. Then a decade or two later, when Canada is fully incorporated into the Reich, the U.S. might look pretty tasty.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Nitpick: Until 1949, Newfoundland wasn’t part of Canada; it was its own British colony (as opposed to Canada, which was a mostly-technically-independent Dominion.)

            That said, that doesn’t change at all the situation on the ground, and I expect it would effectively become a part of Canada or the United States in any timeline where the Nazis conquered the British Isles.

          • Tenacious D says:

            The more I think about it Newfoundland isn’t a viable staging area at all. The areas physically attached to Canada have extremely low population density due to the climate conditions, and the island portion means doubling your exposure for an invasion, first hitting the island and then transporting again from the island, and you are still a thousand miles (literally) from the nearest major US city (Boston).

            Agreed. You’d need to take Halifax to have an actual beachhead in North America.

            Edit: Here is a population density map of Newfoundland. The terrain is also very favourable for an insurgency: plenty of small coves for smuggling and the overland route from the Avalon peninsula to the west coast has many points where an effective ambush could be set up.

          • bean says:

            @baconbits

            Yes landing in a lightly defended area is easier, but the goal isn’t to land, its to land, hold and stage. By taking this position you have made your landed troops and equipment completely immobile, painted a large target right on top of them and done no actual damage to Canada’s military condition.

            What do you mean, “completely immobile”? They’re still by the sea, are they not? When I need to move them, I’ll put them back on ships.

            If you attack a strongly defended area the initial attack is more likely to fail, but given its success you will have impeded your enemies ability to resist (unless they are defending worthless areas). Controlling a waterway, oil reserves or dominating manufacturing will improve chances of further success. Additionally a strongly defended position that has been overcome is often a position that can be strongly defended by the conquerors, and you get to turn the remaining defenses to your own use.

            Military operations can either improve your position, harm the enemy’s, or both. I’m pushing hard for number 1, because I don’t think that a transatlantic invasion of the sort of strategic position you are talking about is possible at all. In my plan, I just have to overcome the defenses of Argentia, or build my own base, whichever is easier. I don’t need all of Newfoundland, and I can easily isolate the battlefield to prevent the enemy from pouring in more troops. This requires a couple divisions, max. You’re going to need a couple dozen, and you can’t do shuttle runs with your transports.

            Landing a million troops in Newfoundland in the 1940s would mean that there is no infrastructure to handle them, there won’t be the food, water or electrical capabilities to support such a mass of men, and anything less won’t be of practical use in invading the rest of Canada.

            I don’t need a million men all at once. I need maybe a tenth of that to start, and they build the base for everyone else. Once I have enough men there, I move them by short-range craft to somewhere more important. More than that, my turnaround for reusing the invasion craft is now a couple days, not a couple of weeks. This is basically the plan the US used against Japan.

            (I don’t know how many deep ports there are, but there won’t be enough to stop a determined Canadian air force).

            How do you know that if you don’t know how many ports there are?

            Virtually the entire island will be a high value, target rich environment.

            Have you actually looked at a map? Newfoundland is slightly bigger than Cuba, and in no danger of tipping over no matter how many troops you put on it.

            That’s not the question*, the question is how hard is it to land and then stage in Newfoundland and then attack Boston, vs some other plan in its entirety.

            What other plan?

            Attacking from Newfoundland and going overland means every man, transport and supply has to be loaded up twice at a minimum, and you have to bring enough supplies to cross hundreds of miles of varying geography with a hard timer on, and you have to consistently push beyond your air support or hug the coast and have aircraft carriers all for the big goal of what, getting troops into Maine so you can restart the whole process again the next spring to get you to Boston?

            What’s this about going overland? That’s a terrible plan. The whole point is that you’d launch a second amphibious assault at Boston or Halifax or Montreal, but with air support within some semblance of range, and lots of troops and material relatively close by and ready to be shuttled to the front. Seriously, this is me you’re talking to. You expected me to have the troops walk?

            @Tenacious D

            The terrain is also very favourable for an insurgency: plenty of small coves for smuggling and the overland route from the Avalon peninsula to the west coast has many points where an effective ambush could be set up.

            I don’t care about 90% of Newfoundland. I’d just carve out a section, throw everyone out, and announce that nobody was allowed back in. Small boats and airplanes should keep the Canadians from getting serious forces onto the island, and sniping at the guards just means a few more sad families back in Germany, but a lot fewer than I’d have if I tried a direct assault on a major city.

          • Chipsa says:

            Landing site in Newfoundland has the advantage in that it’s directly controlled by the UK in this point in history (WWII). So concievably, they don’t have to be invading, so much as claiming to help their new ally “Vichy England” put down a rebellion. And this could take place well ahead of the actual invasion of Canada/US: they can do it as prep work while consolidating their hold on Eurasia, so you have a sitzkrieg situation for a while, until men are freed up to make the invasion into the mainland.

          • John Schilling says:

            The most likely reason for the initial Nazi invasion of North America, in this hypothetical, is to stop the Free Royal Navy from being a pest in the Atlantic and e.g. harrying German trade with the still-neutral United States. That’s going to mean taking St. John’s and Halifax and holding both, but not any of the surrounding countryside.

            OTOH, Halifax is (barely) on the mainland, so the Canadian (or Free Britannic) Army gets to be a pest to the Halifax garrison rather than the Free Royal Navy pestering Germany’s Atlantic trade. Given the geography, and the limited resources Canada can bring to bear without US aid, that’s probably something a stiff Luftwaffe presence can keep in check.

            Until they get tired of that and decide to put an end to it by conquering or Vichifying the rest of Canada.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Chipsa, that might fly in this hypothetical isolationist United States, but definitely not in Canada, which would probably be playing host to whatever members of the Royal Family had escaped Britain. (They’re the Canadian royal family too.)

            For that matter, even if the legal reasoning is unimpeachable, I think even this United States would start to get nervous at German troops establishing themselves in the New World. It’d probably take a while to actually rebuild a US Army, though; Germany just might have some time.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ bean

            To reply to several of your posts in the same vein all together:

            1. I don’t think you are improving your strategic position (ignoring the possibility that the Canadians accept the landing as a non invasion because NFL is technically park of GB and let it slide) by landing on an island off the coast of Canada. The effect of landing 100,000 troops and building the infrastructure to support hundreds of thousands if not millions more will simply make it a large target for the Canadian air force. This is a point you have not addressed, how will you manage to make the necessary preparations while being exposed to bombing raids for as long as Canada has planes, bombs and fuel left? How are you simultaneously going to hold onto that small part of the island when Canada has around half a million troops, and has to cross 1/100th the distance that your resupply lines need to?

            2. When I say the troops are effectively immobile I mean that they will have to load up, be transported by one of the slowest methods available at the time and then unloaded to achieve any further gains. Until they get back on the ships they are functionally zero threat while being a huge liability between their exposure to Canadian fire and the long, slow and expensive supply line they need to survive.

          • bean says:

            The effect of landing 100,000 troops and building the infrastructure to support hundreds of thousands if not millions more will simply make it a large target for the Canadian air force.

            Just how strong do you think the Canadian air force is likely to be? Argentia is about 300 miles from the nearest point on the mainland, in Nova Scotia, and St. John’s is even further away (Labrador is probably out for logistical reasons). That’s at the very edge of fighter range, unless the Americans start handing out Mustangs. So if you bounce the enemy early enough, the fighters have to go home before they get all the way over the target. Unescorted bombers are easy meat. And the Canadians have to retain forces to protect the other Maritimes, too. The overwhelming majority of the planes the Canadians built during the war were trainers. While those are vital and often overlooked, they’re useless against the Wehermacht in Newfoundland.

            This is a point you have not addressed, how will you manage to make the necessary preparations while being exposed to bombing raids for as long as Canada has planes, bombs and fuel left?

            Have you heard of aircraft carriers? And please, give me numbers on how many planes you expect the Canadians to have. Because it’s going to be lower than you think.

            How are you simultaneously going to hold onto that small part of the island when Canada has around half a million troops, and has to cross 1/100th the distance that your resupply lines need to?

            I’m going to be praying they dispatch a substantial fraction of that force to Newfoundland. Once it’s safely on the island, I start hitting its supplies hard, then make my actual landing in Nova Scotia. Hello, self-guarding POW camp! Seriously, we’ve already established that I have sea superiority, so they can’t deploy nearly as effectively as I can, regardless of the distances. You’re not thinking like a maritime strategist here. (That said, you might be thinking like a German. Which is probably why they lost the war.)

            You really haven’t thought this through, and I’ve gotten bored.

        • baconbits9 says:

          There are a lot of differences between the two cases. Germany wouldn’t have simply sailed a bunch of ships from London to land on Long Island. (Well, probably.) The obvious thing to do is seize forward bases for bombardment and blockade. Newfoundland would be the most likely first choice.

          This is extremely unlikely to work as the Canadian and US focus would be to push back the invasion there. Sure, technically stopping the first landing might be tough, but stopping the building of bases and resupply lines across the entire Atlantic wouldn’t be complicated (expensive, yes) from a military point of view. Germany would have to control the Atlantic with its navy and the landing sites in Canada with its air force, or they have to commit to shipping more materials than are being destroyed by bombing raids.

          The best (only?) chance for Germany to bring a war to the US would be an alliance with Mexico, where Japan controls/distracts/embargoes major Pacific ports, German does the same in the Atlantic and Mexico takes as many oil producing areas in the South as they can. You could possibly hold Texas with Mexico for long enough to starve the US of oil allowing major invasion preparation to begin.

          • John Schilling says:

            This is extremely unlikely to work as the Canadian and US focus would be to push back the invasion there.

            The US focus, in this hypothetical, is to not fire a shot until a foreign army is actually invading the United States.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Are we talking literally nothing that could be construed as military aid or no engagement? If the US is willing to provide similar levels of aid to Canada that it was doing for England/France/Russia before they entered the war then the invasion should still be doomed. Air control ought to go to Canada, and Germany is going to be landing hundreds of thousands to millions of troops in an area that currently only has a population around a half million. They are going to have to build all kinds of invasion infrastructure while being completely dependent on supplies coming across the Atlantic.

            If you aren’t catching Canada completely off guard then you are sitting back for 5-10 years and building a huge Navy complete with massive amounts of aircraft carriers to support and defend the initial invasion.

            I guess this is plausible if you are stipulating total victory in Europe where the Germans have caused the Soviets to sue for peace and England has been invaded and subdued.

          • bean says:

            The best (only?) chance for Germany to bring a war to the US would be an alliance with Mexico, where Japan controls/distracts/embargoes major Pacific ports, German does the same in the Atlantic and Mexico takes as many oil producing areas in the South as they can. You could possibly hold Texas with Mexico for long enough to starve the US of oil allowing major invasion preparation to begin.

            This doesn’t work any better. Mexico can’t stand against the US without extensive German support, which has to be sustained in the face of the USN trying to stop it. That’s going to be just as hard as going after Newfoundland, if not harder. And I find it hard to imagine a US isolationist enough to not take measures against a Mexico that appeared to be conspiring with Germany to invade Texas.

          • albatross11 says:

            The political viability of isolationism is partly a function of how likely it seems to the public that the country is under threat. As the visible threat increases, the willingness of the public to support a bigger military and more aggressive foreign policy will increase.

          • John Schilling says:

            Are we talking literally nothing that could be construed as military aid or no engagement? If the US is willing to provide similar levels of aid to Canada that it was doing for England/France/Russia before they entered the war then the invasion should still be doomed.

            Per the OP, the United States’ participation in World War II as it happened constitutes an unjust offensive war because of hostile American policies towards the Axis in 1939-1941. We’re exploring the “what if we didn’t do that?” counterfactual, so no lend-lease, no trade embargoes, nothing of that sort.

          • baconbits9 says:

            This doesn’t work any better. Mexico can’t stand against the US without extensive German support, which has to be sustained in the face of the USN trying to stop it

            Which is why you need Japan casuing trouble in the Pacific, Mexico in the south and Germany in the Atlantic. Perhaps you could try a mass landing in New Jersey which would tie up a lot of the US military as they have to protect NY, Philly and Baltimore/DC around the same time as the Mexico invasion of Texas. Perhaps you could try the opposite and land in NJ and try to take a couple of the major cities nearby to convince Mexico that the US was on the brink of being broken, while also drawing the forces needed to defend the initial push up into Texas, but that is a huge gamble.

            I don’t think any of these options are good, traveling thousands of miles to invade a large, prosperous, and populous nation isn’t going to go well in general, which is why my scenario included three belligerent nations causing issues in three different arenas. I doubt that I would assign as much as a 5% chance of victory is such a scenario, but this is the type of outline where you can actually define terms of how the US could be beaten (forcing difficult decisions in where to deploy resources while threatening access to a major necessary resource).

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          Let’s drill more into that ‘control of the seas’ question. If the invasion would hinge on control of the seas, control of the seas would presumably hinge on a naval building race. What would that look like? Would Germany’s European empire give it a shot at matching the US?

          Also, are we assuming London is in German hands? Would that be due to Germany being able to devote its full attention to the Battle of the Atlantic?

      • John Schilling says:

        OK, at this point I think we’re going to have to ask you to pin down what constitutes a “defensive war”, and why we should care. Because you’ve shifted the goalposts away from the colloquial definition and towards something that, near as i can tell, reads:

        “Defensive War: A war waged strictly to defend a nation against an actually ongoing attempt to invade and conquer that specific nation, after having pursued a policy of strict isolation to the point of appeasement because even non-violent resistance to conquerors voids any subsequent claim to defense”

        With regard to World War 2:

        Of course, for most Americans, the answer was and is very simple: they attacked us at Pearl Harbor, so we had to defend ourselves. One might ask, however, why did the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor? Did they want to invade and conquer America, like North Dakota and Nebraska, thus leading them to randomly attack us out of a clear blue sky?

        See, by the common definition of “defensive war”, the thing where you send your army and navy out to do battle with someone who bombed one of your ports for no good reason, most people would consider that a central example of a defensive war. But by your definition, it only counts as a defensive war if Japan’s reason for bombing Pearl Harbor was to invade and conquer the United States. If Japan bombs Pearl Harbor for some other no-good reason, nope, no self-defense for you?

        Or were there in fact important decisions made by the FDR administration, the consequences of which were not made clear at the time to the American public, that played a role in why the Japanese decided to attack?

        I don’t think any of this was any great secret from the American public; it was front-page news that FDR and his administration imposed economic sanctions on Japan in an attempt to stop Japan’s ongoing unprovoked invasion of China and future threat to world peace in general.

        That’s economic sanctions. Non-violent opposition to someone else’s violent armed conquest. But by your standards, that voids any claim to defense. Only appeasement will do – if Japan wants our steel and oil to build and fuel weapons of war against China, we have to sell them what they want or else we don’t get to defend ourselves when they attack us.

        Firstly, even if we grant totally uncritically [that the Axis posed a long-term threat to the United States] note that this a speculative, long-term argument for why US citizens were endangered by the Axis powers and why World War 2 was necessary to defend the US. So in the case of World War 2, the poster child for a defensive war that was necessary to protect America, the best argument for a threat that someone can formulate is not a clear, immediate, present threat to Americans, but a speculative one about dangers that would manifest in 10 or 20 years after the war.

        Well, no, the best argument someone can formulate is that, hey, look someone just wrecked half a dozen of our battleships and killed three thousand of our people for no good reason, and then sent us a note saying “OBTW if you hadn’t noticed we’re at war”.

        The US response to the long-term threat posed by the Axis powers in 1939-1941 was economic sanctions, trade embargoes, lend-lease, and other non-violent measures. When it came to actual war with the United States, they shot first.

        But there’s no requirement that, to claim defensive intent or status, one has to let the other side shoot first. If the US had learned of Japan’s plans and attacked their fleet while it was crossing the Pacific, that would still have been a defensive act. And there’s no time limit on this. When one reasonably believes that an attack will occur and can be prevented only by force, one may use force in defense. At least that’s how most people see it. By your standards, apparently, it only counts if you wait until the enemy actually attacks you. As part of an invasion, following a period of appeasement.

        Also, there’s no requirement that the people being defended be the same as the people doing the defending, or even that they be citizens of the same nation. If I see someone raping a woman in a dark alley, I can order him to stop and shoot him dead if he doesn’t, even if the woman is a complete stranger. Japan, by the time the US entered the war, was raping cities. Germany was doing worse.

        Make no mistake, the United States would have been waging a legitimate, righteous, defensive war if we had invaded and conquered Japan in July of 1937, and then joined Britain and France in declaring war on Germany in September of 1939. We just would’t have been defending the United States against an immediate threat of invasion. We would have been defending the people of China and Poland, defending our own reputation and self-image as people who aren’t chickenshit cowards like the Swiss and the Spanish, and defending the principle of Nation Shall Not Conquer Nation as enshrined in the Kellog-Briand pact and the hope for a peaceful future that it optimistically promised. Those are all things worth defending. Those are all things that we are allowed to defend, and to say we are defending. And we did.

        You’ve argued that even waging war against a nation that has launched an unprovoked attack, doesn’t count as “defense” if the attack isn’t aimed specifically at invasion and conquest.

        You’ve argued that a claim to defense is voided if it is preceded by insufficient appeasement in the form of e.g. economic sanctions against nations waging unprovoked and unjust wars

        You’ve argued that a nation may not defend itself against future assaults, but must let the enemy launch the first attack.

        And you’ve wholly ignored the obvious fact that all of the US “aggressions” of 1939-1941 were clearly aimed at defending the victims of unjust aggression – who happened to not be Americans.

        That brings us back to where we started:

        “Defensive War (per Atlas): A war waged strictly to defend a nation against an actually ongoing attempt to invade and conquer that specific nation, after having pursued a policy of strict isolation to the point of appeasement because even non-violent resistance to conquerors voids any subsequent claim to defense”

        If that’s the definition of “defensive war” that you are using, I’d ask that you use a different term, because I don’t think that’s how most people use the term.

        And w/re World War II, I will note that Atlas-compliant defensive war had I believe a 0.0% success rate against the Nazis. Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, all waited until they were themselves invaded rather than fight against “speculative, long-term” threats, and all of them were conquered. The nations which survived, and which ultimately rolled back the Forces of Darkness, were the ones which didn’t wait until their own territory was under attack. And, of course, the one that waged unprovoked wars of aggression of its own to expand its frontier and establish strategic depth. Your brand of “defensive” war, really kind of sucks at actually defending anything – and that’s not limited to WW2.

        And while we’re on the subject of using non-standard definitions to support your argument:

        The US and its allies were themselves conquerors, yet the United States did not try to conquer Indonesia after conquering the Philippines

        The US acquired dominion over the Phillipines as an unintended consequence of a war waged mostly half a world away, over the issue of Cuban independence from Spain. Referring to the US as a “conqueror” on this basis, is a decidedly non-standard usage of the term, and certainly not what I had in mind when I raised the subject.

        More to the point, asserting that one can use US behavior w/re the Philippines to predict Nazi behavior w/re Europe, because the US is a “conqueror” and Nazi Germany is a “conqueror” and so the US is basically just like the Nazis, is both foolish and insulting.

        • When it came to actual war with the United States, they shot first.

          But only because it took the Flying Tigers longer to get into action in China than expected.

        • albatross11 says:

          Which of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece could have realistically fought Nazi Germany more effectively if they’d attacked first? I mean, if they’d attacked early enough, before Germany started rearming, maybe, but it’s not obvious to me that there were *any* good strategies available for, say, Poland or Belgium.

          Any of the Soviet Union, France, and the UK might have been able to benefit some by pre-emptively attacking Nazi Germany, but it’s hard to see that working out for a very small country next to a big, powerful, aggressive country.

          • engleberg says:

            The Poles would have fought Germany more effectively if they’d skipped joining Germany’s invasion of the Czechs and put everything that flew into strafing Germany’s railroads. And still lost, of course.

          • John Schilling says:

            Poland could and should have promised her support to Czechoslovakia in 1938, no matter what Chamberlain and Daladier wanted. There’s a modest chance this would have averted WWII altogether; worst case, Poland falls a few months sooner but inflicts a much heavier cost on the Nazis in the process. Remember, the 1938 Wehrmacht vs Czechoslovakia alone was not going to be a cakewalk, and the German general staff was ambivalent about Fall Grün without a second front in Poland.

            The rest of the minor and belated allies did not share a common border with Czechoslovakia, but there’s no good reason for any of them not to have joined Britain and France in their declaration of war against Germany in September 1939. Their passivity bought them nothing; the Germans invaded each of them in turn exactly as soon as it was strategically advantageous to do so, and on the flip side, did not invade openly belligerent France until the time was right. But, by insisting on neutrality until each was itself directly invaded, each of them was in turn defeated alone, by the focused might of the Third Reich and with no possibility of assistance from the other Allied powers.

    • cassander says:

      Safer, perhaps not, but the population of the US desires things other than safety. The mexican american war, the indian wars, even the war for independence, all brought huge amounts of land into US possession, which was something the population very much desired. On top of that, a substantial part of the reason that the US is so safe is because it’s huge. The effects of a much smaller US are, of course, impossible to predict, but it seems safe to say that the US almost certainly would have ended up more vulnerable.

      On top of that, you’ve left out the largest war the US did fight, the Cold War. Communism absolutely did represent a huge threat to the US, and had it not been confronted, it almost certainly would have become a larger war. You can’t talk about korea and vietnam in isolation, as if they were random events unconnected to the larger struggle. Communism did have to be fought, and sometimes fought violently. If it hadn’t been in korea and vietnam, teh alternatives would have been somewhere else or surrender.

      Responding to part 2:

      Specifically on the point of ww2, You’re absolutely right that in 1939 or 41, or what have you, no one was considering invading the US, but you’re failing to consider the geopolitical outlook that would have resulted from the war.

      Let’s assume that the US doesn’t get involved and the axis win. Whether or not they conquer the US, the result is an ideologically hostile empire stretching across most of the Eurasian landmass. the soviet union was able to pose an existential threat to the US and that was with Germany, the UK, france, Japan, and the smaller europeans as allies. The axis empire would have been almost as large in acreage, would have had considerably more people in it, and would likely have ended up just as ideologically hostile. I can see no possibility that we wouldn’t have gotten into a cold war with an enemy that controlled more people, more resources, and which was geographically better positioned to threaten the US than the USSR and which wasn’t wedded to a self destructive economic model, while the US would have had many fewer allies around their periphery. That’s not a good place for the US to be.

      • Atlas says:

        Safer, perhaps not, but the population of the US desires things other than safety. The mexican american war, the indian wars, even the war for independence, all brought huge amounts of land into US possession, which was something the population very much desired. On top of that, a substantial part of the reason that the US is so safe is because it’s huge. The effects of a much smaller US are, of course, impossible to predict, but it seems safe to say that the US almost certainly would have ended up more vulnerable.

        I agree that wars against Native Americans and the Mexican-American War materially benefited Americans, which I guess is a minor revision of my original claim, but I think the fact that they were aggressive wars of conquest is still clear and important. This actually raises a distinction that Pat Buchanan’s book A Republic, Not an Empire demonstrated to me: American foreign policy for most of the 19th century was about acquiring minimally populated contiguous land possessions on the North American continent, not, as JQA put it, “going abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” However, that clearly changed with the Spanish-American War.

        Perhaps in the long run it made the US less vulnerable, though perhaps not, but at least in the short run US wars against Amerindians and the Mexican-American War were obviously aggressive wars where to the extent that there was a threat to Americans it was a threat primarily created in response to American desire to conquer land.

        On top of that, you’ve left out the largest war the US did fight, the Cold War. Communism absolutely did represent a huge threat to the US, and had it not been confronted, it almost certainly would have become a larger war. You can’t talk about korea and vietnam in isolation, as if they were random events unconnected to the larger struggle. Communism did have to be fought, and sometimes fought violently. If it hadn’t been in korea and vietnam, teh alternatives would have been somewhere else or surrender.

        Well, the “Cold War” is a broad umbrella, so I focused on specific military conflicts. But, nonetheless, while I am anti-communist and am willing to agree that the Cold War broadly speaking might well have been morally justified, I still do not think that “Communism” in any form posed a material threat to the continental United States, especially not in the actual wars that the US fought. Given both the United States’ oceanic borders and nuclear arsenal, I do not believe that a Red Dawn style invasion would ever have occurred, no matter how little the US did internationally to fight Communism.

        Additionally, I think the USSR was ultimately defeated more by its own internal contradictions rather than by battlefield loss. Generally I think more dovish commentators like George Kennan turned out to have more accurate assessments of Soviet capabilities and intentions than more hawkish ones.

        • cassander says:

          American foreign policy for most of the 19th century was about acquiring minimally populated contiguous land possessions on the North American continent, not, as JQA put it, “going abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” However, that clearly changed with the Spanish-American War.

          to the extent that this is true, and it’s at least debatable, that’s largely because (A) we had “monsters” at home to destroy in the shape of various land grabs, and (B) the ability of the country to go abroad was far more limited by geography, demography, and technology. the US population was smaller than the UKs through about 1860 or so. As soon as we got the ability to start hunting monsters, we did so in earnest. to say that conquers are cannon balls is indeed an oversimplification, but a country’s grasp absolutely does grows with its reach.

          I still do not think that “Communism” in any form posed a material threat to the continental United States, especially not in the actual wars that the US fought.

          communism was backed with the force of tens of thousands of nuclear weapon’s. It is arguably the ONLY thing that has threatened the continental united states since the british burned the white house down.

          >Given both the United States’ oceanic borders and nuclear arsenal, I do not believe that a Red Dawn style invasion would ever have occurred, no matter how little the US did internationally to fight Communism.

          A red dawn style invasion isn’t really the threat that was being fought. It was the threat that the communists would take western europe, then the UK, then canada, and then probably wouldn’t even have to launch a red dawn style invasion because they were such an obviously successful system that by then the US would be riddled with 5th columns.

          Additionally, I think the USSR was ultimately defeated more by its own internal contradictions rather than by battlefield loss. Generally I think more dovish commentators like George Kennan turned out to have more accurate assessments of Soviet capabilities and intentions than more hawkish ones

          It absolutely was. But letting it get pulled apart by its internal contradictions was only possible because (A), there was a viable alternative world for states to sign up with that (B) wasn’t allowed to be conquered be conquered out of existence.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Most of them are not defensive, I agree. And yet most, including the most blatantly non-defensive, have made America and/or the world much better off.

      Mexican-American was a blatant land grab, and yet the inhabitants of that land today are undoubtedly better off for that grab having occurred.
      The Confederacy wasn’t much of a threat to the citizens of the Union, but it sure was to the slaves inside it.
      Spanish-American–we didn’t do great by the colonies we got, but ‘better than continued Spanish rule’ is a low enough bar that we probably cleared it.
      WWI I don’t have a detailed case for. My gut says the conventional wisdom that Germany was Bad is substantially correct, but I don’t expect that to persuade anyone. I’d be interested in any good analysis of the counterfactual here.
      WWII has been discussed enough elsewhere in the thread.
      Korea is the reason that today’s South Korea isn’t part of North Korea. I consider this a very good thing.
      Vietnam I’ll give you was a mistake. BUT, it was a mistake committed in the prosecution of the Cold War, which was absolutely both a defensive conflict of necessity, and an enormous net positive for the US and the world.
      Later wars are a different conversation in which I have fewer strong opinions.

      • phi says:

        … the Cold War, which was absolutely both a defensive conflict of necessity, and an enormous net positive for the US and the world.

        I think we need better statistics on how many Everett branches ended in thermonuclear fire before we can claim that the cold war was a net positive for the world.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Also how many branches without the cold war ended up with the remaining starving Americans having to learn Russian to speak to their masters.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Not that many, I think. The US out-missiled Russia for most of the Cold War, so Russia would’ve ended up at least as devastated as America.

          • phi says:

            Yes, that too. 🙂 I suspect not very many, but it’s difficult to be certain about these things.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          It’s come up here before that nuclear war is much less of an existential threat than popularly imagined. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_holocaust#Likelihood_of_complete_human_extinction:

          The United States and Soviet Union/Russia nuclear stockpiles, in total number of nuclear bombs/warheads in existence throughout the Cold War and post-Cold War era.

          Many scholars have posited that a global thermonuclear war with Cold War-era stockpiles, or even with the current smaller stockpiles, may lead to human extinction. This position was bolstered when nuclear winter was first conceptualized and modelled in 1983. However, models from the past decade consider total extinction very unlikely, and suggest parts of the world would remain habitable.

          ETA: Non-existential harm from nuclear war would of course still be severe and quite relevant to our evaluation of the Cold War.

          • albatross11 says:

            Billions dead and most civilization in the northern hemisphere wrecked, yes. Human extinction, probably not. Even a nuclear winter would make things nastier for the survivors, but presumably the New Zealanders and Chileans and such would mostly survive.

          • Matt M says:

            Isn’t that also true about climate change (that the likelihood of significant damages is high, but the likelihood of actual extinction is very very low?)

          • Aapje says:

            Humans are so adaptive that total extinction is very unlikely. See the documentaries about Mad Max for evidence of this.

          • that the likelihood of significant damages is high

            Gross or net?

            The likelihood that there will be significant negative effects is high, as for almost any large change. I don’t think the likelihood that the net effect will be large and negative is large, although that’s certainly the currently orthodox claim.

    • Registered says:

      It is an interesting idea you are proposing, I mostly agree. Upthread posters have responded in particulars. I think wars are driven by more basic human desires than the particulars discussed.

      People rarely reflect critically on justifications for wars. Exactly why these issues are undiscussed is because the answers make us uncomfortable. To do so, you would eventually have to admit, you are hitting someone over the head and taking stuff. Even if they attack first, you still get to take something of value if you win.

      I have always thought this a given. Many others I realize do not. Pre, ad and post hoc fluff/justifications are motivational, to get one’s head right for what will/is/did occur. No one wants to be the individual who dies so the group can get more stuff/money.

    • mtl1882 says:

      Yes, some historians’ myopic focus on battle maps and tactics is rather irritating to me. I get that people like these things (though I personally don’t see why), but they can’t exist in a vacuum. It is also interesting to understand the motives of various leaders in comparison with their strategies – did they support the war? What did they want to achieve? What was off limits to them? What did they think of the enemy? Did they change tactics depending on the perceived motivations of another leader? There is a huge systemic and human factor in these things that cannot be separated from the “games.”

      I think I’m largely in agreement with your point, but I also kind of took for granted that most wars are probably not necessary for survival and are done for other reasons. Certainly actual invasions have happened many times, but I’d still say most wars were probably not self-defensive in a strict sense. Power and image are huge drivers, and probably make war more inevitable than actual threats of annihilation. Certain wars are both unnecessary and inevitable.

      • BBA says:

        “Both unnecessary and inevitable” is how I would describe the US Civil War.

        • mtl1882 says:

          Yep, that’s the one I had in mind, and the only one I’ve studied in depth. But I figured I wouldn’t get into that can of worms. The war was could certainly have been delayed, but something was going down. It was such a slaughter that I have wondered if it would have been better to let the South go and then wage a series of smaller battles as the friction continued, but who knows what would have happened then. I certainly think it would have sapped America’s resources and attention for so long that we’d be significantly compromised now. Quick and decisive tends to be better, and freeing the slaves was such a benefit in itself that it may justify it, but boy did it come at a cost.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Harry Turtledove wrote several novels about what would have happened if the USCW had gone another way. His alternate history has flaws, depending on who you ask, but he seems to go out of his way to present historical figures based on their actual history. Consequently, his books contain a lot of food for thought on how this might have gone.

          • mtl1882 says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            Thank you – I will look into it.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’ll admit, I enjoyed the vision of Lincoln as a socialist revolutionary firebrand after losing the civil war.

            OTOH, that series was about as dark and horrible as anything I can remember reading. Particularly starting with basically sympathetic (if flawed) characters like Pinkard and Featherston, and watching them turn into what they turned into by the end of the last book.

          • John Schilling says:

            Yes, if you’re not going to read Arendt, Turtledove gives you the fictional but disturbingly convincing understanding of how basically decent people turn into genocidal monsters.

          • Atlas says:

            I concur with Turtledove recommendation. However, I personally would recommend his Timeline 191 series over his novel the Guns of the South, as far as USCW alternate history goes. Be warned, though, that the quality of the writing does dip noticeably, in my humble opinion at least, in the last 4 books. Still, a pretty good alt-history series overall.

    • Atlas says:

      Many thanks to everyone, especially John Schilling, who commented in reply to this post. I have a lot of thoughts about what everyone has said, but unfortunately I am a very slow and ponderous writer. Since this week is the beginning of the semester for me, I have been absolutely swamped with work and schoolwork, but when I have some time off on the weekend I’ll hopefully try to respond to various things people have said in a later OT, if anyone is still interested in this discussion.

  36. toastengineer says:

    Let’s say you’re a person with a small but significant amount of influence over a large group of people, like a relatively popular YouTube/Twitch personality or… well, Scott, for example. To quantify things, let’s say you have enough influence, if you made announcements well ahead of time and showed up in person, to able to get ~1,000 random people in most major U.S. cities to show up and sorta-try at something for a few hours in the evening or from noon til’ 5 PM on a Saturday.

    How much good could you do with that ability, in an EA sort of sense? Seems like if you could get a thousand people to show up and do Habitat for Humanity or something for a few days in a row… well, that would probably do no good at all due to them not being prepared for 1000 people to show up and only being able to get them to put in half an effort for a short time.

    How much could you accomplish in a semi-arbitrary goals sort of sense? Not in a johan_larson mission sort of sense but more like Saul Alinsky getting a bunch of guys to fart in a theater for civil rights sort of sense.

    … although, how much COULD you accomplish in a Larson mission sort of sense?

    What I’m thinking here is, say I’m PewDiePie and the New York Times is telling everyone I’m a neonazi, and I’d wish they’d quit. Couldn’t I just say, “hey fellas, if you’re in the area, I’m going to be showing up at their corporate HQ with a megaphone to demand they make a public retraction and apology; come join me and hold up a sign or something.”

    Or, if I want to get a little more dark-side with this; “here’s the home addresses of a couple of executive editors, if you’re with me on this I encourage you to chuck tomatoes and eggs and toilet-paper at their houses until they publicly apologize, I know this is mostly going to make me look like the asshole here but I’m really pissed and at least people will see that a lot of people think they’re doing something wrong by doing this.”

    Or- what if he said “okay, I’m 100% committed to damaging this organization as much as I can and I don’t care about the long-term consequences; these people are evil and hate you and everything you like and I want you all to grab a ski mask and a sledgehammer, join up at their corporate headquarters, and we’re going to bust in and smash everything that looks valuable until SWAT shows up and tear-gasses us, and if you have an old car you’re willing to smash in to a utility pole to take out the power, or have a backhoe and a map of where to find the underground network cables that connect them to the Internet, or some other idea for how to disrupt their operations, I’d love to hear from you.”

    What if Bernie Sanders did this, asking that everyone figure out where their local Fox affiliate is and see if they can’t smash up the place or ruin the utility access or something?

    To be clear; I agree that this is all very silly. But still, it seems like anyone who is in a position to ask more than a couple hundred people to do something and have them actually listen has a not-insignificant amount of power, and I’m wondering if I’m wrong, and/or what it’s going to look like when they realize that. (EDIT: Or, indeed, in the alternate universe where Hunter S. Thompson and Joan Baez declared open war on each-other.)

    Bonus question: what if the President did this, but also committed to presidential-pardoning all the participants? Could he do that?

    • arlie says:

      *roflmao*

      Fun idea. Lots of fictions could start here. Some of them would be a lot of fun to read – probably also to write.

      But the specifics you got into – asking those you influence to do something seriously illegal – isn’t going to end well. Assuming your ‘friends’ aren’t sufficiently powerful/organized/connected to stage a successful revolution or coup, you’ll have the law on your back. In the presidential pardon case, this looks like the most efficient way to trigger an impeachment I’ve ever heard, short of scenarios involving the president personally commiting random assaults with lethal weapons.

      It worked for Hitler et al., more or less, but this was a case where they were sufficiently powerful to take over the government.

      Also, if you communicate with your friends publically, and there are a lot of them, you can expect opponents to know what you are up to in advance, and do whatever they think appropriate, such as inviting all their friends to turn up and ‘confront’ you and your friends.

      Much better to e.g. encourage them to all wear emerald green garters next Tuesday, if you can’t think of anything that’s actually constructive. And as for Habitat for Humanity – letting its organizers know about it far enough in advance might actually make your collected influenceables useful.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      This isn’t really relevant to your question, but I think you might be overestimating how easy this is.

      Based on the meetup results, I seem to have enough “power” to make about five to ten people show up in most major American cities, for something very easy and safe that the participants want to do anyway.

      Google suggests PewDiePie is about twenty to thirty times more popular than I am, but his popularity might not be as deep – eg it’s hard for me to imagine “PewDiePie meetups” going well. So I question if anyone of the level you’re talking about has the clout you’re talking about.

      But maybe the closest example of something like this happening this was G*m*r*a*te, where a few people in a niche cause did go really far in advocating their agenda, sometimes in disruptive or borderline-illegal ways. Empirically, that just starts a giant immune reaction where everyone hates you, hates the entire group you belong to, and hates everybody at all associated with it for years, and you are constantly brought up as an example for why they should never be tolerated or listened to or negotiated with.

      I’m sure someone working for a cause the media agreed with could do better, but if they were popular enough for borderline-illegal protests to succeed, they probably wouldn’t need borderline-illegal protests.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The largest ant-related meetup I know of was the one where Andrew Cardpersons unknown called in bomb threats to stop it. That was about 200 people. I think teenage flash mobs do better.

      • AnonYEmous says:

        “Google suggests PewDiePie is about twenty to thirty times more popular than I am, but his popularity might not be as deep”

        not sure precisely how you’re calculating this – maybe views? But he has, uh, around 60 million subscribers, which is probably way, way more than you do. Not sure how deep they all are though.

        …also your example kind of pisses me off, insofar as it’s mostly just about politics; the group you cite was pre-determined to be hated long before they actually did any of those things (you can tell, since they never actually did any of those things !!!). So maybe it proves that the valence changes depending on political alignment, but what’s the original valence?

      • fion says:

        There’s a difference between a meetup suggested by you and to discus the kind of things you like to talk about and an event hosted by you. I got the impression toastengineer was imagining the latter.

      • xXxanonxXx says:

        I don’t get the comparison as what the ants mostly did in terms of organization was letter writing campaigns to advertisers and crashing twitter hashtags with no survivors. In the real world I was at an NYC meetup with maybe 150 people, but all we did was drink and play arcade games. The most borderline disruptive thing was standing in front of a particular HQ and shouting, “F***k-” I shouldn’t mention names since we’re trying to keep this off the radar.

        Hogan, what is best in life?

        To crush your enemies, see them bankrupted, and to hear the lamentations of their apologists!

      • toastengineer says:

        Based on the meetup results, I seem to have enough “power” to make about five to ten people show up in most major American cities, for something very easy and safe that the participants want to do anyway.

        There’s a difference between a meetup suggested by you and to discus the kind of things you like to talk about and an event hosted by you. I got the impression toastengineer was imagining the latter.

        Yeah, meetup attendance is a useful datapoint, but you’re not actually telling people to go to them. If Scott sent everyone an EMail saying “turns out Moloch is physically real and he’s crawling out of Lake Michigan next Tuesday, here’s some proof that this is happening, bring something stabby,” I know I would drop everything and show up.

        Come to think of it, how many people signed up for cryonics because Scott directly told them to?

        • The Nybbler says:

          I don’t know about cryonics, but the melatonin article caused a shortage at one supplier.

    • Rob K says:

      There’s a framework I used to use for talking about things like this, which basically boils down to transferrable and non-transferrable power. It tends to limit the scope of what you can do with the kind of power that comes from prominence and influence, as opposed to the power that comes from formal leadership of institutions or personal wealth.

      Let’s take as an example the cases of, say, Bill Gates and Bill McKibben. Both have a lot more power than the average person, but Gates’ power is much more transferrable. We could envision a specific purpose – say, turning people out for a climate change protest – for which McKibben has more power than Gates, by virtue of his number of social followers, leadership of organizations with large email lists, etc. (Gates could probably also turn out a bunch of people for a protest with enough TV ads, hired organizers, etc, but I think McKibben’s network is strong enough that he’d do better.)

      McKibben’s power, though, basically only works in that one arena. If he and Bill Gates now, both seeking for some reason to curry favor with PewDiePie, compete to see who can more effectively harass the NYT, McKibben has many fewer tools at his disposal unless they’ve recently done something that angers his followers, whereas Gates could just pay a variety of professionals to make life unpleasant for the NYT, up to the bounds of legality.

      What I take from this is that social power tends to be useable only in ways closely related to how it was acquired. There are exceptions to this – cult leaders, who basically acquire social power by claiming to be right about everything, can get some number of people to follow their arbitrary commands via social power – but in general I think it’s best to assume that a person with a large social following will have some potential to get people to take an action specifically related to the source of their prominence, but little ability to get people to do arbitrary things of the leader’s choosing. And for people like Scott or youtube stars, whose prominence isn’t already tied to the idea of taking action at their urging, even the closely related stuff would require a lot of work to get significant output.

  37. bean says:

    Today, Naval Gazing concludes its look at underwater protection.

    Also, a reminder to everyone (including non-readers) that you’re invited to the meetup at Iowa on 9/8.

  38. Well... says:

    Imagine a bowling ball resting on a mattress. You set a marble on the mattress, near the bowling ball. The marble is drawn toward the bowling ball.

    This is a typical metaphor used to illustrate how mass distorts space-time to create gravity. For a while now I’ve been dissatisfied with this metaphor, because it’s like defining a word using the word itself. The mattress metaphor helps me understand how space-time is distorted by massive objects, but it doesn’t at all help me understand why an “attracting” force like gravity should be produced by the distortions.

    Can someone explain why the metaphor is complete? Or provide another metaphor that completes the explanation?

    • toastengineer says:

      I always had the exact same objection; the only reason the balls are falling is because the fabric got out of the way!

      I don’t know if it actually works any better, and to be clear I more likely than not misunderstand what’s actually going on, but I always liked the analogy of drawing a line on some paper and then bending the paper. It’s a straight line, and remains a straight line; you didn’t alter the line at all. But it’s a straight line on bent paper, so you can make it curve in to things or even form a circle. Similarly, if you throw a ball in front of you, it ACTUALLY DOES CONTINUE IN A STRAIGHT LINE – but it continues in a straight line through a coordinate system that’s scrunched up towards the Earth’s center of mass, so it appears to curve and meet the ground. Much like Ms. What’s (I think…) skirt in A Wrinkle In Time.

      If you need a visualization of 3D “bent paper,” you could use Jell-O or ideally some more flexible firm gel and somehow draw a line in that and then distort it.

      • Well... says:

        But that’s the same problem. It helps explain what’s going on with the coordinate system, but it doesn’t explain why the ball always wants to travel through the coordinate system that’s scrunched toward the Earth’s center of mass.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      The metaphor is necessarily incomplete because it is in 3 dimensions when you would need to be able to conceive of at least 4 to understand it.

      So to make it accurate, what you would imagine is that your Marble-Bowling ball universe is a 2-D universe with no depth (which is what depresses the mattress in this case). In the 2-D universe you do not see the bowling ball sinking, you merely perceive it is an object with a certain circumference, inertia, etc. Then you notice it attracts the marble with some force. This picture illustrates what 2D “gravity” would look like in a 2D world, and thus the 3D mattress representation is solving 2-D gravity.